Posts Tagged ‘lawyer’

VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROGRAM AT RISK

Sunday, November 1st, 2009
April 11, 2007
10:41 pm

VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROGRAM AT RISK
Wednesday, April 11th, 2007
The Community Supporters of the Violence Intervention Program (CSVIP) are calling a press conference to speak about the crisis situation confronting the Violence Intervention Program, Inc. (VIP) and the steps we are taking to try to save it.

Elected Officials, domestic violence survivors and advocates, and representatives from the CSVIP call upon YOU to exercise your leadership role in support of the battered women and staff of VIP by joining us at the press conference.

WHEN: Thursday, April 12, 2007, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, 1680 Lexington Av
Confirm your attandance email SaveVIP@aol.com or call 212.650.4938 or 212.423.9010

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:
Community Supporters Unite to Save Domestic Violence Program

Recent Actions by Board Members Have Placed Organization in Jeopardy

The Community Supporters of the Violence Intervention Program (CSVIP), a group made up of domestic violence advocates and a wide array of community leaders, including elected officials, is demanding the resignation of the Board of Directors of the Violence Intervention Program, Inc. (“VIP”), the establishment of a new Board with the necessary qualifications and the reinstatement of Grace Perez as Executive Director.

The current board members are Vivian Selenikas, newly appointed Chair, Kenneth Diaz, Acting Chair, Sandra Quilico, Treasurer, Nancy Nazario, Secretary, Zarah Guzman, member, and Vivian Rivera, member. Calling the Board’s actions “irresponsible, arbitrary and capricious,” the CSVIP has issued an Open Letter and Petition to the Board (“The Petition”), seeking their resignation.

The reasons for this request include the following: their failure to respond to repeated requests made by community leaders to meet with them; their refusal to bring a neutral third party to facilitate whatever conflict that may have existed between them and the Executive Director; the unjustified discharge of VIP’s Executive Director; their failure to have a plan in place to ensure the management of the organization and the provision of services for VIP clients (battered women and their children); and their failure to fully explain their decision to not purchase a building that could have become a permanent home for VIP.

VIP is a very important organization that has been at the fore front of serving battered women and their children since 1984 when it opened its doors in East Harlem and became the first bilingual/bicultural (Spanish/English) domestic violence service provider in the state of New York, and one of a handful in the entire nation.

Over the years, VIP has developed and grown tremendously expanding its services beyond East Harlem to also serve women and children in the Bronx and Queens. Today, VIP provides crisis intervention, counseling, support groups, case management, and residential services to hundreds of women and children in
three boroughs.

The Board Has Refused to Meet With Community Leaders to Resolve Situation

For months, VIP’s Board of Directors has refused to meet with or respond to the calls of various community leaders who have knocked at their doors trying to prevent the very crisis that they have now created. On Monday, March 26, Jenny Rivera, who was recently appointed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as Special Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights, resigned her position as Chair of VIP’s Board. However, before she did this, she made sure that the Board fired Grace Perez, who has served as VIP’s Executive Director for the past 17 years, helping to make it the exemplary organization that it is today.

The Board made this arbitrary and capricious decision without adequate reason and without having an interim director or a plan of action in place. Furthermore, prior to the discharge, the Board refused any attempt on behalf of Ms. Perez or community leaders to resolve whatever management/governance differences may have existed between the Board and the Executive Director with a neutral third party.

What we find illogical and absurd is that the only reason that this Board cited for dismissing Grace is the actions that she took related to the purchase of a building in East Harlem that would serve as a permanent home for VIP.

We know that for more than a year, Grace Perez, with the help of Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito, and with the approval of this Board, was able to obtain a $500,000 grant from the NYC Council to renovate the building once it was purchased; a $140,000 down payment for the purchase of the building and $40,000 for closing fees; the pro bono services of an architect to draw up the floor plans; as well as the pro bono services of a real estate lawyer to represent VIP in the purchasing transactions. However, at the last hour, without consulting it with Grace Perez or Councilwoman Mark Viverito, the Board decided not to go through with the purchase.

