A New Era in Puerto Rico's Unsettled History

PHOTO: Eduardo Bhatia, René Pérez, and Carmen Yulín Cruz backstage at Calle 13?s December 15th concert.

On Monday night's inauguration in San Juan's Parque Luis Muñoz Marín, new mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz rattled off slogans timed to her Twitter feed: "The University Will Be RESPECTED" she intoned, ensuring she will not be part of a government that will tolerate police abuse of students; "Este es mi barrio y soy libre como Mandela" she shouted, quoting Calle 13's song "La Perla. In between, she mixed-in elaborate policy goals concerning education, rights for women, LGBT, and immigrants, support for workers and the poor. But one slogan seemed to capture how many feel last year's election was a transformative moment in Puerto Rican history:

"El 6 de noviembre se acabó el abuso!"

The abuse Cruz was referring to echoed the feeling of many toward the ousted New Progressive Party (PNP in Spanish) administration about what they considered to be its abusive style. The message was even clearer on the eve of her inauguration as San Juan mayor, pro-commonwealth party (Popular Democratic Party, or PPD in Spanish) mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz attended a Sunday service at Iglesia Sagrada Familia in the city's well-known municipal housing project, Luis Lloréns Torres. Her surprise victory over outgoing PNP mayor Jorge Santini has been seen as an even more dynamic symbol of change than the victory of new PPD governor Alejandro García Padilla over arch-conservative PNP leader Luis Fortuño, and the guest list at this particular service was a clear indication.

Cruz, who was assaulted by Puerto Rico police during a demonstration protesting an PNP-enforced closure of the legislature to media and the public at the Capitolio in 2010, was joined by the new president of the Senate, Eduardo Bhatia, who was bullied in front of legislators in the Capitolio by outgoing PNP Senate president Tomás Rivera Schatz in 2010, rebellious '60s icon singer Lucecita Benítez, and LGBT rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano. Presiding over the mass was the archbishop of San Juan, Roberto González Nieves, who in 2011 had been subjected to what US Representative Luis Gutiérrez called a smear campaign by "the PNP elite."

At the mass she tells the story of being the great-granddaughter of a sugar cane labor, of her humble family roots in Guánica, the town where the US invasion landed in 1898, and punctuated this tale of nationalist pride and working-class solidarity by quoting René Pérez, of Calle 13, a band that outgoing PNP Mayor Santini had once banned from playing in their hometown: "No tengo mucha plata, pero tengo cobre. Aquí se baila como bailan los pobres." ("I don't have much silver/but I have copper. Here we dance like poor people dance.")

Cruz's swearing in on Monday was be the climax of a tumultuous holiday season in Puerto Rico, one that marked a transition of political power from one of its major political parties to another, the resignation of its most controversial television personality, and what might become a new era of its unsettled history.

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