Puerto Rico is politically dominated by its traditional parties: the Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party. Both are ideologically complex, with political actors and partisan ideas ranging from center-left to center-right. However, in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, political forces are beginning to threaten to break the bipartisan hegemony. One of them is the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana (MVC), a political party presented as a moderate social democrat, but with profoundly radical left-wing proposals in the economic and markedly progressive in the social sphere.
Founded in 2019, the MVC was not affected by its “inexperience” in the 2020 general elections, as it managed to win 4 seats (2 representatives and 2 senators) in the Puerto Rican Congress, something remarkable for a new party. Likewise, its former candidate, Alexandra Lúgaro, won 15% of the votes in the gubernatorial race and Manual Natal Albelo, the current political leader of the movement, was competing until the last moment to win the San Juan mayoral race in a close election with the New Progressive Party. Natal fell only about 2,000 votes short of winning.
Despite not winning either the governorship or the San Juan race, the two most important offices on the island, the general election results for the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana were good, as it presented itself as a popular alternative to the traditional parties. Who are its leaders? What are its proposals and ideas? What does this new party seek? With whom can it be compared internationally? and how dangerous can it be for the island?
“Decolonization”: not so close, not so far with bipartisanship
The traditional Puerto Rican parties have two different views on the issue of statehood. The majority of the Popular Democratic Party advocates maintaining Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth, while the New Progressive Party historically advocates for annexation to the United States.
The CVM party breaks from the mainstream and marks just a little distance: “We propose a process that guarantees the equal participation of decolonizing options, meaning: statehood, independence and free association”.
The party has yet to show its true nature. For instance, this is what socialist PR Senator Rafael Bernabe, a member of the MVC, told Jacobin:
“Victoria Ciudadana proposes that Puerto Rico is a colony and that we have to get out of that colonial subordination. It proposes that we have to design a mechanism to do so, and we make a proposal in that sense. But the movement is open to people who defend or support any status option”.
What does MVC interpret as colonial subordination? They don’t explain it, but based on historical evidence there are those in Puerto Rico who assume that there is an unnecessary influence of Washington over San Juan.
This is a big and complex issue because in the island itself there are different opinions between what is best for Puerto Rico: statehood, independence or remaining as a Commonwealth that leaves them in a complex status of “Neither State, nor colony”, as explained in a BBC report.
Therefore, Victoria Ciudadana decides not to get directly into the mud and opts to continue with its “anti-imperialist” rhetoric through a supposedly unclear “decolonization” process.
“Decolonization is to remove the dominance of one country over another. For Puerto Rico, it will be the transition to a non-territorial, non-colonial status,” says the CVM in its proposal, which basically calls for a “Constitutional Assembly of Status” where the people would choose whether to be represented by independent delegates who would negotiate with the U.S. on the island’s status.
After deciding the island’s status with the U.S., the decision would be submitted to a final referendum. For all practical purposes, his solution proposes nothing new, but it still differentiates them form both traditional parties.
A radical leftist party, similar to AOC, Sanders, and Podemos.
Comparing their political projects, the MVC is similar to the Spanish far-left Podemos party. It also has many points in common with the proposals of other progressive radical American politicians such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is a standard-bearer of Citizen Victory.
Their economic plan has many details reminiscent of the Green New Deal, as it also seeks to “Implement energy, urban, transportation and infrastructure policies aimed at protecting the environment” and the “Accelerated transition to renewable energy and closure of coal plants”; both details traced to the socialist squad of the U.S. Congress.
What links MVC to progressive parties and politicians is not only its radically statist economic plan or its socialized health and education plans, there is also the race, or gender, based social struggle so common in the modern progressive left. Basically, MVC sells itself as a feminist ally, an enemy of racism and a defender of LGBT rights.
One of its goals, identical to that of the Podemos proposal, is also to impose a minimum wage that “allows people to live above the poverty line” and also to establish a “base wage higher than the minimum in industries whose economic capacity allows it”. At no point do they specify how they will implement this plan or if such policy would be reached via negotiations or with the coercive force of the state.
The economic plan is far from being a purely economic one, as it is also focused on social, educational, environmental and health issues. The only policy related to the economy itself is their fiscal plan, aimed at “avoiding evasion” and increasing taxes under the principle of “whoever has more, contributes the most”.
The Citizen Victory Movement’s own economic plan states that it will put “emphasis on attacking ramping tax evasion, we will review income tax laws, inheritance, capital goods, cadastres, business subsidies, as well as all the instruments that a government has to generate and distribute income”.
In other words, they will impose high tax burdens in order to take the money of citizens or businessmen to redistribute it. If it is already complicated to achieve foreign investment in Puerto Rico in the midst of a notable economic crisis, increasing taxation does not seem to be the best option to attract foreign capital.
