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Pesquera’s Comeback

By John Marino

November 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

When New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera called on Edison Misla Aldarondo to give up his House seat last weekend, it was the second time he asked the veteran lawmaker for a resignation.

The last time was following his defeat in the November election, when Pesquera called on Misla Aldarondo to put aside his aspirations to continue heading the NPP House delegation in order to make room for new faces within the party.

Pesquera argued that the NPP should listen to the message that voters were giving the party, and that a "rejuvenation" with new, young leaders was clearly in order. But Misla Aldarondo, backed by a majority of House colleagues, refused, and soon after, Pesquera quit as NPP president.

This time around, Pesquera did not have to ask Misla Aldarondo to quit as House Minority Leader. He gave up his hard-fought leadership post shortly after his arrest on federal charges of extortion, money laundering, obstruction of justice and interference with interstate commerce surrounding the sale of a Manatí government hospital.

Misla Aldarondo’s arrest was another black-eye for the island’s statehood party, as well as for Puerto Rico as whole, which has been rocked by a steady stream of corruption cases over the last three years exposed by Acting US Attorney Guillermo Gil and his team of federal prosecutors.

But Pesquera could take satisfaction that he had called for the head of arguably the most prominent politician yet to be indicted by federal authorities during this wave of corruption cases.

And this time around, the NPP was united behind Pesquera’s call for Misla Aldarrondo to step down from his House seat -- a call the indicted lawmaker has so far resisted.

Since Pesquera’s return to the helm of the NPP, he has been welcomed back like a prodigal son, and the downfall of Misla Aldarondo, who’s rebuff of the NPP president last year fueled his departure from the party, will only strengthen Pesquera’s support.

I always suspected that when Pesquera began his political comeback -- which can be traced to his appearance at a July statehood rally in Bayamón celebrating the birth of Dr. José Celso Barbosa -- he figured Misla Aldarondo was headed for a fall. It was around that time that news reports first started to crackle that Misla Aldarondo was the target of a federal probe. A grand jury investigating the sale of an Arecibo hospital had subpoenaed contracts from the House of Representatives issued during Misla Aldarondo’s reign as House speaker, from 1996-2000.

This week Pesquera said that he had no information about the probe last year, but his foresight can be expected to strengthen his support.

Now filling Misla Aldarondo’s shoes as minority leader is Aníbal Vega Borges, one of two candidates for the job last year when Pesquera called on Misla Aldarondo to step aside.

It’s clear that Pesquera sees in the Misla Aldarondo mess an opportunity to truly rejuvenate the party -- which some members of its old guard had blocked during his earlier call.

That would be to his advantage since the issue of corruption, though never touching on him personally, probably cost him the election last November.

Misla Aldarondo’s indictment was particularly painful for the NPP in that his alleged misdeeds surrounded the previous administration’s health reform -- perhaps the biggest achievement of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló.

And in FBI surveillance tapes played at his arraignment, Misla Aldarondo, who this week resigned as Republican Party National Committeeman in Puerto Rico, boasted that the investigation into his dealings would be derailed by Gil’s replacement -- still to be named by the Bush White House.

More corruption schemes under the previous administration will likely come to light. Gil said that other sales of government health centers are being investigated, and Misla Aldarondo himself said a federal grand jury was investigating whether he received kickbacks in the sale of an Arecibo hospital.

Federal prosecutors said that the Misla Aldarrondo case was a direct result of information provided by former NPP Sen. Freddy Valentín, previously indicted in a similar scheme involving government property which was sold to housing developers.

Valentín’s continuing cooperation has lead to a joke here that he may be the next U.S. Attorney here because of all the people he has put behind bars.

But not all the corruption cases have centered on the NPP. Freshman Vega Alta Mayor Juan Manuel Cruzado Laureano, of the Popular Democratic Party, was indicted the day before Misla Aldarondo for extorting some $29,000 from area businesses -- a process which allegedly began just months after he took office.

This case allowed Pesquera to proclaim corruption is beyond party lines, and in a letter to Gov. Calderón this week he suggested they meet to establish a "social dialogue to eradicate the germ of corruption from our society."

That’s the right tact.

Days prior to Misla Aldarondo’s arrest, several prominent NPP lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Kenneth McClintock, charged Gil’s office with discriminating against the NPP in its investigations.

That sounds like sour grapes, and the sort of political posturing Pesquera is trying to rid from the NPP – nearly a year after he first called for it.


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