Posts Tagged ‘Commissioner’

PRdream mourns the passing of José “Chegui” Torres, 1936 – 2009

Sunday, November 1st, 2009
January 29, 2009
9:49 am

Boxing’s renaissance man Jose Torres commanded ring & respect
by Mike Lupica

torres-jose.jpg

For the old-timers, the ones who come out of fight nights at the old Garden and out of a much older New York, it will always be 1965 for Jose Torres, when he was young. It will be the night at the old Garden when he beat Willie Pastrano, dancing and jabbing and finally body-punching his way to a TKO. He became the light-heavyweight champion of the world that night and seemed to have won the championship of the city as well. Jose Torres came from Puerto Rico, but by then he was more here than there.

The next day he made his first stop as champ at 110th and Lexington Ave., climbed up on a fire escape and addressed a crowd of thousands.

“This is for everybody,” he said, and told the crowd that if he could do something like this in the city of New York, anything was possible.

But he was so much more than just a prizefighter, even if that is how the world first knew him. He became the first Latino columnist in town, at least in an English-language paper, when my old boss, the great Paul Sann, put him to work at the old New York Post. He would later become a commentator on television, and radio host, and in the 1980s even became the New York State Athletic Commissioner.

He was a friend to Norman Mailer, who was once brave enough to get into the ring with him, and Pete Hamill. He once said that Pete had given him his first book and how he now owned more than 800 of them, and was confident that “Pete’s responsible for six or seven hundred.” He had a good enough voice to sing a ballad one time on the Ed Sullivan Show.

“I keep telling you,” he used to say to me, “I am more a lover than a fighter.”

Jose Torres wrote books about Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, and spent so much time trying to save Tyson from himself and what he called the “parasites” around him. And became a friend to Robert F. Kennedy when Kennedy became the U.S. senator from New York.

Kennedy wanted to learn about the city, to know the city, and not just the avenues of power in Manhattan. So Hamill and the late Jack Newfield became guides for him in those years. So did Jose Torres. They would get in the car at night and drive the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, get out and talk to the people who lived in them. A Kennedy doing this, and the kid from Puerto Rico who had won a silver medal in the ’56 Summer Olympics, won the 160-pound division of the ’58 Golden Gloves, would later end up in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y.

And Kennedy and Jose Torres would talk through the night. One of the things they talked about was what Robert Kennedy talked about in speeches in those days, about how within 40 years a man of color would be President. It was why Torres thrilled so much to the run Barack Obama made to the nomination and finally to today, even though he was back in Puerto Rico by last year, there to write and grow old as gracefully as he had fought once.

Pete Hamill said Monday that the last time he talked to Torres, his dear friend of half a century, was 10 days ago.

“It’s amazing, Pete, this country – what a place. What an amazing place,” Torres said to Hamill on the phone that day. He was talking, of course, about Obama.

Jose Torres did not make it to Obama’s inauguration. Did not make it to today. Did not live long enough to hear Obama, whom he believed was the heir to Kennedy’s ideals and compassion and spirit, give his speech today.

Jose Torres died in his sleep early Monday, at the age of 72. He suffered from diabetes and his friends believe that his body was never right after the pounding he took from Tom McNeely, a heavyweight, in Puerto Rico in 1965. It was a non-title fight and Jose ended up winning it, but McNeely brutally worked Jose’s body that night.

Jose finally lost his title to Dick Tiger, a future Hall of Famer the same as Willie Pastrano, the same as Jose. It was some amazing time in their division. Then Tiger beat him a second fight at the Garden, even though that one nearly caused a riot when it was announced that the decision had gone against Jose. He fought twice more after that and then retired.

And this wasn’t the beginning of some slow, sad ending for a retired boxer who had taken too many shots to the head. This was the beginning of a joyful, amazing life, one so well-lived and so well-enjoyed, in the city of New York.

For the next four decades he lectured and wrote his books and became Commissioner Torres finally. His last columns were for El Diario. At the boxing Hall of Fame, he is described this way: “Boxing’s renaissance man.” He was all that, a splendid ambassador for the island of his birth and the city he adopted and of his sport.

He was a lover: of his boxing career, of being a champion, of being a writer, of knowing that books he wrote, in his second language, would be on library shelves forever. More than anything he would have loved Barack Obama’s speech today, about the world Jose Torres imagined once from a fire escape on 110th Street, one where anything really is possible.

NiLP FYI: Puerto Rican Nationalism and Statehood

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Note: The Natural Resources Committee approved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 on the future political status of Puerto Rico last week. This bill was submitted by the island’s resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, who is a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Paty (PNP). The other three Stateside Puerto Ricans in Congress have not endorsed this bill.

According to this proposal, voters would choose between keeping the island’s commonwealth status, adopted in 1952, or to opt for something different. In the latter case, a second plebiscite would let them decide whether they wanted statehood, independence or independence with a loose association to the United States.

