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PRFAA Voter Drive Taking Aim At Latinos… Parga Rips Pelosi Aide

PRFAA Voter Drive Taking Aim At Latinos

The group's aim is for voter-eligible Latinos in Western Massachusetts to get more involved in the political process.


April 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Republican. All rights reserved.

SPRINGFIELD - The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office will kick off a voter registration drive in May to get 5,000 more Puerto Ricans to the polling stations in November.

The effort is as much for helping decide what goes on in the United States as how Puerto Rico is shaped by federal policies.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory with one representative in Congress who does not have a vote on the floor, only in committee. Voters in Puerto Rico cannot vote for federal offices such as the presidency, since residents there do not pay federal taxes.

But much of what is decided on a federal level in Washington, D.C., affects Puerto Rico. Import and export regulations, the tax code for multinational corporations, Medicare and welfare benefits are all decided in Washington.

Jaime Cotto, senior community officer for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Springfield, pointed to the Iraq war as another reason for the voter-eligible Latinos among the 70,000 in Western Massachusetts to get more involved in the political process.

When President Bush decided to go to war, islander soldiers were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"If the president is going to send our people to war," he said, "we want our people in the United States to represent us. And voting is one way to do that."

Springfield City Councilor Jose Tosado said that the Hispanic vote is crucial here and for the island. "The more Puerto Ricans vote in the United States, the more we demonstrate our numbers, the more benefit we're going to get for the island."

As an example, Tosado said that the Puerto Rican voting bloc in the United States was influential in the nation's ending military bombing practice on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Additionally, Tosado said, "We maintain ties to Puerto Rico, to our language, our culture, our traditions and that is criticized by North Americans - they say we have to give it up, but we're truly bilingual and bicultural and we love our island dearly. If we vote in numbers here, they are going to pay more attention to Puerto Rico."

Holyoke City Councilor Lillian Santiago, who has volunteered over the years to register voters and ensure they make it to the polls, agreed.

"We have to be very careful about who we vote for president," she said. "Our vote here affects our compatriots on the island."

Jose Aponte, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based, nonprofit, nonpartisan Citizen Educational Foundation organization that seeks self-determination for Puerto Rico, said, "It's important for Congress and the president to have a clear policy about Puerto Rico. This presidential election will have something to do with Puerto Rico."

Lillian Torres, co-director of the social service agency Casa Latina in Northampton, said Puerto Ricans here are somewhat influential in helping shape policies regarding the island, but that ultimately, the federal government sets the agenda regardless of what Puerto Rico needs.

"We have Puerto Rican lawmakers in Congress, there are Latino lawmakers," she said, "but if someone sneezes in Washington, Puerto Rico gets the cold."

Which is why her agency will initiate a voter registration drive with the aim of removing President Bush from the White House.

"He entered us in a war that doesn't make sense," she said. "And the cost for that war is taking away money from poor people here, and that is who we work with. Our social service programs have been dramatically cut to fund that war."

"If we don't get more Latinos involved, the Latino community suffers," said Cotto.

"It's not enough to register to vote, it's also about getting out to vote," Cotto said, pointing to the high voter turnout in Puerto Rico, which traditionally hovers around 80 percent. "They don't fool around there. Here, they get discouraged. If we make these voting places friendlier to non-English speaking people, more people will vote," he said.

The island's federal affairs office registered 200,000 people nationwide last year; in this region, 5,000 were registered in 2003.

Puerto Rico Senator Rips Pelosi Aide

By Nicole Duran
Roll Call Staff

April 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.

Some Puerto Rican lawmakers are not happy with House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) Hispanic outreach efforts.

Last week, Puerto Rican Senate Minority Whip Orlando Parga asked Pelosi to make one of her staffers cease and desist. He even accused the staffer, Federico De Jesus, of improperly doing political work while being paid by the government.

According to Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly, De Jesus distributes articles of interest on Latino issues to Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, their press secretaries, reporters and Latino interest groups.

In one of the e-mails De Jesus sent out, he included articles about the indictment of an ex-official who worked under former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rosello, who is again running for governor of the commonwealth.

That prompted Parga to lash out at Pelosi in a news release last week.

De Jesus is a sympathizer of Puerto Rico’s local Popular Party, which supports a continued territorial relationship with the [United States] and is an opponent of Gov. Rosello, who supports statehood for Puerto Rico, he said.

He pointed out that De Jesus is related to Howie De Jesus, an advertising mogul in Puerto Rico and Popular Party member.

In Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party favors maintaining the island’s commonwealth status. Their opponents in island politics are the New Progressives, who favor statehood.

While politicians in Puerto Rico split on the question of statehood, that has no bearing on whether they affiliate with Democrats or Republicans when it comes to mainland politics. Some Puerto Rican polls who are sympathetic to Democrats are statehood supporters; others with Democratic ties are in favor of maintaining the status quo.

Puerto Rican Senate Minority Leader Kenneth McClintock, who, like Parga, is a member of the commonwealths New Progressive Party, charged that De Jesus was only passing on articles that put Rossello in a bad light. McClintock is the Democratic National Committeeman from Puerto Rico.

It’s being overblown,? Daly shot back, adding that De Jesus sent just one e-mail and, after the furor, was told to omit articles about Puerto Rican politics in the future.

But the incident shows how heated the governor’s race has become.

Both candidates align with mainland Democrats but are on opposite sides of the statehood issue.

Rossello faces Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Congress, who is retiring this year.

Each has worked hard to win endorsements from U.S. Democrats.

Last month, 40 Members held a public rally in Washington, D.C., to show their support for Acevedo-Vilá.

Pelosi, however, was not one of them.

She is not endorsing anyone in that race, Daly said.

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