The New Progressive Party (NPP) —Spanish: Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP)— is a political party that advocates for Puerto Rico to become a state of the United States. The party was founded in 1967 by dissidents from the Puerto Rico Republican Party that were dissatisfied with the latter after it instructed its members to not participate in a referendum held that year.
The PNP is one of the two major parties in Puerto Rico with significant political strength and currently holds the seat of resident commissioner. The party is currently a minority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as being a minority in the number of mayors on the island.
Politically, the party is contrasted by the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) which advocates for maintaining the current political status of Puerto Rico as that of an unincorporated territory of the United States with self-government and the smaller Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) which advocates for the independence of Puerto Rico.[a][b]
Party members are commonly called penepés, progresistas, or estadistas (“statehooders“) and affiliate with both the Republican and Democratic Party of the United States. The use of the word “progresistas”, or “progressives” is not to be confused with the usual definition of “progressives” or liberals in United States politics since within the NPP there are leaders and voters from throughout the socioeconomic ideological range, from conservatives to liberals, united by their support for statehood.
The party traces its beginnings to an August, 1967 assembly in a sports complex (which is now known as el Estadio Country Club) in the sector of Country Club, San Juan, Puerto Rico. On January 5, 1968, the party was belatedly certified as an official political group by the State Elections Commission of Puerto Rico. The party had roots in a prior pro-statehood party led by Miguel Angel García Méndez. The incipient party campaigned unsuccessfully in favor of statehood in the Puerto Rico status referendum of 1967, even though the historical pro-statehood Puerto Rican Republican Party decided to boycott that plebiscite. Main party founder, president, and former statehood Republican Party standard-bearer Luis A. Ferré categorized the New Progressive Party as one which would not be aligned to any of the two major U.S. national parties. Co-founders of the NPP alongside Luis A. Ferre were Manuel F. Alsina Capo, attorney Nelson Escalona, and Benny Frankie Cerezo.
Under Luis A. Ferré, the NPP came to power in January 1969, after defeating Luis Negrón López, the gubernatorial candidate from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in the November 1968 elections. Smaller vote totals were obtained by the Partido del Pueblo led by Governor Roberto Sánchez Vilella and the candidate from the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), Antonio González. The governing party was saddled by Sánchez Vilella’s break-away candidacy, who had feuded with the PPD founder and former Governor Luis Muñoz Marín.
Four years later, in 1972, Ferré lost to the reunified PDP’s candidate, Senate President Rafael Hernández Colón, by the biggest percentual margin since the NPP’s founding (7.3%), but in 1976, under the leadership of San Juan Mayor Carlos Romero Barceló, the NPP returned to power. Romero Barceló would face Hernández Colón three times for the governorship.
In 1980, Carlos A. Romero Barceló won reelection by a narrow margin of approximately 3,000 votes. A prominent event during Romero Barceló’s term, the Cerro Maravilla incident, would end up overshadowing Romero Barceló’s governorship. The incident involved the killing of two young men who had gone to Cerro Maravilla, site of a major communications facility for the island, with the intention of attacking the facilities. Upon arriving at their Cerro Maravilladestination, the two men were ambushed and killed by the state police (see also Alejandro González Malavé). Initially, it was reported that the two young men had been shot because they resisted arrest, but as the investigation progressed it became clear the men had been shot, execution style, while under police custody. The opposition party, the PDP, which at the time was in control of the legislature, orchestrated televised hearings in which they attempted to prove the whole incident was planned by the administration of Gov. Romero Barceló itself. Further scandals erupted when it became known that an undercover police agent who was with the two men had actually engineered the whole plan. This, combined with the fact that the then-mayor of San Juan, Hernán Padilla, left the party to form his own party (Partido Renovación Puertorriqueña, PRP), helped Hernández Colón get elected to a second non-consecutive term in 1984. In 1988, San Juan Mayor and former Resident Commissioner Baltasar Corrada del Río ran as the NPP candidate for governor but lost the race to Hernández Colón, who won a third term.
