Con el fallecimiento del presidente de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, se cierra una etapa de la lucha de los pueblos latinoamericanos para salir de la desigualdad social en la que se encuentran. Y se abre una era donde se elija un sucesor que continúe con el legado del extinto mandatario o, si uno de sus opositores más acérrimos de la oligarquía, llega a tomar el poder en abril próximo, peligraría la nación venezolana al instaurarse nuevamente un gobierno con política agradable e entreguista a los Estados Unidos de América.
No hay lugar a duda que Chávez fue amado por muchos al considerarlo un revolucionario por desafiar los designios de Washington y, de aliarse a regímenes izquierdistas en el Caribe, Centro y Sudamérica, y abrir mercados comerciales con los enemigos del imperio estadounidense. Los que lo amaron agradecen y disfrutan los logros sociales que Chávez obtuvo para los sectores más pobres de Venezuela.
Para otros fue odiado, considerándolo un dictador totalitario, acusándolo de hacer de Venezuela una copia de la sociedad cubana con muchas carencias debidas al bloqueo y embargo económico que ha padecido por más de medio siglo. En los reportes periodísticos del pasado 5 de marzo y en los días sucesivos, se veía a un pueblo en luto, mientras que las voces anti comunistas, anti revolucionarias, anti socialistas, anti bolivarianas, brillaban por ausencia.
Chávez fue uno de los mandatarios que ayudó económicamente y con insumos a países, como Cuba, para combatir bloqueos y presiones externas que limitaban el desarrollo de sus pueblos. Fue la figura de unidad entre las naciones que optaron buscar el desarrollo con o sin el consentimiento de Estados Unidos. Chávez tomó como bandera a Simón Bolívar, al Che Guevara y hasta Fidel Castro que lo consideraba como padre de la revolución en el continente latinoamericano.
Chávez pasó a la historia al intentar crear el socialismo del Siglo XXI, influenciado con una fe Cristiana no común y restringida en algunos países socialistas, aprendiendo y evitando los errores de los regímenes marxista-leninistas, cuyos modelos en la práctica real, no han funcionado de acuerdo a la teoría de ese modo de producción. Chávez quiso hacerlo buscando reelegirse cada vez que la constitución se lo permitía, intentando cambiar a una sociedad y la mente de una población mayoritaria acostumbrada a vivir en la pobreza y a una minoría oligarca, cuyos privilegios fueron amenazados por las reformas, cambios y expropiaciones que Chávez hizo en 14 años en el poder, y se quedó corto en su intento, porque la muerte lo atrapó y ahora su camino deberá ser tomado por otros dentro de la revolución bolivariana y, si el capitalismo toma nuevamente el poder, por desgracia su lucha habrá sido en vano por una sociedad justa, libre de ataduras imperialistas y entreguistas a intereses de unos cuantos en detrimento de la mayoría de la población. Descanse en paz, Hugo Chávez. ¡Hasta Siempre!
Armando García es un periodista independiente. Fue el corresponsal y columnista de Conexión Hispana en San Angelo, Texas y director de medios de Finding Produtions en Los Ángeles, California. Trabajó como corresponsal de la agencia española “EFE,” “Hispanic Press News Agency” en Washington, D.C., y en los periódicos La Prensa y Rumbo de San Antonio, Texas. García es fundador de Nuestra América News Magazine.
Fox had likened his defeat of Mexico’s long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2000 to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid in South Africa.
When Walesa flashed a victory sign from the podium, few knew who he was. But the brightly dressed Zapotecans roared like delirious rock fans when Chavez was introduced.
“Chavez! Chavez!” they chanted as the Venezuelan leader, wearing a white Panama hat and mirrored sunglasses, smiled coyly, being careful not to steal the limelight from Fox.
“Hugo Chavez is fighting in his country for a profound change, like we are doing here in Mexico, to end corruption,” said Fox, a capitalist champion who once headed Coca-Cola in Mexico, of the former army paratrooper.
Strange bedfellows they may have been, but the Fox-Chávez dynamics exemplified how the former Venezuelan career military officer had obtained a popularity that reached even into small Mexican villages.
Two years later, Mexico-Venezuela relations became strained after Chavez called Fox the “puppy dog of the empire,” meaning, of course, the United States. The tension was typical of the polarizing emotions that Chavez could elicit with his loose tongue and undiplomatic outbursts.
Chavez was elected president on Dec. 6, 1998, at age 44. Six years earlier, he had gained notoriety after attempting to overthrow the government of Carlos Andres Pérez, a political stalwart serving a second, nonconsecutive term that had mired Venezuela in economic disarray, popular unrest, and government corruption.
