Changes for Puerto Rico are blowing in the wind
San Juan, Puerto Rico
The long shadow of Governor Luis Munoz Marin hangs over this Caribbean island like that of a caring father. "This is the land of Munoz," proclaims a scrawled sign on the wall of a new highway underpass here. Amd most Puerto Ricans would agree.
But many of today's island leaders -- both those now in power and some of those seeking power in gubernatorial and legislative elections next November -- are bent on altering the Puerto Rico that the late Don Luis, as he was widely called, carved out of United States colonialism four decades ago.
Some merely want to "improve" on the Puerto Rican free state Don Luis conceived as an alternative to US control. Others would abandon the concept for full statehood, making the island the 51st state. Still others, a small but vocal minority, want the island to opt for independence.
Anyway you slice it, changes are in the wind.
And the big question is just what impact Don Luis's shadow will have on these changes.
In some measure, his passing late in April symbolizes the most fundamental change.
His influence is still much in evidence -- in the very commonwealth or free-state concept under which 3.3 million Puerto Ricans on the island live. But clearly the mantle for running this island has passed to a new generation. And that new generation has new ideas.
A transition is under way. And the election campaign now getting started is the first real test of projecting the new Puerto Rico without Don Luis's active presence.
One thing seems virtually sure: Don Luis's concept of a permanent union with the US will remain. The independence forces are not expected to win more than 5 or 6 percent of the vote, clearly not enough to make them much of a factor. The rest will go in some division to the statehooders and those favoring Don Luis's commonwealth.
He would not mind some changes in the commonwealth status, for he never saw the idea as static. But he did worry in recent years about too much tampering with his creation.
His followers in the present campaign are making that point.
For incumbent Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo all this is so much nostalgic foolishness. He is doing all he can in his present re- election bid to nip a nostalgia campaign before it gets going. He sees nostalgia as a real threat to his goal of statehood for the island and his own re-election.
"It is not the same to cry for Munoz," he said in a political rally the night of June 21, "as a vote for Rafael Hernandez Colon," who is a Munoz protege seeking a return to the governorship that he lost to Mr. Romero Barcelo four years ago.
The two are busy trading blows, and both are campaigning in earnest even though the election is more than four months off. Election day is Nov. 4.
Recently both candidates made a series of whirlwind appearances at shopping centers and other places that were mobbed by Puerto Ricans waiting for the candidates. Both appeared on television. Each accused the other of serious lapses of administration, of integrity, and the like.
"The campaign is bound to get a little dirty before November," commented a local editor, "if we are already being treated to such epithets."
But the Puerto Rican loves it. Campaign audiences are larger and more boisterous than on the mainland. The number of Puerto Ricans who go to the polls is also larger percentagewise than on the mainland, evidence of the importance they place on elections -- a legacy, many would say, of Don Luis.
The main issue in the campaign this year is clearly the island's future status -- and on this point there are fundamental philosophical differences between Governor Romero Barcelo, who calls for statehood, and former Governor Hernandez Colon, who speaks out for the continuation of the free state.
And as a result, the campaign is bound to involve Don Luis more and more.
Already billboards are sprouting with his sayings on them: Mr. Hernandez Colon quotes him frequently in speeches, and that always wins hearty applause.
Whether that presence will get Mr. Hernandez Colon elected and whether it will keep puerto Rico as a commonwealth remain to be seen.
But there can be no mistaking Don Luis' presence as the campaign progresses.
Meanwhile, on another issue, members of the Munoz-Hernandez Colon Partido Popular Democratico are still bitter over President Jimmy Carter's failure to be present at the Munoz funeral in late April.
"It was an unconscionable failure on the part of a very small man" is the way a top leader of the PPD put it quite bitterly.
President Carter sent his cousin, Hugh Carter, to head up the US delegation to the funeral.
"That slight will not be forgotten," the PPD man added.
Some PPD people say that President Carter supports Governor Romero Barcelo, whose Partido Nuevo Progresista is linked with the stateside Republicans as the PPd is linked with the Democratic Party on the mainland.
One member of the Romero Barcelo entourage commented: "Well, Carter is more of a Republican anyway."