The Board cited as the reason for this decision, the advice of an unnamed financial advisor, whom they claim determined that VIP was not in a financial position to move forward with the purchase. However, this conclusion is not supported by the review of VIP’s finances by the City Council and its approval for a $500,000 grant nor by the two banks which had provided letters of intent for a mortgage of up to $1.2 million.

Board Failed to Appoint Someone to Manage the Organization Before Firing ED

The discharge of Grace Perez, and the manner in which she was terminated, demonstrates the Board’s abuse of power and the fact that they seem to care very little about the lives of the women and children served by VIP. To this day, two week after her dismissal, there is still no one appointed to manage the organization.

While the Board carries out their supposed “national search” for a new Executive Director, who is in charge of VIP’s operation and management? They took the time to find a lawyer to advise them in connection with their decisions, but they did not take the time to find someone who could oversee the operations and management of the organization before they fired Ms. Perez.

Thanks to the dedication of VIP’s staff who have taken it upon themselves to carry on with their work, the women and children have been shielded from the unconscionable chaos and atmosphere of insecurity which the Board has created.

On the day that Ms. Perez was fired, 10 representatives from local organizations went to the offices of VIP, as a group, to demand an immediate meeting with Board. Zarah F. Guzman, the only Board member, who went to VIP that day to try to change the locks on the door, took the names of the 10 representatives and promised the Board would contact them for an emergency meeting. The representatives are still waiting to hear from the Board.

As a Board that heads such an important and necessary organization, they have placed this organization and the people it serves in serious jeopardy and numerous community members have signed the open letter and petition asking for their resignation and making room for a new board that has the knowledge, experience, and credibility necessary to lead and govern VIP.

Please eMail your Comments & support to The Community Supporters of the Violence Intervention Program (CSVIP), SaveVIP@AOL.Com.

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.

The Black Agenda Report article opposing Sotomayor

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Sonia Maria Sotomayor — She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either

By Bruce A. Dixon
Created 06/03/2009 – 10:36
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

sotomayor_biden_obama.jpg

What is and what should be the story around the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the high court? Is the main story a celebration of how humble origins and hard work won out? Should we spend all our time and energy refuting the racism of Republican talking heads, and none examining her record, and how she arrived at the door of the Supreme Court? Is this a good time to explore what a just and democratic society must demand from its courts — more nonwhite faces in high places? More rights for corporations? Or more justice for people? And if this isn’t a good time, is that time ever coming?