After almost a decade in power, Chavez remains an enigma for many. Vilified by critics as a Latin American dictator who wants to emulate his good friend Fidel Castro and hailed by supporters as a democrat bringing social and economic justice to the masses, Chavez has political observers in perpetual conjecture.
Veteran Venezuelan journalists Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka attempt to unravel the Chavez conundrum in the ambitiously titled biography, Hugo Chavez: The Definitive Biography of Venezuela’s Controversial President.
Drawing on interviews with childhood friends, family members, army buddies, an ex-lover, political loyalists, archenemies, and political foes, as well as news reports and excerpts from Chavez’s diaries, Marcano and Barrera take on the complex personality of a man who emerged from relative obscurity to become one of Latin America’s most influential and controversial leaders.
Chavez is notorious partly because he embodies the myths that have shaped much of Latin America history. He is, by turns, regarded as the seductive “anti-imperialist” revolutionary, the populist who defends the landless against the oligarchy, the military officer with illusions of grandeur, and, many now fear, the caudillo that won’t step down.
The authors retrace widely reported events-ChÃ¡vez’s failed coup attempt, his rise to power, the survival of an attempted coup on his own government, and general strikes in 2003 and 2004.
But the heart of the biography is the authors’ attempt to psychologically pinpoint where Chavez’s revolutionary passion came from: What were defining moments of his youth? When did his political awareness begin? Who were his heroes and mentors?
Marcano and Barrera depict a confident, cocky man deemed “common” by the upper echelons of society-he’s dark skinned, of Afro-indigenous descent-but also a leader often filled with self-doubt and remorse. He’s naive, rude, a jokester, and a seductive speaker; his speeches last longer than Castro’s.
Before his election, Chavez never held political office. He showed no discernible interest in doing so growing up in a small town comprised of four streets and 1,000 people, “a place where cattle, ghosts, horses, and apparitions coexist,” the authors write.
Chavez, the second of six brothers, was born on July 28, 1954, in Sabaneta, where children were brought into the world by midwives because there were no hospitals or clinics.
Chavez’s father, Hugo de los Reyes Chavez, was a teacher at the only school in town, Julian Pino elementary. Family finances were shaky, so Chavez and oldest brother Adan were farmed out to live with their grandmother on his father’s side, Rosa Ines, after Chavez was born.
Rosa Ines wasn’t better off financially than his parents. Reportedly a good-humored, strong-willed, quiet woman, she prepared aranitas, or papaya sweets, that Chavez sold on the streets. Together they gathered mountain broom from the fields to sweep the home’s dirt floor.
Chavez adored her, and she had a deep influence on him. He named his first daughter Rosa Ines. But what that influence may have been, exactly, isn’t explored.
When his mother, Elena Frias, wanted her children to return home, the brothers instead opted to stay at grandma’s. Chavez lived with Rosa Ines, whom he called “mama,” until he left Sabaneta at age 17 to study at the state military academy, the army being the only option for a continuing education for boys of his social class.
Early separation from his mother has given rise to many hypotheses about Chavez’s personality, the authors note. Many observers speculate that deep-seated maternal resentment fuels Chavez’s fiery political rhetoric.
That remains speculative. In rural Latin nations, it’s normal for children to be raised by extended-family members. Friends recall that Chavez was “poor but happy,” a boy who loved to read, paint, and play baseball, an average student and “ugly duckling” who seldom stood out.
He was also an avid reader of Venezuelan and Latin America history at a time when tumultuous events gripped the region.
Chavez was 13 when the Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary hero, Che Guevara, was captured and killed by Bolivian forces.
“Why doesn’t Fidel send some helicopters to rescue him?” Chavez is quoted as saying in a 2004 interview.
He was also about 13 when he started hanging out with the children of Jose Esteban Ruiz, a communist intellectual who introduced Chavez to Karl Marx, Jacques Rousseau, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Ezequiel Zamora, the father of Venezuelan federalism.
During long hours in the Ruiz library, Chavez also discovered Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan-born son of Spanish nobility who in the early 19th century organized military rebellions that led to independence from Spanish rule of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
While boys his age read Superman comic books, Chavez says he read Bolivar, widely known in South America as The Liberator.
When Chavez left Sabaneta to attend the Academy of Military Sciences in the capital of Caracas, he carried with him The Diary of Che Guevara. But his admiration of Bolivar is such that many people who know Chavez say it borders on “delirium.”
“I Hugo Chavez, am not a Marxist, but I’m also not an anti-Marxist. I am not a communist, but I am not an anti-communist … I am neither left-wing nor right-wing,” he has said. “I am a Bolivarian.”
It wasn’t until 2005 that Chavez declared himself a socialist, invoking a 21st century socialism model that remains in its infant stage. But it clearly rests on Bolivar.
