How the rise of Rafael Tatito Hernandez is fueling tensions in the Popular Democratic Party

by Jun 7, 2022Elections, Puerto Rico0 comments

Puerto Rico’s Popular Democratic Party has found itself with its leadership embroiled in public political fights that threaten to derail the party’s agenda. Specifically, this includes accusations against current Puerto Rico House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez.

Before looking at Tatito’s current position in the political landscape, it is important to recognize his journey. About 10 years ago, the governor of Puerto Rico at the time, Alejandro García Padilla, won by a very slim margin. He also had a slim majority in the House and Senate. During his tumultuous 4 years term, he wanted to approve various measures that were ultimately not passed in the House or Senate. He faced internal issues with members of his own party. 

Tatito then became the “rising star” and quickly went up in the party’s ranks. In 2012, he became the chairman of the Finance and Budget Committee, in which he was able to present “far-reaching legislation for Puerto Rico.” 

In 2016, the Popular Democratic Party lost the governorship, the House of Representatives, and the Senate of Puerto Rico. The speaker of the house at the time, Jaime Perelló, was caught in a corruption scandal and pleaded guilty, leaving an open seat in the House. Tatito rose to the occasion and was selected as the new minority leader of the Popular Democratic Party.

This journey led Tatito to believe he was “self-made,” lacking any help from members of his party. This notion of self-reliance continues to bleed into his actions as he doesn’t believe he is tied to the will of his party, leaving him as an independent actor. He is not only backed by his own party but also by independents and smaller parties. This gives him the power to maneuver the House to fit his personal and ideological agendas. 

According to Giovanni Boschetti, a professor at the Università di Padova, Tatito has apparently made it his political goal to run for the Congressional position of Resident Commissioner in 2024. Moreover, is willing to constantly fall into controversy if it keeps his name in the headlines, following the idea that “any press is good press.” Specifically, his independent attitude drives him to constantly challenge his own party. 

Tatito represents the more conservative wing of the Popular Democratic Party at a time in which both the Popular Democratic and New Progressive parties are going through changes as they are divided between liberal and conservative. Historically, most of Puerto Rico used to be conservative. However, the new generation caused an internal tug of war between conservatives and liberals. Tatito’s conservative wing is more attached to the traditional territorial status rather than free association. 

Despite Tatito’s fierce rise to power, he has had a checkered past, including corruption scandals. In his own party, he undermines the president of the Popular Democratic Party, José Luis Dalmau, often making him look weak. In order to flex his muscles and power, Tatito undercuts Dalmau’s decisions and power. This continues to further the internal divide within the party. Since the Popular Democratic Party only won with 31 percent of the vote in the legislature, they do not have the luxury to divide themselves even more. 

Currently, Tatito is on more solid political ground than Dalmau. Tatito has 25 votes behind him in contrast to Dalmau’s 12 backing senators. However, his recent controversies may be affecting his public image. During the mayoral election of Guayama, Kia Rosario, the candidate endorsed by the PDP, and Tatito, lost by a landslide, only gaining 0.65% of the vote. 

According to Giovanni Boschetti, the people may be holding Tatito accountable for his actions even if political figures are not. During his chairmanship, 85 new taxes were levied. People held him personally responsible for those taxes. He filed fruitless lawsuits that he ended up losing, wasting money. These issues kept him in the press which continues to aid him. This pattern may help him win the primary election against former San Juan mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz. According to Giovanni, with his relevant status in Puerto Rico, Tatito would easily beat Yulin Cruz.

With Tatito Hernández’s recent accusations, it’s hard to tell if large political figures will acknowledge their disturbances. However, with the events of the mayoral race in Guayama, this upcoming election may have an unexpected result for Tatito.