Times of public bankruptcy, growing deficits, bloated bureaucracy, outlandish public spending, regressive taxation of overtaxed wage earners, and outrageous political rhetoric used as official discourse have made taxpayers in Puerto Rico angry. Everyone is scalded by the nefarious results of corruption, waste, and mismanagement with which the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic and the pro-statehood New Progressive (NPP) parties have regaled public administration while alternating in government over the past four decades. Justifiable disgust with the responsible parties has misled some to blame the electoral party system instead of the alternating culprits.
Moreover, 108 years of colonialism have molded the mentality of the enemies of independence. Their firing squads aim to execute the only pro-independence institution that has survived colonial tsunamis, the Puerto Rican Independence Party, even though its candidates’ honesty and ideological steadfastness have commanded respect, far beyond electoral results, and all its financial reports are in order, public, and up-to-date. Although the PIP has never been given a chance to govern, these frustrated ideological turncoats who often could not otherwise attain publicity or positions of leadership and become political guns-for-hire, have turned the PIP into the party they love to hate, while exonerating and praising the colonial leadership (particularly, the PDP) that gives them financial or ideological cover.
More than a century of U.S. colonial rule has done more than corrupt Puerto Rico’s democracy. It has poisoned the colonial mindset against independence and its advocates. There have been decades of persecution. A short list would include the Ponce Massacre of unarmed Puerto Rican Nationalists in the 1930s, the political gag laws of La Mordaza in the 1950s, the incarceration of Nationalists as political prisoners for over 25 years, the murder of young independentistas in the 1970s in Cerro Maravilla and elsewhere, the arbitrary arrests and imprisonment of peaceful civil disobedience demonstrators in Vieques in the 1990s, and the assassination of independence militant Filiberto Ojeda Ríos as recently as 2005, officially sponsored discrimination against advocates of independence and decolonization through the infamous dossier system or carpetas, documented for over 30 years, and mounting economic dependence (documented by the 2006 Brookings Institution and General Accountability Office reports).
This repression has engrossed the pro-statehood ranks among those who increasingly rely on the U.S. taxpayer to perpetually foot the bill that allows powerful American corporations every year to siphon billions of dollars –virtually tax free– off the Island, leaving ghost factories and joblessness in return.
Although the notion of “democracy” in our culture is usually associated with free elections, in some countries, like the United States, the lack of adequate controls on electoral spending turns the serious aspirations of many millions into the tasteless joke of a few with millions. The rule that “money talks” is now a constitutional principle of the highest order. And in a colony like Puerto Rico, what passes for democracy is a mediocre, often farcical, but always unfair system.
Notwithstanding the enormous odds against its success, there are monumental efforts to control political investors to provide a modicum of public education and informed citizen participation. The State Elections Commission surely has its flaws. The PIP as the sole watchdog of the culprits of bad government who suspiciously watch over each other is an admittedly imperfect, but nonetheless praiseworthy effort to salvage the tattered remains of our people’s democratic aspirations against political investors under conditions of political subordination and economic dependence. And yet, while the civilized world is moving towards full public funding of political parties and elections to the exclusion of private donations, the historically short-sighted would throw out the baby with the bathwater and rush to embrace the full privatization of elections.
The governor’s perjured campaign promise of “I-will-not-sign-into-law-any-bill-that-imposes-a-sales-tax” already shows the garrulous nature of economic interests subsidizing dishonest political discourse to the detriment of over-taxed salaried workers. Compromised votes in exchange for positions of hierarchy has replaced responsible public administration and killed any parliamentary debate of substance. Legislative personnel hired by the puppets of private financing have become Fellini-like amateurs of security cameras violating the privacy of unsuspecting citizens. The more cynical would even favor a system where only rich part-timers would become embedded in the legislature to please private interests. In short, even greater corruption seasoned with overgrown servility would become the ventriloquist’s puppet of moneyed interests in our electoral process.
The solution cannot be to overthrow what limited democracy is possible under colonial rule under the guise of electoral “reform,” as some innocents have been led to believe. Until all voters assume the responsibility for the votes they cast and demand drastic restrictions to private financing of elections, we shall be subjected to unrestricted repetitions of the same unsavory themes. To eliminate public funding of elections and allow private wealth to subsidize those who represent its interests throws out democracy, leaving only dirty colonial water.