The Campaign Is On: Political Discourse Takes A Dive

by John Marino

March 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. The dust had not yet settled on the Madrid tragedy, but one thing was clear in San Juan, Puerto Rico – the 2004 gubernatorial campaign was on, and the candidates were attacking like crazy.

On the day of the terrorist strike that shook Spain’s elections days later, a jury acquitted Carlos Pesquera and his pro-statehood cohorts of rioting charges lodged against them by the Calderón administration.

The felony case centered on a protest led by Pesquera at the Woman’s Affairs Advocate’s Office, sparked by the director’s decision to fly the Puerto Rican flag alone in the agency’s lobby. After an hours-long standoff, the then New Progressive Party president and followers forced their way inside to place the U.S. flag in the lobby. But a jury of 11-1 ruled that their action was not rioting and certainly no crime.

The long-awaited verdict, stemming from the June 2002 incident, was a fitting opening to the campaign season.

Calderón officials, regrettably, expressed public regret over the decision. The governor even dared to mention it in the same breath with the terrorist bombings in Madrid and criticism over her $10 million media campaign "against violence" during this election year.

Saying that the tragedy in Madrid warranted "profound reflection" on the true meaning of peace, Calderón went on to say that certain events in Puerto Rico also called for reflection.

She regretted the decision by the House of Representatives not to oust NPP Rep. Oscar Ramos from his seat as he is facing a series of charges stemming from allegations that he accepted illegal pay-offs in exchange for granting contracts while State Insurance Fund head.

She also lamented that "people who rioted and trampled on other citizens in front of television cameras are acquitted by a jury," and that some had the gall to criticize her $10 million media campaign aimed at stomping out violence.

Pro-statehood forces were to blame, however, in the public airing of a complaint made by a neighbor of Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vilá, charging that he and his wife left their 13-year-old and 14-year-old children alone at home. And get this, they left them in the comfort of their home in a gated community with security guards, to visit the candidate’s father, who is ill in the hospital.

NPP Secretary General María Milagros Charbonier ridiculously suggested the PDP’s candidate’s children should be taken away from him temporarily for the offense. And Rosselló declined to comment on the case, but defended his political officer’s comments on it, noting her legal experience in family law.

Acevedo Vilá rode the report for all it was worth, accusing Rosselló of "attacking" his family and charging that NPP officials were behind the smear campaign. He penned his opponent a letter, which afforded the opportunity to call Rosselló every name in the book, from "hypocrite" to "coward." No one in the NPP actually attacked Acevedo Vilá’s family, but in this political season, who would not try to make that case?

It was a low political blow to even raise the issue as a subject for public debate, and it showed just how elusive the concept of common sense is in the dealings of politicians or government bureaucrats.

The PDP, however, turned in an equally lousy performance this week in first questioning Rosselló’s status as a Puerto Rico resident, then claiming he may have cheated on his tax returns he filed during the two years he lived stateside.

The issue first raised its head when Rosselló announced his return to the local political scene last year. It was generally accepted, even by prominent PDP politicians like Sen. Eudaldo Báez Galib, that the former two-term governor had every right to run for governor after a two-year stateside hiatus.

The questions centered on a commonwealth constitutional requirement that a gubernatorial candidate had to be a "bona-fide" Puerto Rico resident for five consecutive years before running.

Most observers say that Rosselló met that requirement because he stayed involved in Puerto Rican issues and kept a residence here. Then – and now, it needs to be noted – PDP officials have said they would decline to present a legal challenge to the Rosselló candidacy. A better political strategy, it seems, is just to try to paint the issue in ominous legal terms and to make insinuations about lying on tax and other official documents.

The current jurisprudence, resting mainly on a Supreme Court case from the early 1960s, finds that a person need only have a good faith interest in returning to Puerto Rico to fulfill such a requirement if spending some time off the island.

The current discussion was sparked by reports that while Rosselló declared himself a Puerto Rico resident during the time he lived in the states on State Elections Commission reports, he filed as a non-Puerto Rico resident on federal and local tax documents during that time.

Tax attorneys and NPP officials responded that the concept of "residency" is distinct in both cases, and that filing as a non-resident on tax documents was not incompatible with filing SEC forms as a resident.

The PDP must know that Puerto Rico, in tax terms, basically operates as a foreign country. After all, Puerto Rico’s fiscal autonomy is one of the most attractive aspects of the commonwealth political status the party endorses.

But it’s much easier, and more profitable, to simply yell "tax fraud" loudly in this political season.

John Marino, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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