Officially, the 2004 electoral campaign begins today. The electoral law was recently tailored to satisfy the voracious appetite of the political investors of Puerto Rico’s statehood and commonwealth parties. This corruption of Puerto Rico’s constitutional principle of electoral economic equality assigns public funds to match, dollar for dollar, up to several million, whatever powerful interests care to bid for political influence in the colonial party of their choice. In a nation with a stagnant economy, two thirds of its population under the poverty level, and a rate of labor participation of less than 50 per cent, the law also allows political action committees to operate with virtual impunity under the guise of “free speech” -which means that the more money you have, the more freely money talks.

Although campaign spending is limited to four months beginning July 1, the real campaign began long ago with mudslides, rather than mudslinging, between the two parties that have shared equal time in governmental mismanagement during the past 40 years. They have indulged in a dramatic evasion of issues through ever more elaborate insults. Even their platforms involve a codification of stale promises for a colonial paradise.

The statehood party, for instance, promises education from pre-kinder to 100 years of age. (An implied promise for a longer life span?) The commonwealth party, for its part, promises to match $12.50 a month to students, from sixth grade through 12th, to stay in school. Under the guise of economic development, the statehood party promises to turn the island into a city. (A huge parking lot?) And the commonwealth party proposes a thousand new enterprises, and ten thousand new jobs. (Including going to school?) Naturally, part-time jobs with no fringe benefits are highly regarded by gubernatorial candidates of both parties. Both unabashedly favor large corporate interests over a more employee-oriented approach. Like the incumbent who brashly fired her Secretary of Labor for supporting progressive labor reforms, both would have fired him -albeit with a different “style.”

The rest, as usual: crime reduction, safety in schools and the work place, government efficiency, no more corruption -the opposite of everything they have delivered over the past 40 years. Reforms encompassing the elimination of legislative pork barrels, tax-free per diems, and other measures they could have implemented during all their years in office are recited by the overly cynical for the overly innocent.

Adding to this parody of a sham is their approach to the status problem. Aside from a frivolous federal suit seemingly to invalidate the Territory Clause of the U.S. constitution, the statehood party proposes what has already failed: to demand a congressionally mandated referendum on status, but through a local referendum -in other words, a referendum to request a referendum. Although between 1989-1991 Puerto Rico’s three parties tried it, and between 1994-1998 the incumbent governor and the Clinton administration pushed hard for it, Congress refused to act.

Statehood is clearly the poison pill for congressional legislation, undigested or ignored by some, and treasured by others who use it as bait for Puerto Rico’s continuing economic dependence.

The commonwealth party, for its part, proposes a caricature of a travesty. Under the label of “Puerto Rican Pride,” they purport to promise a constitutional assembly on status. But their candidate for governor expounds legislation next year, if he wins, for a referendum on whether to have a referendum (again!), or a status commission (like in 1966!), or a constitutional assembly (which he claims to prefer), or some other as yet undefined method (which sounds ominously like the inconsequential 1998 “none of the above” referendum).

This presumably “proud” Puerto Rican candidate for governor, however, refuses to re-introduce legislation, repealed by a pro-statehood administration, making Spanish our official language -although previously enacted by his own party, for whose governor he was then legislative advisor. He was publicly mum while hundreds, including members of his party, went to prison for civil disobedience in the struggle for the demilitarization of Vieques. Instead, he begged the federal government not to close the Roosevelt Roads naval base and -even more embarrassing- to establish the office of Homeland Security there. As president of the party that controls the legislative and executive branches, he has refused to call for a referendum for a constitutional assembly now. And he has recently said, with a straight face, that the commonwealth arrangement is neither “territorial” nor “colonial” -a position neither of the two U.S. candidates for president seriously entertains any more.

After forty years of shared mismanagement, many voters have begun to realize that neither colonial party has produced any substantive reforms or status modification. Their leaders have even lost their capacity to deceive.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party is a third option promising to present a social democratic platform for decolonization. Its committee of economists, educators, and legal scholars will reflect a more realistic and responsible approach to government. Conscious that only the force of moral indignation will force moral reform, the PIP has invited even those who do not favor independence to vote for the third option as a tool to register electoral outrage and bring about change.

Food for thought!