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May 8, 2002

 

I arose early because I did not want to be late for the bus. Little did I know that there was very little chance of this. I dressed and went downstairs to the lobby and found few people there. Pedro Perez, a delightful and intelligent young man from Inter who was assigned to be our liaison at the hotel, was there trying to count heads and get people into the bus. The last person arrived at the bus about 40 minutes late. I was wondering why the schedule was so spacious, and now I was beginning to understand why. Finally we were on our way to the Inter Law School where the day's events would take place. It was much closer to the hotel than the Bayamon campus, which means we didn't spend nearly as much time in traffic.

 

The law school was a very lovely facility, with a spacious courtyard surrounded by modern buildings. We were led to a cafeteria where a lovely breakfast was served. I was concerned about where the lectures would take place and so I went to set up my video camera in advance before breakfast. When I returned there was only time for a croissant and some water, but that was sufficient for this morning.

 

We adjourned to a lovely small theater for the first of the day's events. The dean of the law school, Dr. Luis Negron Portillo, welcomed us. He then delivered a fairly short address on the subject of arguing ethics. He was well organized and full of information given that he spoke without notes. After hearing Alegria and others I began to realize how eloquent many of the speakers here in Puerto Rico are. His talk is available online at Debate Central (http:debate.uvm.edu/ )

 


| CHILE AND BOLIVIA | NICARAGUA AND SPAIN |

It was now that the formal training portion of the tournament began. Because so many of those attending are relatively new to the debate activity (although already quite skilled) the first two tournaments have featured a substantial training component. Jose Julio Leon of Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago, Chile gave the next address. Jose Julio had been a successful lawyer in Chile but had been attracted to the academic environment and to debate. Together with Rodrigo Rojas, Roberto Vega, and Benito Escobar he had helped form a large and active debate program that prides itself on outreach to high schools and other universities. Jose Julio had been there a very short time before being promoted to vice-rector of academics below the famous rector of UDP, Manuel Montt Balmaceda, who has been a strong supporter of debate and has been so very kind to me and supportive of my work. Well, cream rises to the top, they say, and Jose Julio is certainly one of the most intelligent and expressive people I have met. Of course, it helps that he is totally committed to debate. His lecture concerned basic elements of argumentation, but done with a style and flair all his own. His talk is available on Debate Central (http://debate.uvm.edu/ )

 

We then adjourned to one of the model courtrooms at the law school, a lovely wood-paneled spot for training and debating. I wish I had one like it to use on my campus! Someone I would come to know better and really become fond of directed the next presentation. His name is Charles Zeno and he is a professor at the law school, having been trained in Puerto Rico and at Harvard. He is intelligent, charming, and (as I was to find out) easy to work with. He presented a workshop on argumentation. He invited Jose Julio to join him along with two of his colleagues, Carlos Ramos and Enrique Velez. First they presented some advice on case building for the "gobierno"side (government, proposition, affirmative), and then another presentation about how to refute while debating as the "oposicion"(opposition, negative). Prof. Zeno then reviewed the format for the debates to come, and this generated quite a bit of interest. The question format was discussed, as it was experimental. In this format each team is given one minute to ask a question, and then the other team has three minutes to answer the question. Several debaters wanted to do it "like we do back home"but Prof. Zeno was firm in sticking to the format, because that is how it is done "in Puerto Rico."  Some remarks were made about judges in general (no debate tournament is without such requests) concerning competence and fairness. After that the same panel of speakers heard a very brief mini-debate and offered their comments and criticisms. It was clear from this performance that the precise nature of the format, especially the questions needed more refining. It all seemed much clearer after this demonstration, and it was time for lunch. This talk is available on Debate Central (http://debate.uvm.edu/ )

 

At lunch Charles Zeno and Maria Rosso asked me if I would join the committee that had been established to administer the tournament. I was a little hesitant to go from  being guest to host (with attendant obligations) but I thought that my debate experience might prove useful.  It certainly did seem to come in handy, as I was able to look ahead to problems that occur at every debate tournament (people complain about decisions, judges get tired of judging, judges are late to their assignments, the winners love the way the tournament is run and the losers do not, etc.) to let the organizers know that these are eventualities, and not really their fault. We discussed how some wanted the question format changed and decided that this was the format, and we should stick with the announced format and not change just because it seemed "different"to some.

 

The schedule was running a bit late, and so I tried to start the next event, my lecture on special considerations for this format, a bit early. I did not succeed, but we were able to start on time. I had my lecture translated into Spanish (click here to see the Spanish text) while I delivered it from a text in English (click here to see the English text). In actuality, I tried to insert as many Spanish words into my presentation as possible to keep their attention. It was right after lunch, so attention could be a problem, so I turned up the dynamism and inserted more humor elements (as best I could). The lecture seemed to go very well, and I had time for some questions. Walter Murray asked a very important question that I appreciated, as did several others. We ended on time, and the day of work was over. My talk is available on Debate Central (video at http://debate.uvm.edu/; text in English at http://debate.uvm.edu/ ; text in Spanish at http://debate.uvm.edu/ ).

 

Carlos drove us back to the hotel so we could change clothes and prepare for the evening. There was a scheduled visit to the museum in old San Juan, and then some free time in old San Juan, before a dinner scheduled for the entire tournament at a famous restaurant in that neighborhood. We piled into Carlos' SUV and took off for old San Juan, hoping to meet up with the rest of the group.