Sonia Sotomayor: She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The bubble of false reality corporate media blow around the nomination of Sonia Maria Sotomayor begins with the racist rants of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and a host of Republican senators and talking heads. It encompasses a torrent of righteous air and ink denouncing the racists, along with an inspiring story of humble origins, hard work and determination to succeed. It feeds the ongoing narrative of America’s ultimate triumph over old fashioned racism by allowing highly qualified and carefully vetted minorities to join its ruling elite. And it includes the view of places like Business Week, which designate the nominee “centrist” and a “moderate, [1]” a view that corporate media revealingly agree is nonpolitical,” which means that the prerogatives of America’s business elite are not now and never will be up for discussion.
Absent from the conversation around the Sotomayor nomination are all but the most cursory review of her legal career before being appointed a federal judge by George Bush — a mere twelve years of legal experience, five as a prosecutor for the D.A.’s office in Manhattan, and another seven as partner at the international law firm of Pavia & Harcourt. Summaries [2] of her decisions are hard to find. Although much is made of the fact that she will be only the fifth judge not a white man to sit on the high court, few detailed comparisons are made between her legal career and those of Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Finally there are no attempts to discuss the unique, and not always positive role that the US Supreme Court plays or ought to play in the life of the country.
All these concerns are outside the bubble, not only for corporate media, but for the blogs and commentators who allow corporate media to draw the limits of their universe.
Sotomayor’s first job out of law school was as a prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office. Her time as a prosecutor roughly coincides with the end of the first decade of New York’s infamous Rockerfeller drug laws [3], a time when our nation’s historically discriminatory law enforcement apparatus began locking up larger percentages of black and Latinos than anywhere else on the planet. From there she moved on to a spot as associate, then partner at the international law firm of Pavia & Harcourt [4], and international law firm offering “…a full range of legal services to companies, individuals, and Italian and French governmental organizations and agencies… who do business in the United States as well as American clients who do business in the U.S. and abroad.”
Among Pavia & Harcourt’s areas of special focus are the enforcement of intellectual property laws, and obtaining writs of confiscation and seizure of goods believed to be in violation of such laws. In this selection from Ed Shanahan’s IP Law & Business he assembles quotes from the Wall Street Journal, the National Journal and the New York Times that paint a picture of Sotomayor’s passionate involvement on behalf of her corporate clients:
“…as the Wall Street Journal Washington Wire blog further explains in this colorful post [5]
, the “peak” of her career at the firm “came in representing Fendi in trademark actions against makers and sellers of counterfeit handbags and other items, according to George Pavia, the firm’s managing partner.”
“Sotomayor, the WSJ reports, didn’t just fight for her clients in court.
“Firm founder George Pavia told the paper that when the firm would get a tip about suspect cargo, investigators “would trace where the shipment had gone—for example, to a warehouse or a store. Then, working with police, the firm would seek a warrant to view and attach the items. Often, the lawyers learned through experience, such visits would prompt angry responses from the merchants involved. But Sotomayor, who became a high-profile defender of the brand, seemed to enjoy going along. ‘On several occasions,’ Pavia said, ‘she went in wearing a Kevlar vest and seized the goods.’
“(In this profile [6]
of Sotomayor, The New York Times adds to the judge’s legend: “One incident that figures largely in firm lore was a seizure in Chinatown, where the counterfeiters ran away, and Ms. Sotomayor got on a motorcycle and gave chase.”)
“The Journal also reports that Sotomayor played an integral role in what might be termed an IP publicity stunt aimed at calling attention to the then-growing problem of high-fashion knockoffs:
“With Sotomayor in charge, the firm decided in 1986 to stage a bonfire —to be known as the ‘Fendi Burn’—in the parking lot of the Tavern on the Green restaurant. There was a catch, however: the New York Fire Department refused to permit it.
“So the firm decided on the next best thing, crushing the items in garbage trucks, in an event that came to be known as the ‘Fendi Crush.’
“‘In the presence of the press…we threw masses and masses of handbags, shoes, and other items into these garbage trucks,’ Pavia said. ‘It was the pinnacle of our achievement, and Sonia was the principal doer.’”
No place on earth has more lawyers than the U.S., and in the late 80s, early 90s, New York City had more lawyers than anywhere in the country. This is how a young former prosecutor gets noticed and considered for the federal bench. Maybe Democratic senators and the White House of George H.W. Bush took note of her on their own. Maybe lobbyists and campaign contributors affiliated with her clients recommended her as someone who would look out for their interests. Take your pick. Either way, Bush put her on the federal bench in 1992.
For the twelve years she was a prosecutor and in private practice, right up until her appointment to the U.S. District Court, Sotomayor spent evenings, weekends and personal time, as an active board member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Committee. During those years PRLDEF publicly opposed police brutality, the death penalty, felony disenfranchisement, and discrimination in housing and employment. It filed lawsuits to protect the voting rights of minorities in New York and the human rights of migrant workers. PRLDEF even sued an official of the Reagan administration for defamation over his public statement that most Puerto Ricans were on food stamps. No reports we have seen say that she personally filed those suits or that she ever appeared in court on behalf of litigants in discrimination and other lawsuits. As a board member she was reportedly involved in the planning and overall supervision of these activities.