“What we propose is the idea of reclaiming this primordial notion, beneath the aegis of which our Republic was born. SimÃ³n Bolivar’s idea,” said Chavez in the Argentine newspaper La Nacion. “We don’t need to go around copying other models from other latitudes. … Bolivar had a pluripolar vision of the world.”
From the biography, it appears Chavez’s political ideas were crystallized at the military academy, where he and a group of friends created a left-wing workers party called the Radical Cause. As a sub lieutenant, he graduated eighth in a class of 75 students in 1975 with degrees in military sciences and art, concentrating in engineering, land management, and communication, at which he excelled.
During these years Chavez’s nationalism and anti-Americanism began to emerge, the writers note. But he was still hard to pin down.
“As far as anyone knows, Hugo Chavez began to lead a double life when he was around twenty-three,” the authors write. “In the presence of military superiors, he would feign obedience and discipline. With his family, he pretended to be ‘neutral,’ as his mother put it, exhibiting no interest in politics. In his clandestine life, however, he was another person entirely, forging ties with left-wing activists, debating Venezuela’s political future.”
At the time, Chavez’s older brother Adan, the one he grew up with in his grandmother’s house, was a physics professor and activist in the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, a political party formed after Castro visited Venezuela in 1959. The long-haired, bearded ideologues didn’t mix well with Chavez’s uniform and short hair, but through Adan ties were established.
“We met on the basis of structuring a civilian-military movement that would make long-term plans for a revolutionary insurrection,” Adan said.
In the early 1980s-the writers say the date is hard to ascertain-Chavez as a military instructor created the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army with a team of similar-thinking army officers, Francisco Arias, air force Maj. William Izarra, and loyal cadets.
Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution came to a head during the second term of Pérez, who was re-elected president in 1989. Pérez, the son of a coffee plantation owner who became politically active as a teenager during a period of repressive military rule, was a survivor, a “foxy politician” who won re-election even though his first term as president, from 1974 until 1979, became known as “Saudi Venezuela” for his administration’s extravagant spending that exacerbated Venezuela’s great economic inequalities.
The same problems assailed Venezuela during Perez’s second presidential term.
“We knew that the enemies of Venezuela were hunger, corruption, indigence, unemployment, and the misuse of our nation’s immense riches,” recalls Pedro Carreno, one of Chavez’s students at the military academy. Chavez was a captain and instructor of Venezuelan military history, imparting not only the greatness of Bolivar, but also “free land, free men. Horror in the face of the oligarchy.”
Chavez and Arias continued to lead the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army, all the time apparently under the radar as Chavez perfected plans to seize power. When Pérez was re-elected the second time around, the economic belt-tightening reforms invoked by international lending organizations, which had most of Latin America in a financial stranglehold, ruptured not only the poor but also the middle classes. Protests, riots, and looting broke out.
An earlier military conspiracy didn’t pan out. Chavez and members of the Bolivarian Revolution were charged with plotting to assassinate Pérez and were arrested. They were released for lack of evidence.
Chavez then began graduate political science studies at Simon Bolivar University. His thesis proposal was on how to transition from authoritarian regimes to democracy. His military rank was then commander.
On Feb. 2, 1992, Chavez led a small band of rebel soldiers that tried to take over key military and communications installations in what today would seem like a comedy of errors, were it not for the 14 soldiers killed and dozens of others wounded.
“There were fourteen deaths. Fewer deaths than any weekend in Caracas, fewer deaths than those of the children who die of hunger every month in Venezuela,” Chavez said years later. “Are your hands stained with blood, someone asked me. Yes my hands and everything is stained with blood.”
Ironically, the resulting two years in jail provided Chavez with the audience he lacked in the military. Venezuelans, curious about the revolutionary army officer, began pilgrimages to the prison, where the authors report Chavez signed autographs as if he were a movie star.
He also extolled the virtues of Bolivar. Marcano and Barrera make much of Bolivar’s influence on Chavez’s political thought. But they fail to draw parallels which could be an essential element in understanding Chavez.
In Bolivar’s “Cartagena Letter,” the “Jamaica Letter” and the “Angostura Address,” all still widely read, he makes a case for Latin American integration, a dream that never came to fruition.
Under Bolivar’s vision of government, a republic would have a life-term president akin to a symbolic monarchy, while the legislative branches and cabinet ministers ran the government.
After his election, Chavez renamed Venezuela the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and proceeded to nationalize the oil, electricity, and communications industries. He also wants to end the central bank’s autonomy to access foreign reserves and spend on social programs for the poor.
But what has raised flags is his proposal to change Article 236 of the Constitution from two six-year terms to indefinite seven-year periods, albeit through popular elections. These constitutional changes must be approved by the National Assembly, whose 167 members are mostly Chavez supporters, and then followed by approval in a popular referendum.
