Posts Tagged ‘member’

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.

¡Sammy Ayala’s 75th Birthday!

Sunday, November 1st, 2009
February 22, 2008
6:00 pm

noname.jpeg

SOB’S Concerts
& Aurora Communications invite you to celebrate:

¡Sammy Ayala’s 75th Birthday!
Friday, February 22, 2008

An original, co-founding member of Cortijo y su Combo, singer/songwriter Sammy Ayala was part of the first all-black orchestra featured over Puerto Rican television daily in 1954 ….. ten years BEFORE the civil rights act was signed into Congress in the U.S. Rafael Cortijo’s group fused the music of the great Antilles, crossing color and economic divides, to pave the way for the upbeat salsa music we enjoy today.

Active in his senior years, Sammy Ayala is a member of Zon del Barrio alongside Yomo Toro who will be celebrating Sammy’s birthday. Read their bios @ www.zondelbarrio.com.

Take a look, hear the music, and i’m sure you’ll agree that Sammy’s life makes for an inspirational evening.

SOB’s
204 Varick St @ W Houston
212-243-4940

DIRECTIONS: IRT #1 Train to Houston St or IND Trains A B C D E F to West 4

Doors open at 6.00 pm Shows are at 8.00 pm & 10.00 pm
ADMISSION $12 FROM 6-8PM & $15.00 AFTER 8.00 PM

Women of El Barrio

Sunday, November 1st, 2009
March 27, 2008
6:00 pm

6th Annual Women’s History Month Celebration
Join us in honoring the contributions of

Susanna Martinez, Poet & Painter
Agnes Rivera, Housing Activist, Community Voices Heard
Laura Benitez, Member of District 8 Youth Council

Thursday, March 27, 6pm to 8pm
Carlos Rios Community Room
335 E. 105th Street (bet 1st & 2nd Ave)

Enjoy an excerpt from “Barrio Girl” performed by Sandra Rivera
Catered Selections: My Sister’s Creations, Sangria Any Time, East Harlem Cafe
Contribution: $20

RSVP: Gloria Quinones 212-348-8004 or womenoeb@gmail.com

Puerto Rico Strikes

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

By Yolanda Rivera
From the October 30, 2009 issue | Posted in International | Email this article

A STRIKING ISLAND: More than 200,000 Puerto Ricans joined a general strike Oct. 15.

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PHOTO: SEIU INTERNATIONAL, FLICKR.COM

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO—In 1934, the year of the largest sugarcane workers’ strike in Puerto Rican history, Antonio S. Pedreira, a wealthy writer and educator, described Puerto Ricans as lazy and irresponsible: “To be lazy, in our country, is self-repression, lack of mental activity and freewill […] We are squatting before our future.”
Seventy-five years later, the attitudes of Puerto Rico’s ruling elite appear unchanged. Faced with widespread opposition to plans by Gov. Luis Fortuño to fire tens of thousands of public-sector workers and privatize government services, members of the governor’s staff have called workingclass Puerto Ricans “ticks” “garrapata” and terrorists and told them to accept privatization and layoffs because “such is life.”

Fortuño, leader of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (the equivalent of the Republican Party), was inaugurated Jan. 2, 2009. In his first 10 months in office he has fired more than 23,000 public-sector workers despite promising during his campaign that he would not make layoffs. His announcement on Sept. 25 that he was firing nearly 17,000 workers spurred labor, student, religious and community groups to organize a general strike on Oct. 15.

Fortuño’s administration reacted by stoking tensions. Top law-enforcement officials including the justice secretary and police superintendent threatened to charge strikers with terrorism if they disrupted traffic at the island’s ports. Independent observers such as the American Civil Liberties Union described the government threats as “dangerous” and “sowing fear.”

The week before the general strike, 10 campuses of the University of Puerto Rico closed their doors to prevent student protesters from using the facilities to mobilize. During democratic assemblies that gathered record numbers, students had already closed the main university campus in solidarity with fired government workers, including teachers, janitors and other service employees.

Despite the official intimidation, the demonstration and walkout went ahead Oct. 15, drawing an estimated 200,000 people and shutting down most businesses, schools and government activities on the island.

During the protest, numerous workers said the massive layoffs were part an effort to “sell the island,” — to destroying public services in order to justify privatization and provide subsidies to companies owned by associates of the governor.

One marcher carried a sign calling the governor “Fortocho,” a mix of Pinocchio and Fortuño. Another had a picture of the governor as a chicken with the question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” referring to an unemployed worker who threw an egg at the governor during a press conference a few weeks earlier. Others chanted: “So, where’s Fortuño? Fortuño is not here. He’s selling what is left of this country.”

