Clark First Presidential Candidate To Offer A Complete Puerto Rico Policy… Puerto Rican Power In NY & Democratic Politics Loses With Dean In Iowa… Another Puerto Rican Leader In National Democratic Politics Leaves Dean… 2004 Spending Bill Finally Passes — Includes Special Puerto Rico Projects… Anti-Statehood Group Criticizes Puerto Rico’s Lobbying

January 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Clark First Presidential Candidate To Offer A Complete Puerto Rico Policy

Retired General Wesley Clark January 21st became the first presidential candidate within memory to offer a comprehensive policy regarding Puerto Rico.

The policy outlines measures that Clark would take in his approach to Puerto Rico issues: to resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status; to treat Puerto Ricans equally with other U.S. citizens in social programs; and to help Puerto Rico develop economically.

Clark’s campaign termed the plan -- "Fulfilling America’s Promise to the People of Puerto Rico" -- a "bold new policy." Clark himself noted his strong commitment to Puerto Rico issues and that he has visited the territory many times -- including during his honeymoon.

"Puerto Ricans want a president who will exert leadership to resolve the question of the islands’ ultimate status," Clark said in releasing the platform. "My plan will resolve this question, rectify the injustices presented by the current status, and improve the quality of life for Puerto Ricans."

Noting that he had established friendships with Puerto Ricans during his military career and that Puerto Ricans have made great contributions to the armed forces, Clark asserted that it is "deplorable" the federal government has not enabled Puerto Ricans to resolve the issue.

Clark is especially familiar with Puerto Rico from his years as head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command, which includes Puerto Rico. He also has a Puerto Rican aide, Dr. Yosem Companys.

Clark’s approach to Puerto Rico issues would: consider the issues as seriously as he considers issues concerning the States; include a visit to Puerto Rico as president and meetings with Puerto Rican leaders and common citizens; and re-establishing a White House office on Puerto Rico.

Clark’s plan to determine the islands’ ultimate status would: provide $5 million a year for the effort; accelerate deadlines for reports by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status; conduct an objective public information campaign on the territory’s ultimate status options -- national sovereignty, either fully independent from or in a free association with the U.S., and U.S. statehood; authorize a referendum on the options; and implement an option chosen by a majority vote.

Clark’s "economic focus on Puerto Rico will be to meet the needs of the many Puerto Ricans who have not been adequately helped by the economic policies of the past." Specifically, Clark proposed the extension to Puerto Rico of three programs of federal grants to needy individuals and families: refundable Child Credit grants to low-income workers with one child or two children; Earned Income Credit grants to low-income workers; and Supplemental Security Income grants to the needy aged, blind, and disabled individuals. He also proposed extension of the current tax credit for wage, capital investment, local tax spending in Puerto Rico by manufacturers based in the States, U.S. tax code section 30A, and Enterprise and Empowerment Zone benefits. Clark also said that he would work to expand Puerto Rico’s foreign trade and increase federal purchasing from Puerto Rican businesses and federal grants to Puerto Rican universities.

Click here to read Clark’s full policy proposal.

Click here to read Clark's news release.

Puerto Rican Power In NY & Democratic Politics Loses With Dean In Iowa

A politically powerful New Yorker of Puerto Rican origin was one of the big losers in the Iowa Democratic presidential nomination caucuses January 19th.

Dennis Rivera, head of the New York City Local (unit) of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), led a major component of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s Iowa campaign. Dean won only 18 percent of the vote -- a disappointing third-place finish -- after having led in the polls for much of the campaign.

Even when late polls showed that Senator John Kerry (MA) was giving Dean a run for his money in Iowa, Dean was still expected by most observers to win the caucuses because he had the largest campaign organization. Rivera made a major contribution to Dean’s Iowa workforce.

The SEIU represents low-wage workers, such as janitors. Rivera spent $500,000 of his union’s money in Dean’s Iowa campaign, providing many campaign workers, as well as funds for other purposes.

