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Toughness & Fresh Face Helped Anibal Acevedo Vila Win Bitter Election… Says Violence Is Puerto Rico’s #1 Problem, Wants U.S. Troops Out Of Iraq

Toughness And Fresh Face Helped Anibal Acevedo Vila Win Bitter Puerto Rican Election For Governor


December 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Associated Press Newswires. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Anibal Acevedo Vila sells himself as fresh face on Puerto Rico's political scene. But also calls himself a fighter, someone who sets goals and battles until they are achieved.

This self-proclaimed toughness carried him along the bumpy road that led to becoming Puerto Rico's governor. He won a contentious vote recount Thursday, receiving 961,693 votes to 958,465 for former Gov. Pedro Rossello, election officials said. The results were announced with 99.9 percent of the votes counted.

Even before surviving the bitter recount, Acevedo Vila fought a tough campaign in which several polls labeled him the underdog.

"I consider myself a person on the rise, somebody with a vision of the future and a clear determination to achieve the goals I set," Acevedo Vila said in recent an interview with The Associated Press.

The 42-year-old's rise through the ranks of Puerto Rico's political circles has been methodical, calculated and ultimately very successful, bringing him to the apex of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports the island's status as a U.S. commonwealth.

Born and raised in the San Juan district of Hato Rey, Acevedo Vila was exposed to politics from a young age. His father, Salvador Acevedo, had a long career in public service as a senator and judge.

Acevedo Vila graduated with a political science degree from the University of Puerto Rico in 1982. He earned a law degree from Harvard University in 1987.

His short professional stint in law helped him make connections and get into the public eye. His first job was law clerk for Supreme Court Judge Federico Hernandez Denton in San Juan, and later he clerked for the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

From 1989 to 1992, Acevedo Vila was a legislative legal adviser to then-Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon. He focused on drafting and analyzing legislation on education reform.

In 1992, he was elected a member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, a post he held until 2000.

That year, he was elected as Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress, the youngest ever chosen, and served on committees dealing with small business, agricultural and natural resources.

Dozens of U.S. lawmakers endorsed Acevedo Vila, including Rep. Jerry Costello, a Democrat from Illinois who called him "the most effective nonvoting delegate in the past 20 years."

Acevedo Vila replaces his ally Gov. Sila Calderon, also of the Popular Democratic Party, who did not seek re-election.

During the race, Acevedo Vila leveled harsh criticism at his rival Pedro Rossello, 60, pointing to a series of past corruption scandals and calling his a campaign "to defend dignity."

Acevedo Vila Says Violence Is Puerto Rico’s #1 Problem, He Wants U.S. Troops Out Of Iraq


Associated Press Writer

December 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Associated Press Newswires. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Puerto Rico's governor-elect said Wednesday he is against the war in Iraq and wants all troops -- including islanders -- pulled out of the troubled country.

Speaking the day after he was officially certified as the winner of the Nov. 2 election following a recount and legal battle over disputed ballots that dragged on for nearly two months, Anibal Acevedo Vila also called for a U.S. troop withdrawal plan within six months.

"In terms of the reasons given for the war and where we are right now, I don't think it was the right decision," Acevedo Vila, 42, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "There were no weapons of mass destruction. Almost everybody agrees that Iraq was not a real threat even to their neighbors. And now we have learned there is no real exit strategy."

"If it's an unfair war, it's unfair to everybody," he said during the 35-minute interview. "I would love to see a plan that within six months we have a real international force and that the level of all U.S. troops including Puerto Ricans will go down."

At least 23 Puerto Ricans have been killed in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including an Army specialist killed by a roadside bomb on Monday in Baghdad. Nearly 54,000 Puerto Ricans serve in the armed forces, although the U.S. Caribbean territory's 4 million people cannot vote for U.S. president and have no vote in U.S. Congress.

At least 1,325 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of the Iraq war.

Acevedo Vila, who received 963,303 votes (48.4 percent) and supports keeping the island a U.S. commonwealth, beat Pedro Rossello, who was Puerto Rico's pro-statehood governor from 1993-2001 and won 959,737 votes (48.22 percent), election officials said after a fierce recount.

Rossello had disputed thousands of ballots in which voters marked both the names of Acevedo Vila and a candidate for the island's nonvoting delegate to U.S. Congress, as well as marking an "x" for the tiny Independence Party. He said it was impossible to determine voter intent.

Acevedo Vila's supporters say laws allow voters to cast "mixed votes" to support the tiny Independence Party while also supporting candidates from other larger parties.

In a Dec. 15 ruling, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston rejected Rossello's claim and a week later, turned down a request to reconsider its decision.

Set to take office on Sunday, Acevedo Vila has been the territory's congressional delegate since 2001 and inherits an island ravaged by violent crime.

There have been 789 homicides -- mostly drug-related -- this year, already surpassing last year's total of 780. By comparison, New York City -- with double the population -- has reported some 550 homicides this year.

"Violence is the number one problem facing Puerto Rico and it has been that way for the past 25 years," he said.

Outgoing Gov. Sila Calderon activated the National Guard in July, sending troops carrying M-16 assault rifles to patrol with police in San Juan and other cities.

"We should create a condition where we should never have to use the National Guard to fight crime," Acevedo Vila said.

Puerto Rico is also facing uncertain economic times.

It lost an economic powerhouse when the Roosevelt Roads naval base closed in March, taking with it about 6,000 jobs and an estimated US$300 million a year. The closure followed the U.S. Navy's withdrawal from its Vieques bombing range in May 2003 following three years of steady protests after an errant bomb killed an islander.

Calderon, who chose not to seek re-election, angered many in Washington with calls for the Navy to leave.

Some islanders applauded the demise of what they saw as a relic of colonialism.

Others have worried the withdrawal from Vieques and Roosevelt Roads could threaten a relationship that has brought the territory US$14 billion a year in federal funds and helped it become one of the most prosperous places in Latin America.

Acevedo Vila said he would press for greater autonomy from U.S. federal laws, including one that says shipping of U.S. goods between Puerto Rico and U.S. states must be done under U.S.-flagged ships.

He said it would be cheaper to ship the goods under foreign-flagged ships and that Puerto Rico should be exempt from the law as the island moves toward opening the Port of the Americas on the south coast -- expected to be one of the largest in the region.

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