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Orlando Sentinel

Puerto Rico Office Gets Fresh Look

By Vanessa Vázquez Yuret

August 5, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

The Office of the Government of Puerto Rico appears poised to become more active in Orlando.

Not only is the office looking to increase its ties with the community, but the Washington headquarters has become more vocal on the question of Vieques.

The headquarters recently ran full-page ads in this and six newspapers nationwide touting the results of the recent Vieques referendum, in which voters overwhelmingly opted to end U.S. Navy exercises on the island.

A new administration in Puerto Rico also has generated a new regional director for the Orlando office, Luis R. Pastrana, who has been increasing his profile in the community.

"I want to serve and work with the Puerto Rican community, and the rest of the Hispanic community," said Pastrana, a lawyer and an Orlando resident of two years.

The Office of the Government of Puerto Rico conducts outreach in the Puerto Rican community of Central Florida, including Jacksonville and Tampa. But the office also can be political. The director is a political appointee who`s accountable to the governor of Puerto Rico, and usually follows that administration`s directives.

Pastrana, who took over two weeks ago, said his first order of business was to identify issues affecting the quality of life of Puerto Ricans here. Three main areas of concern are education, employment and health.

For instance, Pastrana`s office has become involved in the Orange County School Board`s redistricting efforts. Student enrollment is about one-quarter Hispanic and growing, but there are no Hispanics on the school board.

Since joining the office, the new staff has perceived the need to create a directory to provide the community with important phone numbers and other basic information, based on frequently asked questions.

People often want to know where to get a driver`s license and even where to buy Puerto Rican coffee.

"This will be a database that practically will have everything," said Luis Grajales, who served as interim director until Pastrana was appointed.

In addition, Pastrana plans to create an advisory council. Council members haven`t been selected, but a few names have floated to the surface.

El Nuevo Día reported that Iris Chacón, a well-known television star on the island who now lives in Orlando, may be on the list.

Pastrana, who has a military background, said he is open to suggestions, but prospective council members have to complement his style. He said people need to have "open minds, clean hands and a will to work."

Political affiliation, which is important on the island, won`t matter here, he said. "I don`t care what political party you belong to. If you want to work, I`m open to suggestions," Pastrana said.

Before Pastrana was appointed, Grajalesran the office for five months following the resignation of Donna Bisignano, who headed the office for one year.

Grajales said he found the office disorganized.

"The office was closed and empty. There was a lot of outdated material in here," said Grajales, who was quick to add that he did receive help from staffers connected with the last administration, which was linked to former pro-statehood Gov. Pedro Rosselló.

Rosselló created the office in 1995 to represent three island agencies: the Federal Affairs Administration, of which the Orlando unit is a part; the Economic Development Administration; and the Tourism Administration.

But he also was keenly aware of the pro-statehood sentiments of many former islanders living in Orlando. Rosselló made frequent stops in Central Florida to touch base with supporters.

Over the years, the local office helped organize aid to families affected by the 1998 tornado in Osceola County. It also has been quick to help raise funds for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.Pastrana also is trying to keep his office in the spotlight, recently hosting a jam-packed community reception for the 49th anniversary of Puerto Rico`s Constitution at Orlando City Hall, giving speeches and establishing contact with clubs and associations around Central Florida.

Later this week, Pastrana is heading to Puerto Rico to meet with members of Gov. Sila Calderon`s staff.

"Since I took office my cell phone hasn`t stopped," Pastrana said.

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