Puerto Rico Capitol Building

Puerto Rico Capitol Building in San Juan, the island's capital

Edgardo Vicenty, Entrepreneur and Financial Analyst

Manolo, like you, I get excited every time a news report detailing an alleged illegal act committed by politicians is published. I fill with hope that cooperation from the criminal in this new case will lead to dozens more and that in a short period of time, we will have cleansed our government of corruption.

I was hopeful as recently as Aug. 17, when the FBI brought corruption charges against Tata Charbonier. I got even more hopeful three days later when the FBI arrested Nelson del Valle with similar charges. Two public officials arrested in less than a week; this was definitely the beginning of the end for corruption in the island.

Sadly, my excitement didn’t last long; 11 days later ineptitude, dishonesty and corruption took over the country once again. On Aug. 28, the Office of Government Ethics announced it was ending the Ricardo Rosselló “chats” investigation because they hadn’t been able to authenticate the chats.

To be more precise, because the individuals being investigated hadn’t voluntarily authenticated the chats. This reasoning is absurd, to say the least. It’s as if a prosecutor dropped the charges on a murder case because the defendant didn’t voluntarily admit he is the individual, clearly seen in a video recording committing the crime.

Manolo, in Ayn Rand’s words, our society is doomed. The problem we have isn’t one or two rotten apples, but that corruption has become a central part of our political system. So much so that Puerto Rico’s newest party, which is running on an anti-corruption campaign platform, plagiarized, without any fear of consequences, an Argentinian political ad. They stole copyrighted material in an effort to rally volunteers for counting votes on election day. In other words, they stole so that the elections wouldn’t be stolen from them. The irony is epic.

Obviously, plagiarizing is nowhere near as serious an offense as the acts of corruption we have seen from members of both leading parties over the last two decades. A party that represented a true change in behavior would have immediately announced an internal investigation, made public all the findings and thrown out the people responsible, even if that meant firing their leader. But that is not what happened here, just like with Ricardo Rossello’s chat, impunity is king at Victoria Ciudadana.

This plagiarizing event proves that the dishonesty, corruption and incompetence that plague our government won’t be solved by simply changing the governing party’s colors and adding a charismatic new leader with a cool slogan, because the problems are systemic.

If we genuinely want to end corruption, we need to make the Justice Department an independent entity. As we have seen during the past four years, Secretaries of Justice don’t investigate or prosecute their boss, the governor, and when they do, they are fired.

Manuel Cidre, Founder of Los Cidrines

Edgardo, the famous Russian-American writer, Ayn Rand wrote the following in the 1950s: “When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing - When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors - When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you - When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice - You may know that your society is doomed.”

I confess, each time an act of corruption is uncovered, I am filled with optimism because of the thought that it could be the first domino to fall in the eradication of this great evil. But it never is; corrupt acts keep occurring as if nothing had happened, maybe because like Rand said, corruption is rewarded and honesty becomes self-sacrifice.

The same thing happens with the lack of government continuity. The constant change in power because of people who deal in favors has greatly affected our health system, our children’s education, and economic development on the island.

Our island can’t progress because those in power get richer by graft instead of through work. The worst part of this is the people have gotten used to it; every four years our agency leaders change, not because of a performance review, but because a new government has been elected.

I refuse to believe we are condemned to this mediocrity. We need strong actions that guarantee our island a better future.

I am completely convinced that our civic engagement is not working. Under the guise of grassroots movements, each day we see more incompetent individuals picking up a mic and propagating populist rhetoric. This is true for both the left-wing and the right-wing. It was impressive how speakers in both the Republican and the Democratic party conventions distorted reality to fit their storylines; they blatantly lie to the public, knowing full well that most of the people watching know for a fact what they are saying is not true.

In Trump’s convention, sorry the Republican convention, a famous ex-football coach said “a leader must inspire confidence, commitment, and love.” I wonder, do any of our leaders in the U.S. and Puerto Rico accomplish this?

For our country to change, we the people have to step into the playing field and start demanding more from our leaders. We need to end this common hallucination and agree on what metrics and benchmarks we will use to measure their success.

Trying to fight the establishment head-on through protests is important, but it’s not enough; we need to get smarter and hold our politicians accountable as a unified group. But in order to do this effectively, we can’t fight 10 battles at a time, we need to choose one or two and stick to them until change is accomplished.

For Puerto Rico, I suggest we begin with corruption and continuity.

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