Many people showed their dissatisfaction by scrawling anti-privatization messages on buildings. Others wore masks of the governor’s face while they brandished fistfuls of money. After the march, students blocked the country’s largest highway and kept it closed until the police and some conservative leaders pressured them to abandon their efforts.

With a population of 3.5 million, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. colony since 1898. About 48 percent of the population lives under the poverty level and government layoffs, which represent about 12 percent of the public sector workforce, are projected to push the unemployment rate to 17 percent.

The firings were made possible by Law 7, which passed in March. It allows Fortuño to unilaterally dismiss public-sector workers, overriding labor laws that previously prohibited such actions. Union contracts are no protection either, as Law 7 effectively voids any job protections they may contain. What’s more, Law 7 clears the way for firing more public-sector workers by allowing for “Public-Private Alliances” — a euphemism for handing over government functions to private corporations.

While the governor and pundits claim the mass layoffs are necessary because the government is “too big” and is facing a $3.2 billion budget deficit, Puerto Rico is slated to receive more than $5.7 billion in funds from the U.S. stimulus package passed earlier this year. Fortuño also claims that private companies provide better services and that public-sector workers earn too much. Previous governors used the same justification for prior rounds of privatization that ended in disaster.

Pedro Roselló, governor from 1992 to 2000, privatized health services and sold hospitals. While insurance companies fattened their profits by delaying payments and services, enabling them to earn interest on public funds, the population has seen co-pays increase and intolerable delays in basic and urgent care, as in the case of cancer patients. Moreover, government officials under Roselló reportedly stole money from an organization that provided services for AIDS patients. In 1998, Roselló also sold Telefónica de Puerto Rico, a public telephone company, an action that triggered an enormous two-day general strike.

The following governor, Sila Calderón, the first female governor in the island (2000 to 2004), outsourced billing services in the Public Water Authority to ONDEO, a French company, which failed to meet the terms of its contracts but was paid $540 million. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, the governor from 2004 to 2008, privatized testing services in the Department of Education and signed numerous contracts for millions of dollars with charter school organizations while denying salary increases to public school teachers. The independent teachers union, Federación de Maestros, staged a successful strike and won salary increases.

Puerto Rican workers have also seen massive layoffs in the private sector as the economy has been in recession for more than four years now. The governor claims privatizing public services will create 200,000 new jobs by 2013. The government’s development plans include promoting medical tourism; privatizing much of the public energy authority; displacing poor communities to build expensive apartments and shopping malls; and a luxury resort, casino and marina on a former U.S. naval base. Few believe Fortuño’s promises, however, given the mass layoffs he claimed would never happen.

Laid-off workers have few options. Even if they manage to land a job, an abysmal rate of private-sector unionism, less than 3 percent, means few protections. Private companies will not recognize decades of service in the public sector, offer health insurance or match government salaries.

Meanwhile, despite promises of state support, fired workers wait in unemployment lines so long that people arrive the day before their appointment at the Labor Department to claim benefits; their only alternative is accepting a government offer of $2,000 to leave the island.

While a large number of Puerto Rican workers and students are resolved to fight the government’s policies, the movement is divided. The ruling elite are banking on this. Following the general strike, Fortuño’s Chief of Staff, Rodríguez-Ema, said, “I know we will prevail since the movement is divided.”

The most conservative unions and political organizations are allies of the former ruling party (Partido Popular Democrático, the equivalent of the Democrats). The conservative unions, some of which seem most concerned with not losing union dues, are affiliated with large U.S. unions, such as the SEIU. These unions are mostly organized under Law 45, instituted in 1998, which allowed for unionizing public-sector workers while taking away their right to strike. Many of these workers had previously been in more militant labor “associations.”

Conservative and moderate groups are interested in getting concessions from the government even if this means reducing working hours for all public-service workers or eliminating the government’s contribution to the workers’ health insurance. During the 1998 strike against the sale of the public telephone company, leaders in some of these unions and organizations demobilized a mass-based movement that put up to 500,000 people in the streets. They negotiated a truce with the government, and the telephone company was finally sold.

While the Oct. 15 mobilization marked a big step forward, halting and reversing privatization will require a still higher level of struggle. Independent unions, such as the university non-teaching employees union, called for a workers’ party during the march. The Federación de Maestros, the teachers’ union that held a strike under the former administration; the union of electric company workers; and political organizations such as la Organización Socialista Internacional and the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores called for organizing from below. These unions and political groups, together with other community organizations and university professors (Asociación Puertorriqueña de Profesores Universitarios), have supported calling a general strike in the future.

Yolanda Rivera is a member of the Organización Socialista Internacional. Lee Sustar contributed to this report.

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.