Pedro Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico(1993-2001)
The NPP came back to power in 1993, when Pedro Rosselló, a pediatric surgeon who had been its unsuccessful congressional candidate in 1988, became governor by defeating Luis Muñoz Marín‘s daughter, senator Victoria Muñoz Mendoza, the PDP candidate for governor.
Rosselló launched an anti-crime campaign known as “Mano dura contra el crimen” (“Strong hand against crime”) in which the Puerto Rico National Guard was used to assist the Island police force. During Pedro J. Rosselló’s term a number of large-scale infrastructure projects were undertaken, including the “Tren Urbano” (Metro Rail System), the “Superaqueduct”, the construction of the Puerto Rico Convention Center and the Puerto Rico Coliseum. His policies also included a push toward privatization of public entities and free health care for the poor.
He led the NPP in a campaign for Puerto Rican statehood in 1993 in which locally enacted plebiscites were held to consult the Puerto Rican public on their position regarding the political status of the island with the United States. He supported the proposal for a referendum in Puerto Rico to define the political status of the island. However, the bill died in committee in the U.S. Senate. Nevertheless, Rosselló carried out another plebiscite in 1998 which gave electors four options plus a fifth one, “None of the Above”. The opposing Popular Democratic Party led a campaign to boycott the plebiscite, charging it was structured to favor the ruling NPP party’s statehood goals, and called the electorate to vote for the “None of the Above” option. The boycott was successful, as the None of the Above column garnered more votes than all of the other options. Rosselló, however, argued before Congress that statehood had obtained more votes than any of the other political status options in the plebiscite as he claimed that the fifth option (“None of the Above”) was an undefined vote in terms of status.
In the 1996 elections, the NPP candidate, Rosselló, defeated opponent Héctor Luis Acevedo (PDP), the mayor of San Juan at the time, and Representative David Noriega (PIP), for a second term, after obtaining more than one million votes and the largest landslide of any gubernatorial candidate since 1964.
In 1998, the sale of the state-owned Puerto Rico Telephone Company (PRTC) to GTE for $1.9 billion led to a general strike organized by labor unions and backed by opposition forces. Rosselló’s popularity along with the NPP’s took a hit due to the backlash, as well as to several major corruption cases.
Rosselló stepped down as governor after eight years in power in 2001. His period as governor was marked by the Vieques protests and major economic growth due to the coincidence of the emerging Internet. In 2000, Carlos I. Pesquera, Secretary of Transportation under Rosselló, ran for governor. Pre-election polls had him at a considerable advantage over his PDP opponent, San Juan mayor Sila María Calderón. As the election grew closer, Calderón closed the gap as Pesquera’s image was harmed by a PDP campaign focusing on corruption under Rosselló’s tenure.
It also did not help Pesquera that the Acting US District Attorney Guillermo Gil said in June 2000 (three months before the November 2000 election) “corruption has a name and it is called the New Progressive Party” while announcing a grand jury indictment. The grand jury had accused 18 people – including two mayors from Rosselló’s NPP – of running an extortion scheme that skimmed $800,000 in kickbacks from a $56 million government contract. During a news conference, Gil told journalists that the extorted money had ended up in the coffers of the NPP. This and other actions by Gil were object of many ethics complaints to the US Department of Justice by NPP leaders.
In this environment, the NPP lost the 2000 election, losing the Governor’s seat, the Resident Commissioner, and the state legislature. This was the first election since its creation, that the NPP suffered a vote reduction. Leo Díaz assumed the NPP Presidency, but it was short-lived as Pesquera returned to occupy the position after defeating Díaz.
Turmoil consumed the NPP during the first two years of the 2001-2005 term. The Secretary of Education, under the Rossello’s administration, Víctor Fajardo, was charged and convicted by federal agencies of appropriating millions of federal funds directed to the Education Department.The former House Speaker and Republican National Committee Man, Edison Misla Aldarondo was also charged with extortion by the US Attorney’s Office, and was forced to resign. In an ironic turn of events, NPP figures charged with federal corruption crimes were also charged with corruption by the Puerto Rico Justice Department using new anti-corruption state laws that the NPP had enacted. In 2001, Calderon named a Blue Ribbon Committee that was dedicated to investigate government transactions under Rossello’s two terms.