Chavez maintains he needs more time for socialism to take hold. He notes other nations, including France, also don’t have presidential term limits.
“I propose to the sovereign people the seven-year presidential term; the president can be re-elected immediately for a new term,” Chavez said recently. “If someone says this is a project to entrench oneself in power, no-it’s only a possibility, a possibility that depends on many variables.”
Key among those variables is the popular vote. As history has shown in Venezuela, voters haven’t been pawns of their leaders.
Today Chavez heads one of several populist governments in Latin America. Socialist leaders rule in Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Brazil. All have differing demographics. But all were democratically elected and promised to address the needs of populations mired in great economic disparities brought on in large part by the one-size-fits-all austerity measures imposed by U.S. and international lending organizations over more than two decades.
The austerity measures required adherence to fixed exchange rates, high interest rates, and low inflation. Governments that didn’t abide risked becoming pariahs and losing foreign aid.
With booming oil revenues estimated at $175 billion since he took office, Chavez has now begun spreading the wealth as loans and debt relief to many similarly minded Latin nations, strengthening the Bolivarian vision of Latin America integration.
The Bush administration has called Chavez a threat to regional stability, and Chavez has fired back numerous insults, calling Bush “Mr. Danger,” a pendejo, and an alcoholic.
But money talks louder than ideological differences; Venezuela-U.S. trade is the highest in recent history, some $50 billion a year, mostly in oil exports.
“Chavez is an argumentative and confrontational figure, devoid of any public relations skills. He’s incapable of self-censorship,” said Larry Birns, director of the nonpartisan Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington that monitors U.S.-Latin American relations.
“But everything he does involves elections,” Birns said in an interview. “The main accusation is that he may be on the road to dictatorship. But it’s difficult to discriminate to what is, isn’t, or may become.”
For now, Chavez continues to enjoy the support of most Venezuelans. According to polls, he is riding high after the 2006 presidential election that he won with 60 percent of the vote, cast by 75 percent of eligible voters.
In 1662, William Sanderoft, the Archbishop of Canterbury, approved the Jamaican coat of arms, depicting an “Arawak” couple: she holding a food basket, he holding a bow. Below the couple, the inscription: INDVS VTEQVE SERVIET VNI, “The two Indians will serve as one,” perfect for implying the collective servitude the British expected of the Natives and, later, African slaves. As we know, the Native populations of Jamaica, derived from the Taíno words yamaye and xaymaca (land abounding with springs), were devastated by the arrival of European colonists.
Last summer, I attended a presentation by Lesley-Gail Atkinson, an archaeologist from the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, who was in Washington, D.C. for a workshop exploring indigenous legacies of the Caribbean, co-hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and Latino Center. A portion of the presentation, based on her seminal work, The Earliest Inhabitants: The Dynamics of Jamaican Taíno, focused on Afro-Indigenous miscegenation — from how Taíno communities protected Maroon* leaders Nanny and Cudjoe, to the indispensability of Taíno ingredients, ají (native hot pepper) among them, in Jamaica’s famous jerk barbeque (from the Taíno, barbacoa.) A fascinating part of Dr. Atkinson’s presentation detailed the stunning failure of a plebiscite to change the Jamaican coat of arms. Proponents advocated the replacement of the Native pair with an African couple, owing to the island’s overwhelming African-descended population, but they underestimated Jamaicans’ own identification with the island’s First Nation.
Also participating in the same work session was Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, a Haitian scholar, who explained how traditional Vodou practice incorporates Taíno objects and religious cosmology. It is significant that in Haiti (from the Taíno Ayiti, land of high mountains), as in Jamaica, reverence for indigenous past and contributions is vigorously acknowledged and preserved.
In addition to the above-mentioned scholars, we also invited experts from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Belize, the latter acknowledging the cultural, particularly linguistic, connection between the Taínos and contemporary Garífuna peoples. Importantly, cultural workers involved in recovering Caribbean indigenous identity also participated in this workshop, some of whom identify as Afro-Indigenous. Their participation was important for two reasons: 1) in addition to researching their indigeneity, they strive to live it, actively practicing rituals and gathering as community; and 2) researching Afro-Indigenous miscegenation is important in comprehending Caribbean indigenous histories.
Exploring indigenous legacies of the Caribbean is a sensitive endeavor, because of the presumed extinction theories subscribed to in some academic and community quarters. The Smithsonian has custody of over 9,000 objects of Taíno derivation, and in preparing to responsibly share the collection with the public we are doing our homework, aided by a diversity of scholarship and manifestations of lived experience. The Smithsonian’s mission is to increase and diffuse knowledge, and to tell, not spin, stories.
