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Unforgivable Political Corruption


November 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

When you read this, the election will be over and we will be celebrating, or praying for heaven to help us. As I write this, almost every single poll, except the Populares’ poll, and all outward signs indicate Pedro Rossello will be a big winner. Let us hope so, for the good of Puerto Rico.

What we have seen Anibal Acevedo Vila do during this campaign raises serious doubts regarding the path he and his party would follow if he were to win. He has aligned himself with the most radical independence advocates and with some hatemongers who invite and incite their followers to violence. In politics, when associations such as this occur, there are always some promises and commitments involved. What promises or commitments has Acevedo Vila made to these individuals and groups?

Most probably, the commitments have to do with joining together in separating Puerto Rico from the rest of our nation, by undermining our relationship with our fellow citizens. He has probably promised to continue and intensify the "Hate Americans" campaign begun in Vieques. Such a campaign would, of course, create resentment in Congress and throughout the nation and would help to pave the way toward independence. Another commitment could probably be to intensify the campaign that has been waged throughout the school system in Puerto Rico over these past few years. A campaign of indoctrination through education, where the fact that we are a territory of the U.S. and citizens thereof is omitted from the textbooks, which teach only the false concepts that we have Puerto Rican citizenship and that we are a nation and have only one flag, the Puerto Rican flag.

But the misinformation campaign of Acevedo Vila and the Popular Democratic Party has extended beyond lies to become a campaign of persecution and defamation against the leaders of the New Progressive Party and the statehood movement. They have waged a relentless campaign to demonize Pedro Rossello, just as the Popular Democratic Party did to me with Cerro Maravilla over 12 years.

After 12 years of false accusations and investigations against me, people started asking why I had never been called to testify. I was finally called in February 1992. During six weeks, they tried to support their lies and false charges, and they failed. Throughout my testimony, the people understood the whole campaign against me had been a defamation attempt built on lies. It became clear they had extorted and bribed people to lie about the events.

Even Rafael Hernandez Colon, who was governor at the time, refused to budget any more money to finance the Special Independent Prosecutor in the Department of Justice, because he became convinced there was no evidence against me.

Using the same tactics, during the past four years, Sila Calderon, Acevedo Vila, and other leaders of the Popular Democratic Party have waged a slanderous campaign, charging Pedro Rossello with corruption and illegal acts regarding public funds, without any evidence against Pedro Rossello personally.

Nobody has denied serious crimes and corruption schemes were carried out during Pedro Rossello’s administration.

Many believe he should have known about everything that was going on, as though the governor should know everything that happens during his administration. It is impossible for any governor to know everything that happens during his administration. But what he must do is to establish channels of communication with all the departments and agencies in his government so information about any misdeeds reaches him directly, or reaches someone in charge of ordering an investigation, when the information justifies it. After his experience during his eight years in office, Rossello now realizes this and has plans to set up a monitoring system, directed by someone he can trust, so any misdeeds may be identified early.

Acevedo Vila has continuously and falsely accused Pedro Rossello without any evidence; he has attempted to demonize him, to the extent even of distorting Rossello’s photographs in a hatemongering campaign; and he has failed to demonstrate any evidence that ties Pedro Rossello to any act of corruption.

On the other hand, Acevedo Vila has been directly involved in illegal and corrupt schemes. He has waged a continuous campaign of lies and defamation against all of his opponents, even those of his own party.

In the 2000 campaign, Acevedo Vila filed false charges against me in the Federal Election Commission. There is sworn testimony to the effect that it was he who paid my accuser to perjure himself in the sworn statement he made alleging I had been involved in illegal acts.

Acevedo Vila also acted illegally when he deposited in his personal account checks made by Dr. Richard Machado to his campaign in the sum of $20K and $10K, and he disposed of the money as he saw fit.

He raised $180K in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through an illegal scheme where donors who didn’t have the financial ability to make donations in the thousands of dollars did, in fact, appear to be donating thousands of dollars to Acevedo Vila. Obviously, wealthy donors who had already donated up to the limit allowed by law illegally gave money to others, who would appear in official records as having been the donors, so everything would appear to have been done within the law. In such a scheme, not only were the donations illegal but also other serious crimes were committed in the process, such as filing false reports in a federal agency.

Why would these wealthy donors from Pennsylvania and New Jersey give such large amounts to Acevedo Vila? Obviously, he must have offered them something. An investigation is warranted to determine whether government contracts were offered to these wealthy donors in exchange for their donations.

But even I didn’t imagine Acevedo Vila would be capable of purposely endangering Puerto Rico’s credit and making Puerto Rico pay millions of dollars as a result of his political shenanigans.

How would this happen? This would be the result of his campaign of lies against the sales tax. He has made a public commitment that he won’t eliminate the excise tax and replace it with a sales tax. He is therefore saying he isn’t going to comply with the commitment made by the present administration to the bondholders and the rating agencies. The bond-rating agencies told the government the current excise system should be eliminated and replaced with a sales tax. If not, Puerto Rico would face a lowering of its bond rating. In view of that possibility, the government of Puerto Rico agreed to eliminate the excise tax and replace it with a sales tax.

Although Acevedo Vila and Hernandez Colon both knew of the shortcomings of the excise tax and that the sales tax wouldn’t be implemented until the excise tax had been eliminated, they tried to instill unjustified fear of the sales tax in the people. They claimed the sales tax would increase the prices of food, medicine, books, and other indispensable items, which they know wouldn’t and won’t be taxed.

Acevedo Vila has used the fear-mongering campaign as a political means to try to win votes for himself, without taking into consideration the damage that noncompliance with the Puerto Rico government’s commitment to its bondholders would cause when the rating of Puerto Rico’s bonds is lowered.

They must, or should, know what this means. It means Puerto Rico would have to pay higher interest for government loans. This higher cost to borrow money could very well run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

This higher interest would reduce the amount of money budgeted for infrastructure and service programs such as health, education, police protection, and other basic services.

The campaign of fear against a sales tax isn’t only a campaign of lies but a threat to our credit and to the funding of services to our people. The lack of commitment to our economic welfare, or the inability to realize the danger to our reputation as a reliable and trustworthy government, is an act of unforgivable political corruption.

Carlos Romero Barcelo is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000), and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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