Two of the island’s main parties oppose the proposal as having a pro-statehood bias, and a similar bill that the committee approved in October 2007 has since died. Last week’s committee debate marked the 68th time that the House has debated a bill related to Puerto Rico’s status. Puerto Ricans voted to maintain the island’s current status and rejected statehood in nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

Residents of the U.S. Caribbean commonwealth are barred from voting in presidential elections, and their Congressional delegate cannot vote.

We have reprinted below an interesting analysis supporting the statehood position that we thought would be helpful in promoting further debate on this status issue. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of NiLP on this subject and we will seek disseminate commentaries on the other status options.

—Angelo Falcón

Puerto Rican Nationalism and the Drift Towards Statehood
by Arienna Grody, Research Associate
Council on Hemispheric Affairs (July 27, 2009)

Near the Caribbean islands of Hispaniola and Cuba lies another, smaller island, the inhabitants of which have never experienced sovereignty. The arrival of Christopher Columbus [Colón] to its shores in 1493 heralded an era of enslavement and destruction of the native Taíno population at the hands of the Spanish colonial system. Four centuries later, the decadence of the Spanish royalty had significantly weakened the once-formidable imperial structure. The Spanish-American War of 1898 became the capstone of the demise of the Spanish empire and the Treaty of Paris ceded control of several Spanish-held islands to the United States. Of the territorial possessions to change hands in 1898, Puerto Rico is the only one that persists in a state of colonialism to this day.

“Puerto Rico has been a colony for an uninterrupted period of over five hundred years,” writes Pedro A. Malavet, a law professor at the University of Florida who has studied the subject extensively. “In modern times, colonialism – the status of a polity with a definable territory that lacks sovereignty because legal [and] political authority is exercised by a peoples distinguishable from the inhabitants of the colonized region – is the only legal status that the isla (island) has known.” Puerto Rico’s legal and political status has not, however, precluded the development of a national ethos. On the contrary, Jorge Duany, a professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, explains that Puerto Ricans “imagine themselves as a nation [although they] do so despite the lack of a strong movement to create a sovereign state.” Furthermore, this perception of a unique Puerto Rican identity had already developed and become established under Spanish rule. Puerto Rican cultural nationalism has persisted through various stages of history, through drives for independence and efforts at assimilation. This puertorriqueñismo is apolitical. In fact, some of the strongest cultural nationalism is exhibited by Puerto Ricans living in the United States.

Nevertheless, the lack of association between puertorriqueñismo and sovereignty, or even of a clearly mobilized independence movement with widespread support, does not diminish the necessity of finding a just and permanent resolution to the question of the status of Puerto Rico.

American Imperialism Called to the Colors

In 1898, the United States won Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico from Spain. As U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico, they proclaimed that their intentions were to overthrow the ruling Spanish authorities, thereby guaranteeing individual freedoms for the inhabitants. However, as Michael González-Cruz, an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, writes, “the occupation and recolonization of the island did not improve basic rights such as health or labor conditions but rather reinforced the barriers that increased social inequalities among the population.” Although the U.S.’ initial promises of liberation and democracy won the support and assistance of many anti-Spanish Puerto Ricans, it soon became clear that “the United States’ interest in conquering land did not extend to accepting the colonized people as equals.”

Far from promoting the democratic republican ideals associated with the U.S.’ own independence movement and its aftermath, the new colonial regime on the island promptly instituted military rule. It “sought to consolidate its military and economic authority by repressing any activity that might destabilize it or threaten its economic interests.” U.S. military forces protected landowners against the tiznados, or members of secret societies dedicated to the independence of Puerto Rico, rendering the landowners dependent on their presence and rejecting any movement towards sovereignty for the island. Additionally, the period was marked by media repression and censorship as “journalists were systematically pursued, fined and arrested for reporting on the behavior of the troops of the occupation.” These were the first signs that island residents were not going to be treated as the equals of mainland Americans, but they were by no means the last.

The Insular Cases

According to writer, lawyer and political analyst Juan M. García-Passalacqua, the Insular Cases – the series of Supreme Court decisions that ultimately determined the relationships between the United States and its newly acquired territories – “made it clear that the paradigm was the governance of the property of the United States, not of a people.” This point is illuminated by the fact that the Insular Cases primarily addressed tax law. In De Lima v Bidwell (1901), the Court determined that Puerto Rico was not a foreign country – at least for the purpose of import taxes. But in Downes v Bidwell (1901), it held that the island was not part of the U.S. per se. Malavet points to the fact that it gave Congress “almost unfettered discretion to do with Puerto Rico as it wants” as the biggest flaw in the Downes decision.

The decision was neither undisputed nor unqualified. For example, Justice Edward Douglass White concurred, but on the condition that “when the unfitness of particular territory for incorporation is demonstrated the occupation will terminate.” Justice John Marshall Harlan II (best known for his dissent in Plessy v Ferguson (1896)) dissented emphatically, arguing that “the idea that this country may acquire territories anywhere upon the earth, by conquest or treaty, and hold them as mere colonies or provinces, – the people inhabiting them to enjoy only such rights as Congress chooses to accord them, – is wholly inconsistent with the spirit and genious, as well as with the words, of the Constitution.”

