Who says this is a banana republic?

OK, so where do we stand at this point in time, mi gente?

During the second quarter of 2010, Puerto Rico has seen an increasing distrust of the government by the same people it is supposed to serve.  Earlier, for example, I compared the results of a study by the Pew Research Center, which showed that 22% of Americans trusted their own government “always” or “most of the time” (and where does that leave the remaining 78%, huh?), with the current situation in Puerto Rico.  Three of the trends showing in the PRC study can also be seen in Puerto Rico, namely: economic uncertainty, punctuated by the way (good, bad, or worse) the local economy is being handled; a highly politicized environment; and an overwhelming—or at least, significant—disappointment with our legislators and other elected officials.  (And there does not seem to be much difference with the way things are going on in Washington.  But that’s another story…)

Under that climate of distrust, the students at the University of Puerto Rico system (the UPR, or the “state university”, if you will) began in late April a strike that would last for about a couple of months.  Reasons for the protest included a change in policies for registration exemptions, the likelihood of raising student tuitions, and a perceived fear of privatization for some of the UPR units.  (Something I have yet to see in most of the state universities in the US, or am I wrong?)  The strike would not suit well with the island’s administration, of course, which regarded the UPR students as being “privileged” by attending the main university in the island, a “privilege” that could only be afforded because of the taxpayers’ goodness.  Of course, a little “goodne$$” from the federal government is also appreciated.  (And does the Puerto Rican government really appreciates that federal goodne$$!)  Now, to hear the official discourse on the student strike, the government would state that the students were “privileged” to receive financial aid, part of which they would use for “whatever they choose” aside from studying (with a former governor going as far as to state that some of the striking students would use their financial aid to do drugs!  Oh, come on!), and that the students should be “thankful” to the government for letting them afford this “privilege”.  (As if…)  Otherwise, they will be punished.  PERIOD.  End of the story.

Of course, part of the problem here lies in the way the UPR has been seen by the Puerto Rican government, especially when it has been dominated from the right by the New Progressive Party (NPP).  Not that much as an institution where young minds are taught to think, to ask the hard questions, to develop their sensitivities, to become human beings in full.  No.  The way the local government sees it, the UPR is just another government agency, where students are just “clients” to which a service is given.  No way they can be seen as minds eager to be exposed to other intellectual currents, and that the service those students receive can not be measured in dollars and cents; it goes way beyond that narrow, materialistic view.

Meanwhile, crime violence is sky-rocketing, mostly in the San Juan metro area.  Criminals feel like they rule the island, with a total disregard for life, their life and the life of others, of those having nothing to do with their criminal affairs.  (Incidentally, my workplace was touched by gun violence earlier this year, when two Natural Resources Rangers were shot and killed during an attempted robbery at the Environmental Agencies Building.)  Worse yet, there is even disregard for the authorities, the same ones supposed to protect and serve, the same ones that are now entangled in their own politics.

But let’s go back to the UPR students’ strike.  As time went by, it became clearer that there were two armies in this battle: the students, which have mastered the art of using the new technologies (you know: Facebook, Twitter, and the like) to get their points across (and I still wonder what could have been if they had those technological tools when the UPR students went on strike in 1981… or even in 1948!); and the UPR administrators, whose message came across as predictable, worn, reflecting an already discredited cold-war mindset (not very different from the current government’s message), who would resort to manipulation, and even to violence, in order to prevail.  This battle was to conclude by mid-June, as an agreement was reached by both parties through a mediator (an ex-judge with an excellent reputation).  However, even if the students were willing to return to their classrooms and finish 2010’s second semester, the administrators are going back on their part of the agreements.  Either way, it all looked like a battle where both parties were to know their enemy to succeed, and seemingly, the students were a little bit better at that than the administrators.  Maybe, they have mastered “the art of war”:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
From “The Art of War“, by Sun Tzu (544–496 b.C.) (as translated into English and commented by Lionel Giles, 1910)

“Meanwhile, back at the ranch”, things were not looking good for one of the NPP’s main political figures: a senator who had earlier been linked with a recently killed drug baron, who had been seen earlier touring the local prison system as part of a Senate commission on (of all matters of high importance) security.  The senator had just been arrested by the FBI for charges related to corruption, especially asking for kick-backs in order to favor legislation which would benefit the owner of a private security firm (who has also been charged, by the way).  After the… how can I say this… shameful show of support for the embattled senator by a busload of his colleagues from the NPP majority, Senate president Thomás Rivera-Schatz started to take a series of measures most likely to “protect” his colleague, and maybe to protect himself from the citizen outrage he may have been sensing.  For instance, on the day following the “show-of-support tour”, Rivera ordered his staff to block media access to the Senate then in session, the session where the budget for Fiscal Year 2010–2011 would be approved (which featured several “pork barrels” for the senators, but that’s another story).  After the general outcry from the public and the local media organizations, Rivera relented a little, stating some rules for media coverage and for reporters and camerapersons to behave with “decorum”.  (I don’t know about you, but does the word “decorum” mean the same thing for him and for the rest of us?  The jury is still out on that.)

