The United States pressures Puerto Rico on various fronts

The White House decision to promote another vote on the political status of Puerto Rico – the fourth in twenty years – comes at a time of internal political difficulties, such as Washington’s refusal to concede relief to the colony’s economic situation and hear its requests regarding defense issues.

The lack of military and police resources assigned to border protection is precisely one of the issues that causes concern for the government of Puerto Rico with the Chief of Police being direct with his demands on Washington regarding the fact that the “Coastal Shield” is not even operating at 50% capacity. 

“I don’t know how else to say this to the United States; i’ve said it politically correct and i’ve said crudely”, said Superintendent Hector Pesquera during an interview with NCM News during which he added that “the issue is not getting the attention it deserves.”

Pesquera, who has the prestige of maintaining contacts close to President Obama and is highly regarded in the US Justice Department, clarified that with federal US agency offices in Puerto Rico there is total cooperation and “are doing everything they can.”  During the interview, in a courtyard of the Santa Catalina Palace, he concentrated his critique on higher ups in Homeland Security and compared the lack of action in Puerto Rico to the intensity of work being done on the border with Mexico.

“They are not giving it the priority that they do in the States”, said the official, who is on extended assignment from the port of Miami, where he holds the title of Director of Security.  He offered Florida as an example, where the Coast Guard has 12 modern cutters but in Puerto Rico the small float does not count with enough to be able to cover its routine coastal vigilance. 

Pesquera was careful to not cross the fine line into an openly political discussion about the colonial condition of Puerto Rico, but his words recalled those of Admiral William Leahy, when he was governor of Puerto Rico.   In his memoirs, rescued with remarks by historian Jorge Rodriguez Beruff, Leahy remembered how he was able to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt by night to discuss strategic preparations for World War II, but during the day was belittled when he attempted to seek aid from federal agencies in Washington for his programs in Puerto Rico. 

The conversation with Pesquera was had at a time when the White House decided to include Puerto Rico in its federal budget, but with a miniscule allocation of $2.5 million to the Justice Department so that during fiscal year 2013-2014 it would be charged with another plebiscite in Puerto Rico.  The decision by the office of President Obama results from a plebiscite held last November where Puerto Rico retracted its consent to its colonial condition by an absolute majority while only 45% of those who voted chose annexation as a State of the Union. 

The White House’s proposal to Congress is that this time it be that US agency that approves all educational materials, the content and form of the ballot, and the method that the consultation occurs on the part of the State Election Commission.  The paragraph inserted in the proposed budget explains that the alternatives available for a vote in Puerto Rico should be able to resolve the problem and be constitutional, in accordance with the laws and public policy of the US, but without giving further details, which provoked differing opinions within the island’s statehood movement, which is already affected by its electoral defeat last November.

For his part, the President of the small but influential Puerto Rican Independence Party, Ruben Berrios, said that they had succeeded in “making the mute talk” but that until now he is only “babbling” and warned that if they were talking about decolonizing alternatives that they were on the right track, but if they looked toward rehabilitating the colonial regime “it would be a farce.” 

For the governor, autonomist Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who won his election by a margin of 0.6%, the puzzle that Washington presents complicates the already volatile internal situation.

The move regarding the political status comes at a time when calls for reinstituting tax breaks for US manufacturing companies continue to go unheeded.  Additionally, a White House committee only limited itself to ask for more information with respect to calls to exempt this island nation from the obligation of using US ships when conducting commerce with the metropolis, in order to cheapen its cost of natural gas.

Meanwhile, the country continues to operate on a private corporate model that seeks to control grassroots organizations in order to influence the government, but it has not prevented low numbers in popularity for the governor.  On the other hand, the governor himself has had to use his own charisma and personal political negotiation in order to avoid having the successive marches and protests turn into a more generalized opposition. 

He demonstrated this ability recently when, faced with overwhelming proof of attempts to strip the State University  of its right to autonomy in his name, he decided to restore the paragraphs that had been eliminated from the bills under consideration.   But his action, which could have avoided a new student uprising, occurred without much notice in the country.

With these complications, now Garcia Padilla has to face a new plebiscite wanted by Washington.

(translation by Juan A. Ocasio Rivera)

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