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Reactions To Acevedo Vilá Inauguration Varied

Enthusiastic reception by supporters muted by absence of U.S. and Caribbean representatives


January 13, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Observers of the Jan. 2 inauguration of Aníbal Acevedo Vilá as governor of Puerto Rico described the affair as quite different from others in the past in more ways than one.

There were more Acevedo Vilá supporters among the general public than those officially invited for the occasion. Many of them were dressed in red, the identifying color of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) faithful, and enthusiastically cheered in support of the new governor.

Acevedo Vilá chose to hold the event in the Luis Muñoz Rivera Park in Puerto de Tierra, San Juan, the third held outside the traditional location, the Capitol. Longtime observers recalled former Gov. Pedro Rosselló held his 1996 inauguration at El Morro Castle. Gov. Luis Muñoz Marín held one of his four inaugurations in front of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court in San Juan. The change of venue avoided possible problems with the new tenants in the Capitol, now controlled by the opposing New Progressive Party (NPP).

While the event was virtually a PDP affair, prominently seated in the first row beside Acevedo Vilá was newly elected Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño, an NPP member and Republican, with his wife. Seated in the 10th row was San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, also an NPP member and Republican.

There was no representative of President George W. Bush, and the customary letter from the president wasn’t read on the occasion. Veteran political observers repeatedly described the omission as unprecedented, pointing to both as another indication the new administration has more than its share of fence mending to do in Washington, D.C.

However, some observers said Puerto Ricans pay more attention to these situations than they should, given the fact governors are inaugurated around the country and most of them don’t receive congratulatory letters from the White House, nor do they give it a second thought. Others insisted it was a slight, indicative of more cold-shoulder treatment to follow.

The prolonged recount, which went on for weeks, resulted in Acevedo Vilá being officially certified less than a week before the mandatory January inauguration. Invitations to dignitaries sent out late resulted in considerable absences, due to difficulties in travel arrangements during the hectic holiday season or because they had already made other arrangements.

Few dignitaries from the Caribbean

In the end, the turnout of dignitaries from the Caribbean for the Acevedo Vilá inauguration was much smaller than at previous inaugurations. There were no heads of state, only two heads of government, several ministers and ambassadors, a few members of Congress, and the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

Conspicuous was the absence of Dominican Republic (D.R.) President Leonel Fernández, the only head of state expected to attend. Fernández had confirmed he would attend, accompanied by a 14-member entourage, including First Lady Margarita Cedeño and Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso.

At the 11th hour, he cancelled and was represented by his vice president, Rafael Albuquerque.

Albuquerque said Fernández was unable to attend due to problems requiring his urgent attention. Some PDP members described the absence as a slight, pointing out that outgoing Gov. Sila Calderón had declined to attend the Fernández inauguration last August, and maintained a close friendship with former D.R. President Hipólito Mejía during his four-year tenure in office.

Some attendees noted Puerto Rico demonstrated its friendship through Calderón’s staunch support of the D.R. in Washington, D.C., and by then-Resident Commissioner Acevedo Vilá in favor of including the D.R. in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta), currently pending approval by Congress.

Attendance by members of Congress was smaller than many could remember. Among U.S. House of Representatives who did attend were the Puerto Rico-born legislators, including Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), and Nydia Velásquez (D-NY), as well as veteran Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), Reps. Robert Menéndez (D-NJ), and Hilda Solís (D-CA). Also present was USVI Congressional Delegate Donna Christensen (D-VI).

"I want to thank my fellow members of Congress for your friendship toward the people of Puerto Rico," Acevedo Vilá said.

Among numerous lobbyists from the District of Columbia was former member of Congress Toby Roth (1979-97), remembered by some in attendance as a strong supporter of the English-only provision some years earlier, as well as the Young amendment, neither of which passed. He now heads the Roth Group, a lobbyist firm.

The only member of the U.S. Senate in Puerto Rico for the occasion was Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who dined privately the night before the inauguration with Acevedo Vilá. He then rushed back home, reportedly for personal reasons, thus missing the ceremony.

Among those absent at the inauguration were representatives from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and its member states, except Haiti, whose membership is currently in suspension. It initially was announced that the most junior Caricom head of government, Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, would attend. He never arrived.

From the USVI came Gov. Charles Wesley Turnbull, from Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands sent Chief Ministers Osbourne Fleming, and Orlando Smith, respectively. Haiti provisional government Minister of Trade & Industry Danielle Saint-Lot was also present.

Rubén Blades received cheers

Panama Minister of Tourism Rubén Blades, the famous salsa singer-turned-politician, received the most enthusiastic reception of all the dignitaries. Hosting Blades for the occasion was former PDP candidate for San Juan mayor, and now Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administrator-designate Eduardo Bhatia, whose wife is Panamanian.

Several Central American countries, including El Salvador and Guatemala, were represented by their ambassadors to the U.S.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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