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Should the Next U.S. Attorney Assigned to Puerto Rico Be a Puerto Rican?

May 10, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 
Guillermo Gil Bonar, a Puerto Rican, is OUT! But Who’s IN?

President George W. Bush’s expected announcement of a Mexican American from Texas to replace an incumbent Puerto Rican as the island’s top federal prosecutor is stirring controversy in Puerto Rico. The Justice Department in Washington considers it a "done deal."

The "interim" U.S. Attorney for the past eight years, Guillermo Gil Bonar, a Puerto Rican, resigned last week from his post as the U.S. Attorney for the Caribbean area as it became clear that the Bush Administration was about to name his replacement. A career Justice Department employee, he stated that he would remain on the job until the new appointee was firmly in control of the large docket of investigations that his office has been pursuing. On top of that list are political corruption allegations and indictments that have been front-page news on the island for the past year. Gil was nominated by President Clinton in 1993 but was never confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, then under Republican control. Upon the entry of the new George W. Bush administration, local Republican leaders advanced two Puerto Rican lawyers, Gary Mantilla and "Cheni" Gaztambide as replacements for Gil, but both withdrew from consideration for personal reasons.

Now, the Bush administration’s Justice Department has floated the name of Bert Garcia, a Mexican American, who is currently an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas, based in Sherman, Texas. There are rumblings of discontent on the island that a suitable Puerto Rican jurist could not be found to fill the post. In the chorus of opposition to the Garcia appointment is Puerto Rico Senate President Eudaldo Baez Galib who, in a letter to President Bush, offered to help find a qualified candidate from Puerto Rico. He also questioned Garcia’s competency to understand the workings of Puerto Rico’s local affairs.

Federal judge Juan R. Torruella, a Puerto Rican, who sits on the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, also laid-in on the matter. He is quoted in El Nuevo Dia as slamming the Garcia nomination. "You can be sure that in Texas, or in any other place in the United States, they wouldn't dare to impose on the local population a U.S. Attorney parachuted in from Puerto Rico," he said.

According to the Sherman Herald Democrat, Garcia has been a Federal Prosecutor for 18 years and has held the post in Sherman since 1988. He graduated from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, in 1974 and the University of Texas Law School in 1977. He then spent five years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a pilot, leaving the service with the rank of Captain. Press spokesman for the Department of Justice, Mark Corallo, told the Herald that Mr. Garcia_s name was presented to the White House for consideration on May 3rd but that no formal nomination was, as yet, forthcoming. He added that "this begins a process of security clearances required for every nominee, although that process should not take too long since he is already in a sensitive position." After the expected White House announcement, Mr. Garcia's name will be presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, now in Democratic Party control. That body will have 120 days to approve the nomination or require the President to name another candidate. 

The Puerto Rico position makes the incumbent the top federal prosecutor in the Caribbean region. Besides the on-going political corruption scandals, international trafficking in narcotics and organized crime loom large in the caseload of the U.S. Attorney's office. Mr. Garcia told a Sherman Texas reporter that he was "well informed" of the current law enforcement issues in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, qualifying it somewhat by adding that, "I still have much to learn."

This Week's Question:
Should the Next U.S. Attorney Assigned to Puerto Rico Be a Puerto Rican?

6% Undecided


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