2003 NPP primaries for Governor
In July 2002, several of the party’s leaders were involved in an incident at the Office of Women’s Affairs. Pesquera led a phalanx of pro-statehood advocates and the press into the government office whose administrator had refused to display the American Flag alongside the flag of Puerto Rico, as required by law. A jury acquitted Pesquera and other followers of any wrongdoing.
In March 2003, Rosselló, who had been living in the Commonwealth of Virginia, returned to the island, responding to the many calls and visits he received from prominent citizens and politicians. Rosselló subsequently defeated Pesquera in the NPP primary for the gubernatorial nomination.
2004 General Elections
The fall 2004 campaign was lively and controversial. Rosselló’s prior administration was repeatedly painted as corrupt, while his PDP opponent (Calderón chose not to run for re-election), Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (PDP) was initially behind in the polls. After his performance in televised debates, Acevedo’s campaign gained momentum, aided in part by the favorable press he received from the island media outlets. In pre-election polls, Rosselló led by double digits, but ultimately Rosselló lost by some 3,000 votes (1,200 votes went as write-in for Carlos Pesquera) proving that once again that corruption matters to Puertorican voters. Rosselló challenged the electoral results alleging that split ticket votes, which had always been counted before, were now illegal. After a lengthy court battle decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (located in Boston, MA), Acevedo Vila was certified as governor.
As 2005 began, Rosselló became a Senator for the Arecibo district after Senator Víctor Loubriel resigned from the seat to which he’d been elected, effectively gaining a seat for which he did not run. Thus started a struggle between Senate President Kenneth McClintock and Rossello for control of the Senate Presidency. The dispute ended in a stalemate as McClintock refused to leave the position, a stance respected by the PDP minority senators and five other NPP senators. This led to the expulsion from the party of McClintock as well as two of the NPP senators who backed him, a matter which led McClintock to file suit in San Juan Superior Court, winning the case, which was confirmed by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court in a 5-1 ruling. The infighting ended when Rosselló was defeated in the 2008 primary and when McClintock co-chaired Sen. Hillary Clinton’s successful Democratic primary campaign and helped lead her to a record-setting 68-32% victory in the waning days of her bid for the Democratic nomination.
2008 NPP primaries for Governor
On March 7, 2007, Rosselló stated that he was no longer interested in the Senate Presidency and then focused his attention in preventing Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño from winning the March 2008 gubernatorial primary, and allowed his name to be placed in nomination for the party’s gubernatorial primary. McClintock and four other senators won in San Juan Superior Court a suit to nullify the sanctions and expulsions that the party leadership has levied against them. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court confirmed the lower court decision by a 5-to-1 vote. As a result, McClintock and his supporters were recognized as NPP members and free to run under the party banner. Shortly after the primary polls closed on March 9, 2008, Pedro Rosselló conceded the victory to Luis Fortuño after a large margin of votes in favor of his opponent in the NPP party primaries for the presidency of the party and gubernatorial nomination. Rosselló admitted defeat even before the votes were completely tallied claiming Fortuño as the next candidate of the PNP party. In Rosselló’s conceding speech he said “Luis Fortuño has been selected by the people to be the new president of this party and the candidate for governor. I always say the people speak and I obey, Fortuño here is your party and here is your office (signaling the party’s official headquarters). Now it’s up to you, the loyal members of this party, to make sure that this new leadership works for statehood for Puerto Rico”. After this conceding speech it was rumored and even announced at Fortuño’s headquarters that the former Governor would arrive there along with his loyal supporter and mayor of the capital city of San Juan, Jorge Santini, but after Fortuño’s followers waited for hours to see their leaders united neither Rosselló or Santini arrived. After the primary was over it was heavily rumored by many that Rosselló would not be campaigning for Fortuño and that he’d resign as senator to go back to his home in Virginia. On March 10, 2008, Rosselló sent the media a written statement regarding his future in which he confirmed he will be retiring from active politics and will not be campaigning for any candidate, however he would finish his term as Senator for the Arecibo District, which he did.
