Geraldo Rivera: Obama is About to Get a Taste of Political Passion Puerto Rican Style

  • Reuters


If he thinks the Tea Parties were rowdy, President Obama is about to get a taste of political passion Puerto Rican style. On the eve of Tuesday's official visit, the first by a sitting president since JFK fifty years ago, there is a vast mobilization going on to seize the historic moment and make an impression on the leader of the Free World.

What I naively thought would be a great way for President Obama to show La Isla del Encanto some love, instead might prove a public relations debacle.

Demonstrations, counter demonstrations, and counter-counter demonstrations are brewing.
Why the enormous juice in what is really just a make-nice photo op?

There are said to be three pillars of island society: Politics, sports and sex. Yes, politics are that important.

For one thing, it is personal. Since the island's government is its largest employer, a person's politics often determine whether he or she gets or keeps a job.

And jobs are scarce.

The Commonwealth is in the throes of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, a sharp, severe downturn twice as deep and twice as long as what we've suffered here in the States.

Republican Governor Luis Fortuno recently cut 17,000 government jobs, as part of an austerity plan that Rep. Paul Ryan would envy.

A staggering 35 percent of Puerto Ricans are on food stamps. That is a number more than double Louisiana's 17.4 percent, the highest state percentage.

Having or losing a good-paying government job is a powerful incentive to care who wins and loses at the polls. But there is an even larger issue, as potent and more enduring then mere family economics.

It is the future political status of Puerto Rico, whether as an independent nation; the 51st State; or as a self-governing territory, which is the current arrangement.

The political parties are largely defined by their position on status. There are three that matter.

1- The Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which is allied with stateside Democrats, including members of the U.S. Congress of Puerto Rican descent. It favors the status quo; they want the island to remain a self-governing territory; separate, Spanish-speaking, but owned and cared for by the United States.

2- The New Progressive Party (PNP), whose members tend to affiliate with the Republicans like Governor Fortuno. They want Puerto Rico to follow Hawaii and Alaska as the 51st state.

3- While on the fringe are the romantics, the various Puerto Rican leftist organizations who coalesce during elections under the banner of the tiny Independence Party (PIP), and whose Holy Grail is the eventual independence of Puerto Rico from the United States.

So what can the president expect as he visits this divided and needy tropical territory whose 3.8 million residents have 4.2 million relatives living and voting back in the States? (Over 800,000 in the electoral battleground of Florida alone.)

Group #1 (the PPD/Democrats) plans to mount a massive love-fest to welcome the president and thank him for stopping by. This should be adoring and as energetic as this Sunday's Puerto Rican Day parade in New York.

Group #2 (the PNP/Republicans) plans protests calling for the president and Congress to accelerate a referendum that moves toward statehood.

But the most tumultuous, if not downright hostile, demonstrations President Obama will face come from that Group #3 (the independentistas).

They may represent just a fraction of the island community, polling less than 3 percent in the 2004 and 2008 elections in Puerto Rico, but they have shown they can raise a formidable army of disgruntled students, pro-Castro, pro-Chavez socialistas and old-time lefties.

It was this group that led the successful fight to rid Puerto Rico of its U.S. military bases, including the bombing range on the island of Vieques.

With names like the National Hostos Independence Movement, the Sovereignty Union Movement, Movimiento al Socialismo, and the Puerto Rican Democratic Action Foundation, the PIP promise to make enough aggressive noise to spoil any presidential photo op. If that happens, Washington will lose whatever meager appetite it has for resolving Puerto Rico's status question and it might be another half-century until the next official visit by a sitting president.

Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino. 

Follow us on twitter.com/foxnewslatino
Like us at facebook.com/foxnewslatino