After his graduation from Yale Law School in 1974, Clarence Thomas attached himself directly to the Republican party as a black man squarely against equal rights under the law. He became assistant attorney general in Missouri in 1974, chief counsel for Senator Sam Brownback in 1978, and in 1982, chairman of the Office of Economic Opportunity under Ronald Reagan, where he publicly defied the Congress by sitting on thousands of age and race discrimination complaints till the statute of limitations ran out on them. After only fourteen years as an attorney, Thomas had earned his appointment to the federal bench in 1989, and shortly after that to the Supreme Court.
The only other nonwhite person to serve on the US Supreme Court in two centuries has been Thurgood Marshall. Marshall’ graduated Howard University law school in 1933, where he was mentored by Charles Hamilton Houston [7]. Houston was the architect of a decades-long crusade to use the courts to overthrow America’s Jim Crow segregation laws. After less than a year of private practice, Marshall joined Houston at the NAACP, where he spent the next quarter century crisscrossing the country, sometimes at the risk of his own life [8], defending African Americans in court who were falsely accused of murder and rape. Marshall took their cases, along with those of black people who directly challenged Jim Crow laws all the way to the Supreme Court where he won a phenomenal 29 out of 32 cases, including the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that separate school systems for blacks and whites were unconstitutional.
After 28 years of legal practice, far longer than either Thomas or Sotomayor, Marshall was named to the US Court of Appeals in 1961, US Solicitor General in 1965, and in 1967 was nominated to the Supreme Court by Lyndon Baines Johnson. Before donning the black robe Marshall had already fundamentally changed the American legal landscape. He had directly represented the poor and disenfranchised in the courts of dozens of states, raised money and public support for their legal defense. By the 1950s, Marshall was known around the country as “Mr. Civil Rights.” He is said to have taken a dim view of civil disobedience and many of the tactics of the Freedom Movement in the 1950s and 60s, but generally refrained from publicly voicing those sentiments, and defended some of them in court.
The comparative pre-judicial careers of these three seem to indicate that the speedy road to the federal bench is to be a useful right wing political operative like Thomas or a zealous advocate of multinational business, like Sotomayor. Defending the poor and changing history seems to be a longer and much less certain way to get a federal judgeship.
Sonia Sotomayor is no Clarence Thomas, to be sure. The PRLDEF did great work during the years she served on its board, but she can hardly claim sole credit for it. In any case, PRLDEF wasn’t her full time job, and certainly not what got her on the federal bench. She is no Thurgood Marshall either, not by a long shot. There are still lawyers who devote most of their practice to defending the poor and disenfranchised, and an even larger number who file suits against giant corporations on behalf of ordinary people. No matter their legal brilliance, those attorneys rarely get judicial appointments. Why? No Supreme Court Justice since Marshall has represented a defendant in a criminal case, let alone a death penalty case. Why? No Supreme Court Justices sued wealthy and powerful corporations on behalf of ordinary working and poor people either. Why?
Why should representing poor people as defendants in a court of law, or suing wealthy corporations on behalf of the ordinary people whose rights these powerful and immortal institutions trample upon every day rule a judgeship out of any lawyer’s future? Was that the founding fathers’ intent? More importantly, should it be ours?
A frank discussion of what a democratic society should expect from its court system is also long overdue. For the last generation, the courts have squatted squarely on the necks of working class Americans, relentlessly affirming the unearned privileges of a wealthy corporate elite over the rest of us, often in ways no governor, president or legislature would dare attempt. To name just a few instances, the courts have ruled that equal funding of public schools between wealthy and poor neighborhoods cannot be accomplished, even when state constitutions require it. Judges have affirmed that the First Amendment gives corporations the right to lie to and deceive the public for commercial gain, that patent laws allow US corporations to claim exclusive rights to crops grown by farmers for dozens of centuries in various parts of the world. The Supreme Court recently ruled that money, in the form of campaign contributions, is free speech, setting major roadblocks in the path of campaign finance reform.
We need to take note of the historic significance of the first Latina to be nominated to the Supreme Court. Like the embrace of a black president by most of the nation’s ruling elite, it does signify a departure from a kind of old fashioned nineteenth and twentieth century racism, at least insofar as the admittance of carefully vetted and well-qualified minorities to that elite goes. But the advancement of a few is not necessarily the advancement of democracy, or of the many.
The easy out for progressives around the Sotomayor nomination is to waste all their time and oxygen debating Republicans, ridiculing and refuting their racism. While this is important, it mustn’t be allowed to take all the air from the room. If we really want more than a change in the color of the faces at the top of American society, we’ll have to spend a lot more energy evaluating their corporate connections of our judges on every level, and determining who they and our courts really serve.

