In the middle of a tense campaign for Puerto Rico’s open governor’s office, 10 Yale students gathered at La Casa Cultural Monday night to watch the candidates spar in a televised debate, snack on chips and cookies, and discuss Puerto Rico’s political future.

The students watched a videotape of the gubernatorial debate between Pedro Rosello of the conservative New Progressive Party, Anibal Acevedo Vila of the liberal Popular Democratic Party and Ruben Berrios of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. The debate centered on Puerto Rico’s slumping economy with candidates addressing charges of corruption in their pasts.

The students, most of whom are involved in Despierta Boricua, Yale’s undergraduate organization for issues relating to Puerto Rico, expressed satisfaction with the liveliness of the debate, while questioning the candidates’ abilities to effect any positive change.

Carlos Hamm ’06 said he was concerned that the candidates reflected some of the current “stagnancy” of the Puerto Rican political process.

“It was a good debate, the candidates took on the issues, looked at the problems and proposed solutions, although they did have a tendency to embellish, and they attacked each other a lot,” Hamm said.

With polls indicating a close race between Rosello and Vila, the debate attracted wide viewership in Puerto Rico. Hamm said the La Casa turnout was good “for an event planned on the spur of the moment.”

While students generally preferred Vila’s performance and enjoyed the debate itself, many acknowledged disappointment in both major candidates, especially in their tendencies to charge each other with corruption.

“I’m disheartened when I hear the debate because it always turns into cattiness, and they don’t follow up on their points,” Carla Loubriel ’05 said. “It always leaves you wanting more satisfaction.”

Students attempted to save their commentary for suitable pauses but could not always restrain themselves. Some of the candidates’ lines provoked scattered giggles, and others generated a chorus of guffaws. Several students expressed disbelief in Rosello’s claim that he was not complicit in the widespread corruption of his administration during his eight years in the governor’s office between 1992 and 2000. Rosello was never implicated or accused, although several members of his administration were indicted and convicted on corruption charges.

“I hate it; I’m so depressed,” Loubriel said at one point in the debate. “The topic of [Rosello’s] corruption was brought up because of his eight years in government, and now he’s trying to deflect it to the Vila side.”

Nevertheless, the debate provided students not native to Puerto Rico with an opportunity to see the candidates and to better understand Puerto Rico’s vibrant political life.

“If I had to describe Puerto Rican politics, I would call it pretty passionate,” said Michael Friedman-Aponte ’05. “Not to say that American politics aren’t intense, but Puerto Ricans in my opinion take it more to heart. It was a good experience and a great introduction to Puerto Rican politics for students from the Northeast.”

Latasha Borrero ’06 said she knew little of Puerto Rican politics while growing up and appreciated the opportunity to learn more.

“I was raised in New York and haven’t been exposed to Puerto Rican politics,” Borrero said. “I think it’s important and great that we could watch this here. It was a chance to bring the issues together and to learn a lot.”

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