Most of Rosselló’s supporters were elected in the primary and endorsed Fortuño as their candidate for Governor. However, several prominent NPP members demonstrated strong opposition to Fortuño’s candidacy and victory.
As soon as the results of the March 9, 2008 primaries were announced, NPP’s Second Vice President, Miriam Ramírez de Ferrer, announced her immediate resignation, saying “Effectively right now I am no longer the Second Vice President of this party. You will not see me ever again involved in active politics, party reunions or party meetings, as I now plan to become a private citizen. There’s a lot of things I haven’t done I want to do, and I’ll also do some things I have to do to help the statehood cause”. Ramírez was a candidate for Resident Commissionerin the primaries and was openly supporting Rosselló. She lost to Fortuño’s candidate, Pedro Pierluisi, and to another Rosselló supporter who was also defeated, former Senate President, Charlie Rodríguez. When Ramírez was asked by the media if she will vote for Fortuño, she replied “My vote is secret”.
Another strong voice against Fortuño was NPP former President Leo Díaz. Díaz accused Fortuño and his wife of having ties to PDP law firms and to colonialist interests. At a November 4, 2007, rally called “Con Fuerza para Vencer” (With the Strength to Win), Díaz said, “In this primary the life of this party is in jeopardy. The other candidate, Fortuño, isn’t a real statehood defender! He should explain why he has ties with PDP’s law firms and why the colonialist special interests are financing his campaign[…]”. He has since rejoined party activities and chairs Santini’s 2012 reelection efforts.
San Juan mayor Jorge Santini also made strong statements against Fortuño during the primary campaign, as he supported Rosselló. He said that Fortuño wasn’t a “full-time leader” and that he “made arrangements with other causes”. He subsequently campaigned for Fortuño, both in 2008 as well as 2012.
On November 4, 2008, the NPP retained and expanded super-majorities in the Legislative Assembly, and won both the Resident Commissioner and Governor race by a landslide. Towns that were previously strongholds of the PDP, like Ponce, Lajas, Guayama, Aibonito and Naranjito (the last four which had never before won an NPP mayor) elected NPP mayors; as the results were completely counted, Luis Fortuno had won the governorship in 72 of 78 towns. Given the size of the majorities in the legislature, the minorities law has to be applied to prevent the party from having a two-thirds majority. Meaning that the New Progressive Party received at least 34 of the 51 seats in the House of Representatives and it captured all district seats of the Senate plus the 6 at-large candidates. Luis Fortuno received 1,025,945 votes defeating the incumbent Aníbal Acevedo Vilá by 220,635 votes or 11.5%. This is the second time a candidate for governor from the New Progressive Party has received over one million votes, the first time being Pedro Rossello in 1996.
This is the largest victory the NPP has ever had and the largest defeat the PDP has ever suffered in election history.
2012 election and plebiscite
While Gov. Fortuño failed to win reelection on Nov. 6, 2012, his running mate became Puerto Rico’s top vote-getter and the NPP won by wide margins the two questions posed in a separate political status plebiscite ballot. Fifty-four percent rejected the continuation of the current territorial political relationship with the United States while 61% of those choosing another political status voted for statehood.
Affiliation with American parties
Three NPP gubernatorial candidates registered nationally as Republicans (Luis A. Ferré, Baltasar Corrada and Luis Fortuño) while three NPP gubernatorial candidates registered nationally as Democrats (Carlos Romero Barceló, Carlos Pesquera and Pedro Rosselló). The most recent Governor, Luis G. Fortuño, caucused with the Republicans when he was in Congress and serves as Puerto Rico’s Republican National Committeeman, while Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi is a Democrat. The top Fortuño administration officials were also split in national politics. His last Chief of Staff, Miguel Romero, and his Secretary of State (and first in line of succession), Kenneth McClintock are Democrats, while his last Attorney General Guillermo Somoza is a Republican. House NPP Leader Jenniffer González and Senate Minority Leader Larry Seilhamer are Republicans.