Court win fuels Puerto Rican citizenship debate – article from the Right

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Note: See the very end of this article about former Secretary of State Norma Burgos’ “Puerto Rican citizenship.” What are the implications of this for the right of Stateside Puerto Ricans being able to vote in a plebiscite on the political status of Puerto Rico? Interesting.

—Angelo

PUERTO RICO

Court win fuels Puerto Rican citizenship debate

After a long battle, the elder statesman of Puerto Rico’s independence movement finally has what he wanted: citizenship

BY FRANCES ROBLES

Miami Herald (July 14, 2007)

MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico — The seeds of Juan Mari Brás’ quixotic patriotism were planted when his parents draped a Puerto Rican flag over his crib.

Those seeds flourished 13 years ago, when the elder statesman of Puerto Rico’s independence movement renounced his U.S. citizenship in an effort to be officially recognized as a Puerto Rican. He’s 79 now, and after a 60-year anti-colonial crusade, he has something new to adorn his surroundings: a certificate of Puerto Rican citizenship.

He is the first Puerto Rican in history to have one. And as the U.S. Congress considers Puerto Rico’s status, Mari Brás’ newfound and hard-fought citizenship has refueled the heated debate about what it means to be Puerto Rican.

The certificate was issued in October after Mari Brás successfully sued for the right to vote in local elections. Last month, the Secretary of State’s Office here offered citizenship to eligible islanders. About 450 have requested certificates, and legislators are drafting bills to codify the process of obtaining them.

The tangible value of the certificates is in doubt, even among some of Marí Brás followers.

”With this certificate, can I travel from here to some other country?” asked independence party legislator Víctor García San Inocencio. “When I come back, will Homeland Security let me in?” The answers: no and no.

For Mari Brás, the citizenship certificate is more legal test than meaningful evidence of nationality. He said his win is important because it marks the first time the government here has recognized a national identity not tied to the United States. But he shrugs off the significance of his long court battle, recognizing that while it may have been the most important achievement Puerto Rico’s tiny independence movement has seen in years, it is a far cry from the sovereignty he craves.

”Biologists experiment with plants and animals and chemists do so with elements,” he said in a recent interview at his office at the Eugenio María de Hostos Law School in Mayagüez. “Since I am a lawyer, I experiment with the law. The certificate is an achievement, but it’s not the independence of Puerto Rico.”

When Mari Brás was born to a deeply political Mayagüez family, the U.S. military had seized Puerto Rico from Spain barely 30 years earlier. People like nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos were frequent dinner guests at his uncle’s house next door.

”Back then, we thought independence would happen the day after next,” he said. “We never thought we would remain the most important colony of the most important empire.”

His father took him to political events, and he founded an independence movement in high school. It became a passion that got him jailed seven times, kicked out of law school and a heart attack at 36.

Mari Brás graduated from American University Law School in Washington. As a lawyer, he took on controversial cases such as the independence activists who opened fire on the U.S. House of Representatives. He founded the Puerto Rican Socialist Party and ran a spirited campaign for governor in 1976 until his son was murdered, a death Mari Brás blames on the CIA.

A Marxist with close ties to Havana, he was disbarred from practicing in federal court when he skipped a client’s appearance to attend a conference in Cuba.

But after decades of sometimes violent activism, even now the independence movement gets only about 4 percent of the popular vote. The vast majority of Puerto Rico’s 4 million people are split between wanting to become the 51st state and keeping some form of its current commonwealth status.

