Puerto Rico 2021: A Shift in Perspective, A New Opposition

Here is NACLA’s translation of a compelling article by Luis Fernando Coss, who writes “Puerto Rico’s Left made significant gains in the recent general elections. This vote for decolonization and social change must be appreciated.” This piece was originally published in Spanish by 80grados. [L. F. Coss has been a professor in the School of Communication at the University of Puerto Rico since 1987. He worked as a journalist for many years. He was director of Claridad, cofounder of the monthly Diálogo, coordinator of the series Periolibros, founder of the weekly Palique, and a special assistant to the president of the Corporación de Difusión Pública de Puerto Rico (Radio y Televisión).] Here are excerpts:

One of the things often taken for granted by the independence and socialist movement is knowing when to claim a victory. As a consequence of suffering so many blows throughout its history, the movement has become reflexively cynical when having to assess some kind of partial victory or progress. Let’s recall, among other signature chapters, in 1976 the Puerto Rican Independence Party received 80,000 votes, which, when combined with those of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, equaled nearly 100,000 votes. Or the founding and progress of the Workers United Movement (MOU), which managed to bring together the country’s top unions and mobilize a sizable radical movement. Or when Madison Square Garden filled to capacity in 1974 in support of Puerto Rico’s independence, a massive event that closed with Juan Mari Brás and in which Angela Davis, Jane Fonda, and a robust contingent of the North American Left participated. Or when the Puerto Rican Socialist Party just barely elected Carlos Gallisá and Mari Brás to the Legislature. In each case, success was followed by strife.

In other cases, the movement acknowledged “success,” but not its long-term impact. Before pessimism kicks in, it would help to revisit some of the most recent progress of the last two decades: the struggles for Vieques, against the natural gas pipeline, and against the toxic ash in Peñuelas are evidence of important victories outside of the metropolitan area. The student strikes between 2010 and 2017 planted the activist seed in thousands of youth who went out to vote on November 3. The release of Oscar López Rivera, the militant mass feminist mobilizations of the past few years, agroecological projects and autonomous organizing in many communities, [and] the numerous, ever-increasing, and persistent struggles for human rights [are all important]. And finally, the events of Summer ‘19, the impact of which resonated in the United States and around the world. All this cumulative experience showed up in different ways in November 2020: a voting bloc has clearly emerged in opposition to the current colonial and neoliberal regime. [. . .]

The convergence around “social change” falls under a very wide umbrella, from partial choices—as one might consider a vote for individual candidates—to more calibrated decisions, as in the cumulative vote for the PIP or the MVC. Candidates of these two parties identified with “decolonization” and the struggle against “neoliberalism” accumulated a very high number of votes. Ultimately, we witnessed a change in mindset, a transformation of common sense. I see this as a living mosaic with distinct sections embodied by the radical feminist movement that organized the Summer 2019 protests; Bad Bunny, René Pérez, and Ricky Martin; [MCV’s gubernatorial candidate Alexandra] Lúgaro, Natal, and the MVC; and finally, the Independence Party with its [gubernatorial candidate Juan] Dalmau as the face of a convincing resurgence.

That cultural shift didn’t fall from the sky. Implicated in this movement for change are surely all efforts, many unknown, in every aspect of national life, whether in associations or unions, community or economic projects, meetings around a theme, or historic demands such as those of the women’s struggle, or in education, human rights, environmental issues, or labor. This flexibility is what allows us to talk about a new opposition to the colonial and neoliberal regime. [. . .]

In 2020, three leftist candidates were elected to the Senate, two from the MVC and one from the PIP. María de Lourdes Santiago [of PIP] obtained 132,208 votes in a field of candidates where there was also greater variety and similar platforms to hers. She received 2,000 more votes than Dalmau did in 2016. The PIP Senate candidacy is posting similar figures to those of the last four elections. This historical continuity makes me think that the overwhelming majority [of MVC voters] are independentistas. Ana Irma [Rivera Lassén of MVC], a known independentista, feminist, and spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ community, obtained 67,139 votes; [MVC’s Rafael] Bernabe, independentista, socialist, and former union leader, obtained 62,926 votes…The number of the votes for María de Lourdes and Ana Irma adds up to 199,347. One variable to consider that would considerably increase this estimated figure are the votes for Chaco Vargas Vidot, who received 67,151 votes. Among them there was likely a decent number of votes leaning toward social change and independence. If we were to just add a third of votes for Vargas Vidot to the total “alternative” vote (independence-socialist leaning) in the Senate, the total figure would reach 221,506. [. . .]

The advances in the struggle for decolonization and social change cannot be underestimated. Reviewing the results of the elections reveals that an estimated 240,000 people or more support “change.”

The results are very unusual because the “alternative vote” has become more evident. In past elections, many [alternative voters] remained submerged in the PPD, ignored because they abstained, somewhat visible in their support for historical PIP candidates and Vargas Vidot in the legislature, and finally, as a miniscule representation of socialists. All of this has been left behind. The MVC presents itself as a third electoral force with a promising future and two young leaders with national recognition—Lúgaro and Natal—ready to face political drama from unconventional positions. The MVC elected four legislators with an indisputable margin and achieved a historic opening in San Juan. The PIP, for its part, has been strengthened, with a vigor not seen in many years, and a highly visible leadership trio of Denis Márquez, María de Lourdes Santiago, and Juan Dalmau. In 2021 and onward, these leaders—who all have the opportunity to achieve great national renown and combine energies and projects with greater success than ever in the legislature—are complemented by Eva Prados (good luck with the recount!), Mariana, Bernabe, Ana Irma, Bernardo Márquez, and Vargas Vidot.

The 2020 election results, in sum, reconfigure the map of leftist factions: in addition to the two PIP legislators elected, four of the five MVC candidates elected identify as independentistas and social movement activists, to whom we must also add independentista Chaco Vargas Vidot. The election of Bernardo Márquez, who has declared himself a state-hooder but who supports the “urgent agenda” of social change that the MVC proposes, suggests possible changes in the so-called “obsolete paradigm of status,” in the sense that opening the door to new convergences between state-hooders and independentistas (if Márquez doesn’t become an independentista before then). The election of Rodríguez Veve and Burgos Muñiz to the Congress, with a very conservative party of religious and moral conviction, further adds to the diversity won in 2020. [. . .]

For full article, see https://nacla.org/news/2020/12/01/puerto-rico-elections-new-opposition

[Photo above: “Demonstrators celebrate the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló, marching from Milla de Oro in Hato Rey to the Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, July 25, 2019.” (Photo by Daryana Rivera / Wikimedia)]

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