Despite these warnings, however, Congress (with the assent of the Supreme Court) continued to construct Puerto Rico as a dependent colonial possession, a status from which, more than a century later, the island has yet to escape. The civilian government introduced under the Foraker Act (1900) was appointed primarily by the president of the United States. The Jones Act (1917) can be said to have bestowed or imposed U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans. But this citizenship does not include the full rights guaranteed to citizens in the fifty states. In the case of Balzac v Porto Rico (1922), the Supreme Court held that personal freedoms, while considered a constitutional right on the mainland, were not legal entitlements on the island because of its status as a territory merely “belonging” to the United States, rather than as an “incorporated” territory. Malavet maintains that Balzac “constitutionally constructs the United States citizenship of Puerto Ricans as second class,” affirming Congress’ colonialist agenda and denying Puerto Ricans both the right to self-determination and the option to assimilate on equal grounds.

Americanization

Before Puerto Rico’s destiny to be a colonial possession indefinitely had been sealed, the United States instituted a policy of Americanization, centered on linguistically assimilating the islanders by establishing English as the language of public school instruction. Malavet has described this Anglo-centric agenda as “the most obvious effort to re/construct Puerto Rican identity,” which was made possible by the early view of Puerto Ricans as “overwhelmingly poor, uneducated people who could nonetheless be ‘saved’ by Americanization.” As Amílcar Antonio Barreto, Associate Director of Northeastern University’s Humanities Center, points out, clearly “an implicit assumption underlying Americanization was the presumed superiority of Anglo-American socio-cultural norms and the concurrent inferiority of Puerto Ricans.”

Americanization, although focused primarily on English language instruction to facilitate assimilation, included persecution of the independence movement. Significantly, Puerto Ricans, who had developed a national identity under Spanish rule, rejected the efforts at forced cultural substitution. According to Barreto, the Americanization project “endow[ed] the Spanish language with a political meaning and a social significance it would not have held otherwise,” laying the foundation for a cultural nationalism centered on the Spanish language and heritage.

Economic Dependence

Not only was the U.S.-imposed government unresponsive to cultural demands of the population, it allowed American corporations to control the island’s economy and exploit its resources, effectively plunging it into long-term dependency.

One of the most fateful decisions the government made was to promote sugarcane as a single crop. The dominance of sugarcane production undermined the coffee and tobacco economies in the mountain areas, allowed sugar corporations to monopolize the land and subjected workers to the cane growing cycle, forcing them into debt in the dead season and exacerbating the problems of poverty and inequality already present on the island. Furthermore, “the island became a captive market for North American interests.”

The economic policy of the early 20th century was a disaster for Puerto Rico. Its accomplishments were limited to widening the gap in Puerto Rican society, intensifying poverty on the island and creating the conditions of dependency on the United States from which it has yet to escape.

The Independence Movement

The American indifference to Puerto Rican cultural objectives, political demands and economic needs led to an initially determined drive for independence. One of the most prominent figures of the independence movement was Pedro Albizu Campos. A lawyer and a nationalist, he gained recognition when he defended the sugar workers’ strike of 1934.

The 1934 strike was a response to the wage cuts imposed by U.S. sugar corporations. Faced with a reduction of already marginal incomes, the workers organized a nationwide strike that paralyzed the sugar industry. Albizu Campos took advantage of his position as the primary advocate of the strikers to link the workers’ demands to the struggle for independence.

Albizu Campos based his argument for independence on the fact that Spain had granted Puerto Rico autonomy in 1898, before the Spanish-American War and before the Treaty of Paris. Therefore, he contended that Spain had no right to hand over Puerto Rico to the United States as war plunder. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico, autonomy does not equate to sovereignty. Sovereignty is not a condition that Puerto Rico has ever experienced. But there has been a significant push for an independent Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, this movement has been consistently and violently repressed.

In 1937, a peaceful protest in support of Puerto Rican independence was organized in Ponce. Shortly before the demonstration was to begin, then Governor General Blanton Winship revoked the previously issued permits. Police surrounded the march and, as it began, opened fire on the activists, leaving 21 dead and 200 wounded. The Ponce Massacre is one of the better known examples of the use of violence to silence the independence movement, but by no means was it an isolated event.

Assimilationism

The United States, despite its disregard for the Puerto Rican people, placed a high premium on the use of the island for military purposes. This was highlighted by the location of both the Caribbean and South Atlantic U.S. Naval Commands in the 37,000 acre naval base Roosevelt Roads, which closed in 2004.

The obvious alternative to independence is statehood, an option which entails a certain degree of assimilation. González-Cruz posits that “the extreme economic dependency and the U.S. military presence provide favorable conditions for Puerto Rico to become a state.”

As Governor of Puerto Rico in the 1990s, Pedro Roselló of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) proposed instituting a form of bilingual education, allegedly because of the advantages associated with both bilingualism and speaking English, but more plausibly to boost the island’s chances of becoming a state. In 1976, President Gerald Ford declared that it was time for Puerto Rico to become fully assimilated as the 51st state. But there was strong opposition, not only from island independentistas, but from American politicians, some of whom were determined to refuse Puerto Rico admission to the union without instituting English as the official language of the island.

