Saturday, March 29, 2008

Los de aquí y los de allá

I have a rule that I live by when it comes to giving my opinion about PR's status: I don't live there, so I don't discuss my opinion on the subject. Only people who make their lives there should be weighing in on this. This is why when it is suggested that Puerto Ricans in the US should be allowed to vote in any plebiscites about status, I'm always opposed. If you have made your permanent residence outside of the island, I feel that you've given up your right to decide anything for the island.

So what I think about whether we should be independent, or a state, or remain a commonwealth, is irrelevant and I won't be going into it. But that doesn't mean that I can't read the news and form opinions about things that happen.

The view from the outside can be valuable. Not just in this situation, but in virtually any situation in life. Somebody looking at an issue from a different vantage point is looking through a fresh set of eyes. There's less personal involvement that can color your point of view. But a lot of times, even knowing this, I still feel trepidation about voicing my opinions. Having lived in PR and having lived in the US, I think I've had a chance to see things from both inside and outside. The thing is, I'm not always sure that the view from the outside is welcome.

I care about what goes on in PR because it's my home. Having moved away doesn't change that fact, and it doesn't mean that I should stop caring. In leaving PR, I could have chosen to distance myself completely from everything, good and bad. I could stop following the local press, stop caring about the issues that affect people's lives there. But I don't, not only because it's my home, but because much of my family is there. Of course it matters to me that, say, the governor got arrested. It matters to me what people think, and what the guy is saying, and how this is all going down. How a country handles these issues speaks volumes.

I see the governor, in defending himself, remind us of the fact that we are still, in the end, governed by someone else. He says this in criticism of federal involvement in the island. That he is a member of the party that endorses the commonwealth, and that in 2005 he vetoed a bill calling for a referendum to decide PR's status, is an irony that is hopefully not lost on people. The commonwealth has served him well -- until the moment our link to the US made it possible for him to get arrested. It's not just this hypocrisy on his part that pains me, it's also that he is using it to shield himself from the fact that, like it or not, he is accused of violating federal, not local, laws. He is trying to make Puerto Ricans feel that not only is he being persecuted by the US, but that the entire island is being persecuted as well.

Even if I'm not there, this matters to me. It pains me to see PR being used as someone's meat shield. If he is innocent, then let him speak to his innocence plainly and directly. But this is the conundrum that I personally face as a Puerto Rican living outside of the island, and I can't imagine I'm the only one who faces this dilemma. I know I care, and I don't think caring is wrong -- but how far do I go in expressing views that people on the island may not care to hear about? And it's not necessarily about writing about it here, as it's not like this blog gets a huge readership. But mostly it's wondering what to do and what to say when I talk to people back home. What's my role now? Is the opinion of the "expat" of any value?

What's crazy is that I've been away for 13 years now (counting my college years, which really should be cut in half since I spent half the year in PR anyway) and I still don't know the answer to this question.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Corrupt, but patriotic

It's been a while since I last wrote anything in here. The urge to write hasn't gone away, but my mind has frozen up as to what to write about. I've been working, I've been coming home, and I've been going to work again. More often than not, I work late, because things are hectic and they're only getting

I decided to take a couple of days off this week, because things are only going to ramp up in the next few weeks. I even have to work on a Sunday next month! I know! For someone whose never worked in any kind of job that required her presence on the weekends, that's a real bummer. So I took my two days off and stayed home. That's unusual for me too -- usually if I take time off, I go somewhere.

I'm, at heart, someone who likes to be alone. Not all the time, certainly. But every now and then I find it centering, and even comforting, to be alone in my house. Even if I'm just folding laundry in front of the TV, like I did today. The silence, the lack of anybody wanting anything from me, the chance to do whatever I want, whenever I's nice. I rented the first half of the last season of the Sopranos, and may I say that as much as I love that show, it can be stressful to watch one episode after another. Who's gonna get whacked next? Whose gonna do something stupid and piss Tony off? I can't keep worrying about these people, I need to take a break.

So I come to the computer and read up on Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, PR's governor, and his current legal troubles. He's been under investigation by the Feds since 2006 for corruption stemming from illegal campaign contributions. Dental companies based out of Philadelphia apparently donated money to pay for his past campaign for Resident Commissioner, and in return tried to finagle their way into multi-million dollar contracts with the Puerto Rican government. He is also accused of personally pocketing some of that money. Because he, of course, did not report that money to the IRS, he's also accused of tax evasion. Today he turned himself in, pleading not guilty, and was released on his own recognizance.

Well, screwed up, right? It gets better. Now you have ex-governor and prominent member of Acevedo Vilá's rival party, Carlos Romero Barceló, bragging that he was the one who turned him in. Romero Barceló is a statehood proponent; on the other end of Acevedo Vilá is the independentista Rubén Berríos, stating that more important than charges of corruption leveled at the island's governor is the fact that, because the Feds are leveling these charges, PR is a colony. Some people, apparently, are looking to hitch their decrepit wagons to this guy's falling star.

And Acevedo Vilá is not too far behind Berríos on this. Acevedo Vilá is a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which backs the status quo (remaining a commonwealth of the US) in our never-ending Status Wars. However, he is adamant that the reason he is being investigated is because he openly criticized a 2005 FBI raid in which a long-time fugitive and leader of the militant independentista group Los Macheteros, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, was killed. He was a fugitive because he was wanted for stealing $7 million during a heist on a Wells Fargo depot in Connecticut.

How the raid happened, and whether Ojeda Ríos should have been killed in the process, is one thing. Whether or not the FBI gives a rat's ass about what the governor of Puerto Rico thinks to such a degree that they would go to an elaborate scheme to frame him, is quite another. Puerto Ricans are well aware that their government is corrupt down to the marrow of its bones. Corruption is a cancer that is eating away at the island's ability to prosper. Acevedo Vilá has been an unpopular governor who many see as ineffective. But by invoking a vague sense of nationalism, will he earn a pass from people? Already I'm seeing quotes in the papers from people who feel for him, because if the Federal government is involved then this must clearly be a case of Americans persecuting Puerto Ricans. To be fair, there are others that call this an embarassment for the island and want him to resign. But to what degree do these differing opinions fall under party lines? Is the statehooder blindly rooting against him? Is the commonwealther blindly supporting him? Is the independentista blinding himself to the actual case and only focusing on the fact that PR also falls under federal jurisdiction? I'd be interested to hear from people on the island on what they think about this.

Our status colors everything. It motivates everything, it hinders everything. It's inescapable. I've given a lot of thought to how it has affected, and continues to affect, people's lives. It's the kind of topic that makes my brain shut down into a state of writer's block again, because how can you put it all into words? It's daunting. And by thinking about all of this and getting depressed about it, it occurs to me that some may wonder why, with me not living there, I would care so much (or at all). That's definitely a topic I would like to go into later.

But, hey. At least Acevedo Vilá got me writing again. Thanks, buddy, for taking one for the team!