Which brings us to Wednesday, June 30, at the Puerto Rican Capitol’s front steps, where a protest that was to be conducted—it is said—in a peaceful way, became the subject of an unnecessary show of force by the Puerto Rico Police Department’s Special Forces.  University students, women, union workers, and the like, took the brunt of the attack, which some people would say was ordered “from above” to ambush the protesters, while inside the Capitol, the senators would proclaim the return of a climate of “peace and decency” to the deliberative process.  Batons, tear gas, pepper spray, those were the weapons of choice to keep protesters at bay, all in the name of “peace and decency”… with a Police lieutenant in particular attempting to use his gun like he meant it!  (Unfortunately for him, his act wouldn’t go unnoticed by the world at large, as pictures from those incidents would eventually show.)

As on cue, the Puerto Rican governor, Luis G. Fortuño-Bruset, Esq., defended the Police’s actions, but not at a press conference he would hold the following day, at the groundbreaking for one of those shopping clubs… you know what I mean.  His venue of choosing: a prime-time local TV show specializing in showbiz gossip; maybe he thought he would have a more receptive audience if he spoke to a known foam and cloth gossip doll… ¿he mencionado nombre yoooooooooo? Unfortunately for him, one of the journalists working for the same TV station, who was present during the raid of the previous day, went to the show and asked (bravely, if you will!) the hard questions to governor Fortuño.  Questions that the governor either deflected or tried to downplay.

At the end of the interview, governor Fortuño made an interesting statement: that he wouldn’t allow Puerto Rico to become a “banana republic”.  Which has left many of us wondering if he knew exactly what “banana republic” really means.  Interestingly, there was a recent piece which listed the following 10 steps to manage a ‘banana republic’:

  1. Treat your citizens as monkeys. It all boils down to treating the people as incompetent, inert and passive rabble, until it becomes just that: passive and inert rabble, interested only in its own belly.  Put the masses in a corner and teach them that it is their place, making them pleased with that condition.
  2. Determine the leaders. Everything must revolve around the Leader.  The Leader is elevated above the others and demands awe.
  3. Destroy the citizen’s self confidence. The masses must have no self-confidence, self-respect or opportunities for self-realization.  Simply put, they must not be able to do anything on their own.  Everything, literally everything, must be given or delegated to the masses: jobs, awards, kick-backs, permits, concessions, tenders, and university degrees.  There must be no exceptions in the distribution of societal benefits based on fair procedures or merit, outside of personal judgment and personal control of the Leaders.
  4. Give your citizens some “candy”. Refer to the masses as “gentlemen”, “brothers/sisters”, “comrades”, etc., and at the same time to stuff them into a pen whenever you like.  Buy their obedience and affection.  Afterwards there will be no questions regarding the actual riding and conducting.
  5. Divide your citizens. Divide the masses, weakening them by antagonizing them against each other.  Thus, you control the masses’ attention.  Generate problems in the country in a conscious and planned manner, so that you can put the large problems—which require larger effort to solve—in the background, you can dictate the public agenda and what others will think and argue about, you can solve the problems you create in a manner that suits you, and if you create a problem, and then withdraw from the issue, it looks like you have given something, while in fact you just maintain the status quo and buy time to do something else, which is far more important to you.
  6. Force grandiose ventures to ensure eternity and permanent trace in the collective memory.  Grandiose ventures allow you to increase the influx of means, money and other resources, and to create a range of opportunities to allocate them and distribute them as you see appropriate, to estimate where, to whom and how much to give, attaching the recipients to you.
  7. Spread fear in measured doses to develop awe among the masses.  The way to do this is through selective presentation and propagation of fear-inducing scenes and events.  Show how your opponents and unlike-minded individuals end up.  Use excessive or overdosed force while dealing with small-fry opponents, criminals or suspects.  Demonstrate force on the weaker to achieve an effect of awe, combined with subconscious submission and passivity.
  8. Force irrationality. The more the citizens drown in irrationality, affects, atavisms, instincts, and passions, the harder it gets for them to come up with proper solutions, to differentiate the real from fiction, the existing from the imagined, truth from falsehood.  Drive people mad by performing illogical acts, against reason, logic or realistic assessments.  When irrationality becomes the principal norm instead of an exception, the games called manipulation may begin.
  9. Determine and name the “enemies”. Directly and clearly name “enemies,” “traitors,” and “opponents,” those who threaten with some unbelievable radical change, act or deeds which can turn your world upside down, and soil something that you hold dear and sacred.  Combine this with forcing and circulating an atmosphere of conspiracy and angst through “spreading fear in doses”, making you the savior from the labeled enemies.
  10. Incite rituals. Rituals remain one of the most powerful practices of spontaneous spreading of the power from the top.  There are numerous ways how this can be passed in pluralistic societies: from politicization of religious rituals, various “bene-volent” actions, politicization of sports events, and other things along those lines.

Going through the list above, it looks like Puerto Rico is already a “banana republic” (or as they say, it’s just coincidence?); it’s just that some people haven’t realized it yet!  But that’s the way things stand at this time.

So let’s leave it right there!  Take care and behave, OK?  Bye!

LDB

Autor: Luis Daniel Beltrán

Planificador ambiental en Puerto Rico, con preparación de Maestría en Ciencias en Biología. (An M.S.-degreed Biologist working as a Licensed Professional Planner in Puerto Rico.)

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