Bitter divide between political rivals is at heart of Puerto Rican shutdown
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A bitter divide between Puerto Rico’s two leading political parties has stalled talks to end the partial government shutdown that has closed the island’s schools and put more than 90,000 public employees out of work.The shutdown entered a third day Wednesday after the governor walked out of a meeting with the president of the House of Representatives the night before, saying the legislative leader showed a “lack of respect” by poking fun at him.Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila and the opposition-dominated legislature have traded insults and accusations since the island’s government ran out of money Monday, but have yet to agree on how to solve the budget crisis that resulted in 43 public agencies closing and left 500,000 students with no schools.”They are playing with our mental health, with our dignity,” said Sofia Mulero, an Education Department clerk, as she applied for food stamps to help her through the shutdown. “I almost can’t sleep thinking about how I am going to pay the bills.”The shutdown could last until the end of the fiscal year on June 30 unless the governor and lawmakers agree on a way to repay a loan needed to make up for a $740 million budget shortfall.Acevedo has accused the legislature of not working hard enough to solve the island’s problems and has said Sen. Pedro Rossello, the head of the opposition New Progressive Party, has a “messianic” vision in which he must destroy Puerto Rico in order to save it.Opposition leaders, meanwhile, routinely deride the governor as weak and twist his name to form a play on “Pinocchio” to suggest he is a liar.Many people suspect the real issue is the next governor’s race.”There is a fight for political power in 2008, and the (New Progressive Party) is not going to do anything, absolutely anything, that gives the present governor something to work with,” said Noel Colon Martinez, a political analyst and a columnist for El Nuevo Dia newspaper.Acevedo’s Popular Democratic Party favors retaining Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. commonwealth, where people pay no federal income taxes but can’t vote for president. Rossello’s party favors full statehood. A third faction, the smallest by far, supports independence.The governor and legislature have been unable to agree on a budget for the past two years, and the island has been operating under the 2004 spending plan.Vail, Colorado
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