By John McPhaul
Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) gubernatorial candidate Juan Dalmau Ramírez says he is finding a new feeling on the campaign trail.
Dalmau, who has been the PIP’s candidate for governor on two occasions before, says he’s feeling a different kind of enthusiasm this time around, “as if there is hope for change; that there is a possibility that the unimaginable is possible; that it’s possible that there is a new political force that can displace the bipartisanship that has ruled Puerto Rico.”
The feeling, Dalmau told the STAR in an exclusive interview, comes from the alliance the PIP has forged with the Citizen Victory Movement (MVC by its Spanish initials), an upstart party of independence advocates and other left-leaning leaders, which garnered nearly 14% of the vote in 2020 elections, and which when combined with the more than 13.5% received by the PIP in those elections puts the alliance within striking distance of the 32% recorded by the winner of that year’s elections, the New Progressive Party.
Dalmau said the public had developed a certain conformism with the status quo that has been broken by the PIP/MVC union, which is going by the name “Patria Nueva” (New Homeland).
Dalmau is running under the PIP insignia as coalitions are banned under Puerto Rican law.
“There is an electoral mass of 28% of the voters who have turned their backs, lost the custom, the habit, of voting for the two parties,” Dalmau said.
Puerto Rico could be on the cusp of a historic change of direction, he added.
“I’m hopeful that we are at the point of writing a glorious page in the history of Puerto Rico,” the pro-independence candidate said.
Dalmau said the point of convergence of the two parties in the alliance is the proposal by both of them to promote a process of decolonization through a status convention that would be aimed at undoing the current “colonial status.”
The Puerto Rican people would have to be included through the election of delegates, he said.
The convention would require the meaningful participation of the U.S. Congress, which would have to determine and tell the Puerto Rican people definitively what political status is possible under the Constitution, obviating the “beauty contest” referendums that have been conducted in the past, Dalmau said.
“It is a bilateral process,” he said. “Congress has to respond to questions about the options suggested, which are viable and which are not, and secondly, what would be their consequences and what would be the transition to them.”
Dalmau said that the PIP’s platform is still being drafted, but in general terms, his government’s emphasis would be centered on human rights and human dignity.
In those terms, he would view health as a right and try to wrest health care from the control of the insurance industry, which he said excludes whole sectors of the island and drives doctors abroad.
Similarly, education should be accessible to all and Dalmau said he would stop closing public schools and university campuses.
In the economic arena, the candidate said Puerto Rican companies should enjoy equality in taxes with foreign companies, which now enjoy tax incentives to move to Puerto Rico.
“There are foreign companies that pay zero taxes, while there are Puerto Rican companies that pay more than 33% in taxes,” he said.
The three-time candidate for governor said incentives should be created to keep young people from migrating off the island.
With people leaving the island, the elderly population is left without anyone to care for them, he said.
“We need policies to attend to the needs of that population,” Dalmau said.
The candidate said further that he would seek the removal of the Financial Oversight and Management Board, through an act of the U.S. Congress.
He noted that the oversight board was established as a political act as opposed to economic bankruptcy, which could have been legislated in Congress, so it is up to Congress to disband the board.
Given that, doing away with the oversight board would require political action by the island government accompanied by a public outcry by all sectors of the populace on the island and in the diaspora.
“The board, being the product of a political act on the part of Congress, [getting rid of it] requires political action on the part of the Puerto Rican government, which needs to seek ample points of consensus in Puerto Rico so that Congress has to reexamine PROMESA [the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, which created the oversight board], and eliminate the fiscal control board,” Dalmau said. “Secondly, Puerto Rico has demonstrated that at times when there has been great abuses [the citizenry] has been able to unite for the purpose of demanding and achieving change.”
He pointed to the protests that led to the 2003 departure of the U.S. Navy from the offshore island municipality of Vieques and the 2019 protests that drove then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares from office over an online chat scandal.
“The governors have limited themselves to taking their complaints before [U.S. District] Judge [Laura Taylor] Swain [who is overseeing Puerto Rico’s Title III bankruptcy cases under PROMESA], the judge rules in favor of the board and they say, ‘Well, we tried,’” Dalmau said. “No, they haven’t tried.”
As governor, he would bring together political, civic and religious leaders on the island and in the diaspora to demand a change from Congress.
In the area of public security, Dalmau said he would demilitarize the police and create a “community police force” in greater contact with the people they serve.
He would also decriminalize the consumption, but not the sale, of narcotics, treating consumption as a public health problem.
He would also seek reform in the island’s correctional institutions so that rehabilitation prevents prisoners from leaving prison as hardened criminals and potential repeat offenders.
He said that contrary to what many have alleged, his government would not reject federal law enforcement assistance on the island.
Meanwhile, when it comes to U.S. domestic politics, Dalmau said he anticipates little change from the winner of the November presidential elections.
“Biden has so far ignored Puerto Rico, saying when asked that the issue is up to the U.S. Congress, and Trump has limited himself to insulting Puerto Ricans, calling them ‘corrupt’ and saying the U.S. should trade Puerto Rico for Greenland with Denmark,” he said.
“The prejudice that Trump has shown against Puerto Rico could bring its consequences; [in] what [way], I don’t know,” he said.
But in sum, Dalmau expects Puerto Rico will be forgotten, no matter which of the two wins the presidential vote, leaving it up to Puerto Ricans to carry forward the status issue before Congress.
As for the long-shot candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who participated in the civil disobedience over the Navy’s presence on Vieques, he said the status issue would be decided by a political process and not be imposed by any political authority.