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Thursday, July 30, 2015

The End Of The "Populares"


Pedro Vega

The Popular Democratic Party as we have known it may very well soon
cease to exist.

Since the middle of the last century, the PDP has been the standard bearer
of Puerto Rico's colonial status. Creating and then defending the Common-
wealth has long been the party's main objective. Besides their colonial mi-
ssion, the populares played the role of the island's main left-of-center party,
and borrowed much from social democratic ideas in the formulation and
execution of government policy. It could be said that during most of the
latter half of the 20th century, the PDP actually did a decent job of growing
Puerto Rico's economy and building a social safety net. But the party's work
in those areas has been unraveling over the last 30-plus years.

The Puerto Rican economic 'miracle' of the 1950s to the 1970s was largely
built on a foundation of lavish tax breaks for corporations (allowed by the
colonial master, of course). In tandem with corporate welfare, the PDP turned
towards the public sector, creating  "jobs" for scores of new government em-
ployees who in many cases seemed to do next to nothing. For the most part,
the opposing New Progressive Party simply continued these policies when-
ever they were in power. Eventually, though, the colonial administration
could no longer keep all of the plates spinning in the air.

The first plate to come crashing down and break was Section 936, which
allowed for the corporate tax breaks. The US Congress took away that option,
and many stateside employers promptly packed up and left; those still left
probably have their days in Puerto Rico counted. With less employers around,
and workers falling more into poverty, tax revenues decreased. Add to that a
large, mismanaged government and tons of corruption, and you have a go-
vernment which is desperately bleeding money.  And what of all of those
make-work government jobs? The money to pay those workers began to
evaporate. So the next band-aid was taking advantage of the triple-tax exempt
status of Puerto Rico government bonds to borrow eye-watering sums of mo-
ney. Inevitably, the house of cards was bound to collapse, as no one wants to
lend Puerto Rico money anymore,  recognizing the fact that more debt won't
bring the island out of the debt it already has. Puerto Rico has seemingly no
good way out. The island can't declare bankruptcy or take other independent
steps, since we're not a state, but also not a sovereign nation.

While both major political parties share the blame for the current situation,
this rickety house was built on the defective foundation that the Popular Demo-
cratic Party laid down. With the colonial Commonwealth status now thoroughly
discredited and  Puerto Rican society in a state of slow-motion collapse, the
PDP has not only nothing left to offer, but also no real reason for being. The
Commonwealth is doomed; no sane person can now believe that there is a fu-
ture for the island under its current political status. The drive for decolonization
is gradually strengthening, and will eventually be unstoppable. The party is dea-
ling with its imminent irrelevance by fragmenting, engaging in infighting and
making bad decision after bad decision. The choice of a lightweight like Ale-
jandro Garcia Padilla  to be the party's standard bearer was one notable symptom
of their disorientation. The recent fights within the party over tax reform, the
debt and other issues may be creating fissures that cannot be repaired. The pro-
sovereignty wing of the PDP may well go off on its own at some point, leaving
the party gutted and moribund. But the bottom line is that the PDP no longer
has anything useful to offer on seemingly any front.

Would handing things over to the pro-statehood New Progressive Party again
be an improvement? Only if having people in power who have made extreme
corruption into an art form can be considered an improvement. And it's not as if
they have made any headway in moving Puerto Rico towards decolonization; if
anything, they have hindered and tarnished the push for statehood. The NPP is
not the answer. The Puerto Rican people need to stop being hypnotized by party
labels and colors and start getting more involved in who is handling their govern-
ment and their economy. It is time to vote for those who are most qualified and
have the best, most innovative ideas. There are good candidates out there...you
just have to do a little homework.

Is it time for a new, mass political party on the center-left? Without a doubt, it is.
Something will have to fill the vacuum after the PDP completely loses all rele-
vance. But only time will tell when this particular patient will die, and what new
entity will grow out of its grave. Whatever that may be, it had better have a real
reason to exist, and something to fight for, as well as the willingness to really
fight for it. May it all be for the best.

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