Elections in Puerto Rico and the Working Class Alternative

After years of strategic dialogue and an arduous process of electoral inscription, Puerto Rico can now count on an organized alternative, a political party that is committed to defending the interests of the working class and marginalized sectors of the island’s population. On 6 November 2012, the new Working People’s Party (Partido del Pueblo Trabajador-PPT) will run 71 candidates, from Governor to members of the municipal legislative assembly. “Breaking the electoral barrier” and “Puerto Rico should be governed by those who sweat for it” are the slogans that the PPT brings to the 2012 elections.

The PPT represents a radical break with traditional politics on the island, as it welcomes people who believe in social justice, democratic rights, (local) sustainable development and environmental protection, independently of the positions that individuals may hold concerning the country’s political status.

Since 1950, the three conventional electoral choices were distinguished according to their line on the relationship that the 3,6 million residents have with the United States: colonial status quo by the Democratic Popular Party (PPD), full annexation into the United States by the New Progressive Party (PNP), and full sovereignty establishing a Republic by the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP). Only the first two –Annexation and the Status Quo parties- have ruled the island, as voters have historically alternated their allegiance according economic performance and street crime issues. Following the economic down turn experienced since the late 1990s, however, the PPD and PNP have become indistinguishable as both have proposed exclusively neoliberal measures such as privatization, and both have demonstrated equal levels of corruption. In addition, these two parties have seen to it that most local businesses go bankrupt in the face of corporate giants who use cheap labor in other countries and sell products that can easily be produced on the island. Multinational corporations generate over US$ 30 billion in profits annually from island manufacturing operations, mostly in the pharmaceutical sector, without paying taxes to the local government. Neither of the two traditional ruling parties proposes even a modest tax on corporate earnings. Furthermore, while the country continues to fall into economic depression, with over 200.000 workers emigrating to the continental US in search of jobs over the last three years, politicians of both parties have passed legislation favoring the dismissal of thousands of public servants and the privatization of public services.

Puerto Ricans may recall previous efforts to form political alternatives, whether on the streets or at the polls. In the 1970s, the Marxists-Leninist and pro-independence Socialist Party of Puerto Rico (PSP) got over 10.000 votes for their gubernatorial candidate Juan Mari Bras, who later in 1980 won 50.000 votes while running for the senate. That last experience of building a mass left party degenerated into factionalism, as debates on priorities –organizing and mobilizing workers versus avoiding annexation- pitted the organization’s cadre against each other. Since then, no serious electoral alternatives have been developed. Throughout the 1990s, left politics and radicalism were shaped on the streets among a wide array of social and environmental movements including trade union struggles against privatization, students in defense of the public University of Puerto Rico (UPR), against militarization, and in marginalized communities against gentrification.

Now, out of the social struggles that have sprung from more than two decades of neoliberal attacks, economic downturn and escalating social violence, a new political party is born, the PPT. The initiative was taken by socialists who were active in trade unions, women’s organisations, environmental groups and university students. The decision to build a mass party that breaks with the current political culture and institutes a program not on ideological labels but on real concrete proposals for change, was welcomed by broad sections of the working class, including students, ecumenical groups, small and surviving businesses, and those concerned with human rights, agriculture and police violence. Those who founded the party understand that the political status of Puerto Rico will not be solved by the elections but by the mobilization of the country’s working class, and it are the demands of that working class that will shape the contours of their future.

The party’s list of candidates is refreshingly young and diverse, and both legislative as well as executive posts are in the new party’s sights. In the capital city of San Juan, the PPT is running 31-year old filmmaker and community activist Tito Roman Rivera, for mayor. Born and raised in public housing and a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico Faculty of Education, Tito has won the respect of his peers, many grassroots organizations, world-renowned artists such as the Latin Hip Hop trio Calle 13, and the entire university community due to his long history of activism on campus. His political career began when the entire country was mobilized between 1999 and 2003, against the US Navy presence on the island of Vieques. Tito is supported by candidates for the local and national assemblies Rene Reyes (28) and Nicole Díaz González (26), respectively, who both studied at UPR as well, and come from working class backgrounds. Running for the municipal legislative assembly is 23- year-old Shariana Ferrer Núñez, a sociologist and Queer activist who has been fundamental in raising public awareness on violence against women and the LGBTQ community.