I recently returned from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where a Smithsonian team conducted a consultation with leading Taíno scholars, activists, and collectors. We were amazed by the focused, enthusiastic response to our initiative, and were enriched by their perspectives and ideas. Later, our research leaders conducted consultations in San Juan de la Maguana and Altos de Chavón, where the sense of Taíno community is more present. I’m told the response was more powerful and personal. My sense is that our initiative is touching a deep chord, one that goes to essence of identity and being.
When last in Chicago, I went to a bombazo, a community performance of traditional Puerto Ricanbomba, a percussive music and dance genre born in African slave quarters. One of the young musicians proudly sported a t-shirt that read, “Taíno Strong.” This memory surfaced as I listened to the presentations of our invited Caribbean scholars and activists and took in the feedback in Santo Domingo, reminding me of the miscegenation of peoples and cultures that have shaped the American continent since First Contact. I think it is important to follow the beat, and the storyline, no matter where they lead.
*Maroon: derived from the Spanish Cimarrón (living on the mountaintops), is a name given to fugitive African slaves. The British seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, groups of runaway slaves formed and rebelled, clearing an initial path for independence. Nanny and Cudjoe were two prominent Maroons, considered national heroes.
Eduardo Díaz is the director of the Smithsonian Latino Center and a 30-year veteran of arts administration. The Latino Center works to increase and enhance Latino presence, research and scholarship at the Smithsonian Institution by sponsoring, developing and promoting exhibitions, collections, research and public programs that focus on the Latino experience. Díaz is an advisor to the Smithsonian’s Secretary and Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture as well as to Congress and other government agencies on a range of cultural development issues related to Latino communities in the United States and their impact on diverse countries of origin.
Advocates and critics alike invoke two arguments to contextualize the 2012 plebiscite. Members of the conservative and pro-statehood Partido Nuevo Progresista(PNP) (New Progressive Party) argue that the plebiscite granted the Puerto Rican electorate a democratic opportunity to rectify more than a century of colonial subordination. These pro-statehood advocates argue that the United States has governed Puerto Rico as a “colony” since 1898 and the 2012 plebiscite is an effort to rectify a century-old injustice. This plebiscite is a mere expression of the will of United States (U.S.) citizens residing in Puerto Rico who demand equal political and economic treatment. Critics across the ideological spectrum, including members of the autonomist Partido Popular Democratico (PPD) (Popular Democratic Party), generally counter that the plebiscite was a mere political ploy to mobilize the Puerto Rican electorate to vote on a straight-ticket for the pro-statehood candidates.
To understand the current debate regarding the plebiscite vote it is helpful to review the historical arguments from both sides of the issue.
The United States annexed Puerto Rico following the 1898 Spanish-American War and invented a new territorial status to rule the island without binding Congress to grant Puerto Rico statehood or to prevailing constitutional precedents. The U.S. military occupied Puerto Rico July 1898 and soon after, following the cessation of hostilities, established a two-year military dictatorship tasked with governing the island and developing colonial institutions. Scholars agree that Brigadier George Davis, the last military governor of the island, established the key public institutions modeled after the British notion of colonial “dominion.”
Modeled after the General Davis’ proposal, in 1900 Congress enacted the Foraker Act providing a civil or territorial government for the island. The Foraker Act created a new territorial status and a corresponding government. The Third Article established that the United States could selectively govern Puerto Rico as a foreign country for trade purposes or more specifically for the collection of taxes, duties, and other tariffs on merchandize trafficked between the island and the mainland. Unlike prior organic or territorial legislation, the Foraker Act did not extend the bill of rights to the island or provide for the collective naturalization of the residents of the Puerto Rico. Within a year the Supreme Court began to affirm the Foraker Act and the ensuing territorial status in a series of rulings known as the Insular Cases of 1901. Since then the U.S. has ruled Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory enabling the Federal government to selectively rule the island as a foreign country in a domestic or constitutional sense.
In addition, the Foraker Act established the basic government institutions for Puerto Rico, some of which endure to the present. The Foraker Act granted the President a plenary power to appoint a local government and an Executive Committee tantamount to a second branch of Congress. Puerto Rican voters were allowed to elect representatives to a lower House of Delegates or Congress. The Act also continued maintained the Federal district court created by General Davis and subsequently integrated this bench to the 1stCircuit Court of Appeals. Moreover, although the Foraker Act created the office of the Resident Commissioner, this official would not gain access to Congress until 1902. Today the Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner is elected to a four-year term to the House of Representatives, and depending on the Congress, s/he may vote in congressional committees, but is generally barred from voting in the floor of the House.