The latter does not seem to be a problem for MVC, since its economic plan, in fact, is a social one: “we will use affirmative action policies towards the disadvantaged, focusing on the most urgent needs and we will do so in consultation with the citizenry”.
An interesting part is that the party seeks to promote “social entrepreneurship”, which is nothing more than a business plan where social changes, not economic gains, are sought.
Additionally, the party is against the privatization of essential services and public goods. Instead, it seeks to enact a “Government reform with labor and citizen participation to achieve better services and efficiency”.
Historically, the most successful government reforms were those that reduced the size of the state, making it more efficient and much less bureaucratic. However, this does not seem to be the case of the Citizen Victory Movement which, in fact, proposes a state much more present in the areas of health, education, economy, services in general and culture.
The leaders of Victoria Ciudadana
One of the most relevant figures of the CVM is Manual Natal Albelo (35 years old), who was one of the ten founders of the party and now serves as its general coordinator. Despite his youth, Natal was a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives for eight years. Before joining the MVC, he was an active member of the Popular Democratic Party, which has diametrically opposed views.
Natal was elected as leader of the movement after he was on the verge of winning the 2020 San Juan mayoral election and also after his partner, Alexandra Lúgaro, resigned from the party to go work for the non-profit Foundation for Puerto Rico.
Before leaving the party, Lúgaro ran as Victoria Ciudadana’s candidate for governor in 2020. She obtained 15% of the vote. The decision to leave politics to work at Foundation for Puerto Rico earned her a lot of criticism, because Jon Borschow, her new boss at the organization, is one of the businessmen that MVC itself always criticized.
Another referent of the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana is Rafael Bernabe, a prominent Puerto Rican socialist leader elected as senator in the 2020 general elections.
Bernabe gave an interview to the leftist magazine Jacobin in January 2021 making a balance of the 2020 general elections for the MVC. In that space Bernabe assured that “Puerto Rico is fertile ground for the advancement of anti-capitalist ideas”.
Mariana Nogales Molinelli, a lawyer who currently holds the position of Minority Spokesperson in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, and defines herself as a feminist and human rights advocate, is another important face of the CVM.
As a curious fact, Victoria Ciudadana also includes Edwin Cornier Colón, a young man of only 18 years of age who managed to win the position of municipal legislator of Aguadilla with 1,639 votes. Colón is the youngest to win a position in the Puerto Rican legislature.
Victoria Ciudadana and cultural change
Victoria Ciudadana is definitely a movement that seeks radical cultural changes in Puerto Rico, an island where conservative values are very well rooted and where Christianity and the institution of the family are two pillars on the island. In fact, the leftist party admits that it seeks substantial changes.
“We will establish public policies to produce cultural changes to eradicate machismo, homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and racism from our social practices. To eradicate gender discrimination we are committed to breaking with the binary and heterocisnormative paradigm,” reads part of the movement’s “Gender and LGBTTIQ+” proposal..
“The integration of gender and human rights perspective in all public management, in the development, implementation and evaluation of all economic plans, public spending, government budgets, tax reforms, financing and government fiscal policies” is another of the ideas in the MVC’s agenda.
Public Debt or Subsidies: The economic dilemma of Victoria Ciudadana
As Senator Bernade pointed out, Puerto Rico suffers from a complex context where it is easy to sell ideas that sound good and that are anti-capitalist. Corruption, the crisis, the large public debt and the increase in poverty are issues on which MVC feeds to take advantage of a palpable social discontent.
The problem, however, is that the left’s proposals do not seek to generate substantial changes that would help solve structural problems that plague Puerto Ricans.
Poverty can only be reduced through employment, investment and education. The first two points are generated by creating a prosperous and attractive business climate and environment for investment. The second can be achieved in many ways, including with the hand of the government, but it requires fiscal health.
This is precisely one of the dilemmas: Victoria Ciudadana is against debt because it seeks financial autonomy, but it is not in favor of austerity, which is the only way to reduce public debt. Historically, hundreds of countries had to go through bitter years of austerity, reduction of the size of the State and public spending to clean up the state coffers. This is the so-called economic liberalization that has brought many successes in countries such as Estonia, Poland, Botswana, among others.
However, Bernabe himself said that the MVC is against “neoliberalism” and exposed a totally statist program, very similar to those implemented in Venezuela and Argentina.
Victoria Ciudadana wants to increase public spending, subsidies and the size of the State. To do so, it will need to generate revenue to the state coffers through taxes, in the midst of an economic crisis.
Beyond the economy, its cultural proposal is not much less disturbing, going against the traditional values of Puerto Rican society and seeking to export ideologies and “identity politics” that are worsening the social polarization in the United States, Europe and much of the world.
The movement is gaining strength, taking advantage of the discontent towards the traditional parties that are going through moments of anxiety and internal crises that could open the road for the most radical left-wing of Puerto Rico to gain power.