Controversial San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz to run for governor
Ruling party says she wants to separate the island from the United States
SAN JUAN – The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, announced Friday that she is running for Puerto Rico governor for the minority Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2020 elections.
Despite having assured in a 2017 interview with the Telemundo TV network that she would not run for governor, at the Caguas Botanical Garden Friday, Cruz announced: “Today we begin to build the country. And we will do it from here, from the Popular Democratic Party.” She wore a black T-shirt that read the equivalent of “No Fear” in Spanish.
“I have thought a lot, for a long time, about where I can serve Puerto Rico best. I believe we are capable of starting the movement that breaks down barriers, a movement that recognizes that we are boricuas and our ability to help ourselves is greater. There are more of us good ones. We are going to start a transformation. I am going to serve the people of Puerto Rico as the next governor,” 56-year-old Cruz said.
Critics decry her support for now-free Oscar López, who was jailed for ties to a pro-Puerto Rico independence organization blamed for stateside bomb attacks in the 1970s and ’80s, and for allegedly identifying with anti-U.S. strongmen in Latin America such as Cubas’s Raúl Castro and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro. Supporters, however, say her remarks regarding the federal response in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria were crucial in attracting the media and political spotlight on the devastation wrought by the historic 2017 storm.
President Trump criticized Cruz’s leadership after she said on several occasions that his administration was not responding quickly enough to the emergency when at one point she said his “administration killed Puerto Ricans with neglect. The Trump administration led us to believe they were helping when they weren’t up to par, and they didn’t allow other countries to help us,” referring to requests that the island be exempted from the Jones Act so foreign vessels could bring aid.
The recognition her back-and-forth with Trump generated, with remarks such as, “every time the president talks about Puerto Rico, he reveals his ignorance,” garnered attention from the Democratic party, interviews on national TV and a nomination for Time’s 2017 Person of the Year, as well as being named one of the magazine’s 100 Most Influential People last year.
Cruz, who was named co-chair of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president of the United States, reiterated Friday her rejection of the island’s congressionally established fiscal oversight board, which she has called “an abusive and anti-worker colonial board,” and called for the island’s debt to be audited.
In the past, the mayor has espoused such positions as expecting that the United States “return the 936’s [Section 936 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, which gives mainland U.S. companies an exemption from federal taxes on income earned on the island] to Puerto Rico; begin the immediate process of eliminating cabotage laws that raise the cost of living”; that the U.S. Congress “provide access to bankruptcy [protections] to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt,” adding that the “mechanism could be used until 1984”; and that “the process of decolonization and self-determination of Puerto Ricans” is immediately needed.
Representatives of the ruling New Progressive Party (NPP) reacted to her speech, calling it hollow, separatist and unrealistic.
The lawmakers, headed by the alternate spokesperson of the House NPP delegation, Rep. Urayoán Hernández Alvarado, also said her “message makes it clear that she will seek the associated republic, with Puerto Rican citizenship as its pillar.”
“It was a hollow message, without any idea that is feasible, for she had seven years to do some of the things she said in San Juan but never did. This message today was one for the crowds, to launch a candidacy that has no support even within the Popular Democratic Party. The way she expressed herself leaves much to be desired,” Hernández said in a statement.
“That the mayor attacks the speaker of the House makes it clear that she does not practice what she says. She said she would not be making attacks, that she would seek alliances, but she did not. The opposite. We will not allow personal attacks, that will not happen,” the legislator added.
NPP Rep. José Aponte added that “the direction she wants to take to Puerto Rico is toward complete separation of the United States. The people have to know that a vote for her is a vote for separation.”
Regarding her proposal of a constitutional status assembly, Aponte said it “is another example of the Mayor’s actions to limit the direct expression of the people,” adding that her message was “anti-democratic because the people have already expressed themselves on the political status issue and she has not wanted to acknowledge it. What she is trying to do is seek a favorable result for her separatist position, excluding the people.”
For his part, PDP Sen. Eduardo Bhatia welcomed Cruz to the party’s primary elections.
“Democracy is strengthened as citizens have more options. I welcome Carmen Yulín to the race for governance in the PDP. Our party is living a historic moment, its first gubernatorial primary since its foundation. It will be a contest of dignity, ideas and proposals. All the candidates have the responsibility to present the best face of the PDP to the Country. That is my commitment to the Popular Party and to Puerto Rico. May the best one win!” Bhatia said in a statement.
The mayor of Comerío, Josean Santiago of the PDP, who is also running for governor and attended the announcing event, told the news media he would evaluate his intention to run for governor, as Cruz is “a factor that must be considered.” Another gubernatorial hopeful for the party, Isabela Mayor Carlos “Charlie” Delgado, also attended the event.
For his part, PDP President Aníbal José Torres said the “fundamental principle” of the party is “the power of the people,” and that his mission is “to ensure that the processes that are necessary are put in place to guarantee that the final decision of the PDP affiliation is informed and free.”
Another gubernatorial hopeful for the party, Roberto Prats, said the question the PDP must ask is, “Who can beat [Gov.] Ricardo Rosselló?” the 40-year-old incumbent who is running for reelection.” Everyone knows that the strength of the PDP is not when you have a foot in the Party and the heart with other movements. We will discuss our different views on the role of government and how to pull the country out of this crisis.”
On Twitter, Rosselló, replied to Prats, who said he was a free-associated-state supporter, saying the PDP’s decision-makers were who allowed the pro-sovereignty faction of the party to hold leadership positions, and that that party is turning more “left socialist every day” and he does not belong in it anymore.
Meanwhile, NPP’s president in San Juan, Sen. Miguel Romero, reacted by saying Cruz revealed her problems as mayor.
“In a message in which populist phrases reigned, vulgar words and a series of falsehoods with the purpose of attacking the administration of Ricardo Rosselló and [Resident Commissioner] Jenniffer González, the mayor forgot to talk about her work in San Juan. Her lack of execution and work in the Capital City is so obvious that Carmen Yulín Cruz did not mention, at any time, anything allusive to any program she has worked successfully on while commanding the most important mayoralty of Puerto Rico. That denotes disconnection and selectivity on her part,” the also Government Committee chairman said.
He further said it “has been more than six years since Carmen Yulín was sworn in as mayor of San Juan. The result to date is a bankrupt town hall, without direction, abandoned streets, garbage in every corner, governmental disorganization, federal investigations for corruption in the municipal procurement division, exodus to other municipalities … in short, a disaster,” and added that her running for “the highest ranking seat on our island is an exercise in lack of rationality and even a lack of respect to all [people of San Juan] who have had to suffer the discomfort she has caused.”
Cruz, who withdrew her endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 because of her position in favor of the then-proposed fiscal board the U.S. Congress “intends to impose,” said at the time: “I’m not a Democrat; I’ll never be a Republican. I have never voted in presidential primaries nor ever will, although I don’t criticize those who consider it a way to contribute.”
–CyberNews contributed to this report.