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The View from the Colony

Why Hillary Won Puerto Rico

by MANUEL OTERO

San Juan, P.R.

I am sure the race factor constitutes a very powerful undercurrent in the primary contest in the U.S., and will be so in the upcoming November elections. But how does that factor play out in relation to other considerations, such as the growing class antagonisms that are beginning to excite the political debate in the United States?

Doubtless, Obama’s mission has a lot to do with an urgent need of the ruling class to trascend, at least perceptually, the race divide in the United States. Doubtless, this urgent mission has a lot to do with the changing demographics in the U.S., the growth of the so called Latino minority, and the need to create a new integrated, post-racial majority, that could marshall the electoral processes towards a new "American" consensus.

Yet, Obama’s mission has more to do with providing safe channels of political movilization that creates the illusion of empowerment without actually going there. Obama, the master illusionist he is, could believe his own fairy tale, and attempt some ground-shifting ventures on his own, and then most probably he will be quickly disposed of, or he could try to play out his role as scripted, and be washed away by general frustration, cynicism and disillusionment.

Either way, the real owners of the U.S. will gain a few more years to clean up the Bush-Cheney mess, distract the masses, obscure any real political goals, and consolidate their hold on key strategic world resources.

In that context, the primaries in Puerto Rico can be understood as an insignificant side-show which accidentally acquired a bloated publicity only because neither Hillary nor Barack have been able to assume effective political control of the general discontent within U.S. society.

Regardless its unexpected exposure to CNN’s limelight, the primary event in Puerto Rico failed, once more, to engage in the potent issues that with some frequency rear their heads in the mainland campaigns. If politics is always local, in Puerto Rico, a superpopulated Island (with one of the highest population densities in the world, despite the fact that a full half of Puerto Ricans live in the United States) it is really a bizarre mirror labirynth in which the colonial status is the overriding issue. Other social, economic and cultural contents revolve around the question of whether Puerto Rico will continue its colonial status (since 1898), or achieve some kind of resolution, any time soon.

As such, and regardless all the media inspired excitement, turnout, again, was far below regular electoral participation, which usually exceeds 80%, and has sometimes creeped close to 90%. In the presence of hundreds of cameras from the U.S. and other countries, after some heavy campaigning by the candidates, especially Hillary, barely 20% of Puerto Ricans thought it was worthwhile to spend a couple of hours Sunday casting a vote for one of these choices.

Of that 20%, a good chunk went for Hillary. Why? Well, mainly because Bill, during his eight years in the White House, cast some of his magic spells here, throwing some money this way, and channeling his corrupt schemes that made some local friends very rich off federal funds, and created the illusion of general prosperity.

Then, he stepped in into one of Puerto Rico’s most emotionally charged issues –the U.S. Navy bombing of Vieques– and did put some pressure on the Navy brass to defuse the confrontation, which was kind of embarassing to the State Department. Any issue that raises the colonial status of Puerto Rico to a talking point in the Latin American embassies has to be solved sooner rather than later.

Granted, he took some heat because his (as usual) money-bloated triangulation scheme did not play well on what became an intensely passionate issue for many Puerto Ricans both in the Island and in the mainland, but slick as he is, he managed most of the fallout to spoil then governor Rosselló’s image. He nimbly danced his way out of it, and sent Hillary to clean whatever egg had landed here on his reputation as a champion of the underdog.

And then, she stepped in. She made Vieques a vote-getter among New York Puerto Ricans during her Senate race. She was smart enough to follow-up on the issue once she became Senator, and came out with some headline-grabbing statements and moves that won her the attention of many Puerto Ricans.

She even sent Terry McAuliffe into the epicenter of the storm to make some provocative statements equating the Vieques struggle to the civil rights campaigns in the South. McAuliffe took a lot of heat for this from conservaive Democrats. He was in Puerto Rico during the primary campaign to cash in these chips with the electorate.

Keep in mind, also, that while Hillary was supported by a well-oiled machine coalition of statehooders and commonwealthers, Barack’s main endorser was governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, a commonwealther presently indicted by the "federales" on 19 (admittedly, rather flimsy, as corruption goes in this colony) charges of electoral fund illegalities.

So, did race play its card in the primary results? Racism is a constituent element in any class society in the Caribbean. Slavery is very much part of our histories, and the long term effects of that brutal system of exploitation have not been uprooted from Puerto Rican society. That said, did race it have any significant effect on the results of this primary conest? No, it did not. Did feminist issues, glass ceilings, real oppression of women which still persists in our society, movilize any votes? No. The one in five voters that bothered to cast their votes followed their traditional leaders, sympathasized with Hillary, and did as expected. They gave her a thank you gift with which she can begin to wrap up her bid, and start negotiating with the Obama people how she can trade a gracious exit with some shared power in the upcoming Democratic regime.

MANUEL OTERO is editor of La Voz de Vieques. He can be reached at: manuelotero@mac.com

 

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