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NPP Launches Anti 'Separatist' Campaign
Calderon To Discuss Commonwealths 50th Anniversary At Natl Press Club
Pro-Statehood Party Launches Campaign Against 'Separatists'
By Iván Román, | Sentinel Staff Writer
July 7, 2002
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- "Shameful!"
The bold-faced headline across a local newspaper's front page editorialized a little, but summed up things pretty well. That sole word above the close-up of New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera, his face contorted in anger and the U.S. flag in his right hand, sealed for many the images they saw on the news the night before.
Since June 20, Puerto Ricans have been treated to a constant replaying of a videotape showing Pesquera and some 50 supporters rushing violently into the Women's Advocate's Office to put Old Glory in the agency's lobby.
So far, he and three other leaders have been arrested on charges of inciting to riot. Pesquera and company, who seek statehood for Puerto Rico, allege the agency's director and independence activist Maria Dolores Fernos provoked the incident when she took the flag out of the lobby and blocked their access to the building when they wanted to replace it.
They deny they were violent and say the charges against them are part of Gov. Sila Calderon's "campaign of persecution" aimed at silencing the opposition. "I am not going to ask for forgiveness because I didn't do anything I have to be sorry for," said Pesquera, who lost to Calderon in the 2000 elections. "The people are the ones who are going to judge if I did the right thing."
Now the NPP wants to use the incident to make politicians in Washington think Calderon's government is anti-American and does not respond to the majority of people in Puerto Rico who want a "permanent union" with the United States.
They hired a public-relations agency in Miami to get that message out, and two local lawmakers will travel to Washington shortly to drive that point home. A postcard and e-mail from Sen. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer directed to President Bush and Congress reads, "Don't keep looking for anti Americans in Afghanistan. Look towards your territory in the Caribbean."
Pro-statehood Rep. Melinda Romero, one of those going to Washington, adds, "This is the best moment to unmask this government as one that shelters separatists."
Calderon, who has been seen hobnobbing and negotiating with stateside politicians such as New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, blasts the NPP's campaign for putting at risk Puerto Rico's image as a peaceful place. "To hurt that perception, that image of Puerto Rico for the sake of personal interests or partisan politics is to damage our country," Calderon said.
The controversy comes at a time when the NPP remains immersed in an internal crisis. Conservative and more moderate forces are still clashing over the NPP's position regarding the U.S. Navy's exit from Vieques. And last week, two more prominent figures in the party were added to the long list of leaders under investigation for public corruption.
"It's an exercise in ridicule," said Anibal Acevedo Vila, the island's resident commissioner in Washington. "That NPP campaign is the best evidence to show that they have no message, they are desperate, and they have no leadership. Nobody in their right mind in Washington believes that Sila Calderon is anti-American."
For others, it's all part of a strategy to succumb to aggressive conservative groups and portray Pesquera as a strong leader to those statehooders who thought him weak.
But Rep. Victor Garcia San Inocencio of the Puerto Rican Independence Party thinks the move will backfire.
"In political terms, I think Carlos Pesquera buried himself because those videos will be following him throughout his political future," Garcia San Inocencio said.
Governor Of Puerto Rico To Discuss 50th Anniversary Of Puerto Rico At National Press Club
July 5, 2002
The Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Sila Calderon, will discuss the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the launching of a massive drive to register Puerto Rican voters on the U.S. mainland.
Afternoon Newsmaker news conference
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
National Press Club (Murrow Room)
529 14th Street NW
Contact: Peter Hickman for the National Press Club, 202-662-7540 or 202-662-7593 Craig Brownstein for Gov. Calderon, 202-326-1799 or 202- 390-1602 (cell)