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Former National Guard Adjutant General Named Chairman of Veteran’s Group

February 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

"I think that it is about time that Congress acted to mandate a vote in Puerto Rico to clarify what are the options for our permanent political status and let the Puerto Rican people decide what our future will be." With these words to a Herald interviewer, Maj. Gen. Orlando Llenza, USAF (Ret), began his tenure on Tuesday as the new Chairman of The American Veterans’ Committee for Puerto Rico Self-Determination, which he described as "an independent non-partisan national organization committed to a timely and guaranteed congressionally sanctioned self-determination process for Puerto Rico, now an unincorporated territory of the United States."

General Llenza succeeds Maj. Gen. William A. Navas Jr., USA (Ret), who resigned from the Chairmanship to join the Bush Administration as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Manpower & Reserve Affairs. The group’s Co-Chair is Francisco Ivarra, National Commander of the American GI Forum, a national Hispanic veterans civil rights organization. In accepting the position, Llenza said that he "welcomed the opportunity to join with a distinguished group of American veterans united to work for a congressionally authorized process by which Puerto Rico may finally obtain a permanent political status. A century is too long for the nearly 4 million American citizens of Puerto Rico, many of them veterans, to remain in a colonial status." He has announced that one of his top priorities upon assuming the Chairman’s duties will be to expand the group’s outreach to other veteran’s organizations. "Veterans," he said, "understand equal treatment under the law. It is what they fought for, many at the sacrifice of their lives and limbs."

General Llenza is currently a partner at Llenza & Llenza, Architects of San Juan, PR, a firm involved in architectural design and construction supervision. He has had extensive experience in federal, state and military government, including a three-year assignment, beginning in 1983, as director of the US Government’s foreign assistance programs in Ecuador. Before that he was Adjutant General of the Puerto Rico National Guard, commanding some 12,000 men and women and managing its 75 million dollar budget. Co-Chairman Ivarra called Llenza an "ideal man for the job. He brings much experience and many talents to the position. He has been an outstanding military officer, a successful professional and exemplary public servant. He will be an effective advocate for self-determination for the 3.8 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico."

Llenza reminisced about his own military career, beginning as an ROTC cadet at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and spending college vacations "washing airplanes" as an enlisted man assigned to an air reserve unit in San Juan. He went on to qualify as a pilot, assigned to active duty during the Korean War. After that conflict, he was reassigned to an Air National Guard unit in Puerto Rico, flying jet fighters until being tapped to become Adjutant General of all island National Guard units. Speaking of the many Puerto Rican men and women in uniform, Llenza told the Herald that there are "many Puerto Ricans in every branch of the armed services today. They are very competent, very proud of their US citizenship and very proud to be in the military." Some 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the uniform of their country since 1917, more than 1,200 of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice. Four have been awarded the nation’s highest decoration for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor

Asked about the controversy surrounding the use of the U.S. Navy training base on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, Llenza was quick to say that his organization takes no position on the issue but that he was concerned that the debate had left some on the mainland concluding that Puerto Ricans were anti-American. "The Vieques issue has been taken out of context by politicians both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland," he said. "That Puerto Ricans do not want the U.S. in Vieques is, I think, a misconception, because that was not voted on by the general population in Puerto Rico, just the people in Vieques and I think that their negative vote was one of frustration. This would never have happened in a state, if you had representatives and senators. There was no outlet. There was no one to go too."

Asked what message he would be delivering to the American people in his new position he said, "the future status of Puerto Rico is in the hands of Puerto Ricans but we need Congress to set the guidelines as to what is acceptable and then let the people of Puerto Rico decide if they want to be independent, an associated republic or a state of the union. We need to be given the options as to what our future can be."

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