A Fish Out Of Water Self-Destructs

by John Marino

November 29, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. JOHN MARINOGov. Calderón this week finally replaced Police Superintendent Pierre Vivoni to man the helm of the massive Police Department, naming as his successor a respected former federal prosecutor Miguel Pereira, who had been heading the Ports Authority under the administration.

While the move is welcome, it should have never taken so long. Vivoni, a Superior Court judge, showed himself to be a fish out of water almost immediately from the time that he took over the helm of the commonwealth's crime-fighting agency, with its $600 million budget and a workforce of 23,000 people.

Calderón has made some excellent Cabinet choices -from Education Secretary César Rey to Health Secretary Johnny Rullán to Family Secretary Yolanda Zayas - but the island's all important Top Cop post seemed a strange choice almost from the start.

However well-intentioned he might have been, Vivoni never seemed to have won the respect of the cop on the beat and never articulated to the public that he knew the intricacies of police work.

The governor put the best spin possible on the move, saying he was being replaced, at his own request, so that he could fulfill his career goal of being named to the commonwealth Circuit Court of Appeals. Calderón nominated him to fill a vacancy left by retiring Judge José Negrón Soto. "I respect [Vivoni] professionally, and he has my total trust as a person, professional and public servant," she said in making the announcement. That may be, but nobody really believes that his performance had nothing to do with his removal from the job - however valued the post of Appeals Court judge might be.

Vivoni has made several blunders during his 10-month tenure that reportedly raised the ire of the governor. And press reports this week surmise that the move was in the making for months, leading to suspicions that it was timed with the Appeals Court vacancy to put the best public face on the switch.

With crime on the rise - the murder rate is currently about 11 percent above that of last year - one hopes that is not the case. Especially when regarding Vivoni, whose worst offense may be that I believe he has twice lied publicly.

The first controversy generated by Vivoni occurred at a meeting of regional law enforcement agencies in Santo Domingo last April to discuss strategies to curb drug smuggling. He told a San Juan Star reporter that he questioned the portrayal by federal authorities of Puerto Rico as a transshipment point for drugs coming from South America to the United States. He also cast doubt on federal Drug Enforcement Administration statistics indicating that 30 percent of drugs smuggled into Puerto Rico are consumed locally.

"My interest is breaking up the chain that originates in Latin America and makes it to Puerto Rico. If it didn't come to the island at all, I wouldn't care if tons of drugs went to the states," he said. When his words generated criticism, he refused to own up to them, saying he was misquoted. And he said this several times in media reports, no matter that he was trying to save his own skin at the expense of a good reporter's reputation.

Vivoni has said other stupid things, once attributing a murder wave to an ongoing round of Navy military exercises on Vieques. Vivoni didn't have any "facts to prove it," but he said "he felt" the exercises were making people violent.

And his poise in the heat of battle was also twice questioned, when April protests outside the gate of Camp Garcia in Vieques got out of hand and when a stand-off between statehood and independence supporters outside the Capitol turned violent.

Earlier this month, he removed two of the highest commanders he had appointed because they allegedly showed previously seized weapons to the media under the false assumption that they had just been seized in a raid the night before. While his insistence on honesty in the force may have been laudable, it also revealed that two of his closest allies had openly defied him.

It was not until the "Maneco" affair this month, however, that he exposed himself in another apparent lie. And this time not to one news outlet, but the entire media of Puerto Rico.

Vivoni approved the nomination of Insp. Juan "Maneco" Rivera Cancel to head the San Juan Tactical Operations Division. The problem was the officer had recently lost the department a multi-million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a young, female subordinate.

When the move generated criticism, Vivoni first said that he only approved the recommendation of one of his top officers. Denying any pressure from La Fortaleza, he added that he simply rethought his decision in the face of the criticism and decided to revoke the promotion.

The problem was he did not get his story straight with his bosses. At a press conference hours after Vivoni spoke, La Fortaleza Chief of Staff César Miranda and Secretary of State Ferdinand Pérez made clear that the nomination was unacceptable to La Fortaleza and that their view was made known.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Pereira told reporters that he was first approached by Calderón about the job shortly before Thanksgiving - right after the "Maneco" reports broke.

John Marino, City Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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