Senator Who Endorsed Rossello Is Kerry’s Top Foreign Policy Advisor… Rossello Friends Gaining Influence In The Democratic Party … Central American Trade Pact Said Dead

May 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Senator Who Endorsed Rossello Is Kerry’s Top Foreign Policy Advisor

U.S. Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), who endorsed the gubernatorial candidacy of former Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood party/D) this month, has been identified as the most influential foreign policy advisor to Senator John Kerry (MA), the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for President.

Biden reportedly talks to Kerry a few times each week. His is said to be the dominant voice in Kerry’s foreign policy ‘kitchen cabinet.’ Others include top foreign policy officials in the Clinton Administration, such as National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Biden is the senior Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. If the Democrats win control of the Senate in this year’s elections -- which increasingly seems possible -- he would be the committee’s chairman . . . if a President Kerry does not tap him to be Secretary of State.

He also is a senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among Biden’s reasons for endorsing Rossello was his confidence that Rossello would again "lower crime" rates in the territory, as he did as a "strong leader" when he was governor before.

Biden’s decision to endorse Rossello was influenced by his strong support of statehood for the territory as well as by their previous work together. A former backer of Puerto Rico’s territorial status popularly known as "commonwealth," Biden more recently concluded that the territory had progressed as much as it could economically under the status quo and that democracy demands statehood for the territory if its people do not want to constitute a nation separate from the United States.

According to a news report, Biden says that he and Kerry agree on issues "95 percent" of the time. It is unclear from Kerry’s most recent statement on Puerto Rico’s central issue -- its political status -- whether the issue is part of the 95 percent or the five percent of cases in which they disagree. Kerry has said that he will work for Puerto Ricans to choose their status preference for the "territory" in a referendum from among statehood, independence, and "continuing status as a commonwealth."

It appears that Kerry considers Puerto Rico’s undemocratic status to continue to be an option for the territory while most Puerto Ricans -- including the leaders of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" party -- want a democratic governing arrangement.

Rossello was not the only Puerto Rico candidate to receive a noteworthy endorsement in recent weeks. Territorial senator Roberto Prats, the "commonwealth" party’s congressional candidate, was endorsed by Kerry’s last ‘rival’ for the Democratic presidential nomination, U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (OH).

Rossello Friends Gaining Influence In The Democratic Party

Three close associates of statehood party gubernatorial candidate Rossello are gaining influence in national Democratic Party affairs.

Alvaro Cifuentes, a lawyer in Washington, DC -- who is Rossello’s closest friend, chairs the DNC’s Hispanic Caucus and is regarded as its most successful chair to date. While in Puerto Rico, he served as Rossello’s 1992 campaign manager and as Rossello’s Secretary of the Governorship from 1993 until 1997.

Earlier this month, Cifuentes conducted a national Hispanic leadership summit for the DNC in Orlando, Florida. More than 350 people attended the meeting.

Cifuentes is now leading an effort to elect more Hispanics to the DNC. Members of the national party committee serve from presidential nominating convention to presidential nominating convention.

Cifuentes, who has been careful to not use his national party position to favor statehood to the disadvantage of Puerto Rico ‘commonwealthers,’ secured prominent places at the summit for Puerto Ricans from both of the territory’s political parties. "Commonwealth" party congressional candidate Prats and statehood party Senate leader Kenneth McClintock were both given seats on one of the summit’s major panels. Prats chairs the Puerto Rico Democratic committee and McClintock is a Puerto Rico representative on the DNC.

McClintock caused a stir at the summit that reverberated to Washington by telling a reporter that presidential candidate Kerry lacks an adequate Hispanic agenda. Cifuentes had made news earlier by expressing a similar concern, although only to fellow party leaders. Kerry campaign aides recognized the need to expand the campaign’s Hispanic agenda, however, and, particularly in Cifuentes’ case, that he was doing his job as DNC Hispanic Chair.

Influence, a newsletter for Washington lobbyists, meanwhile, named two other Rossello associates as being among a small group of Kerry’s biggest fundraisers. Both have raised more than $100,000 for Kerry and have been named vice-chairs of his campaign.

An article about the much larger number of $100,000 plus Bush fundraisers, identified Manuel Ortiz of the powerhouse Quinn Gillespie lobbying shop and John Merrigan, the top lobbyist at the large Piper Rudnick law firm, as two of Kerry’s top fundraisers. Ortiz is Rossello’s campaign coordinator in the States. Merrigan was the Rossello Administration’s leading lawyer in Washington.

Another Rossello supporter -- but one who is a member of the "commonwealth" party -- has long been recognized for his influence in national Democratic Party affairs and also played a major role at the DNC’s Hispanic summit. He is Miguel Lausell, who has a law office in San Juan and has opened a small lobbying firm in Washington.

Central American Trade Pact Said Dead

The U.S.’ trade representative was to sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement Friday with the representatives of five governments of the region: Costa Rica; El Salvador; Guatemala; Honduras; and Nicaragua. The government of Puerto Rico’s Caribbean nation neighbor the Dominican Republic is expected to sign the agreement later.

Democrats, however, said that the agreement, which has stimulated great interest in Puerto Rico, has no chance of approval in Congress. According to the top Democrat on the House Trade Subcommittee, Rep. Sander Levin, the agreement, known by its initials as CAFTA, "is on a midnight train to nowhere -- in an election year or any year." The Bush Administration had earlier recognized that the agreement could not be approved this year but hoped for approval after the election.

Democratic presidential candidate Kerry opposes the deal -- killing its chances if he is elected. And Levin says the agreement would not be supported by the 25 to 30 Democratic votes in the U.S. House of Representatives expected to be needed this year to make up for the Republicans who are opposed.

Some Republicans are opposed because the agreement would open the U.S. market further to clothing, sugar, and citrus fruit from foreign countries. Democratic opposition to the agreement contends that its protections for workers are inadequate. But Democrats also complain that they were not consulted on the accord.

When President Bush will submit the proposal to the Congress is unclear at the time of this writing. The Congress has 90 days after he does to approve it or disapprove it. Congressional concerns about the agreement cannot be addressed because the legislation will not be subject to amendment. This time-limited, up-or-down vote procedure is called "fast-track."

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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