Americas - Issue 13 - Magazine | Monocle

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Primary concerns

Puerto Rico

As presidential primaries go, this year’s Democratic contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has been as unpredictable as it has been historic. It seems only fitting, then, that the relatively obscure US territory of Puerto Rico now finds itself with an opportunity to play a significant role in determining the winner.

As a territory of the US, Puerto Rico is governed by federal law and its people are US citizens. But because the island is a territory, not a state, Puerto Ricans are barred by the US constitution from voting in general presidential elections. They are permitted to vote in presidential primaries because those contests are organised by the Democratic and Republican parties, not the US government.

Puerto Ricans go to the polls on 1 June followed only by South Dakota and Montana in the primary calendar. Whoever wins the territory’s 63 total delegates — more delegates than elected by 19 states, including the traditional bellwether states of South Carolina and Iowa — could gain vital momentum going into the summer months when many super-delegates will decide who they will support.

“Not one person would have predicted that the primary fight would go all the way to the end,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “This is just another example of how crazy [the primary] has been, that Puerto Rico is one of the critical factors in determining the winning candidate.”

Both Clinton and Obama could do well in the territory. Clinton has polled well among Hispanics in other contests this year and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, remains extremely popular on the island. Obama, however, has the endorsement of the Puerto Rico governor, Aníbal Acevedo-Víla, who has campaigned on his behalf.

Ultimately, the mere fact the candidates are lavishing attention on the territory — long considered a political afterthought — may be of most importance to islanders. “We can expect [Obama and Clinton] to take positions on Puerto Rico, but the fact that they may actually come here — that’s generating a huge amount of interest,” says Kevin Mead, editor of The San Juan Star, an English-language newspaper. “It’s our chance to shine.”

Faith dealing


The Bossert Hotel, once considered the Waldorf Astoria of Brooklyn, is the latest property to be sold off by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society – the business arm of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The hotel could fetch over $100m (€64m) at auction. The group purchased nearly 10 properties in the 1980s to house volunteers working on its printing operations. Since 2004, when it relocated its facilities to Wallkill, New York, it has sold six buildings at the height of a thriving market. Its first deal was a bible-shipping warehouse that sold for $205m and now houses $4m penthouses. With five other buildings going on sale this year, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are New York’s newest and unlikeliest property moguls.

Cable vision


Cable cars are normally used by skiers and tourists, but in Colombia they are used to transport the masses. Medellín, Colombia’s second city, boasts MetroCable, an alpine-style system that runs from the city centre to hilltop slums.

In March, Medellín unveiled its second cable car route, New West, a four-stop ride that takes you into the heart of once no-go and isolated neighourhoods in just 12 minutes. The cable cars serve over 500,000 people and connect with the city’s overland railway network, Medellín Metro, making this the only mass urban transport system of its kind in the world.

In addition to transporting 3,000 people an hour, the squeaky clean MetroCable has been a catalyst for social change since it opened in 2004. Medellín’s mayor, Alonso Salazar, has described its expansion as a “revolution” for marginalised communities.

MetroCable is part of Medellín’s rapid transformation, which began under the guidance of former mayor Sergio Fajardo. During the past four years, public space has been reclaimed and filled with landscaped parks and squares dotted with works of art. A string of schools and slick libraries housing computer labs, art galleries and museums has been built in the city’s destitute areas.

MetroCable has caught on. In neighbouring Venezuela, construction is underway to create a similar cable car system in Caracas.

Keeping the UN peace: the Americas

Despite a population of just 3.3 million, Uruguay is one of the most generous countries in the Americas when it comes to keeping the peace: it has 2,596 UN personnel around the globe. The US currently has 313 operatives helping the UN.

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