Two things that were striking in reading local news in Puerto Rico while we were there:

One of the dominant stories was Rumsfeld’s much-anticipated list of base closings, which Puerto Rico’s Buchanan ultimately escaped. What generally goes unstated in news write-ups of the process by which base closing decisions are made is what all the major players – the Secretary of Defense and his commissi on, the President, the US House, and the US Senate – have in common: no one in Puerto Rico gets to vote for them, or for the people who appointed them. While it goes without saying in local papers, it’s striking from an outsider’s perspective, and deeply problematic from a Heldian perspective that understands democracy as a measure of control over the decisions which shape one’s life, though arguably no more so than the situation of groups like the poor in the continental US who – largely – have the formal franchise but face significant obstacles to political mobilization and to getting a hearing from economic elites, or of the people’s of other countries which while not US territories are drastically affected by policies of the US government and its delegates over which they have no form of democratic control.

The other dominant story was an intensifying showdown between the territory’s Popular Democratic Party Governor and its New Progressive Party-controlled legislature over the Governor’s Cabinet appointments, especially his appointee for Secretary of State, whom the legislature voted down but who began serving in the job anyway. What was really striking to me as an outsider to Puerto Rican politics, but almost as true of coverage of the struggle over judicial appointments in the US Congress, is the total suffocation of any kind of issue background by horse race coverage – that is, speculations about who’s winning. Over five days of reading articles about this fight, I was unable to find a single sentence discussing the ideologies of any of these appointees or the issues at the heart of the power struggle. I know that Governor Acevedo Vila thinks Pont would be an excellent Secretary of State, and that NPP leaders think she’d be terrible, but I honestly could only guess what the areas of contention are. Seriously, if you know, I’m pretty curious at this point. And I doubt I’m the only one. Meanwhile, pundits in the continental US complaining about how boring the filibuster fight is to the American public should consider why the very real ideological issues driving forward the collision – like the power of the American people to harness government to pursue racial and economic justice – have been sidelined in the presentation of that fight.

From the Times:

This island, it is safe to say, hates capital punishment. It has not had an execution since 1927. It outlawed the practice two years later and wrote this antipathy into its Constitution in 1952: “The death penalty shall not exist.” That is why a federal trial here, in which the Justice Department is seeking the execution of two men accused of kidnapping and murder, has left many Puerto Ricans baffled and angry.

Local politicians, members of the legal establishment, scholars and ordinary
residents have denounced the trial, now in its second week. They call it a betrayal of the island’s autonomy, culture and law, in particular its Constitution, which Congress approved in 1952 as part of the compact that created Puerto Rico’s unusual and frequently uneasy association with the United States mainland. Not even relentless daily testimony about the gory crime – the kidnapped man was shot and dismembered – has softened the outrage voiced by many here. . .

“If the people of Puerto Rico decide that capital punishment cannot be used, even in federal prosecutions, it is against the Compact of 1952,” Mr.D├ívila Toro said. “How can I explain that my Constitution is not respected by the nation that teaches us how to live in a democracy?”

Wouldn’t want to let the colonies make the rest of us look bad, now would we?