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Bhatia To Lead Commonwealth’s Affairs In Washington, D.C.

By CB Staff

January 20, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Eduardo Bhatia was appointed by Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá last week to head the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) in Washington, D.C. Bhatia, who was twice defeated in his attempt to become mayor of San Juan, will have to contend with Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño for attention from leaders in the nation’s capital.

Bhatia belongs to the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and Fortuño to the New Progressive Party (NPP), which supports statehood. This is the first time in Puerto Rico’s history that the resident commissioner and the governor of Puerto Rico aren’t from the same political party, raising questions as to whose political policies will be promoted in Washington, D.C., and who will have the ear of the nation’s congressional leadership. Fortuño has strong ties to the Republican Party, while Acevedo Vilá is a Democrat.

"Bhatia made troubling statements regarding economic and status measures for Puerto Rico in Washington that were published in a daily newspaper on the island," said Jeffrey L. Farrow, consultant on government affairs and former President Bill Clinton’s point man on Puerto Rico affairs. "Bhatia is bright, but needs to recognize the reality for Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C.; and he should take more than a few days before making judgments on what is possible and how to proceed."

Bhatia said the Acevedo Vilá administration is planning to have an economic proposal ready in a few weeks which, according to Farrow, suggests the proposal will include what the PDP government wants even if the resident commissioner and the Legislature don’t agree.

"The fact is Resident Commissioner Fortuño’s voice will be the most important on federal issues having to do with Puerto Rico. Not only is Fortuño Puerto Rico’s representative to the executive as well as the legislative branches of the U.S. government in federal law, but he also belongs to the party that controls the executive branch, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. He also has close working relationships with the leaders of the House and the Bush administration," Farrow stated. "Bhatia will be able to speak on behalf of the governor but not the government of Puerto Rico unless the Legislative Assembly agrees."

"The assertion by PRFAA’s executive director that Fortuño has an ‘ideological agenda’ on economic measures is disappointingly critical at a time when he should seek to work with the resident commissioner," said Farrow. "It also ignores the same could have been said of the economic proposal from former Gov. Sila Calderón and Acevedo Vilá when he was resident commissioner in support of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 956 amendment. It would only have been possible under Puerto Rico’s current status and would have prevented nationhood as well as statehood by being ‘permanent.’"

Resident Commissioner Fortuño has discussed economic measures federal officials are likely to embrace rather than approaches such as the 956 amendment and Section 936 the federal government has rejected, according to Farrow, who has closely monitored Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. mainland.

"Bhatia is also wrong in asserting that recent experience has demonstrated there is no interest in Congress in calling for a status referendum or the federal government to act on the issue in general. In 2000, the U.S. Congress authorized a referendum on Puerto Rico’s status options and provided funding for it (at the president’s request). The process wasn’t implemented because the Calderón administration didn’t act, and both Calderón and Acevedo Vilá lobbied against it in Washington, D.C., in 2001," stated Farrow.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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