In the 1990s, there was lingering xenophobic objection to Puerto Rican statehood as well as echoes of the linguistic intolerance exhibited in the 1970s. The American intransigence on language and assimilation is likely what pushed the Roselló government to try to institute bilingual education on the island.

“Because of the uncertainty of the status question, the proannexationist government [...] steered the island toward a neoliberal model in which statehood would not generate additional costs for the United States,” writes González-Cruz. They catered to the U.S. Congress as much as possible in order to try to direct the future of the island toward full incorporation into the United States.
However, this assimilationist push for statehood, embodied by the proposed education reforms was flatly rejected by the population. The Partido Independentista Puertorriqueña (PIP), may have never been able to garner more support than what it needs to barely survive, but assimilation is also perceived by many modern islanders as contrary to the needs, desires and interests of the Puerto Rican people.

Puertorriqueñismo

Puerto Ricans favor neither independence nor assimilation in crushing numbers. They are reluctant to forego the benefits of U.S. citizenship and unwilling to give up their identity as Puerto Ricans. Malavet argues that “cultural assimilation has been and positively will be impossible for the United States to achieve.” This is because Puerto Ricans perceive themselves as “Puerto Ricans first, Americans second.” Yet, in spite of this apparently strong nationalist sentiment, Puerto Ricans reject legal and political independence. In the words of Antonio Amílcar Barreto, “Puerto Ricans are cultural nationalists [but] the island’s economic dependency on the United States [...] outweighs other considerations when it comes to voting.”

“Culturally speaking, Puerto Rico now meets most of the objective and subjective characteristics of conventional views of the nation, among them a shared language, territory, and history,” writes Jorge Duany. “Most important, the vast majority of Puerto Ricans imagine themselves as distinct from Americans as well as from other Latin American and Caribbean peoples.”

This cultural nationhood emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries. As more Spaniards were born in Puerto Rico, they developed a distinct criollo cultural identity, inextricably linked to the island. Towards the end of the 19th century, the criollos began to push for greater independence from the distant fatherland. In March 1898, the first autonomous government was established under Spanish rule. Despite its imperfections, the autonomous charter indicated the growing nationalist sentiment on the island. Unfortunately, the United States invaded the island before it was ever granted independence.

Nevertheless, this criollo culture was sufficiently strong and entrenched to withstand the onslaught of the Americanization effort. One side effect of the attempted imposition of American culture and values was the development of a puertorriqueñismo largely defined in terms of anti-Americanism. Rather than simply creating a unique Puerto Rican identity, early nationalists defined Puerto Ricanness strictly in contrast to Americanness. Thus, “Puerto Rican nationalism throughout the 20th century has been characterized by Hispanophilia, anti-Americanism, Negrophobia, androcentrism, homophobia, and, more recently, xenophobia,” writes Duany. To a large extent, this accounts for the rejection of English (or even bilingualism) in favor of Spanish, which is perceived as an important part of contemporary Puerto Rican identity. Even Puerto Ricans living in the United States are often not considered real Puerto Ricans by island nationalists.

Nationhood

Duany describes a nation as “a ‘spiritual principle’ based on shared memories and the cult of a glorious past, as well as the ability to forget certain shameful events.” It is not inextricably linked to statehood. As legal scholar and political leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement Manuel Rodríguez Orellana explains, “Even before the phenomenon of the political unification of nations into states, the French were French and the English were English. Michelangelo was no less Italian than Mussolini.” It is this separation between the concepts of nation and state that allows Puerto Ricans to assert their Puerto Rican nationalism without demanding independence, instead defending their U.S. citizenship.

Although Rodríguez Orellana describes puertorriqueñismo as a “political act on the colonial stage,” it has generally lost its political undercurrents. As Rodríguez Orellana himself says, “the daily life of Puerto Ricans runs, consciously or unconsciously, along the track of their national identity.” Puerto Ricans are always Puerto Ricans. This is not a political act, but a cultural fact. Although independentista intellectuals like the relatively early and highly influential scholar Manuel Maldonado-Denis worry that “the colonization of Puerto Rico under the American flag has meant the gradual erosion of [Puerto Rican] culture” and argue that “Puerto Rico is a country that is threatened at its very roots by the American presence,” the evidence is to the contrary. In fact, migration “has produced an affirmation of puertorriqueñismo as a nationality in the continental United States that is stronger and may be more important than the development of it on the island.” Puerto Ricans clearly continue to exhibit a strong sense of cultural identity and nationalism in spite of their failure to connect it to independence.

