“In solidarity with my neighbors, friends... and mostly because of the remorse I feel for voting for all these bastards that lied to us. ¡PA' LANTE CON EL PARO! (Ahead with the strike!)”
On October 15, while Puerto Ricans everywhere – from Chicago to Juncos, San Lorenzo to New York – were searching for information on the biggest national strike the island has ever seen (over 200,000 people), I read online this striking comment from my aunt in Puerto Rico. And trust me, if you know my aunt's politics, the comment is striking. She is a vehement penepé – a member of the pro-statehood party, Partido Nuevo Progresista, that currently holds a monopoly of power. However, in the midst of the chaos that once again entrenches the “island of enchantment” she publically renounces her allegiance to the party. She is not alone. From the time that Luis Fortuño Burset was elected last november, the faith that Boricuas once had for him has transformed into a frustration that is spilling into the streets. But why?
A pro-statehood, republican governor of Puerto Rico is what happened! A person whose election campaign announced that it would “reduce the size of the government without firing anyone.” But by the end of this year, nearly 20,000 will have been fired from their government jobs. A person who was elected mainly because his opponent, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, was under an FBI investigation motivated by his condemnation of their assassination of pro-independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos. Almost all charges were dropped after he lost to Fortuño.
Now Puerto Rico is re-approaching former Governor Rosselló's taste for societal decadence and intellectual retardation. The theme of Fortuño's administration can be summed up in a statement by Jaime González, former director of “Portal del Futuro,” a redevelopment project in the town of Ceiba. “We are going to create some stores that will have products that you [residents of Ceiba] can't buy, but 'such is life.' Not everyone is so graced.” He ended by saying that at least the residents have the option of walking a pathway by the sea and watching the wealthy descend from their cruise ships and do some expensive shopping. ¡Qué compasión!
“Such is life” is the attitude when this year Fortuño dismantled the land trust of one of the oldest and poorest communities in Santurce, Caño Martín Peña, thus creating a path for their destruction in order to build elite condominiums. “Such is life” is the idea when he banned some of the finest Puerto Rican works of literature from schools. Any society that begins to censor books, especially under the mantle of "protecting young minds" must prepare itself for the advent of a long, treacherous nightmare.
“Such is life” when he announced that he must fire 17,000 government employees. Included in the firings is 53% of the staff of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture – an institution created to preserve and protect one of the most valuable possessions of our island: our culture. For someone who leads a party that eagerly advocates the “americanization” of the island to prepare it for statehood, this makes perfect sense. That is also why his administration stood by while locally-produced shows and talent on WAPA TV – the most popular Puerto Rican television channel - were cancelled and their staff fired.
“Such is life” when his administration defended the excessive use of force when the state police beat bloody university students in Río Piedras who refused to obey his new law on the sale of alcohol. And God forbid if you speak up! When music star René Pérez of Calle 13 called the governor a “son of a b****” on MTV 3 he was called, puzzling, by Fortuño's Secretary of Interior a “socialista de discoteca” (club socialist) and his concert in San Juan was completely cancelled by the penepé mayor. Although René's statement was not the most eloquent, it is part of the massive frustration that spilled into the streets of San Juan a day later by union members, students, mothers, fathers – everyday people who feel that Puerto Rico is headed towards a dangerous path. However, it must be noted that René began his statement with what I believe should be on the minds of all those who are dissatisfied with Fortuño's policies: “One must be free and Latin America is incomplete without Puerto Rico free.”
Last week some of the tanks of the Caribbean Petroleum Company in Bayamón exploded during the night, burning a fire that lasted for two days, displaced thousands of people, and shot up black toxic smoke thousands of feet into the air. It is almost as if an atomic bomb exploded in the middle of the San Juan Metropolitan area. And in some ways it did. It was the climax of a year-long nightmare. With its loud explosions that shattered windows and ripped off roofs, the event at the oil plant was figuratively telling Puerto Rico to wake up. And not just wake up and throw-out Fortuño and his cronies in four years, but to find a real solution, one that René Pérez understands well.
Originally published in La Voz del Paseo Boricua, November 2010 and Que Ondee Sola magazine.