Manuel Almeida on Puerto Rico

text by Ian Seda

 


On October 6th political theorist Manuel Almeida came to speak at the EJSS. His talk, titled “Approaching the conundrum that is Puerto Rico” was partly based on a previous article he published in Counterpunch with the same title.

After providing a general picture of the dismal state of affairs of colonial Puerto Rico, and highlighting part of the history that explains it, Manuel proceeded to explain the coordinates of political discussion that have reigned in Puerto Rico for over 60 years. Simply put, the colonial status of the island has defined and imposed how reality is discussed in the island. The three main electoral parties-Popular Democratic Party (PDP), New Progressive Party (PNP), and the Pro Independence Party (PIP)-define themselves in terms of the status that they support.

For Manuel, defining the political spectrum of Left-Right in terms of Independence-Statehood is a post WWII phenomenon in the island that contrasts with earlier alliances and positions between, for example, pro-statehood sympathizers and socialists.

It is this past experience that was highlighted to explain the possibilities for the newly founded Worker’s Party (Partido del Pueblo Trabajador/PPT) in the current conjuncture, one where traditional party politics, especially by the PDP and the NPP, have lost their appeal to a significant part of the population, which finds itself trapped in the “punishment vote/least worst” logic that keeps bringing both of these parties to power in alternating cycles.

As Manuel mentioned, the fact that many obstacles have been put in place to lengthen the process of inscription of the party for the next elections shows that the PPT is doing something right by appealing to old struggles- i.e. the rights of workers, women, and the environment-while showing how the two dominant parties are not so different in their exercise of political power and in their austerity approaches to economic policy under colonial rule.

Still, contrary to the presenter’s final thoughts, I am a bit more positive about the potential for this party. Even though we are far from a Syriza (Greece) or a Podemos (Spain) type of situation, there are many signs that the political landscape in our very conservative island is a bit more fertile for left-wing/progressive politics.

Personally, I have seen how a friend of mine who did not finish college, and some years ago would not have had any problem in describing himself as being a-political, actually ran for a post and did lots of work representing the PPT in the town of Vega Baja. My parents, who have always voted for the NPP and the PDP, have separately told me that they would give their vote to the PPT in the next elections because, simply put, they are tired of voting for what they think is the least worst (their voting strategy in the last 15 years-before that they always voted NPP). A friend of mine, who has always faithfully voted for the PIP since the 1970s, voted for the PPT’s candidate for governor Rafael Bernabe. And finally, I myself was having dinner with Bernabe and the friend who introduced us this past December in Puerto Rico and saw how many people approached us inside and outside of the restaurant to tell him that never again would they fall for the trap of voting for what they thought was the least worst candidate, meaning voting for either the NPP or the PDP. Simply put they were tired of seeing how things got worst and worst even though they thought they were voting for the least worst candidate. I suspect this realization is gaining more and more ground in the consciousness of people. We’ll see what happens.

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