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PUERTO RICO REPORT
Pesquera Yells "Man Overboard," But Marrero Wont Jump
by Lance Oliver
April 14, 2000
Puerto Rico Senator Aníbal Marrero is the walking, talking, allegation-denying proof that the New Progressive Party is worried about its opponents relentless strategy of hammering on the issue of government corruption in this election year.
In case youre not up on the story, heres the background. Newspaper reports have linked Marrero, who has been elected to the Senate four times from the Bayamón district, to a U.S. businessman, Andrew Cipollo, who is reportedly under investigation by the FBI and possibly a federal grand jury. Marrero is accused of taking money from Cipollo in return for supporting plans for an aluminum recycling plant in Yabucoa.
On top of that, a sport-utility vehicle outfitted with loudspeakers and owned by Marreros campaign was seized as it was about to be shipped to the Dominican Republic. Police said the vehicle identification numbers had been altered. The truck was being sent to participate in a political campaign in the Dominican Republic.
Marrero resigned his post as vice president of the Senate and his committee chairmanship. He has refused to resign his Senate seat, however.
New Progressive Party leaders have urged Marrero to withdraw from the ballot for the November general election. Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló was the first to do so, soon followed by Gov. Pedro Rosselló, the moment he arrived on the island from his kidney surgery in Baltimore, and then party president and candidate for governor Carlos Pesquera also took the same stance.
Pesquera told the press that he met with Marrero and the senator initially agreed to withdraw his re-election bid. He asked Pesquera for a day to inform his family and supporters before it was announced.
But, according to Pesquera, Marrero changed his mind overnight and now says he is running for another term. The voters and God are the only ones to judge me, Marrero told the press. His party president, the governor and the resident commissioner could say what they like, but they had no right to ask him to withdraw because he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, he added.
Its understandable that the NPP leadership would like Marrero off the ticket. His explanations of the allegations against him have done little to inspire confidence in his claims of innocence. But the move to oust him suggests the party leadership is more concerned about their election chances than the public interest or principle.
A year ago, Rosselló defended Toa Alta Mayor Angel Rodríguez when he was indicted on charges of demanding kickbacks in exchange for Hurricane Georges cleanup contracts. The mayor should not have to resign his post until he is convicted, Rosselló said then.
Now, Rosselló wants Marrero to rule out a re-election bid (essentially, give up his office) even though he has not even been indicted, much less convicted. Sure, the evidence against Marrero, though unofficial, looks suspicious, but the evidence against Rodríguez was overwhelming.
If Rosselló and the rest of the NPP leadership wanted to stick to the same principle of innocent until proven guilty that they applied to Rodríguez, they could let Marrero run for re-election. If he wins and is then convicted, hes ousted from office anyway.
If the party leadership were truly concerned about a possible crook being in charge of the public trust, then they would ask him to resign now, not simply drop his re-election bid, which amounts to resigning next year instead of immediately.
But its neither principle nor concern for the public that is motivating Rosselló, Romero and Pesquera. They are worried about losing in November.
The Rodríguez incident a year ago was the beginning of a steady drumbeat by the Popular Democratic Party on the issue of government corruption. Many of the charges made by PDP leaders have been weak, but enough has stuck to make a difference in public perception. Even Puerto Rican Independence Party leaders have chimed in on the same theme, which shows they also think its working.
Pesquera claimed that Marrero lost his support because he changed his mind about dropping his re-election bid after giving Pesquera his word. I dont believe thats the real reason.
Pesquera and Romero dont want Marrero on the same ballot with their names because it gives the PDP an easy target. Theyre worried about losing in November, and not without reason.
Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.