Turmoil in Popular Democratic Party amid changes to June status plebiscite
After the news broke that the government of Puerto Rico voted to add the option of maintaining territorial status to June’s plebiscite, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) held a special assembly on April 23 to officially decide its strategy for the plebiscite. The party’s Governing Board put forth a recommendation for a boycott of the plebiscite. Although the boycott became the party’s official stance, the assembly was not smooth sailing.
First of all, attendance by supporters of the party was low. The party has around 5,000 registered delegates, and in order to achieve a quorum about 2,000 of those delegates must attend. A quorum was called for the event, despite the fact that sources claim only 911 delegates were registered, calling into question the authenticity of the assembly.
To understand the current turmoil, it is important to know that the PDP has been plagued with disagreements, infighting, and controversy all year. Part of the disagreement comes from that fact that the party’s supporters and leadership are split between supporting the status quo and sovreignty, which is still not defined. These tensions are not new, as earlier in the year, party representatives who do not support the territorial status claim that they were left-out of party elections. The PDP has also been experiencing tensions in its sessions in the House. Party Whip Rafael “Tatito” Hernández accused some members of not being loyal to the party, causing Representatives Luis Raúl Torres, Luis Vega Ramos, and Manuel Natal Albelo to leave the party’s caucus, feeling that, as supporters of sovereignty, that they were being targeted.
The divides reared their ugly heads at the special assembly where leaders alluded to the disagreement between the party whip and the representatives. At the assembly, Hernández said, “One must have popular (PDP) loyalty. We are all popular first and foremost. He who abandons his comrades in the heat of battle, is a traitor to the homeland. He who abandons his comrades in the heat of battle is not a popular [candidate].” It was clear that he was talking about Torres and his fellow representatives. To further fan the flames Hernández and other party members sported buttons saying ‘Loyalty’.
Other criticisms were hurled by the crowd at politicians. Carmen Yulín Cruz the mayor of San Juan, the city where the assembly was held, also felt the sting of the divide. When introducing herself to the crowd at the beginning of her speech, members of the audience cried out that she was not a “popular” mayor, a jibe at her contentious election. While former governor Alejandro García Padilla’s speech was peppered with threats, “To those who have weakened the Free Associated State from within the Popular Party, I make you responsible if one of these days (the) statehood option were to garner any chance for success. There is room in the PDP for them, they are very welcome. In fact, I welcome back to the PDP those who left a month ago, those who were willing to unite in a common cause and echo the Puerto Rican Independence Party.”
In spite of the palpable tensions and poorly veiled insults hurled around the assembly, a boycott of the plebiscite was approved. The PDP has been vocal in opposition to the plebiscite since its early stages, since they believe that it is rigged in favor of statehood. They also do not support the definitions approved for the changed ballot, which they feel do not express the version of the Free Associated State or ‘commonwealth’ that only PDP members support. While the party found an official alignment in regards to the plebiscite, the assembly made it very clear that the party is not internally aligned. The party is being pulled apart by its infighting. Party leaders have been calling for a greater internal cohesion and openness. For the sake of the party’s future, it is imperative that they start solving some of their differences.