Rivera’s substantial help did not save Dean from himself and Dean’s poor showing in the caucuses revealed the relative impotence of aid from Rivera and other non-Iowa labor leaders. Support from other labor leaders for Representative Richard Gephardt (MO) also failed to translate into votes.

Rivera’s assistance in Iowa has not been his only major contribution to Dean’s campaign. Rivera, who heads the SEIU’s largest local and who is an SEIU national vice president, is the individual most responsible for the national SEIU’s endorsement of the former VT governor.

The SEIU is one of the nation’s two largest labor unions. It is a major force within the national Democratic Party establishment.

Rivera’s contributions to Dean have been so substantial that Dean has paid great deference to Rivera. The VT governor, who has long favored statehood for Puerto Rico, has discontinued saying that he does or that he would work to enable Puerto Ricans to have a status that is not subject to the federal government’s territory governing powers. Rivera’s opposition is the reason.

Although Rivera says he is an "independentista," he has advocated a status choice that includes Puerto Rico’s current territorial status and an "enhanced" status quo. Like many insular supporters of either or both status visions, he calls Puerto Rico’s status "commonwealth" using the name of the territory’s local government rather than the name of its status: unincorporated territory.

"Enhanced commonwealth" is the status vision of the head of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" party -- and its 2004 gubernatorial candidate, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila. He has proposed that the territory be recognized as a nation in a permanent union with the U.S. under which the Commonwealth would determine the application of federal laws and enter into currently-prohibited agreements with foreign nations. The United States would continue to grant citizenship to persons born in Puerto Rico and all financial assistance now granted Puerto Ricans. Federal officials have said that such a governing arrangement is impossible legally and practically as well as undesired by the U.S.

Because of his union and the large financial contributions that it makes to candidates, Rivera is a power in NY politics beyond Democratic politics. NY Governor George Pataki so coveted support from Rivera’s union that he pushed through $2 billion in benefits for it that many of his fellow Republicans opposed. Pataki also unsuccessfully lobbied the Bush Administration to close a Navy training range in Vieques, PR before the scheduled date of May 1, 2003 and worked closely with PR Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth") -- two related Rivera requests.

Rivera’s clout in Democratic politics goes beyond his base in New York. He was placed on the Democratic National Committee (a post he resigned when he supported Pataki’s re-election in 2002).

He was also responsible for the unsuccessful petitions of many national as well as well as NY Democrats for a premature closure of the Vieques Navy range. Additionally, in a favor to Calderon, he enlisted some support in the Congress for her proposal that 85-100 percent of profits that companies based in the States receive from manufacturing in U.S. possessions (territories) be exempted from federal income taxation. That proposal was rejected by congressional as well as Bush Administration tax policymakers.

Another Puerto Rican Leader In National Democratic Politics Leaves Dean

Three days after the Iowa caucuses, another leader in national Democratic politics who is of Puerto Rican origin withdrew his earlier endorsement of Dean.

Democratic National Committee (DNC) Hispanic Caucus Chair Alvaro Cifuentes said he would be neutral in the race and support the Democrats’ eventual nominee for president instead. He recently led several Hispanic members of the DNC in endorsing Dean.

Cifuentes’ endorsement of Dean surprised some because of his leadership position within the Democratic Party structure. A key factor in Cifuentes’ endorsement was his personal relationship with the former Vermont governor. Cifuentes also attributed the support to Dean’s policies.

Their relationship developed while Cifuentes served as Secretary of the Governorship during the Puerto Rico administration of Pedro Rossello, who is again the statehood party’s gubernatorial candidate. Dean and Rossello -- both physicians especially interested in health care policy -- were leaders of the Democratic Governors’ Association (DGA) and became close friends. Cifuentes was Rossello’s liaison to the DGA and continued to act in this capacity after he moved to the Washington, DC area.

The conflict between his role as DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair and his personal support of Dean was one factor that prompted Cifuentes to withdraw his support. Ironically, a personal issue also played a major role. Cifuentes -- like many other Dean supporters -- was disappointed in some of Dean’s campaign performances -- a major reason for Dean’s loss of support in Iowa and in New Hampshire, which will have a Democratic presidential nomination primary February 2nd.