Beyond the metropolitan area a number of independent candidates have joined the ranks of the PPT, so that now 10 are running for mayor in their respective municipalities. Among them is Laylanie Ruiz of the industrial town of Barceloneta, who founded her own local, anti-neoliberal/anti-discrimination and eco-friendly party Echo of the People (Eco del Pueblo). The requirements for forming an alliance with the PPT are accepting basic class principles, being in favor of women and minority rights, and non-alliance with either of the two dominant political parties.

At the national level, the PPT has Rafael Bernabe as their gubernatorial candidate. Long time activist and public intellectual Bernabe, taught and conducted research at the UPR Department of Hispanic Studies. He is a prolific writer, (co-)authored many books including the ground-breaking Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898 (with Cesar Ayala), and ear-capturing orator who -since the electoral campaign began in July, has buried all other candidates in their political contradictions in televised debates. His stances on abortion, unionization of both the public and private sectors of the economy, gay marriage and the legalization/medicalization of the country’s drug problem in order to combat drug trafficking are solid and consistent. His platform consists of defending the working class and getting the state to revitalize the local economy in the face of manufacturing industry relocating away from the island. This means supporting agriculture, cooperatives, small businesses and a democratized system of higher education that speaks to country’s economic needs. Additionally, he is an ardent defender of immigrant rights. Bernabe is joined by his colleague Felix Cordova who is running for Resident Commissioner in Washington DC, teacher union activist Eva Ayala who is running for Representative in the legislature and Ineabelle Colon running for Senator. Also running for Senator is Ruthie Arroyo, a feminist lawyer and human rights activist from working class Bayamon, just outside the capital city. Arroyo has been active on issues concerning women’s rights and sexual diversity, police brutality and community advocacy.

In the upcoming elections the PPT is not the only party challenging the historical bipartisan dictatorship. Just as he did during the last elections, in 2008, engineer Rogelio Figueroa will run for governor with a European Green-like party, Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico (PPR), which emphasizes citizen participation, the cleaning up of corruption, care for the environment and changes in the formulas dealing with the country’s political status. Figueroa’s campaign has been impressive in that, being Black, he has marked a sharp contrast with the usual image of the island’s political leaders. However, his political program has been void of class-consciousness or any real legislative proposals.

The other alternative in these elections is the MUS, or the Sovereign Union Movement, which advocates for Free Association, the last of the three options for decolonization recognized by the United Nations after independence and voluntary annexation. The problem with this party is that, again, it places political status above class politics. Furthermore, the MUS openly supports making alliances with candidates from the status-quo-PPD, which contradicts their program for breaking with the bipartisan monopoly.

In total, six parties will be participating in the elections of 2012. The general elections will be accompanied by a two-part referendum were voters will be asked if they want to continue maintaining the current colonial status and secondly, would they prefer Independence, Annexation or Free Association. Puerto Ricans are US citizens but are not allowed to participate in US general elections.

According to the Marxist-Gramscian theoretician, Hector Meléndez, “Out of all the political formations participating in the 2012 elections, only the PPT proposes to construct a party of the working and popular classes, and that these classes should take control of the government of Puerto Rico.”

The language used in the campaign may sound strange to traditional pro-independence and socialist activists, as some jargon is omitted, among them: independence, socialism and revolution. But self-determination, workers’ power and radical social change are what the PPT is all about. Perhaps the jargon has been modified but the ideas have always been the same. And although these grand ideas lie at the heart of the PPT, its campaign goes further to tackle concrete issues, that affect the popular masses on a daily basis: unemployment, violence against women, discrimination against sexual diversity, crime, corruption, failing health and education systems. The PPT is the party of social struggle; all its members and candidates for public office were activists before the party was formed. The PPT proposes to eliminate unnecessary government spending, like personal allowances, car allowances and bonuses for legislators. Although much of the party’s leadership come from the independence movement, the PPT understands that voters have continuously been fooled into thinking that the political status can be changed by the elections held every four years. The working class has been divided according to empty promises of a political future with the United Sates and neither general elections nor referendum have been capable of promoting peace and security. The PPT leadership has been criticized by other radical groups for seeming to avoid the issue of the island’s political status but for Nicole Diaz, “to unite annexationists, autonomists and pro-independence workers in one party is not to ignore the status. It is in the end, another way of finding how to resolve it.”