A Century of Colonialism

In the words of Maldonado-Denis, “Puerto Ricans are a colonial people with a colonial outlook,” meaning that neither the Puerto Ricans on the island nor Puerto Ricans in the United States have yet achieved “a true ‘decolonization,’ either in the political or in the psychological sense of the word.” In spite of Puerto Rican complacency and in spite of the fact that the United States has managed to design “a process of governance that hides Puerto Rico in plain view,” the colonial relationship that persists between the two polities cannot last forever. 111 years after the acquisition of the island, the time to decide the future of Puerto Rico is overdue.

The Future of Puerto Rico

Malavet identifies the three legitimate postcolonial alternatives for Puerto Rico as independence, non-assimilationist statehood and “a constitutional bilateral form of free association,” arguing that “it is unconstitutional for the United States to remain a colonial power [...] for a period of over one hundred years.” The territorial status is only valid as a temporary, transitional status. It must lead to either independence or incorporation.

Given the unacceptability of Puerto Rico’s current colonial legal and political status, the question becomes: what is the best viable option for Puerto Rico?

Independence

García-Passalacqua writes that, “with the reemergence of all sorts of nationalisms, [sovereignty] has become the logical aspiration of any and all peoples in the new world order.” There is no reason why this wouldn’t be true for Puerto Ricans. The $26 billion drained from the island by U.S. corporations each year is sufficient justification to push for separation from the United States. The unequal treatment of island residents, embodied by the phrase “second class citizenship,” provides further grounds for dissociation from the imperial power. Additionally, Puerto Ricans self-identify as a nation.

There appears to be no reason for Puerto Rico to continue as anything other than an independent nation-state. In this vein, then Governor of Puerto Rico, Anibal Acevedo Vila, spoke before the UN General Assembly last year, accusing the Bush administration of denying the island its right to chart its own course and demonstrating a sense of frustration with the aimless direction in which the United States has dragged Puerto Rico. This seems to imply preference for autonomy, if not sovereignty. But while Puerto Ricans certainly insist upon their autonomy, there is no such consensus on independence – that option has never garnered more than five percent of the vote in any of the status plebiscites.

Statehood

Puerto Ricans are not ready to give up their ability to hop across the blue pond on a whim. Despite the fact that the United States continuously exploits the island – its resources and its people – , most Puerto Ricans perceive the benefits of their relationship to the United States as outweighing the costs.

Puerto Rico is “consistently losing its ability to achieve self-sustaining development, and the current economic course” makes it less likely that there will ever be “any significant degree of political and economic sovereignty.” Furthermore, the presence of U.S. military bases on the island reduces the likelihood that the Pentagon would easily let go of the valuable strategic outpost. The greatest opposition to Puerto Rican statehood would come from xenophobic American politicians arguing that Puerto Ricans are inassimilable.

This combination of factors could tilt the balance in favor of statehood over independence. Because Puerto Ricans perceive their economic interests as being tied to their connection to the mainland, they are likely to opt for a status that allows them to maintain the current relationship virtually unaltered. While the majority of island intellectuals may advocate independence, it is important to note that the majority of islanders are not intellectuals.

A New Proposal

Last month, Pedro Pierluisi presented a new bill in the Committee of Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking authorization from Congress to allow Puerto Rico to conduct a series of plebiscites to determine the preferred future status of the island. However, the bill does not commit Congress to act on the results of the plebiscites and, although it presents Puerto Ricans with and opportunity to choose a reasonable permanent status, it also allows them to perpetuate themselves in an unacceptable state of colonialism indefinitely.

Malavet writes that “perhaps the biggest harm perpetrated by the United States against the people of Puerto Rico can be labeled ‘the crisis of self confidence.’ This form of internalized oppression that afflicts the people of Puerto Rico leads them to conclude that they are incapable of self-government. Under this tragic construct, Puerto Ricans believe that they lack the economic power to succeed as an independent nation – that they lack the intellectual and moral capacity for government.” This U.S.-imposed inferiority complex will almost certainly lead Puerto Ricans to vote against independence if given the option. They have consistently expressed no desire whatsoever to be categorized as a sovereign state.

Because Puerto Ricans do not connect their cultural nationalism to sovereignty and because of the island’s extreme dependency on the United States, the most likely eventual outcome for Puerto Rico will be statehood. Although this is not necessarily the ideal status for the island, it is undeniably preferable to its current second-class existence. What is most important is that the island ceases to be a territorial possession. In the words of Manuel Maldonado-Denis, “colonialism as an institution is dead the world over. Puerto Rico cannot – will not – be the exception to this rule.”

The Hope of a Nation

With any luck, Congress will pass Pierluisi’s bill (or a more forceful version that pushes for change) and Puerto Ricans will be given the opportunity to vote on their future. In spite of the strong cultural nationalism that permeates contemporary Puerto Rican society, the economic benefits of statehood are likely to be the most influential factor in a status vote.

Statehood entails a certain degree of assimilation. For instance, Puerto Rican athletes will now have to compete for spots on the U.S. Olympic team before heading to the international event. This absorption into the United States certainly erodes the sense of Puerto Rican nationhood as Puerto Rico is no longer able to represent itself as a specific entity on a world stage. However, this should not hugely effect the continuation of a thriving Puerto Rican culture distinct from American culture.