Cifuentes was chagrined at some of Dean’s angry or curt reactions to criticisms from voters in recent weeks. He was even more distressed by Dean’s screaming after losing the Iowa caucuses. The screaming has been a major topic of conversation throughout the nation during the past few days. It underscored and spread concerns about whether Dean’s demeanor is "presidential."

2004 Spending Bill Finally Passes — Includes Special Puerto Rico Projects

Final congressional approval of legislation to fund most government programs for the fiscal year that ends September 30th occurred January 22nd. The bill includes a number of special provisions for Puerto Rico.

The approval came when the U.S. Senate finally passed the Fiscal Year 2004 appropriations bill for most agencies of the government. The U.S. House of Representatives had approved the final version of the bill in early December. Senate passage of the bill then was blocked by Democratic objections. Democratic objections also blocked the bill on the opening day of the Second Session of the 108th U.S. Congress, January 20th.

The special provisions of the legislation concerning Puerto Rico include the following.

  • Designation of the Commonwealth as a "unit of local government" as well as a "State" for local law enforcement grants. The Calderon Administration has sought the designation to deny Puerto Rico’s municipalities -- especially those with statehood party mayors -- law enforcement funding. The bill also, however, includes an additional $550,000 in local law enforcement funding specifically for the Municipality of San Juan. The additional funding was provided in response to the concern of San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini (statehood/R).
  • A directive to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to study the distribution of Medicaid funds for health care of low-income individuals to San Juan. Medicaid is a State or territorial program substantially funded by the federal government. The directive was added in response to Santini’s concern that Calderon is shortchanging San Juan in Medicaid funding, denying health care services to low-income residents of the Commonwealth’s capital city.
  • A waiver of the criteria for rural development loans and grants for the very urban municipality of Carolina, PR.
  • A denial of $8 million proposed by President Bush for the improvement of water purification facilities for the San Juan metropolitan area. The denial is a part of tens of millions of dollars in water projects funding proposed by Bush that Resident Commissioner Acevedo failed to get the Congress to approve.
  • $1.65 million for the water system in the Barceloneta, PR communities of Palenque and Garrochales.
  • $400,000 for mobile offices and telecommunications equipment for the Advocate of Patients of Puerto Rico.
  • $500,000 each for Puerto Rico’s ferry and bus systems.
  • $20 million for Tren Urbano, the commuter train being built for the San Juan metropolitan area. The funding is half what President Bush proposed. Resident Commissioner Acevedo failed to convince his congressional colleagues to appropriate the rest.

Anti-Statehood Group Criticizes Puerto Rico’s Lobbying

A tiny anti-Puerto Rico statehood group got attention from the Washington Times with a report criticizing the Commonwealth’s spending in lobbying the Congress.

The report held that the local government spent $20 million in lobbying from 1998 through mid-2002 and that the average expenditure by a State was $460,651. The Times’ article did not point out that, if the Commonwealth had the representation that a State has in the Congress, federal expenditures for Puerto Rico’s representation -- its senators and representatives -- would probably have exceeded the $20 million.

The "National Stop Puerto Rico Statehood Committee" report contended that Puerto Rico statehood would be costly because of the number of low-income people and illegitimate births in Puerto Rico. It also alleged that Republicans in the U.S. Senate in 1997 had an "aversion to the possibility of creating a Hispanic State of 4 million residents."

The report did not note that Senate hearings chaired by a Republican in 1998 demonstrated -- in his words -- that Puerto Rico statehood would generate additional federal revenue as well as costs and, in total, would not have a significant cost. It also did not note that several Republicans that year championed legislation that would have put Puerto Rico on the path to statehood if the status was sought by Puerto Ricans or that a 2000 law authorized Puerto Ricans to seek statehood. Another fact the report ignored is that several Senate Republicans -- like other national Republican leaders -- are actively courting Hispanic votes. The report also did not make clear that its arguments against Puerto Rico statehood echo those inspired by the "commonwealth" party in 1998 under the leadership of now Resident Commissioner Acevedo.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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