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CRB: Senate Should Investigate Persecution; Rossello May Have Been Too Lenient…Former Governor Defends Record, Saying 'I Was Not Involved'…Pesquera, Ramirez de Ferrer Speak In Orlando…PIP Criticizes Municipal Reform Agreements

Romero Barcelo Urges Senate To Investigate Government Persecution

September 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Citing several incidents to prove his point against the Calderon administration, former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo asked Senate Judicial Committee Chairman Eudaldo Baez Galib to conduct an investigation into what he believes is a ploy to persecute New Progressive Party (NPP) members.

He equaled the actions of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) government now with those of the PDP administration in the 1950s, when pro-independence citizens were persecuted for their political beliefs.

"The government today pretends to criminalize pro-statehood followers just like former PDP Gov. Luis Muñoz Marin criminalized the independentistas," the former NPP governor said on Monday.

Romero Barcelo accused Police Superintendent Miguel Pereira, Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez, and former FBI Regional Director Marlene Hunter of using their positions to harm the statehood movement in Puerto Rico. He accused them of doing nothing to bring to justice those who deny the pro statehood leaders’ right of self expression, as he said happened at the Women’s Advocate Office on June 20.

NPP President Carlos Pesquera, as well as NPP Electoral Commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz, former NPP Reps. Leo Diaz, and Edwin Mundo will go on trial in November after being accused of rioting. The four NPP leaders became involved in a clash when they entered the agency building to hoist a U.S. flag in the lobby where Women’s Advocate Maria Dolores Fernos had ordered it to be removed.

Romero Barcelo, who is also a lawyer, cited articles of the local penal code to prove that it was the agency employees and not the four NPP leaders who broke the law when they physically tried to prevent Pesquera entering the office building.

"They were the ones who broke the law. If someone tells me I cannot get on a sidewalk just because he says so, I have the right to push him aside. I have the right to defend my freedom and I have the right to exert the necessary force to defend that freedom," Romero Barcelo said.

He also cited a recent incident in which anti-military college students wearing masks took over the ROTC recruiting office in Rio Piedras, vandalized public property and prevented office employees from performing their daily duties.

Up to now, Romero Barcelo said, the government has done nothing to condemn what those college students did. He also accused Pereira of lying when he said no crime had been committed.

Romero Barcelo added that Pereira also lied when he said no complaint had been filed to the police. The former governor gave the complaint number to the press and said that it has been the police and the FBI who have failed to act upon it.

The former governor reiterated his willingness to testify before the Senate so that the Puerto Rican people could hear his version. He urged the Senate not to be afraid of delving into the matter just because it may put the government on the spot.

Romero Barcelo reacted this way to information that Baez Galib and Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora have already expressed their reluctance to investigate the issue.

CRB: Rossello May Have Been Too Lenient

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin

September 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

Former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo acknowledged that former Gov. Pedro Rossello may have relied too much on his aides and cabinet members during the past eight years of his administration.

Romero Barcelo added that he believed Rossello when he said he never knew of the corruption scheme concocted by several members of his cabinet, including former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo, former Deputy Chief of Staff Angel Luis Ocasio, and former La Fortaleza aide Maria de los Angeles Rivera Rangel.

"That could have happened. That he didn’t know because of the amount of work he had within the government," said Romero Barcelo.

He compared his style of governing to that of Rossello by saying that when he was in office, he would watch his staff closely. He said he would tell his staff that part of their duties was to guard him against possible illegalities in his administration.

Romero Barcelo said that governors are often fooled into thinking that something is being done according to the law when in fact it isn’t. Therefore, he said he always told his staff to call him whenever they doubted the legality of any procedure within his government.

"I used to tell them: ‘If what has been asked from you is illegal, and you do it, even if it was done in my name, you don’t have my authorization,’" he said.

However, Romero Barcelo declined to say if Rossello’s way of handling his staff was right or wrong.

"Each governor has his or her own way of administrating. He used to delegate more. I delegated less," Romero Barcelo said.

Lately, Rossello has defended his performance during his eight years in office. He moved to Virginia after NPP President Carlos Pesquera lost the gubernatorial race to now Popular Democratic Party Gov. Sila Calderon.

Rossello has reaffirmed his innocence regarding the multiple corruption scandals that have emerged following his exit from La Fortaleza. However, on Sunday he acknowledged that he should have monitored his staff’s performance more closely.

Rossello Defends Record Amid Corruption Cases, Saying 'I Was Not Involved'


September 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - As an aide to Puerto Rico's governor in the 1990s, Maria de los Angeles Rivera Rangel wielded key influence in arranging access to the island's top leaders.

Prosecutors say she traded that influence for $125,000 in bribes from four businessmen seeking government contracts, and her recent conviction bolstered critics' claims that the administration of former Gov. Pedro Rossello was up for sale.

But Rossello, who stepped down in 2000 after eight years in power, insists his hands are clean, even as investigations widen.

"I personally never acted illegally or unethically, never participated in any of the alleged acts and never gave anyone instructions to do so," Rossello told The Associated Press said Friday in a telephone interview from Washington. "No one was ever authorized to speak for me."

Three other former top officials in Rossello's government have pleaded guilty in recent months to corruption charges. A spate of government contractors and lower level officials also have been charged.