The PPT campaign has made great advances by using social media, as well as by successfully infiltrating mainstream media. The key has been to have the party’s candidates and militants present at every social forum and public debate possible, whether it be at a meeting of the country’s cooperative association, a demonstration opposing the death penalty or at a forum on women’s reproductive rights. Those working on the campaign have no illusions; it will be difficult to get more than a few municipal legislative posts, perhaps one or two representatives in Congress. At the same time, PPT militants are in for the long haul. More important than who wins the elections is the continued defense of working class interests in Puerto Rico. The PPT leadership hopes to win at least 3% of the vote, in order to keep its registration. “Independently of who wins or who loses the elections, the rights of workers continuously need to be defended. The numeric outcomes of the elections are not crucial, what is crucial is the organization, the preparation of materials and the access to those groups –the labor movement and non-organized workers, which represent the vast majority,” says Raul Cotto, a University of Puerto Rico professor of political science.

From Puerto Rico, Antonio Carmona Báez teaches Political Science at the University of Amsterdam in the The Netherlands and is a member of the Dutch section of the Fourth International, Socialist Alternatief Politiek.

The PPT might be bunk, but this article is worse

And here is why:

http://solidarity-us.org/site/node/3714

Of course, it is quite telling the prominence giving to this article versus to this newer one.

That said, Mr. Carmona's article is disingenuous and actually outright factually incorrect - but lets just go over some (not all) of these:

1) "The PPT represents a radical break with traditional politics on the island, as it welcomes people who believe in social justice, democratic rights, (local) sustainable development and environmental protection, independently of the positions that individuals may hold concerning the country’s political status."

This ignores the fact that the Partido Por Puerto Rico (PPR) which first ran in 2008, has the exact same proposal. In fact, the differences between these two parties are one of details - they are in the general indistinguishable.

2) "Since 1950, the three conventional electoral choices were distinguished according to their line on the relationship that the 3,6 million residents have with the United States: colonial status quo by the Democratic Popular Party (PPD), full annexation into the United States by the New Progressive Party (PNP), and full sovereignty establishing a Republic by the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP)."

Not true. While this is not the forum to go deeply into Puerto Rican history, it suffices to say that until 1967 the PNP didn't exist - and the Statehood movement was divided between the Socialist Party and the Republican Party. And that the PPD was an autonomist party in 1950 - something quite different than the Commonwealth that emerged in 1952, and which represent a break - with political consequences - in their previous ideology.

This simplification and factual inaccuracy its not trivial: it presents a picture that goes well with the narrative of the status issue as so overtaking, other considerations are ignored. This is an oversimplification - and while in an introductory article entirely understandable, the issue is that this is exactly a central argument of the PPT.

3) "However, his [PPR] political program has been void of class-consciousness or any real legislative proposals." - this is an outright lie.

The PPR has in fact been in this campaign more class conscious than the PPR. Nowhere is this most obvious than where the PPT defines in their propaganda "Workers" as those who get a salary - and includes in this professionals such as lawyers and doctors, entertainers, etc, alongside the more usual categories such as cashiers and construction workers. Class is not formed in this way - and the PPR addresses this explicitly (Albeit not in Marxist terms)by recognizing the existence of a middle class and a lower class, and there being differences between them. While the PPT promotes a false unity of class interests - in the style of populist liberalism - the PPR promotes a class conscious magnanimity, more in line with Humanist liberalism.

In addition, the debates have demonstrated that the claim of the PPR as devoid of substance in terms of legislative proposals.

In other words, the forces around the PPT are sectarian towards the PPR, and have to resort to lying about its program to justify its separate existence.

6) "The other alternative in these elections is the MUS, or the Sovereign Union Movement, which advocates for Free Association, the last of the three options for decolonization recognized by the United Nations after independence and voluntary annexation."

The MUS doesn't advocate this.

They, like the PPT, believe that they can accommodate within

Unlike the PPT, they do have a concrete proposal, that of the Constitutional Assembly and an eventual referendum on this assembly.

