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PUERTO RICO HERALD
NPP Flag Trial: A Banner Day For Rossello
By Kevin Mead
January 16, 2004
It was a banner day for Pedro Rossello alone as the felony "flag-riot" trial of former New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera and three other party leaders got under way in local court.
Although former party chief Carlos Pesquera, Rep. Edwin Mundo, NPP Electoral Commissioner Thomas River Schatz and Leo Diaz finally got their day in court it was Rossello who stole the show, using the proceedings as a stage to level accusations against the Calderon administration while rallying support within his own party.
First on his list was Woman's Affairs Advocate Maria Dolores Fernos who Rossello charged was responsible for the flag melee in her office's lobby in June 2002.
It was a charge that should stick.
The incident was sparked by her ill-considered decision to post only the Puerto Rican flag at her headquarters, thus flying her political colors at an agency with a mandate to help women of all political stripes.
But Rossello also presented the Calderon administration's dogged pursuit of the case as evidence of what he argues is a campaign of persecution against his party.
Rossello explained his decision to attend the trial as "an act of solidarity with fellow party leaders ... in this obvious case of political discrimination and persecution that represents an abuse of power by this administration."
Score one for Rossello.
More than 1 1/2 years later the facts of incident may have become a bit frayed in the public memory. Rossello took the opportunity to say he supported the "appropriate" actions of Pesquera and company in trying to plant the U.S. flag in "accordance with the law."
Rossello's stance repositioned the party's take on the incident. Most moderate NPP members initially looked on the charge into the Woman's Affairs Advocate's Office with embarrassment, with media images of Pesquera wielding the U.S. flag as a battering ram causing even some of the staunchest statehood advocates to cringe. Any political push Pesquera got among hard-core statehooders clearly was not enough to get him over the hump in the November primaries.
Even though media attention on the flag-flap remains intense the case is taking on some semblance of perspective. Just hours before jury selection was slated to get under way prosecutors and defense attorneys were reportedly huddled in talks to hammer out plea agreements on reduced misdemeanor charges. Few details were reported on why the deals didn't get done because of a gag order placed over the proceedings by Superior Court Judge Ruben Torres Davila.
Although the defendants face up to five years in prison if convicted probation is the more likely punishment. An apparent willingness by both sides to try to put the incident behind them by running up the white flag of surrender is not surprising. Without a top NPP target in its sights the government's case is losing steam. With Pesquera out at the party's helm, and Mundo not seeking re-election, the potential political payoff of any outcome in the case is minimal.
Except for Rossello.
On the opening day of the trial Rossello approached Pesquera in the packed Hato Rey courtroom. The two shook hands and spoke briefly before moving on. The encounter could signal a thawing in a relationship that has been chilly since Rossello announced his return to local politics last year and went on the beat Pesquera on the gubernatorial primary. Pesquera has been cautious in saying when he will join the campaign but would be a valuable addition to Rossello's bid to return to La Fortaleza. A respected engineer who oversaw massive infrastructure projects as Rossello's Transportation and Public Works secretary, Pesquera has not been tainted by the corruption cases that have stained the party in recent years. While many in the NPP see him as lacking political skills, his professional abilities and character are above reproach. With Pesquera on board Rossello's run would gather still more momentum.
The former governor's appearance at the court and his public support of the defendants can only help the NPP close ranks. With Rep. Oscar Ramos facing trials on corruption charges in the House and criminal court, Rossello has called for the lawmaker to step down. However, the party has not fallen in line on the issue with the NPP House delegation divided on the issue and San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, the NPP's vice president, saying Ramos should not resign.
Meanwhile, Rossello's main gubernatorial rival Anibal Acevedo Vila has remained mum on both fronts, dedicating his time to trumpeting federal funding to benefit the island's Fire Department and upgrades in public housing projects among other efforts.
With no downside, the flag trial has given Rossello a venue take shots at the PDP while getting his own party members to rally around the NPP banner. And none of it counts against the campaign's advertising limits.
Pesquera may have led the charge in the flag case but Rossello is clearly running with it, staking his claim on the party. As the question of whether there was any "riot" involved is resolved in court, Rossello may be laughing all the way to La Fortaleza.
Kevin Mead is assistant city editor for The San Juan STAR.
Kevin Mead is assistant city editor of The San Juan Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org