Since then, Congress amended the Foraker Act on several occasions without changing the territorial status of Puerto Rico. In 1917 Congress enacted the Jones Act extending a bill of rights to Puerto Rico, providing for the collective naturalization of the island’s residents, and creating a popularly elected Senate. In 1947, Congress enacted legislation enabling the residents of Puerto Rico to elect a local governor. More importantly, in 1952 Congress approved a tempered Puerto Rican constitution granting administrative control over local affairs to a popularly elected government described as the Estado Libre Asociado (ELA) (loosely translated as Commonwealth). The remaining provisions of the Foraker Act not amended by prior legislation were essentially integrated into the 1950 Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act, the law regulating the relationship between the island and the Federal government. To this extent, advocates of the results of the 2012 status plebiscite argue that the United States has governed Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory since 1898 and it is time to resolve the anomalous territorial status of the island, a status that subordinates U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico to a separate and unequal status within the United States polity.
The Partisan Context of the Plebiscite
In Puerto Rico, critics of the pro-statehood interpretation argue that the 2012 plebiscite was a mere partisan effort to draw reluctant voters to the polls in order to enlist a straight-ticket vote for PNP candidates. More specifically, they argue that during the past four years the PNP’s authoritarian rule has been riddled with corruption and failed public policies (crime and austerity measures), and that Governor Luis G. Fortuño could only win a second term in office by combining the general elections with the plebiscite in order to promote a pro-statehood straight-ticket voting. Critics further note that the PNP’s super-majority control of the legislature facilitated the enactment of the 2012 plebiscitary law.
While it is beyond the scope of this entry to disentangle the complex history of Puerto Rican political parties, suffice it to say that following the 1898 annexation local political parties generally gravitated towards three status options, namely autonomy, statehood, and independence. Spanish and Creole elites advocating for autonomy typically argued that Puerto Rico was too small to survive without the assistance of a bigger nation and argued for a permanent self-governing territorial status. Advocates of statehood typically invoked equal membership within the U.S. polity and the benefits of statehood. It is important to note that pre-1952 pro-statehood parties (and their splinters) spanned an ideological gamut including populist and elite conservatives, liberal progressives, and even socialists who saw the benefits of alliances with mainland labor unions. Like pro-statehood parties, the pro-independence parties included 19th century separatists, nationalists, splinter parties from the statehood and autonomic parties, socialists, and other pro-independence parties.
Following the enactment of the 1952 Commonwealth Constitution, the Puerto Rican political landscape began to gravitate towards a two-party system that typically split the majority of votes in both local elections and status plebiscites. Founded in 1938, the pro-Commonwealth Partido Popular Democratico advocates for territorial autonomy. However, advocates of territorial autonomy have argued for a range of relationships with the United States including an amended continuation of the Commonwealth status under the purview of Congress as well as enhanced forms of autonomy modeled after the Micronesian Compact of Free Association and governed by treaties under the purview of the President. Alternatively, founded in 1968, the Partido Nuevo Progresista advocates for statehood.
Notwithstanding the electoral dominance of the latter parties a range of smaller parties continue to struggle for about 6% of the general electoral vote. As of the time of this writing, it is possible to identify at least four alternative political parties embracing three distinct status options. Despite its poor electoral performance, the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño(PIP) (Puerto Rican Independence Party) continues to garner between 2-3% of the electoral vote and advocates for a transitional independence from the United States. The Movimiento Unión Soberanista (MUS) (Movement for a Sovereign Union), a splinter party from the PPD, advocates for a Sovereign Free Associated State or a variant of the enhanced Commonwealth status. Two additional parties, the Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (PPT) (Puerto Rican Workers Party) and thePartido Puertorriqueños por Puerto Rico(PPR) (Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party) have adopted a neutral stance on the status question while promoting social justice agendas in the island.
As previously noted, critics argue that the 2012 plebiscite was a mere instrument to mobilize electoral support for the PNP in order to counter the effects of the party’s unpopular political agenda and failed signature public policies. The PNP won an absolute majority in the 2008 general elections and soon after began to dismantle public and civil society sources of opposition. The government put forward a plan to pack the Supreme Court with pro-statehood judges and sought to redistrict the island’s congressional districts in order to reduce the number of legislative seats, a move that would have likely resulted in the permanent creation of a majority of PNP districts in the island. The government also sought to dismantle the University of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Bar Association, two traditional hotbeds of civil society. Simultaneously, thePNP’s signature public policies failed. Austerity measures resulting in the massive firing of public employees (by some accounts upwards of 30,000) and the transfer of public resources to the pro-statehood friendly private sector exacerbated the local depression and failed to improve the economy. Governor Fortuño’s order-maintenance and “broken-windows” policies failed to reduce public violence and four years after his election crime is out of control in Puerto Rico. Finally, widespread clientelism, corruption, and public scandals threatened to discourage voters from either turning out to the polls or even voting for the statehood party in the 2012 island-wide general elections. Thus, in order to mobilize voters and hoping to benefit from straight-ticket voting, critics argue, the pro-statehood government scheduled 2012 plebiscite along with the general elections. The plebiscite vote was therefore central to many of the races on the 2012 ballot.