Moreover, there are definite advantages to becoming a state, not least the expansion of Medicare and the ability to vote. If the territory joins the Union, it will be nearly impossible for the U.S. to rationalize the perpetuation of the poverty currently found in Puerto Rico.

And if the population decides that the economic benefits of statehood do not outweigh the cultural costs, perhaps the shock of losing their Olympic team will spark a widespread Puerto Rican independence movement.

SERRANO-FORTUNO PUERTO RICO STATUS BILL ADVANCES:

Monday, May 5th, 2008

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES ISSUES FAVORABLE REPORT ON RESIDENT COMMISSIONER’S LEGISLATION
States News Service (April 22, 2008)

WASHINGTON — The following information was released by the office of Puerto Rico Rep. Luis G. Fortuno:

The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007, co-sponsored by Congressman Jose Serrano and Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuno, advanced another step today in the U.S. Congress when the Committee on Natural Resources in the House of Representatives issued the official Committee Report for the bill (H.R. 900), which authorizes a self-determination process for Puerto Rico. The Report, which follows in the wake of the bill’s approval by the Committee on October 23, 2007, states that the legislation will enable Puerto Ricans to vote in a Congressionally-authorized plebiscite on the Island within a year of the bill’ enactment.

With this Committee Report, we have taken another step towards our goal of providing the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico with a just, representative and constitutionally-viable process to put an end to the ambiguous political environment in which we currently live, said Fortuño, who praised the facts and conclusions contained in the Report.

In the Report, the members of the Committee observed that after 110 years, Puerto Rico’ 3.9 million U.S. citizens still have an unsettled political status. The Committee Report reiterated the fact that although Congress has the authority to manage the self-determination process for Puerto Rico based on constitutionally-viable options, a Congressionally-sponsored vote in Puerto Rico has never taken place in more than a century under U.S. sovereignty.

This Report proves wrong those who have insisted that Congress does not want to attend to the issue of Puerto Rico’ status, said the Resident Commissioner, who noted that in the last three years Congress held four hearings regarding this legislation which culminated in the Committee’s approval of the legislation in October, and that all of this was accomplished despite the open opposition of Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vila. The Report reiterates that all peoples are entitled to a form of government that provides for equal voting representation in the making and implementation of their laws.

I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that my constituents enjoy a just self-determination process and that we achieve our goal of a political system that guarantees us equal rights, said Fortuño, who thanked his colleagues on the Committee for the work they did in preparing the Report.

Governor of Puerto Rico and Twelve Others Indicted for Election Related Crimes

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Note: Below is the news release from the Department of Justice that outlines the charges against Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila and his associates.

—Angelo Falcon

U.S. Newswire (March 27, 2008)

WASHINGTON, March 27 – Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila and 12 associates in Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., and the Philadelphia-area have been charged in a 27-count indictment unsealed today and returned by a grand jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 24, 2008, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez of the District of Puerto Rico announced today.

The defendants face charges ranging from conspiracy, false statements, wire fraud, federal program fraud and tax crimes related to campaign financing for the governor’s 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 campaign for Resident Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and subsequent 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to defraud the United States and violate various Federal Election Campaign Act provisions by having Puerto Rico businessmen make illegal and unreported contributions to pay off large and unreported debts stemming from Acevedo Vila’s 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 campaigns for Resident Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Payments were made principally to the public relations and media company for the campaigns. The illegal actions continued into 2003, due to the significant debt accumulated by the campaigns, some of which was also concealed from the FEC and the public.

Acevedo Vila and legal advisor, defendant Inclan Bird, solicited, accepted, and then reimbursed illegal conduit contributions from Acevedo Vila’s family members and staff. Conduit contributions are illegal campaign contributions made by one person in the name of another person. In addition, a group of Philadelphia-area businessmen solicited, accepted, and then reimbursed illegal conduit contributions from their own Philadelphia-area family members and staff for defendant Acevedo Vila. Acevedo Vila, in his official capacity, then personally assisted the businessmen in their attempts to obtain contracts from Puerto Rico government agencies for themselves or their clients.

The indictment also alleges a scheme to defraud the Puerto Rico Treasury Department of $7 million by fraudulently pledging to abide by a voluntary public funding law in defendant Acevedo Vila’s 2004 successful campaign for governor of Puerto Rico. The funding law required a cap on campaign spending and required full reporting of all contributions and expenditures. In exchange, the Treasury Department provided up to $7 million of public funds to the candidate’s campaign.

The indictment alleges that defendant Acevedo Vila and his associates conducted unreported fund-raising and made unrecorded vendor payments for the 2004 campaign in order to raise and spend far more than the limited amount to which they had agreed. According to the indictment, one significant aspect of this fraud was to have Puerto Rico businessmen (described as collaborators) use large amounts of money from their personal or corporate funds to pay for large and unreported debts to the campaign’s public relations and media company. Large sums of cash were also used to keep contributions and vendor payments concealed from the Treasury Department and the public.

