Rosselló In Exile

by John Marino

April 19, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. JOHN MARINOHe didn't say much, but it was enough to tell that he was the same old Pedro Rosselló -- even if, as he insisted, he was now a private person rather than a public figure.

For months, and despite calls from prominent members of his own party, the former governor has remained silent on the escalating federal investigation into public corruption under his administration. That probe has landed indictments against his former Education Secretary Víctor Fajardo as well as his former special assistant María de los Angeles "Angie" Rivera.

While he gave two interviews -- one to a radio station and one to a newspaper, both considered friendly -- during a holiday trip to the island last December, he has refrained from talking to the Puerto Rican media about the corruption cases or anything else since then.

But that silence was broken last week when Rosselló was briefly interviewed and photographed by two daily newspapers, and subsequently by a third.

Rosselló was caught by a local reporter and photographer team while walking through the campus of George Washington University School of Medicine, where he is teaching and conducting research.

He refused to comment on the corruption allegations or any other questions about Puerto Rican politics that he was asked, arguing that as a private citizen he did not have to answer their questions. He later told a reporter

"I was ambushed, not interviewed," He argued to another: "I respect your right to ask, but I also believe that as a private citizen, I have the right not to respond."

Rosselló's comments, not quite what the local media was angling for, nonetheless won him front page coverage the day after he spoke -- even his statements did not shed much light on the cases of corruption against his former political allies that have been uncovered by federal authorities.

It was a classic, brash, direct Rosselló encounter, which the former governor had with members of press with increasing frequency during the course of his eight years in office.

But despite the best of intentions not to, the former governor could not help but reveal something very profound about his life after office in his brief exchange with local reporters.

Pedro Rosselló is in exile from Puerto Rico, maybe self-imposed exile, but exile all the same.

"I don't intend to return to Puerto Rico, at least not until the people make a radical turn from the wrong path they are taking," the former governor said, in perhaps his most revealing statement.

Just what that "wrong path" that Puerto Rico is taking Rosselló did not say, but it was a statement which a lot of people are still mulling over right now.

One possibility, of course, is the rejection of statehood by local voters in status plebiscites called by Rosselló in 1993 and 1998.

The former governor, who took office promising substantial social reforms, became increasingly consumed by the push for statehood during his two terms at La Fortaleza.

"Frankly, I believe statehood is inevitable," Rosselló said in his last interview as governor.

The "wrong path" that Rosselló referred to also probably has a lot to do with the Popular Democratic Party administration of Gov. Calderón.

He lambasted Calderón's first year in office as a "total failure" during a newspaper interview he gave last Christmas, saying that she has undertaken no major works, was doing nothing to improve the economy and was taking actions that imperiled the guarantee that the Navy would leave Vieques by May 1, 2003.

At the time, he also noted that crime was on the rise, and the Calderón administration was shying away from participation in U.S. political groups, like the National Governors Association, that could benefit the island.

His sharpest criticism, however, was aimed at what he called the "government of persecution" that Calderón had created.

"The current situation causes me much indignation with the persecution and the obsession to ruin reputations and works," he said.

Today, after the Fajardo and Rivera indictments, that criticism has less punch than it once did and points to Rosselló's Achilles heel: he never could see corruption in his midst despite the warning signs.

In his final interview as governor, Rosselló blamed the press for erroneously portraying the corruption issue and turning the 2000 governor's race into a "mono-issue campaign centered on corruption."

He had no harsh words for the public officials, appointed by him, who undertook the crimes they were indicted for, however.

And even after his "press ambush" last week, he still has not owned up to the corruption undertaken by members of his administration

Rosselló's characterization of Puerto Rico being on a wrong path may well go beyond such partisan concerns, however.

In interviews last week, he seemed delighted to be out of politics and able to do "positive work" in the field of public health.

"I'm not bogged down with the negative minutia," he said, adding that it had overtaken him as governor.

"For every step you take, you are opposed. There is a suspicion over every one of your actions. In a sense you are neutralized by your opponents, not by any of your actions, but because you have a certain label," he told one reporter last week.

That was private citizen Pedro Rosselló illuminating the challenges, faced by all governors, of governing in Puerto Rico.

The statement shed light on the destructive political tribalism, spurred at least in part by the island's unresolved status, that is rampant in Puerto Rico and makes real reform so very difficult to achieve.

It's the one thing, perhaps, that Puerto Rican governors can agree upon regardless of their political affiliation.

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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