Fortuño, Lies, and the “Silent Majority” in Puerto Rico

The current government of Puerto Rico, led by Governor Luis Fortuño, is engaged in a campaign of deception and curtailment of democratic rights to crush legitimate opposition to its punishing and now, destabilizing policy of neo-conservative reforms. The governor’s remarks yesterday–fittingly at a groundbreaking for a new Sam’s Club in an industrial area of San Juan–were a masterstroke in the doublethink and outright lying that characterizes his ideological mentors, the right wing of the U.S. Republican Party.

“This is not the Puerto Rico I  know,” he said of the violence at the Capitol building the day before, where baton wielding and pepper spraying shock troops assaulted peaceful demonstrators first inside the building, then spilled out to the steps. Fortuño was trying to disassociate himself from the violence as if he had no connection to it, in an attempt to find common ground with an imagined “silent majority.” LIke a “concerned” political leader, he assured that there would be an investigation, but in conclusion urged the public to “focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.” A kinder, gentler version of “if you ain’t with us, you’re against us,” perhaps?

Cloaked by the pretense of calm and rationality, the governor had already laid a groundwork of deception in his call to unity. Dissent is good, even healthy, he claimed, insisting that his government allowed for such a space of contestation. But what “we can’t have is an intent to impose someone’s criteria or opinion by force…”

A simple leap, here, a semantic blurring of what had been announced previously by the march organizers, was used by Fortuño to introduce the outright lie that he and the right wing is using to enhance its stranglehold on Puerto Rican politics.

“It is true that yesterday, they had announced…various groups including the Socialist Youth Front and the Movement To Socialism–who have their place in society but are not favored by the majority–they had already indicated that they were going to ‘take the capitol by force,'” he said mater-of-factly.

But it seems that Fortuño was taking liberties with the general press release, issued by an umbrella group called La Delegacion de Puerto Rico, which urged various support groups to “take back the legislature,” using peaceful means. It’s actually kind of odd that Fortuño wouldn’t be able to grasp the difference between “take the capitol (by force)” and “take back the legislature” because the phrase “take back” (as in “take back our country”) is so widely used by the right wing of the Republican Party, which Fortuño is clearly associated with.

For example, here is a response that Newt Gingrich, founder of theamericano.com, a right-wing website aimed at Hispanics and recently featured an interview with Fortuño, gave to Glenn Beck, the right-wing extremist who most recently called for the right wing to “take back” the Civil Rights Movement:

“And I think if the American people feel as you and I do, they are going to go out, they are going to mobilize and we are going to take back our country.”

In fact, the PNP, or pro-statehood party of Puerto Rico, is for the most part in line with this blatant deception. From our old friend Carlos Romero Barcelo, whose administration was behind the assasination of two student protestors in the famous Cerro Maravilla incident of 1978 to fringe YouTube posters like “LuisAnthony40,” whose posting of a video of the violence at the Capitol is a failed attempt to demonstrate that the entire confrontation was provoked by the protestors.

While Romero Barcelo’s suggestion that the university protestors were somehow akin to “Nazi students aided by Hitler’s fascist “brown shirts” in Germany” is painfully laughable, the choice of LuisAnthony40 to start his video with the scene outside the capitol building was interesting. It might have worked if not for the clear existence of the WAPA TV footage, which clearly shows the Puerto Rican shock troops without warning spraying independent media with pepper spray and violently clubbing sit-in demonstrators until they were forced to sprawl out of the building on to the capitol steps. The crowd, peaceful up to that point, then began to show limited physical resistance.

At best, Fortuño’s draconian measures, eviscerating government employment to “balance the budget,” and hope that fosters economic recovery (which at his Sam’s Club talk, he declared had already begun), have already been discredited by the European experiments he cited.

What’s left, then? The erosion of democracy, restrictions on civil liberties, and an emerging police state.

According to independent journalist Jesús Dávila, who obtained a sworn statement from a police source,  the violence was a “calculated police operation” in which “the order to disperse the crowd was given at least two hours before.” He also offered these details about what the legislature was voting on when the police action was taken:

“The legislature announced the approval of a new measure that eliminated student assemblies and substituted them with a remote electronic voting system, which any public expression by an official student leader must also be subjected to.”

According to a source that Davila says is from the NPP, “it’s all part of a broader agenda to eliminate in Puerto Rico the old constitutional right of freedom of assembly and substitute it with electronic voting, which would guarantee the preponderance of the so-called silent majority.”

Silent majority, sound familiar?

Somehow I don’t think that works in Puerto Rico.

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