As further alleged in the indictment, for many of the collaborator payments the media company created fake invoices to make the payments appear to be legitimate business expenses of the contributors’ companies. The indictment charges Jose Gonzalez Freyre, one of these contributors, with falsely claiming that a $50,000 invoice was real and that bona fide services had been provided to his company in exchange for the payment, when in fact, the invoice was fake and the $50,000 payment was part of the unrecorded fundraising and expenditure scheme.

In related illegal actions alleged in the indictment, Acevedo Vila, aided by Inclan Bird, accepted numerous forms of personal income from funds related to his campaigns or official position, which he failed to report as required on his income tax returns.

“This indictment demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. Candidates for office and elected officials will be held accountable for corrupting the electoral process by disregarding campaign financing laws. Electoral fraud undermines the essence of our representative form of government, and operates to the detriment of every Puerto Rican,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez.

“The Department of Justice will continue to enforce public corruption laws which are designed to protect citizens’ right to honest and fair government representation,” said Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher.

“Our democratic system cannot function when public officials act as though they are above the law. Public officials must comply with the law and those who do not comply will be held accountable,” said Luis Fraticelli, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Juan Field Office.

“Today’s indictment is a reminder that the tax laws apply equally to everyone. No one is above the law. It is the responsibility of every taxpayer to file correct and accurate income tax returns,” said Michael E. Yasofsky, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Miami Field Office.

The defendants and their individual charges are as follows:

(1) Anibal Acevedo Vila, 48, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy, false statements, wire fraud, federal program fraud, and tax crimes. Defendant Acevedo Vila was Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 through 2005, and has been the Governor of Puerto Rico since 2005;

(2) Candido Negron Mella, 41, of Glenn Mills, Penn., is charged with conspiracy and false statements. Negron Mella is a Philadelphia businessman and was designated by defendant Acevedo Vila as his U.S. deputy campaign finance chairman (Resident Commissioner campaign) in 2002;

(3) Salvatore Avanzato, 69, of Boothwyn, Penn., is charged with conspiracy. Avanzato is a Philadelphia-area businessman;

(4) Jorge Velasco Mella, 38, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy and false statements. Velasco Mella, a cousin of Negron Mella, received a job in defendant Acevedo Vila’s San Juan Resident Commissioner office and assisted in the handling of campaign contributions;

(5) Robert M. Feldman, 60, of Gladwyne, Penn., is charged with conspiracy. Feldman is a Philadelphia-area political and business consultant and was designated by defendant Acevedo Vila as his U.S. campaign finance chairman (Resident Commissioner campaign) in 2002;

(6) Marvin I. Block, 74, of Philadelphia is charged with conspiracy. Block is a Philadelphia-area businessman and lawyer;

(7) Ramon Velasco Escardille, 49, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy, false statements and wire fraud. Velasco Escardille was defendant Acevedo Vila’s Resident Commissioner campaign treasurer;

(8) Edwin Colon Rodriguez, 35, of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy and false statements. He is also charged with embezzlement in a separate indictment unsealed today. Colon Rodriguez was defendant Acevedo Vila’s Resident Commissioner campaign assistant treasurer;

(9) Eneidy Coreano Salgado, 40, of Rockville, Md., is charged with conspiracy. Coreano Salgado was defendant Acevedo Vila’s administrative director in his Washington, D.C. Resident Commissioner office;

(10) Luisa Inclan Bird, 47, of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, is charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and federal program fraud. Inclan Bird was a legal advisor for defendant Acevedo Vila’s San Juan office and volunteered in his 2004 gubernatorial campaign’s finance department. Currently, she is a senior advisor for Governor Acevedo Vila;

(11) Miguel Nazario Franco, 60, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is charged with wire fraud and federal program fraud. Nazario Franco volunteered in defendant Acevedo Vila’s 2004 gubernatorial campaign finance department, and is currently a businessman in Puerto Rico.

(12) Ricardo Colon Padilla, 39, of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, is charged with wire fraud, federal program fraud and false statements. Colon Padilla was the finance director for defendant Acevedo Vila’s political party during his 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

(13) Jose Gonzalez Freyre, 56, of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, is charged with wire fraud and false statements. Gonzalez Freyre is the owner of Pan American Grain, a Puerto Rico agricultural company, which contributed at least $50,000 to defendant Acevedo Vila’s 2004 gubernatorial campaign.

Each count carries the following maximum prison terms and fines, along with terms of supervised release:

Count one (conspiracy): five years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Counts two through nine (false statements to the FEC and federal agents): five years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Counts 10 through 21 (wire fraud): 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Count 22 (program fraud – obtaining money by fraud): 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Counts 23 and 24 (false statements to the FBI and IRS: five years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Count 25 (conspiracy to defraud the IRS): five years in prison and a $250,000 fine;

Counts 26 and 27 (filing false tax return): three years in prison and a $100,000 fine;

This case is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria A. Dominguez of the District of Puerto Rico and Trial Attorney Daniel A. Schwager of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. The Public Integrity Section is headed by Chief William M. Welch, II. The case is being investigated by the FBI and IRS, with assistance and cooperation from the Office of the Comptroller of Puerto Rico.

