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PUERTO RICO REPORT
Ladies And Gentlemen Of The Autonomous Republic
by Robert Becker
May 11, 2001
The Spring rains brought severe flooding to Puerto Rico this week, and Gov. Calderón wasted no time in asking President Bush for a disaster area designation that would open the federal aid spigots. But while Calderón was taking advantage of Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. territory, her administration has been conducting itself more like an autonomous republic.
After more than four months in office, there is already much in the public record to illustrate the left-leaning colors of this government. While Puerto Rico continues to be beset by its usual social and economic problems, Calderón has been spending an inordinate amount of time on Vieques, in a stance that has opened a schism between Puerto Rico and the United States.
Taking their cues from the governor, top administration officials have been speaking and acting as if they were ministers of an autonomous republic, posturing as if Puerto Rico were a sovereign state. Police Superintendent Pierre Vivoni, whose department depends on federal funds for training and equipment, attended a drug-fighting conference in the Dominican Republic sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. On arrival in Santo Domingo, Vivoni was miffed that he was not provided special seating apart from the U.S. delegation. Vivoni, who polices an island awash in cocaine and heroin, told a San Juan STAR reporter on April 4 that federal drug supply statistics were unreliable.
Warming to the task, he also said, contrary to all data and field experience of anti-drug agencies, that he did not believe Puerto Rico was a major transshipment point for drugs from South America or that 30 percent of all drugs shipped here are consumed locally.
"If it [drugs] didn't come to the island at all, I wouldn't care if tons of drugs went to the states. My interest is in Puerto Rico," he said. Vivoni was in charge of the police forces assigned to provide security for the Navy exercises on Vieques from April 27 through May 1. Federal agents arrested some 180 trespassers inside the fence line at Camp García.
Commonwealth police, under Vivoni's supervision, arrested just two protesters. Asked to explain how scores of protesters cut through the chain link fence in full view of commonwealth police, Vivoni said he didn't see it happen, and that the protesters had slipped onto federal property.
Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora didn't like the wording of a resolution filed by five New Progressive Party senators. The resolution, which asked for a Senate investigation of the possible harmful health effects of the chamber's system of warning bells, was drawn up clearly to mock the Popular Democratic Party's anti-noise law, itself a mockery of fair play drawn up for the sole purpose of making Navy off-shore shelling illegal.
Fas, with the judiciousness of the Mad Hatter, ordered the five senators to be physically barred from the chamber for a day and docked them their per diems.
Fas, a stalwart from the autonomous wing of the PDP, then launched hearings by the Education, Science and Culture Committee that is obviously stacked and predetermined to denigrate the use and teaching of English in Puerto Rico. This is the same tired old stuff shoved on an unsuspecting public by the PDP elite, who send their kids to English-speaking private schools and universities while downgrading the teaching of English for kids who attend public schools.
We can't leave off our list Vieques Commissar -- er, Commissioner -- Juan Fernández. Fernández is using his government powers to launch a political persecution of citizens for the grave offense of exercising their rights under the U.S. and Puerto Rican constitutions. Fernández and his gum shoes are investigating who paid for a trip by a group of private citizens from Vieques to Washington, D.C. Their offense is they want the Navy to stay in Vieques.
"This is not a fishing expedition," Fernández clarified. "This is a legitimate exercise by the Puerto Rican government to obtain information about what its citizens are doing."
Imagine. A PDP government official conducting political surveillance of citizens. Amazingly, there was not a peep from the independence movement, the civil libertarians and all the rest who wailed so piteously about the infamous files collected in years past on political dissidents. Their silence speaks volumes about their hypocrisy. Calderón, meanwhile, has been telling anybody who will listen how much she values the commonwealth's close relationship with the United States. She recently told a wire service reporter that the Vieques clash will result in a closer relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.
Could have fooled me. I interpret differently the actions of ranking congressmen who have introduced legislation to repeal Puerto Rico's $300 million rum tax rebate, who are looking at dramatically scaling back the Navy presence at Roosevelt Roads, and who are giving serious consideration to closing Fort Buchanan and moving it to Ceiba. Forget, also, Calderón's nascent effort to obtain federal investment tax incentives for Puerto Rico.
And that's just for starters.
Robert Becker, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: email@example.com