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Misla Quits To Avoid 'Political Circus'
By Iván Román
January 13, 2002
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- For weeks he tottered between rumor and speculation, but he finally fell. When veteran politician Edison Misla Aldarondo resigned his seat in the House of Representatives last week, his pro-statehood New Progressive Party hoped to leave behind another shameful chapter in its turbulent post-election soap opera.
But even in his last days in the marble hallways of the Capitol, Misla couldn't escape controversy. Friends and enemies had clamored for his resignation since hours after his indictment Oct. 26 on six counts of extortion, money laundering, conspiracy and witness tampering. And they didn't want to wait any longer.
Prosecutors allege that Misla received money in exchange for helping to make sure that a public hospital in the northern coastal town of Manati be sold to a group of doctors that included a high-school buddy. Thanks to that friend wearing a wire, Misla was heard on tape in his bail hearing bragging about using his Republican connections in the White House to ensure that his lawyer be appointed the No. 2 guy in the local U.S. Attorney's Office to derail the investigation.
It wasn't until 10 weeks after federal agents led him away in handcuffs that Misla decided to dodge the "political circus" that he said a House ethics probe set to start last Tuesday would have turned into. Less than 24 hours before the first witness was to be sworn in, he announced he would resign effective Jan. 31. The ensuing uproar over the date and vows to continue with the investigation forced him to push up his departure to Monday.
"This resignation is not an admission of guilt but a reaffirmation of my rights as a citizen, which I do with courage and faith in God," said Misla, with a Book of Psalms at his side. "I cannot let myself be submitted to a political trial in which the result has been predetermined."
Staying until Jan. 31 would have given him a bigger pension after 32 years of public service, including 25 in the House. He became Speaker during the past pro-statehood administration.
Also, stopping the House investigation would keep him from revealing his defense strategy before his pending federal trial. But others saw the move as the ultimate gall from one of the highest-ranking politicians accused of public corruption.
NPP officials eager to put an end to the Misla controversy said they are happy to see him go, but would have liked for it to have been immediate. They had already authorized their legislators to vote to expel him if it ever came to that.
His exit is another step toward the NPP's efforts to renew itself after the crushing electoral defeat in November 2000. Shortly after that loss, Misla, who barely won re-election, won a power struggle with defeated gubernatorial candidate Carlos Pesquera over his push to become minority speaker.
Pesquera stepped down as president until other NPP factions clamored for his return almost a year later -- people Misla says betrayed and abandoned him for the sake of political expediency, to compete with Gov. Sila Calderon's anti-corruption rhetoric.
But many see his departure and the party's renewal as the NPP's only chance.
"The NPP is getting rid of an old mortgage that it couldn't get rid of any other way," political analyst Luis Davila Colon said. "It's one of the leaders they've had from the Cold War who thought he owned his position. In a sense, prosecutors are doing the NPP a favor."