Former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo was accused of leading a fraud scheme involving the diversion of $4.3 million in federal funds, and he pleaded guilty in February as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Prosecutors say Fajardo extorted money from contractors saying it was for Rossello's pro-statehood New Progressive Party, and then took it for himself. Former Deputy Education Secretary Jose Omar Cruz Mercado also pleaded guilty in the case.

Last month, Angel Luis Ocasio Ramos, the governor's deputy chief of staff during the mid-1990s, pleaded guilty to offering a $50,000 bribe after leaving office in exchange for a government contract.

"Maybe I should have been more attuned with the internal workings of some of the people in my administration," Rossello said from The George Washington University, where the former surgeon teaches public health classes. "I know that some committed crimes against the people of Puerto Rico ... They should receive their punishment."

Nevertheless, the governor who led an unsuccessful campaign to make Puerto Rico the 51st state said he never intended to be a "personal policeman" for those who worked under him. He said he was forced to delegate duties, and in some cases "a small minority" failed him.

But some leading statehood supporters say Rossello should have tried harder to weed out corruption. On the streets of San Juan, many Puerto Ricans say they are fed up with a culture of corruption in the Caribbean island's politics.

"It's a cancer," insurance agent Monserrate Flores said. "At least this administration is trying to get rid of it."

Rossello successor Gov. Sila Calderon, who supports the island's status as a U.S. commonwealth, has pledged anti-corruption reforms.

A "Blue Ribbon" committee established by Calderon is preparing four reports on needed reforms, committee president David Noriega Rodriguez said. Two of the upcoming reports will apply to the current government, he said, adding: "It isn't one-sided."

But Rossello said not enough is being done to investigate corruption under Calderon.

Now retired from politics and living in Vienna, Virginia, the 58-year-old Rossello said there is a conspiracy to "criminalize the opposition," and blamed a "triumvirate of terror" including Calderon's government, segments of the news media and some in the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Rossello accused prosecutors of "intimidating potential witnesses by threatening prosecution or offering immunity for nonexistent evidence against me."

"I am convinced that in spite of the intimidation and badgering, there is no evidence because there can be no evidence," Rossello said. "I was not involved... But I deeply resent the obsessive intention of trying to pin things on me."

Officials at the U.S. Attorney's Office didn't return calls seeking comment.

The former aide Rivera Rangel was convicted last month of conspiring to interfere with interstate commerce through extortion. At her sentencing Jan. 10, she could face more than three years in prison.

It isn't the first time Rossello has been grazed by scandal. In his last year in office, high-ranking administrators were convicted of stealing $2.2 million meant for AIDS patients, and funneling some to the governor's party. Rossello testified in the case, but was not linked to any wrongdoing.

Puerto Rican Statehooders Speak

Pedro Ruz Gutierrez

September 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Two of Puerto Rico's staunchest pro-statehood advocates avoided all mention of their party's troubles and its bruised image on the island as they courted Central Florida's growing Puerto Rican population at a political hobnob Thursday night.

Carlos Pesquera, president of the New Progressive Party, and island Sen. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer did not address ongoing corruption cases and other scandals during their respective speeches to the Hispanic Republican Leadership Organization at an International Drive hotel. Instead, both urged the estimated 200 attendees to champion their statehood cause and help shape U.S. policies that affect the island.

Ramirez de Ferrer, a strong Republican Party supporter on the island, chastised the GOP for alienating Puerto Rican voters on the mainland and failing to address the island's often-contentious political status.

"We're Americans. We don't want to be treated differently," she said. ". . . Republican Party policies should treat Puerto Rico as a domestic issue, not a foreign-policy issue."

Both pro-statehood stalwarts came to Central Florida at a time when their party faces serious internal and external challenges. Bribery and graft scandals have saddled the NPP in recent years, and powerful political figures, including mayors, senators and aides to former Gov. Pedro Rossello, have been indicted or convicted recently. Pesquera and three other NPP leaders faced allegations of inciting a riot in a June clash about a U.S. flag.

In an interview after the dinner, Pesquera said his party has been unfairly attacked by the island's current government, which is opposed to Puerto Rico's becoming the United States' 51st state. Corruption exists everywhere, he noted, and individuals -- not their parties -- should pay for any crimes committed.

"Whoever it is, they are the faults of that sole individual. The colors of one party should not be involved," he said. "There's corruption in Central Florida. There's corruption in Washington."

PIP Criticizes Municipal Reform Agreements

September 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Rep. Victor Garcia San Inocencio criticized Friday the agreements reached Thursday between Gov. Sila Calderon and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and New Progressive Party (NPP) mayors on the Municipal Reform proposals, which he described as "publicity stunts."

For the PIP legislator, the agreements do not resolve the situation in some 48 poor municipalities and promote a false autonomy, "since the ministerial responsibilities do not exist. . .nor real mechanisms to ensure good management."

Garcia San Inocencio criticized the exclusion of the PIP from the Municipal Reform, because he understands that although there are no PIP mayors, their party has a lot to contribute to the effort.

"The governor did not propose a single change from the existing regime. In fact, with $136 million and another $50 million, she buys the silence of the NPP and PDP mayors, who demonstrate their satisfaction for the party to continue," the legislator said in a press conference in his office at the Capitol.

The representative said he sent a letter to Calderon asking her to study several bills that have been previously submitted for her consideration and include them in the so-called reform, although he did not specify which ones.

Garcia San Inocencio affirmed that the bills are aimed at preventing the constant salary increases for mayors, lack of control in the bidding boards, as well as the privatization of services charged to residents.

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