New Progressive Party Logo
The party is strongly associated with the color blue in Puerto Rico because of its logo. Since the logo features a palm tree, many Puerto Ricans call the NPP “La Palma”.
Curiously enough, the use of a palm tree as a party symbol by the NPP was suggested, indirectly, by the opposition. In the original 1967 status plebiscite, then Puerto Rico governor Roberto Sánchez Vilellaasked one of his then staff members, future governor Rafael Hernández Colón to come up with three ideas for art clips, as to identify each of the three status options in the ballot and assist illiterate voters who might not be able to read it. In his book “Vientos de Cambio”, Hernández Colón recalls that he conceived the three symbols while at the backyard of his father-in-law’s house in Ponce, Puerto Rico. One of the symbols (the one which eventually represented the statehood option in the ballot) was a “palma real” (Roystonea regia), a species of palm tree that is native to the Caribbean. The group “Estadistas Unidos”, the statehood supporters who broke rank with García Méndez to participate at the plebiscite, adopted the palm tree as a potential party symbol when they incorporated the PNP. Due to electoral law restrictions, however, they were forbidden to use a “palma real” as a logo because of its previous use in an election; therefore, a coconut (Cocos nucifera) palm tree was used instead. The use of the coconut palm tree as a symbol by the PNP persists to this day.
The logo’s original version consisted of a light blue palm tree, partially encircled by words in a semicircle (the exact color hue for the logo being that of the United Nations flag, as a result of a personal request from party founder Luis A. Ferré). The original logo had the party’s name surrounding it; eventually, the words “estadidad, seguridad, progreso” (“statehood, security, progress” in English) substituted the party name. The logo later enclosed the palm tree in a blue oval and reversed its colors. The tonality of blue used in the newer logo was eventually changed to a deep navy blue, as to liken it to that of the canton of the United States’ flag.
In 2014,the party approved the new logo,which now includes the word “Igualdad” (equality).
Important party leaders
- 1968: Luis A. Ferré, won
- 1972: Luis A. Ferré, lost
- 1976: Carlos Romero Barceló, won
- 1980: Carlos Romero Barceló, won
- 1984: Carlos Romero Barceló, lost
- 1988: Baltasar Corrada del Río, lost
- 1992: Pedro Rosselló, won
- 1996: Pedro Rosselló, won
- 2000: Carlos Pesquera, lost
- 2004: Pedro Rosselló, lost
- 2008: Luis Fortuño, won
- 2012: Luis Fortuño, lost
- 2016: Ricardo Rosselló,won
Other important figures
- Leo Díaz Urbina, former congressman and former president of PNP
- Anibal Melendez Rivera, mayor of Fajardo since 1989
- Hector O’Neill, mayor of Guaynabo and President of the Puerto Rico Mayors Federation
- Hernán Padilla, former mayor of San Juan and House Majority Leader
- Jenniffer González, 29th Speaker of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico and current House Minority Leader
- Jorge Santini, former mayor of San Juan
- Juan Aubín Cruz Manzano, mayor of Manati for over 36 years
- Kenneth McClintock, 13th President of the Senate of Puerto Ricoand 22nd Secretary of State of Puerto Rico
- Larry Seilhamer, current Senate Minority Leader
- Ramón Luis Rivera, former mayor of Bayamón
- Ramón Luis Rivera Jr., current mayor of Bayamón
- Thomas Rivera Schatz, 14th President of the Senate of Puerto Rico
- Jump up^ Party platform 2012 (in Spanish) p. 248. “El Partido Popular Democrático reafirma que el Estado Libre Asociado es la opción de estatus que mejor representa las aspiraciones del Pueblo de Puerto Rico.”
- Jump up^ Party platform 2012 (in Spanish) p. 248 “El Partido Popular Democrático apoya firmemente el desarrollo del Estado Libre Asociado hasta el máximo de autonomía compatible con los principios de unión permanente con los Estados Unidos y la ciudadanía americana de los puertorriqueños. El Partido Popular rechaza cualquier modificación de estatus que se aparte de estos principios y que atente contra nuestra nacionalidad puertorriqueña o que menoscabe nuestra identidad lingüística y cultural.”