A sick world?
Manuel Zeno Gandía, one of our most prominent novelists (whose work covered the future of Puerto Rico between the end of 19th century and first decades of the 20th) is the author of four of the most important novels in Puerto Rican literature, collectively titled Crónicas de un mundo enfermo (Chronicles of a Sick World). The first two, La Charca (The Pond) and Garduña, address rural life on the island. On the other hand, El Negocio (The Business) and Redentores (Redeemers) use the urban landscape as backdrop. La Charca (The Pond), the main and best-known classic of these four novels, tells us about the human and social conflicts of the world Gandía lived. According to Josefina Rivera de Alvarez, Zeno Gandía analyses "with honesty and courage the material, moral and political issues of the island".
In fact, the title Crónicas de un mundo enfermo (Chronicles of a Sick World) could well be applied to the circumstances of contemporary Puerto Rico. Waiting for a novelist who narrates the embodiments of our present-day society with Zeno Gandia's realism, the media that keeps us informed on a daily basis about the illnesses that afflict our lives as a people, those which break our social structure. Let's take a quick look at some of these illnesses.
Given the challenges faced since 2005 calls into question the likelihood of a shared government. Even though the Island had a shared government during 1969-1972, with the New Progressive Party dominating the Executive and House of Representatives branches, the political polarization then didn't compare to the division now. At the time, both Governor Ferré and President of the Senate Rafael Hernandez Colon, achieved bipartisanship in dealing with key issues, allowing for the proper function of the government, and therefore, of the island.
A second example of a shared government came about as a result of the 1980's elections, when Governor Romero Barceló had to cope with a House and a Senate dominated by the opposing party. Once again, and although the political climate was more difficult (worsened by the Cerro Maravilla investigations) there was no crisis as for government functionality.
But during the last three years, deadlocks between the Executive Power, controlled by the Popular Democratic Party, and the Legislature, dominated by the New Progressive Party, have caused crisis after crisis, including the closing of the government, which, according to many Puerto Ricans, has made the island ungovernable and inefficient.
Violence: A social phenomenon
One of the most distressing situations in present-day Puerto Rico is the increase of violence in its various manifestations: gender-based violence, highway violence, school violence, the number of violent crimes, and corruption at every level. Fernando Picó approached the topic of violence in his keynote speech as Humanist of the Year, uprooting the historic origins of a phenomenon that dates back to the dawn of our society. Progressively, stated Picó, the shaping of "a society accustomed to illegality, may it be in contraband, the acceptance of illegal immigrants, the authoritarian practices by local officials or the usual lack of knowledge of a state's rights" took place.
One of the most visible manifestations of this tendency towards illegality is the rampant corruption found in both the public and private sectors. This political polarization consequently, has brought on a battle to preserve power at any cost, effort which eroded the integrity in public service. Even attempts to control these deviant turns by applying the Governmental Ethics Law, never before have there been so many appointed public officials nor elected legislators accused, sentenced and incarcerated for so many different types of corruption acts.
Drugs: Social Evils
Puerto Rico's prevailing economic prosperity of the last decade has caused an alarming increase in the sale and consumption of drugs and all kinds of controlled substances. Consequently, the battle to control drug spots has unleashed a wave of violence that manifests every day in the form of homicides.
Drug sale and use has, therefore, adversely affected the health of individuals. HIV/AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a tangible manifestation of this vile phenomenon. Unbridled sexuality and the rise in sexually transmitted diseases also stem from drug use. But these are not the only factors; the weakening of the traditional family institution, as we'll discussed further on, also facilitates sexual promiscuity at a young age.
Members of the upper class have hidden themselves from violence and drugs behind the social segregation card. But the explosion of gated residential communities has been, and continues to be, a dividing factor in our society. At any rate, it is obvious that the success of modern residential development projects depends, more and more, on having controlled access as one of the main amenities to attract new residents.
Possible solutions to the problem are initiatives like the Assistance Program for Isolated Communities. Other measures taken to tackle this dilemma include the celebration of discussion forums in different parts of the island to identify problems and propose solutions. The audience of these forums or town meetings is fairly representative of society in general, and the recommendations generated are presented to political parties as alternatives to be incorporated into their agendas in the upcoming 2008 elections. We'll have to wait and see how effective the adoption of these recommendations is as a democratizing element of our society, and to what extent they will be represented in special interests groups.
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