A New Era in Puerto Rico's Unsettled History

The cancellation of his show, "Super Xclusivo," coincided with the stunning loss of the PNP's control over the executive and legislative branches of government. "People in Puerto Rico were fed up with a government that was very repressive, responsive to corporations and not people," said William Ramírez, president of ACLU Puerto Rico. "This government was marked by a lot of bullying—everything was secretive, there was no transparency or debate. All decisions were made behind closed doors."

The Friday before Christmas the US Department of Justice announced a lawsuit against the Puerto Rico Police Department and also an agreement with the Fortuño government to implement recommended changes in a police department accused of violating the civil liberties of women, LGBT community, Dominican immigrants, Afro-Puerto Ricans, and protesting labor unions and university students. While Ramírez's office is hoping to work with the new government to help implement change in policing practices, he is reserved so far about the new administration's commitment. "I don't know that they're going to better than the previous governor," said Ramírez. "I know they said they would, but they want to try to renegotiate the agreement, and that worries me."

The lame-duck police chief, Héctor Pesquera, whose contract is up in March, is also a problem, according to Ramírez and other advocates. "We need a new superintendent of police to come in with a new look at what policing should be and keep in mind all the recommendations made by the DOJ and ACLU," he said. "We need a police chief who is sensitive to women's and LGBT issues."

Ramírez is currently working on a proposal to create a new civilian review board to handle complaints against police, and is working with legislators to try to repeal laws passed by the Fortuño administration criminalizing certain forms of protest by civilians.

García Padilla's first act—calling up the National Guard to fight drug crime—has already been criticized as the repetition of a failed strategy. Deficits that plague both the commonwealth and municipalities make the problem of improving the economy even more difficult.

While the sudden turn in the electorate shift away from the PNP's Republican conservatism can be attributed to a defection of PNP's power base, there is a visceral feeling that the conservatism of the electorate is mutating into a younger, more progressive constituency. And although a new multi-partisan group called "Boricua, Ahora Es" announced Tuesday they were gathering over 100 people to demand action on the status plebiscite in Washington, the issue does not seem to have created a strong momentum. As has been speculated for several years now, the status issue has become less and less relevant, and the need to address a mountain of difficult issues like crime and unemployment has become central. Another one of Cruz's slogans come to mind: "The power is in the streets."

"I'm barely 5 feet tall and weigh a little over 100 pounds soaking wet," said Cruz to the throng at the inauguration ceremony. "But I'm alone, and I need you, I need all of you."

The crowd roared, perhaps sensing itself as a new majority, finally ready to throw off the tired, backward ideas of intolerance, has emerged, and the people have agreed they want to move in a new direction. There will be conflict over many issues—the one thing everyone seems to agree on is a call for the release of political prisoner Oscar López Rivera; even Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the de facto leader of the PNP is on board—but there will always be a sense of a Puerto Rican nation whether it's a colony, a state, or formally independent. What seems to have happened is that nation has re-imagined itself in a way it never has before.

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