In a mission to prove Puerto Ricans had a separate national identity, Mari Brás in 1994 went to the American embassy in Caracas and renounced his U.S. citizenship. When he returned to Puerto Rico, a local statehood activist sued him, arguing that Mari Brás no longer had a right to vote in local elections. Puerto Rico’s electoral law says that only U.S. citizens can cast ballots.

”I wanted to see if in Puerto Rico you could continue breathing without being a U.S. citizen,” he said.

The case made the Puerto Rican Supreme Court, and, last fall, Mari Brás won.

”It’s extraordinary,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York group that has represented Puerto Rico’s independence activists. “He has been after this for 30 or 40 years. The next step is people will demand passports. What other things can flow from there?”

The Popular Democratic Party, which seeks more autonomy for Puerto Rico while keeping the island’s current relationship with the United States, agrees.

”An empty wallet does not have everything a full wallet has,” said legislator Charlie Hernández, who has submitted a bill to codify the citizenship process.

Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party (PNP), which supports statehood, is vehemently against the citizenship plan, calling it a useless and illegal residency certificate. It also alleges that current Secretary of State Fernando Bonilla, of the ruling Popular Democratic Party, agreed to go along with it in order to attract votes within the independence movement.

In a statement, Bonilla said he offered the certificate to obey the constitution and the court decision. He stressed that it doesn’t replace the U.S. passport.

‘I understand Juan Mari Brás’ purpose and respect it, but Puerto Rican citizenship does not exist,” said PNP Sen. Norma Burgos, a former secretary of state who once denied Mari Brás’ petition for citizenship.

To prove her point, Burgos, who was born in Chicago and moved to Puerto Rico when she was 5, asked for citizenship. Under rules that the Secretary of State drafted after Mari Brás’ court victory, she did not qualify.

”Was the Secretary of State going to tell me, Norma Burgos, ex-secretary of state, ex-lieutenant governor, and sitting senator, that I am not Puerto Rican?” she said.

Bonilla redrafted the requirements to include Burgos — and lots of other people. Now, if you live in Puerto Rico and one of your parents was born here, you qualify. U.S. citizens who have lived here more than a year are also eligible.

NILP 3
National Institute for Latino Policy
101 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 313
New York, NY 10013

www.latinopolicy.org
Angelo Falcón, President and Founder
212-334-5722 Fax: 917-677-8593
afalcon@latinopolicy.org

VIOLENCE INTERVENTION PROGRAM AT RISK

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

The Community Supporters of the Violence Intervention Program (CSVIP) are calling a press conference to speak about the crisis situation confronting the Violence Intervention Program, Inc. (VIP) and the steps we are taking to try to save it.

Elected Officials, domestic violence survivors and advocates, and representatives from the CSVIP call upon YOU to exercise your leadership role in support of the battered women and staff of VIP by joining us at the press conference.

WHEN: Thursday, April 12, 2007, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, 1680 Lexington Av
Confirm your attandance email SaveVIP@aol.com or call 212.650.4938 or 212.423.9010

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:
Community Supporters Unite to Save Domestic Violence Program

Recent Actions by Board Members Have Placed Organization in Jeopardy

The Community Supporters of the Violence Intervention Program (CSVIP), a group made up of domestic violence advocates and a wide array of community leaders, including elected officials, is demanding the resignation of the Board of Directors of the Violence Intervention Program, Inc. (“VIP”), the establishment of a new Board with the necessary qualifications and the reinstatement of Grace Perez as Executive Director.

The current board members are Vivian Selenikas, newly appointed Chair, Kenneth Diaz, Acting Chair, Sandra Quilico, Treasurer, Nancy Nazario, Secretary, Zarah Guzman, member, and Vivian Rivera, member. Calling the Board’s actions “irresponsible, arbitrary and capricious,” the CSVIP has issued an Open Letter and Petition to the Board (“The Petition”), seeking their resignation.

