Ahead of November's US presidential election, Puerto Rican politics is in disarray.
A federal grand jury last week indicted Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila of the 'status quo' Popular Democratic Party (PPD) on 19 counts involving electoral finance misconduct. The federal circuit in Boston is to hear an initial deposition proclaiming his innocence. Initially, it was assumed that the indictment would force the governor to withdraw his candidacy for re-election in November. However, his party allowed him time for reflection:
· During the intervening period it has become apparent that no potential substitutes in the PPD are willing to come forward without Acevedo Vila's authorisation.
· It is also reported that he is seriously considering trying to 'tough out' the controversy -- the daughter of party founder Luis Munoz Marin has offered support.
As PPD head, Acevedo Vila is well placed to determine party strategy. Indeed, there is a possible line of resistance:
· This would be to argue that federal courts and the FBI are pursuing a vendetta against the governor because he challenged their 'repressive' operations against a long dormant independence leader, who died in an FBI raid on the island. · The argument would be that Acevedo Vila has been defending Puerto Rican sovereignty as embodied in the 1952 'commonwealth' constitution, and his political enemies are using their leverage with federal authorities to destroy his political reputation, and intervene illegitimately in matters that the island's electorate should settle.
However, influential voices within the PPD also maintain that the party has never denied federal courts and agencies' right to uphold federal laws that apply on the island. A judgement soon will have to be made on whether Acevedo Vila stands any chance of quick exoneration. If not, it will become essential for the PPD to separate its fate from that of its current leader.
PNP problems. The pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) faces almost equally severe problems:
· A party primary recently selected current Resident Commissioner in Washington Luis Fortuno as its gubernatorial candidate, clearly defeating former governor and party leader Pedro Rossello.
· However, Rossello loyalists are organising a 'write in' campaign on his behalf (without his formal approval) and the PNP is wrestling with the allegation that Fortuno only won the primary because of 'crossover' voters from the PPD, who are accused of intervening in PNP internal affairs with the intention of destabilising the statehood movement.
Meanwhile, Rossello has re-launched a longstanding campaign in US courts, which argues that since Puerto Ricans are US citizens they are entitled to vote in US presidential elections. Presidential influence. While they will not be allowed a direct vote, Puerto Ricans are likely to exert unusually large influence on US presidential politics. The island's Democratic Party primary will be held at the end of the sequence, on June 1. Some 800,000 voters are likely to register:
· While normally the contest is settled by the time Puerto Rico votes, the island has 72 delegates (including seven super-delegates) in the Democratic convention, which could prove decisive given the close contest between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
· Given the high turnout typical of island elections, it could also affect the balance of the national popular vote.
Puerto Rican politicians align themselves with Democratic candidates more in accordance with their estimates of probable advantage for their faction relative to local rivals than on the basis of candidates' merits as presidential contenders, or benefactors of Puerto Rico. Therefore, the division of support between Obama and Clinton does not map closely onto the split between the PNP and PPD:
· Acevedo Vila and former PPD Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon have backed Obama, as has PNP resident commissioner candidate Pedro Pierluisi.
· Rossello, former PNP Governor Carlos Romero Barcelo and PNP Senate President Kenneth McClintock have endorsed Clinton.