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THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
LULAC Seems To Be Naive On Statehood Issue
June 18, 2003
Thousands of Hispanics are in Central Florida this week to participate in the League of United Latin American Citizens' annual convention at Lake Buena Vista.
LULAC, as the group is known, is offering forums on topics ranging from immigration, employment and literacy to high school dropout rates -- all pressing issues among Hispanics. The majority of forums are free and open to the public, allowing many local Hispanics to take part.
However, there is one LULAC "forum" that's not on the agenda: Puerto Rico's delegation is attempting to politicize the league. It's a fascinating story of corruption, island politics, and perhaps a naïve LULAC.
The league is a 74 year-old group founded in Corpus Christi, Texas. For much of its history, it has been involved in Mexican-related issues.
Back in 1998 I interviewed some league officials for an Orlando Sentinel story, and was surprised to learn that Puerto Ricans were the organization's fastest-growing group, comprising 20 percent of members.
When next I heard of LULAC, it involved a scandal. During the administration of Gov. Pedro Rosselló, the island's then-education secretary allegedly extorted donations from contractors to pay for LULAC memberships and travel to league meetings for island Education Department workers.
The education secretary is now in prison on unrelated federal charges of bribery, while the island Legislature still is investigating the case. Some people have testified that the Education Department was used as a New Progressive Party precinct. The NPP favors island statehood.
The island newspaper The San Juan Star has reported that the Education Department funneled about $1 million in public funds to a LULAC affiliate for contracts during a six-year period. According to the Star, a report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Education Department found the contracts had been "mismanaged."
The NPP-LULAC connection has caused much tension. The league, for instance, originally was scheduled to convene in Puerto Rico, but in April announced it was coming to Orlando to avoid the "witchhunt" on the island.
The ongoing controversy prompts the question, why the sudden Puerto Rico interest in LULAC? Simple. The NPP sees LULAC as a vehicle for promoting island statehood.
The NPP cannot achieve that goal through Puerto Rican national groups because they tend to be hostile toward the party and island statehood.
Technically, the great majority of Hispanic advocacy groups in the United States, including LULAC, are neutral regarding Puerto Rico's political status. But most will take a stand on other issues, such as ousting the U.S. military from Vieques.
However, several weeks ago former island governor and statehood champion Carlos Romero Barceló became president of the Puerto Rico delegation. Romero Barceló told the island press that he planned to advance the cause of statehood.
The upshot is, it looks as if LULAC was either naive -- or greedy. Maybe it didn't know about the cesspool that is island politics when it first got into bed with the NPP. But the island investigation also hints that LULAC didn't require much nudging.
All arrows point to a struggle between the NPP and LULAC for the league's soul. I'm placing my bet on the NPP.