 

Old San Juan is most beautiful, with the castle lording it over that part of town on a grass girded peninsula facing the lovely San Juan harbor. We found a parking space and went into the museum complex. We saw Prof. Alegria there as well as many of our party. Prof. Murray steered us towards the African heritage portion of the museum, a place that had a very moving impact on all four of us. The exhibits fascinated me, a depiction  of slavery and African cultural contributions the like of which I had never seen before. I was able to actually touch chains that had held human beings in bondage, and feel the chill of the cold steel. I saw a fabulous exhibit on interracial marriages in colonial Puerto Rico. My favorite exhibit was one that showed about twenty different faces of Puerto Ricans, of all types, sorts, and colors and in each face you could see the touch and the features of Africa. It was a powerful example of Alegria's contention that modern Puerto Rico carries in each citizen the merging of indigenous, African, Spanish, and American influences. Alegria had, indeed, designed the exhibit. We stayed there so long the caretaker was turning off the lights as we left each section. Realizing how long we had been there, we hurried to our assigned meeting place at the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture.


TERROR TOOLS OF SLAVERY DAYS IN THE MUSEUM EXHIBIT DESIGNED MY ALEGRIA

 

We arrived just in time to join in the group photos. It was a jolly time, with students posing in various groups to get pictures of their many newfound friends. As the photo session ended we were told that we had about 90 minutes to burn in old San Juan before meeting to troop off to dinner.

 

We headed down the hill into old San Juan. There had been a plan some years earlier to turn old San Juan into a sort of plasticized art deco tourist trap, but apparently Ricardo Alegria (there he is again!) spearheaded the campaign to make sure that old San Juan retained its charm and traditional architecture. His efforts seemed to have worked, as I felt I was stepping back in time (except for the few modern shops tastefully located in old restored buildings) on the cobblestone narrow streets lined by shuttered buildings with sweeping balconies looking down on the street, often with residents lounging and watching the crowds pass by while they enjoyed the cool breeze. We stopped at a charming watering hole for a couple of very cold Coronas and had a jolly time with the people there. We moved on down the street towards a viewing area Carlos knew of called "The Park of the Pigeons." It was, in fact, a beautiful view of the ocean and the bay, and did have hundreds and hundreds of pigeons cooing and walking about. We took turns feeding the friendly pigeons that would jump right into your hand or onto your shoulder, as they are accustomed to being fed by people in a good mood. Jackie looked especially good with live pigeons all over him. All of us would laugh at the experience.


FRIENDLY INTERSPECIES RELATIONS AT THE PARK OF THE PIGEONS

 

It was time to return to our meeting point so we could be off to dinner. We walked back up to the cultural center where all of those involved with the debate tournament seemed to gather. As soon as we were all there, we began traipsing down the narrow streets of Old San Juan on our way to an unknown, but we trust good, restaurant. On the way Pedro Perez told me about the history and the architecture. Old San Juan is now an area very popular with retirees and young professionals. Carlos told us about the festival held in January when every inch of the street is backed with revelers. We passed by a Ben & Jerry's store and got a picture of Carlos standing under the sign that read, "Vermont's Finest."


CARLOS WITH REMINDERS OF VERMONT - BEN & JERRY'S, ALSO UVM GRAD SEBASTIAN

 

We soon arrived at the restaurant, called Jarbito's. I learned later that the restaurant was very old, and that when the buildings had been renovated it had moved across the street, but that it had been there throughout the 20th century. I looked about for a seat and before I could find one Walter Murray, my friendly philosopher comrade, guided me to a specific table for four amongst the longer tables where the debaters were gathering. Jose Julio Leon from Chile joined me, and we were introduced to our dinner partners, the former mayor of San Juan Sr. Acevedo and his wife. They turned out to be delightful companions, with excellent English and some good lessons to improve my Spanish. He told interesting stories about the restaurant and the neighborhood, and also spoke about the joys and sorrows of being a politician in Puerto Rico, a land of grassroots door-to-door politics. He and his wife also had good advice on what to visit on our off days. To add to our "Vermont connection" he showed us a picture on the wall of a Puerto Rican political activist named Sebastian who had graduated from the University of Vermont. These coincidences were getting a bit thick.

 

We were all served pina coladas. The food was solid and traditional, and I loved the plantains (platanos). They come in many types, but predominantly green (taste a lot like potato) or yellow (taste very sweet like very ripe bananas). I had yellow (amarillo) for the first time on this evening and I loved them.

 


| STUDENTS SINGING IN THE DARK OF JARBITO'S | AUTHOR AND FORMER MAYOR OF SAN JUAN |

The students began to sing before the meal was over. Led by the party conscious Spaniards, the songs soon began to show a shared culture. Nicaragua offered their songs, and soon Puerto Rico was offering theirs. They were simple and traditional, and within a verse or so everyone in the place was clapping the beat and singing the chorus. I was concerned that the management would not approve of such loud and fun behavior, but I was soothed to see the owner and the wait staff come over to join, and even to sing songs of independence for Puerto Rico, songs that we all joined on with. I am not sure political differences of this type caused many people to avoid a fun sing along. We stayed there long past our meal's end, and it was time to go. We trooped to a nearby park to wait for our bus, and while we did we communed with some locals playing chess and dominoes at stone tables built for precisely those purposes. People posed for photos with each other and were in as jolly a mood as I have ever seen debaters.

 

The bus arrived and we returned to our hotel. I was happy and tired, but anxious for the challenges that would come in the days of competition ahead.

CONTINUE TO THE NEXT DAY