Controversies Associated With Plebiscite Votes and Statutes
As Yazmin Garcia-Trejo and I noted in our previous post, Federal lawmakers have debated upwards of 110 statutes and plebiscitary bills between 1900 and 2012. During the same period Congress has only authorized 1 status plebiscite for Puerto Rico. The 1967 plebiscite provided U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico with a choice among three status options, namely the Commonwealth territorial status, statehood, and/or independence. The Commonwealth option garnered a majority (60%) of the votes. It is important to note, however, that internal divisions within the statehood and independence parties hampered the performance of both parties in the plebiscite. In both instances, large numbers of members refused to vote in the plebiscite. In the case of the pro-statehood party, the Partido Estadista Republicano (PAR) (Republican Statehood Party), a faction led by Republican Luis A. Ferré subsequently formed the PNP in 1968 and at times used the plebiscite as a rallying cry to recruit more members to the party.
(Source: Comisión Estatal de Elecciones, Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico)
Since then, the Puerto Rican legislature has enacted three laws providing for local non-binding plebiscites in 1993, 1998, and 2012. In all three instances, the pro-statehoodPNP held a majority control of the Governor and Resident Commissioner’s offices, both houses of the local legislature, and mayoral offices throughout the island. Like the 1967 Federal plebiscite, the 1993 law provided for three status options and the Commonwealth option prevailed with nearly 48.6% of the vote compared to 46.3% for the Statehood option. It is important to note, however, that Roberto Sánchez Vilella, a former pro-Commonwealth governor, and others successfully sued the governor challenging the failure of the 1993 plebiscite to provide other alternatives and definitions of the three traditional status options. In Sánchez Vilella et al. v. ELA et al. [134 D.P.R. 503, 519-520 (1993)] the Puerto Rican Supreme Court affirmed the right of voters to submit “blank” plebiscitary ballots as a form of protest. Stated differently, the Puerto Rican Supreme Court unequivocally established that blank ballots (not to be confused with a failure to vote) are a legitimate and democratic form of civil disobedience or protest in Puerto Rican electoral law.
Unlike prior plebiscites, the 1998 ballot was mired in controversy from the beginning. Puerto Rico had recently suffered vast destruction at the hands of hurricane Georges and voters felt that a plebiscite represented an unreasonable waste of public funds that could be better spent in providing aid to victims of the hurricane. In addition, the pro-statehood Governor Pedro Roselló was experiencing backlash from the attempted sale of the Puerto Rican telephone company to a private Spanish corporation and from wide spread corruption scandals within his administration. Suffice to say that many (over 50% as indicated in figure below) Puerto Rican voters boycotted the 1998 plebiscite by filling out the so-called fifth option in the ballot or the “None of the Above” option. This vote effectively nullified the 1998 plebiscite.
(Source: Comisión Estatal de Elecciones, Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico)
Like prior plebiscites, the 2012 law was also mired in various controversies. Also known as the Democracy Act, early versions of this plebiscite were introduced in the House of Representatives between 2005 and 2008 by then Resident Commissioner Fortuño. With the support of Representative José Serrano (D-NY), Resident Commissioner Pierluisi was able to successfully shepherd the Democracy Act of 2010 through the House, but the bill lost traction in the Senate. In 2011, the Puerto Rican legislature passed a revised version of the Democracy Act with strong objections from the pro-Commonwealth PPDleadership. The leadership of the Puerto Rican Independence Party welcomed the plebiscite with the understanding that the language of the law was designed to fragment the Commonwealth option and favor statehood. Members of the PIP believed that the U.S. Congress would unilaterally reject any demands for statehood from Puerto Rico and thus expose the Puerto Rican electorate to the political limits of the PNP. The 2012 plebiscite vote is full of controversy and in many ways reflective of the politics of Puerto Rico more broadly.
In the Kabbalah, the number is not mentioned, a superstition with numbers, the calamity that even pronouncing eight letters could bring. I remember when I turned thirteen the many jokes at school that revolved around it. “How old are you?” asked the upper grade students to mock my confusion when answering. I had to respond with “twelve plus one” or “fifteen minus two,” because to say those cursed digits landed me in a wave of laughter. They also might launch a “cocotazo” with the cry of “gotcha!” as they rapped their knuckles into my skull, and still today I’m not really clear on what that meant in that context. So I grew up assuming that thirteen not only brought bad luck, but also scorn, derision, insult.
