The stage was perfect for an entrance by former President Donald Trump, or a Kimberley Guilfoyle striptease, with two huge U.S. flags flapping on plasma TVS in the background. But this was not a MAGA rally at Mar-A-Lago. It was the pro-statehood Partido Nuevo Progresista’s (PNP) political convention in Puerto Rico—and no Boricua flag in sight.
The skinny on the convention, which took place Sunday at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente, was that the PNP’s resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González-Colón, would announce her intention to challenge the PNP’s incumbent governor, Pedro Pierluisi, in the gubernatorial election next year, effectively splitting the party in two.
It didn’t happen that way.
Instead, the convention was a political carnival with reggaetón, confetti, fireworks, middle-aged men trying to bust a move, and chiaroscuro lighting making it hard to see how many people were there.
Attendees, most public workers dressed in agency t-shirts (Hatch Act, anyone?), waved U.S. flags and Pierluisi banners, instead of Puerto Rican ones. NFT-like images of the PNP leaders smiled down on the crowd from screens, shades of a creepy Big Brother.
PNP officials said the Coliseo, which seats about 9,000 people, was packed, and that more supporters milled outside. But videos show it was not full, with many seats beyond the pit empty and the crowd prompted to applaud.
Pierluisi entered the convention, jumping up and down, and knelt several times—for reasons only Pierluisi knows. It reminded this writer of Tom Cruise’s use of Oprah Winfrey’s couch as a trampoline.
González-Colón walked on stage to applause, a Godlike proclaiming, “the woman that Puerto Rico needs has arrived.” She was joined by her husband, who she married as she began her will-she-won’t-she gubernatorial campaign.
The meeting between Pierluisi and González-Colón, president and vice-president of the party, was cordial in an apparent attempt to preserve PNP unity. But, on the floor, their supporters almost came to blows, and an attendee held up a sign that read: “Say no to a primary for governor.”
A portent of things to come?
At the end of the day, González-Colón talked about going back “to the party’s roots,” whatever that means, yet stayed her hand.
Does she believe the “Boricua Papers“ —spelling out how the island’s banking system is being used as a “back door” for illicit gains— will do the job for her and deal a mortal blow to Pierluisi, thus making a primary unnecessary?
She first threw down the gauntlet at a recent political event in Puerto Rico, where she claimed that Pierluisi’s wing of the PNP was discriminating against public officials supporting her campaign.
“I like to say things up front,” she said. “To those threatened with being fired from government agencies, stay calm. It won’t be long now.”
“There is no fear here, we are ready.”
She was asked to explain her allegations before public hearings. Instead, she was imperious in a BAFTA-worthy impersonation of her mentor Trump.
She surprised supporters and detractors alike, which is hard to understand because that behavior is her modus operandi, learned in the dirty school of Puerto Rican and MAGA politics.
González-Colón followed up her stunt by releasing a video that further teased her anticipated grab for the governor’s chair.
¡Volvamos a la raíz del PNP! pic.twitter.com/0bmAkLO8Aq
— Jenniffer González (@JGO_2020) March 1, 2023
She has had her eye on La Fortaleza for a long time. Still, the situation in Puerto Rico, and Pierluisi’s plunging popularity, have given her the perfect opportunity.
The island has gone through a lot in the past decade: $70 billion debt; a federally imposed fiscal control board; cuts to education, pensions, and health services; the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and María; earthquakes; government corruption; a pandemic; blackouts and LUMA; and rampant gentrification.
Boricuas are sick and tired of being sick and tired. So, in 2019, they turned to new parties championing social issues, such as Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (MVC) with its anti-colonial platform, and Proyecto Dignidad, a Christian-led party.
In the 2020 elections, the MVC, the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueno, and Proyecto Dignidad eroded the PNP’s and the Partido Popular Democratico’s voter bases. As a result, Pierluisi won with less than 33 percent in results that showed a more liberal tendency, especially among young voters.
But exchanging Pierluisi for González-Colón would be more of the same, only far worse.
González-Colón was an ardent Trump supporter, even after he called Puerto Ricans “dirty and poor” and blocked aid after Hurricane María. She was even one of the chairs of Latinos for Trump during the 2020 presidential campaign.
She endorsed Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in his 2022 reelection bid in Florida, backed disgraced Rep. George Santos in New York last year, and questioned the Puerto Rican identity of Democratic Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a Boricua born in New York.
She is also a staunch advocate of the Jones Act, which is profoundly detrimental to Puerto Rico. She has been fighting to turn the island into one colossal “Opportunity Zone,” which would only spur gentrification and the exodus of even more Boricuas from their homeland.
Her catchphrase, if anyone cares to believe it, is “en Washington a mi me respetan“–in Washington I am respected. She insists on calling herself a “Congresswoman,” which technically isn’t, since she has no voting power on the floor of the House, and has no influence in the chamber outside of committee. She can propose legislation and vote on bills in committees and only symbolically on the House floor. But if her ballot is the deciding one, the House votes again without her participation.
This has never stopped González-Colón from taking credit for the federal funds gained for Puerto Rico by others, namely Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY).
Velázquez, alongside Ocasio-Cortez, spearheaded the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021, which calls for creating a “status convention“ of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters—finally allowing Puerto Ricans, not Congress, to determine the colony’s future.
To get to La Fortaleza, González-Colón has donned a persona—an electable, fictionalized version of herself. She choreographed a televised wedding —where the groom appeared as happy as a hostage— and publicized photos and videos of them “celebrating” their love.
She fancies herself a “woman of the people” but surrounds herself with the wealthy elite.
The question Boricua voters must ask themselves, then, is: If González-Colón is willing to stab the president of her party in the back to take La Fortaleza, how far would she go to keep it?
Stay tuned, as this soap opera is bound to get better.
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and a writer and journalist living in New York City. Comments can be sent to her email. Twitter: @DurgaOne
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