UMEZ AWARDS LANDMARK GRANT TO EL MUSEO DEL BARRIO

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

UMEZ AWARDS LANDMARK GRANT TO EL MUSEO DEL BARRIO

$2 million grant is largest in museum’s 40 year history

New York, NY – Yesterday, Congressman Charles B. Rangel, joined by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Luis Miranda, a member of the Board of Directors of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp., (UMEZ), and Julián Zugazagoitia, Director of El Museo del Barrio, announced today that the organization has awarded the museum a $2 million grant to implement a strategic plan that will complement renovations to the museum that are currently underway.

The announcement was made during Summer Nights at El Museo Del Barrio’s 2007 concert series at Teatro Heckscher, with Tito Puente, Jr. as the evening’s performer.

El Museo del Barrio was founded in 1969 by artist-educator Raphael Montañez Ortiz in response to the interest of Puerto Rican parents, educators, artists and community activists in East Harlem’s Spanish-speaking El Barrio, the neighborhood that extends from 96th Street to the Harlem River and from Fifth Avenue to the East River on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The contexts of El Museo’s founding were the national civil rights movement and, in the New York City art world, the campaign that called for major art institutions to decentralize their collections and to represent a variety of non-European cultures in their collections and programs.

El Museo del Barrio is among the leading Latino and Latin American cultural institutions in the nation. The New York Times recently characterized El Museo as “the first stop on Museum Mile,” an institution offering “some of the most beautiful and disquieting art there is.” One of only a handful of Latino museums in the United States with a permanent collection, El Museo maintains the most comprehensive collection in the eastern region and one of the most varied in the country.

The Museum recently embarked on a long-term, multi-million dollar capacity-building program, the “Re-Envisioning of El Museo.” It consists of a five-year strategic plan and institution-wide programmatic expansion, for which El Museo has already raised a substantial amount of leveraged funds. At the same time, the Museum is undergoing a physical transformation through a $20 million capital renovation project.

UMEZ helped El Museo lay the foundation for organizational development and expansion by providing the Museum a technical assistance award of up to $50,000 to complete a strategic plan. The plan addresses the Museum’s programming, educational offerings, community engagement, theater programs, membership program, and governance and board development. Full strategic plan implementation will require $5.5 million in funding. The Museum had already secured over $2 million toward project costs prior to the $2 million, three-year UMEZ investment.

As a result of UMEZ’s three-year investment in strategic plan implementation, the Museum will create ten new jobs, deepen its relationships in its founding community, increase its earned income, and establish its first formal marketing and communications department. A re-invigorated El Museo will serve as a driving force in revitalizing cultural tourism in the East Harlem community and help brand el barrio as ‘the center of Latino culture and a tourist destination.’

Mr. Miranda, who chairs UMEZ’s Cultural Industry Investment Fund (CIIF), said, “The history of El Museo del Barrio is not only inextricably
linked to the history of the East Harlem community, it is also linked to the history of our great City. Through its many outstanding exhibitions and programs, this unique museum has helped to enlighten the world in so many, many ways. That’s why we at UMEZ are pleased and proud to be able to provide financial support to this fine institution.”

“It is an honor for El Museo to accept this $2 million as it represents the largest grant ever received in our 40-year history,” said Mr. Zugazagoitia. “This funding from UMEZ marks an investment in El Museo and El Barrio at this transformative time for both our community and our institution, and will ensure that the museum will continue to excel in providing the best in Latino cultural resources to New York
City.”

Over the past two years, UMEZ has approved investments in East Harlem Business Capital Corporation, Taller Boricua, Art For Change, La Fonda Boricua, PR Dream, and East River Plaza. The East River Plaza investment, which totaled $55 million, is the largest single investment in UMEZ history.

UMEZ believes that investments in East Harlem will have a positive impact throughout upper Manhattan in terms of its economic impact, the creation of jobs and improvements to its infrastructure.

ABOUT THE Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone DEVELOPMENT CORP.

UMEZ seeks to revitalize distressed communities by using geographically targeted public funds and tax incentives as catalysts for private investment. In Upper Manhattan, the communities that lie within the Empowerment Zone’s borders include Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood.

ABOUT THE CULTURAL INDUSTRY INVESTMENT FUND

UMEZ’s CIIF celebrates Upper Manhattan’s rich past while creating new legacies. The work of the CIIF is two-fold: community building through a cultural and economic lens; and, a marketing of place that repositions Upper Manhattan as one of New York City’s primary cultural districts. The goals of the CIIF are sustaining the local economy by promoting development, revitalization and tourism; making strategic cultural investments; and, strengthening the cultural ecosystem.

The CIIF provides support to cultural organizations that use the arts as a tool for economic development, job creation and growth of cultural tourism, within the five communities of Upper Manhattan. Primary means of support include funding and provision of technical assistance.

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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