The PPT has no concrete program on the status question, but they do not say anything different from the MUS in the general, including the composition of the party itself. This is misrepresentation intended to demonstrate the PPT has a unique position, rather than a sectarian one.

5) "Furthermore, the MUS openly supports making alliances with candidates from the status-quo-PPD, which contradicts their program for breaking with the bipartisan monopoly."

So has the PPT in local elections - particularly in Ponce, the second largest city, in which they are running in alliance with an unreconstructed breakaway faction of the PPD. In other words, once again the PPT needs to misrepresent the facts to promote their differences.

6) "According to the Marxist-Gramscian theoretician, Hector Meléndez," - he is not such thing. And this appeal to authority is meant to provide some authority to his words. However, the opinion he gives is neither correct (the PPR is attempting the same thing), nor particularly objective, as he is a member of the PPT, not an outside force. The dis-ingeniousness is thick here...

7)"The PPT campaign has made great advances by using social media, as well as by successfully infiltrating mainstream media. The key has been to have the party’s candidates and militants present at every social forum and public debate possible, whether it be at a meeting of the country’s cooperative association, a demonstration opposing the death penalty or at a forum on women’s reproductive rights."

Describing this as "infiltration" is a misrepresentation. In Puerto Rico, elections are largely publicly funded, and with a spending cap. It also has a culture of "equal time" - one that even non-electoral organizations access (for example, the MST is routinely on the news and newspapers).

More relevant, the "infiltration" of the media is due to the millions of dollars in public funding becoming an inscribed electoral party provides, and this culture. In other words, it is not due to hard work, or support, or tactical mastery, but rather, the hiring of media professionals to perform this work, rather than emerging from the grassroots or representing

In this sense, the PPT is no different than the PIP, the traditional "third party" in PR, who substituted a smaller supporter base with a publicly funded bureaucracy capable of projecting its image further than its own resources would allow.

That its, it is a strawman.

One can discuss the merits or demerits of this, but Mr. Carmona mis-represents the reality of the PPT's projection. To give an idea, it took the PPT almost a year to collect the signatures to become inscribed, while the PIP does so in a matter of weeks. This represents the novelty of the PPT, but also its lack of a real base.

I am in agreement and in disagreement with some of the above positions of the PPT, but Mr. Carmona misrepresents the truth of the PPT, the other emerging parties, and its reach and insertion, and tries to hide the sectarian motivations behind it: namely attempting to break the PIP as a third party, and jockey for power with the other two emerging parties - whose key difference lie in the origin, not the programs, of these parties.

All of the contradictions presented here can be easily verified by visiting the websites of each party, and the historical perspectives verified even in Bernabe's own book.

If Solidarity is a truly revolutionary socialist, anti-racist, and feminist organizations, it would do well distancing itself from colonialist, class collaborationist efforts like the PPT - and instead uphold the socialist tasks of national liberation for Puerto Rico. Mr. Carmona et al are seeking to distance themselves from socialism without this harming their academic and social networks, but there must come a time when one recognizes people have lost what they held dear. And the PPT is such a case.

re: "prominence" of this article

SKS mentions in his opening comments that "it is quite telling the prominence giving to this article versus to this newer one [the article critical of the PPT written by a Solidarity member, available here].

Speaking as someone who volunteers their time to format these articles for the webpage, there was no intention to lend "prominence" to one perspective or the other. One was simply written before the other, and both were published to illustrate a range of perspectives on the emergence of the PPT. Solidarity does not have a position on the question, other than that found in our points of unity: "We are internationalists. We support movements for self-determination and national liberation throughout the world and the struggles of workers for better living standards and social and political power everywhere. Whatever may be our differing theoretical analyses of any particular struggle, we are unconditional defenders of movements for genuine trade unionism and workers' democracy."

I appreciate SKS's clarifications and challenges to the article posted here and look forward to further engagement on this question.

Los trabajadores en Puerto

Los trabajadores en Puerto Rico construyen su instrumento electoral para acceder al poder , en busca de justicia social, equidad, democracia participativa y acceso por igual a los beneficios creados por el fruto del trabajo colectivo.

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