The reasons for this request include the following: their failure to respond to repeated requests made by community leaders to meet with them; their refusal to bring a neutral third party to facilitate whatever conflict that may have existed between them and the Executive Director; the unjustified discharge of VIP’s Executive Director; their failure to have a plan in place to ensure the management of the organization and the provision of services for VIP clients (battered women and their children); and their failure to fully explain their decision to not purchase a building that could have become a permanent home for VIP.

VIP is a very important organization that has been at the fore front of serving battered women and their children since 1984 when it opened its doors in East Harlem and became the first bilingual/bicultural (Spanish/English) domestic violence service provider in the state of New York, and one of a handful in the entire nation.

Over the years, VIP has developed and grown tremendously expanding its services beyond East Harlem to also serve women and children in the Bronx and Queens. Today, VIP provides crisis intervention, counseling, support groups, case management, and residential services to hundreds of women and children in
three boroughs.

The Board Has Refused to Meet With Community Leaders to Resolve Situation

For months, VIP’s Board of Directors has refused to meet with or respond to the calls of various community leaders who have knocked at their doors trying to prevent the very crisis that they have now created. On Monday, March 26, Jenny Rivera, who was recently appointed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as Special Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights, resigned her position as Chair of VIP’s Board. However, before she did this, she made sure that the Board fired Grace Perez, who has served as VIP’s Executive Director for the past 17 years, helping to make it the exemplary organization that it is today.

The Board made this arbitrary and capricious decision without adequate reason and without having an interim director or a plan of action in place. Furthermore, prior to the discharge, the Board refused any attempt on behalf of Ms. Perez or community leaders to resolve whatever management/governance differences may have existed between the Board and the Executive Director with a neutral third party.

What we find illogical and absurd is that the only reason that this Board cited for dismissing Grace is the actions that she took related to the purchase of a building in East Harlem that would serve as a permanent home for VIP.

We know that for more than a year, Grace Perez, with the help of Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito, and with the approval of this Board, was able to obtain a $500,000 grant from the NYC Council to renovate the building once it was purchased; a $140,000 down payment for the purchase of the building and $40,000 for closing fees; the pro bono services of an architect to draw up the floor plans; as well as the pro bono services of a real estate lawyer to represent VIP in the purchasing transactions. However, at the last hour, without consulting it with Grace Perez or Councilwoman Mark Viverito, the Board decided not to go through with the purchase.

The Board cited as the reason for this decision, the advice of an unnamed financial advisor, whom they claim determined that VIP was not in a financial position to move forward with the purchase. However, this conclusion is not supported by the review of VIP’s finances by the City Council and its approval for a $500,000 grant nor by the two banks which had provided letters of intent for a mortgage of up to $1.2 million.

Board Failed to Appoint Someone to Manage the Organization Before Firing ED

The discharge of Grace Perez, and the manner in which she was terminated, demonstrates the Board’s abuse of power and the fact that they seem to care very little about the lives of the women and children served by VIP. To this day, two week after her dismissal, there is still no one appointed to manage the organization.

While the Board carries out their supposed “national search” for a new Executive Director, who is in charge of VIP’s operation and management? They took the time to find a lawyer to advise them in connection with their decisions, but they did not take the time to find someone who could oversee the operations and management of the organization before they fired Ms. Perez.

Thanks to the dedication of VIP’s staff who have taken it upon themselves to carry on with their work, the women and children have been shielded from the unconscionable chaos and atmosphere of insecurity which the Board has created.

On the day that Ms. Perez was fired, 10 representatives from local organizations went to the offices of VIP, as a group, to demand an immediate meeting with Board. Zarah F. Guzman, the only Board member, who went to VIP that day to try to change the locks on the door, took the names of the 10 representatives and promised the Board would contact them for an emergency meeting. The representatives are still waiting to hear from the Board.

As a Board that heads such an important and necessary organization, they have placed this organization and the people it serves in serious jeopardy and numerous community members have signed the open letter and petition asking for their resignation and making room for a new board that has the knowledge, experience, and credibility necessary to lead and govern VIP.

Please eMail your Comments & support to The Community Supporters of the Violence Intervention Program (CSVIP), SaveVIP@AOL.Com.

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