Yoani Sanchez, a University of Havana graduate in philology, emigrated to Switzerland in 2002, to build a new life for herself and her family. Two years later, she decided to return Cuba, promising herself to live there as a free person. Her blog Generation Yis an expression of this promise. Yoani calls her blog ‘an exercise in cowardice’ that allows her to say what is forbidden in the public square. It reaches readers around the world in over twenty languages. Yoani’s new book in English, Havana Real, is now available for pre-order here. Time magazine listed her as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2008.
Costa Rica will seek to join the Global Carbon Fund, an initiative created by the United Nations to help developing country address climate change. By 2020, the Fund aims to have $100 billion in resources. According to Alvaro Umaña from the Environment for Development Center and a former Costa Rican Minister of Environment this fund will need to layout clear parameters, long term policies and allow for coordinated and varied financing options including a carbon tax, an area where Costa Rica has already set an example. (El Financiero11/2/2012)
Mexico could cover its entire electricity demand by only utilizing 4 percent of its potential capacity of solar power, according to Carlota de las Mercedes Cagigas Castello, Advising Coordinator of the Ministry of Energy. She stated that Mexico’s solar generation potential is currently almost 6,550 terawatts hours (TWh) daily, making it a necessity to take advantage this resource. It will be a challenge for Mexico to reduce greenhouse gases and create a cost-competitive clean energy sector in the next 15 years, as the lack of investment and the prioritization of fossil fuel plants are preventing solar’s development. Cagigas Castello said that non-fossil fuel sources should contribute 35 percent of total energy generation by 2026. The Ministry of Energy has created three scenarios to meet that goal. The first is to develop all possible energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar; the second focuses on investing in nuclear energy; and the third combine the first two. (El Universal 10/03/2012)
The government of the Federal District in Mexico City awarded the Spanish power company BMLMX the rights to develop a biogas generation plant at the Bordo Poniente landfill for 25 years. BMLMX will invest 2.121 billion pesos to close the landfill, capture the biogas and build an energy plant. The closing of Bordo Poniente will save Mexico City 800-1,000 million pesos, 90 million pesos in compost and more than six billion pesos in energy costs. Fernando Aboitiz, Secretary of Public Works, stated that this investment will help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions and free up money to use for other projects such as public transportation. (Milenio 11/01/12)
Amanda Maxwell is a born and bred Jersey girl, but has lived for varying amounts of time in Michigan, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, and the Czech Republic before moving to Washington, DC. Prior to joining NRDC she received my Masters degree in International Politics and Economics with a focus in Renewable Energy policy from Charles University in Prague. While there, she gained an appreciation for night running, train travel (especially of the high speed variety), and the local pivo. She received a Bachelors degree in history and Spanish from Middlebury College, and also studied in Buenos Aires.
Several weeks ago NewsTaco wrote about a campaign to get a portrait of Celia Cruz hung in The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The call was to get as many people to vote for Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, in a competition that included 5 public figures, among them Alice Paul and Frederick Douglass. NewsTaco received news today:
After more than 11,000 votes cast, the winner is…Celia Cruz! Each historical figure brought a different set of ideas to the discussion, and worthy arguments were made for each of them. The Queen of Salsa resonated with a clear majority of the voters, representing a multifaceted story of immigration, music and entertainment.
But we still need the public’s help! Robert Weingarten constructs his unique layered images by identifying places and things that are important in the life of his subjects. Using the form below, we ask for your input on what words you would use to describe what was most important in the life of Celia Cruz.
There was jubilation Monday at the headquarters of the Dominican Liberation Party, where hundreds of supporters gathered to celebrate the apparent victory of economist Danilo Medina in the presidential elections held Sunday in the Caribbean nation.
It wasn’t so happy for supporters of opponent Hipolito Mejia, a former president running with the Dominican Revolutionary Party, who said he would challenge the claim, alleging fraud, and would present proof of voting irregularities this week.
With almost 100 percent of votes counted, Medina had just over 51 percent of the vote to Mejia’s 47 percent. The candidates needed more than 50 percent of ballots cast to avoid a runoff.
Representatives of the Organization of American States who observed the vote told The Associated Press there were some irregularities but they weren’t enough to alter the outcome.
Medina, 60, was the candidate of the ruling party to succeed President Leonel Fernández, who couldn’t seek a third term under the constitution. The party’s victory came following a multi-billion dollar spending spree that built new hospitals, roads and a subway system in the country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with its poorer neighbor, Haiti.
With 10 million people, the Dominican Republic has a long history of turbulent politics but it has the second-largest economy, fueled by tourism and sugar production, in the Caribbean after Puerto Rico.