The investigation into related corruption and other crimes is ongoing in the District of Puerto Rico. An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

Contact: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, +1-202-514-2007, or TDD, +1-202-514-1888

7th Annual NYC Brides March Against Domestic Violence, Wed 26 sep

Friday, September 21st, 2007
New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence
c/o Violence Intervention Program, Inc.
P.O. Box 1161 New York, NY 10035
(212) 410-9080
www.nylatinasagainstdv.org

For Immediate Release
September 25, 2007

Contacts:
Antonieta Gimeno (646) 672-1404, cell 917-981-1625
Janice Cruz (646) 672-1404

Seventh Annual NYC Brides’ March Against Domestic Violence
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scores of “Brides” and Supporters Will March Through Manhattan and the Bronx to Remember Gladys Ricart and Other Victims of Domestic Violence
For the seventh year in a row, scores of women dressed in wedding gowns, along with men dressed in black, will march through the streets of Washington Heights, the South Bronx, and East Harlem to raise awareness about the devastating effects of domestic violence on Latino and other families and communities.
Marchers will start gathering at 9 a.m. in front of the offices of the Dominican Women’s Development Center at 251 Fort Washington Avenue where they will hear from some of the march organizers. The six-mile march will begin promptly at 10:30 a.m. and will end after 3 p.m. in East Harlem at the Bonifacio Senior Center, 7 East 116th Street with a speak-out and closing ceremony (see attached march route).

The Brides’ March, also known as The Gladys Ricart and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk, is an annual event that was started in 2001 to remember Ms. Ricart, who was murdered by a former abusive boyfriend on the day she was to wed someone else, and all the other women who have been killed or injured in domestic violence incidents (see chronology of events attached). Because the wedding dress, the emblem of happiness and everlasting love, has been forever tainted in the Latino community by Gladys’ murder, it is a strong symbol for the New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence (NYLADV), the main organizers of the March.

Marchers will be joined by Josie Ashton, a Dominican woman from Florida who originated the idea for the first march, after being strongly moved by the murder, slanted media coverage, and some community members’ insensitive response to Ms. Ricart’s murder. Ms. Ashton resigned from her job and sacrificed more than two months of her life away from her family to walk in a wedding gown, down the East Coast, from New Jersey to Miami, in an attempt to draw attention to the horrors of domestic violence.

Local government officials and community figures including Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, NYS Senator Erik T.  Schneiderman, Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat, Commissioner Yolanda Jimenez from the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, Council Members Melissa
Mark-Viverito, Robert Jackson and Miguel Martinez, will also join the marchers and speak during the day’s events.

Dozens Of Deaths And Hundreds Of Thousands Of Domestic Violence Incidents Reported Each Year In New York City.
According to the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, there were 71 family related homicides in 2006 as of December 31, 2006. Family related homicide includes intimate partner homicide as well as homicide committed by other family members and includes children who were killed as a result of family violence. 83% of these cases had no known prior police contact and 6% of these cases had a current Order of Protection. At present, there are 2,081 domestic violence emergency shelter beds citywide, a 35% increase since January 2002.
In addition, according to the Mayor’s Office, the police responded to 221,071 domestic violence incidents in 2006; this averages to over 600 incidents per day. And teen dating relationship abuse continues to be a problem as well. The City Domestic Violence Hotline received 9,462 calls from teens in 2006.
Rosita Romero, Executive Director of the Dominican Women’s Development Center said “domestic violence is not a women’s problem; it is a problem that affects the entire family and our society as a whole. It is also connected to other types of violence in our society. We have to find better ways of relating to each other as human beings; on a more equal level and with more kindness and compassion. We need to educate ourselves more about this pandemic to make a bigger commitment to prevent it and eradicate it.”
Josie Ashton who will address the marchers during the rally at the Bonifacio Senior Center stresses that “we continue with our commitments to every woman, man and children to work hard every day to fight domestic violence. Our hope is that our government and members of our community will do the same.”
A partial list of sponsors for the 2007 NYC Annual Brides’ March include:

New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence, the Ricart family, Josie Ashton, Nuevo Amanecer, Violence Intervention Program, Dominican Women’s Development Center, The National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat, National Dominican Women’s Caucus, Anthony Diaz from Fortune Society.
A partial list of participating individuals and organizations include:

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, Congress Member Charles B. Rangel’s Office, Seny Tavera Special Counsel to Lieutenant Governor David Patterson, Crucita Medina Martinez, Bonifacio Senior Center, NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, NYC Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs, New York City Police Department, New York City Department of Sanitation, Assembly Woman Noemi Rivera, Council Member Miguel Martinez, Council Member Robert Jackson, Council Member Helen Foster, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jorge Abreu from Heritage Health Housing, Reverend Luis Barrios from the San Romero de las Americas Church, Reverend Hector Laporte, Lucy Pizarro of Levántate Mujer, Planned Parenthood, CONNECT, In Motion.