Democrats Blast Puerto Rican Attack On Puerto Rican… Last Major U.S. Military Base In Puerto Rico On Closure List… Bush Drops Proposal To Exclude Puerto Ricans From Tax Refunds

February 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Democrats Blast Puerto Rican Attack On Puerto Rican

Key national Democrats blasted a slanderous attack on former Puerto Rico Secretary of the Governorship Alvaro Cifuentes this week.

The attack opposed the candidacy of Cifuentes, a lawyer and active Democratic Party supporter in Washington for almost a decade, to be a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). It came in the form of an e-mail to DNC members as the committee prepared to elect new officers in Washington Saturday.

The written communication was sent by an individual or a group identifying themselves only as "notocifuentes@yahoo.com" and "Concerned Democrats." But some of its wording was identical to language used by some leaders of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" party. And its primary charge was the same as some "commonwealth" party leaders publicly and unsuccessfully used in opposing statehooder Cifuentes’ election as chair of the DNC’s Hispanic Caucus four years ago.

Three of the four "commonwealth" party members on the DNC have taken an ‘anyone but Cifuentes’ position on the election. Territorial Democratic committee chair Roberto Prats, who was defeated in his bid to be Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in the States last November, committee vice chair Luissette Cabanas, and Democratic National Committeewoman Celita Arroyo de Roques have migrated between supporting another candidate of Puerto Rican heritage, former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development General Counsel Nelson Diaz, U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks, and U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (CA).

The fourth "commonwealth" party member on the DNC, major Democratic Party fundraiser Miguel Lausell, is supporting Cifuentes. Lausell is a member of the "commonwealth" party minority that advocates Puerto Rico becoming a nation in free association with the U.S. Prats, Cabanas, and Arroyo are members of the "commonwealth" party faction led by Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila. Acevedo has proposed that the Commonwealth be granted the powers to veto federal laws and enter into agreements as if it were a nation without Puerto Rico losing the benefits of its U.S. status. The U.S. has free association relationships with three island areas. The administration of President Bill Clinton said that Acevedo’s proposal is impossible.

Most, if not all, of the other Puerto Ricans on the DNC have also supported Cifuentes. They include Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock and leaders of voters of Puerto Rican origin in the States.

Acevedo, who is not a member of the DNC and has had little involvement with the Democratic Party, endorsed Honda Thursday, saying he would not support a candidate with a "hidden agenda." Asked if the explanation referred to Cifuentes, his spokeswoman said that it did not, he knew of no candidate with a hidden agenda, and he had no specific hidden agenda in mind. Ascribing a hidden agenda to promote statehood to Cifuentes would not have made any sense since Cifuentes has taken pains to divorce his support of Puerto Rico statehood from his Democratic Party activities.

The primary anonymous accusation against Cifuentes was that he "directed the most corrupt administration" in Puerto Rico’s "history" and condoned "fraudulent and unethical practices. " The charge is belied by the fact that Cifuentes has never been linked to any impropriety in the territory as well as by the prominent cases of corruption under the succeeding "commonwealth party administration.

A bizarre claim was that Cifuentes "is uncommitted to building an authentic multiracial democracy." Cifuentes has been an outspoken -- and successful – advocate of greater Hispanic inclusion in Democratic Party affairs – a reason that he is supported by most DNC members of Hispanic origin. He is also noted for statements on the potential of Hispanic empowerment in America. And his Puerto Rico statehood views call for voting representation for Puerto Ricans in their national government.

An even more ridiculous suggestion was Democratic candidates have lost a substantial number of Hispanic votes because of Cifuentes. As the DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair, Cifuentes built an unprecedented Hispanic campaign network and called for the campaign of 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry to make a greater effort to win Hispanic votes.

The rejection of the ‘notocifuentes" campaign was led by DNC member Maria Echaveste, a Honda supporter. Echaveste is a former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Clinton and Hispanic affairs adviser to the presidential campaign of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who has no opposition to be elected DNC chair.

Echaveste said that she was "appalled" by the "character assassination." In her own e-mail to DNC members, she wrote that the "assertions are the worst kind of guilt by association and innuendo, and, frankly, to blame Alvaro for the performance of Hispanics in the last election is ludicrous."

The adviser of President Clinton and the Kerry campaign on Puerto Rico affairs, Jeffrey Farrow, wrote DNC members that the attack was "outrageous, shameful, and cowardly " and provided facts demonstrating that the Puerto Rico charge was baseless and an example of local Puerto Rican politics.

California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres wrote to "notocifuentes" that it "is your type of gutless and disgraceful negative attacks against Alvaro Cifuentes that gives all Democrats shame. You further compound your cowardice by not identifying yourselves. Your pathetic and insulting language only makes those of us who support Alvaro work harder to elect him. "

A spokesman for Honda said that the attack "goes against everything Congressman Honda stands for," further clarifying the Puerto Rican origin of the attack. And Diaz distanced himself from the efforts of "commonwealth" party members in the vice-chairmanship campaign.

Last Major U.S. Military Base In Puerto Rico On Closure List

The last major U.S. military base in Puerto Rico is on a draft U.S. Department of Defense list for closure.

Appearance on the list means that the U.S. Army’s Fort Buchanan in the San Juan metropolitan municipality of Guaynabo is a prime candidate to be shuttered in a federal decision this year to close military bases around the world. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to cut 20-25 percent of the military’s base capacity.

Ft. Buchanan was one of 52 bases on a list leaked from the Defense Department.

The Puerto Rico base is said to be a $130 million-$160 million a year operation.

A federal law provides for a major base closure decision once a decade. The decision begins with a preliminary recommendation by the Defense Department, due May 16th. Next, a Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) will develop a final plan, scheduled to be sent to President Bush by September 8th. The President is to decide whether to accept the recommendation by September 23rd. The President’s decision will be final unless it is overturned by the Congress.

The BRAC process is supposed to minimize the politics in the decisions and have the decisions made on the military value of bases to the greatest extent possible. In the past, however, politics has been a greater factor than the BRAC law intends. BRAC commissioners have been influenced by senators and representatives in the Congress.

Ft. Buchanan is endangered on both military and political grounds. It is also imperiled for an economic reason.

The base is considered to be more important for personal facilities it affords members of the Army Reserve, such as shopping and recreation, than it is militarily. It recently housed only 147 active duty soldiers (and 628 civilian jobs).

The base was on the chopping block during the last BRAC round a decade ago -- as it was in the BRAC effort before that. In the end, the last process only reduced the number of Ft. Buchanan’s military personnel by 40 (and cut 117 civilian jobs).

Ft. Buchanan got a new military lease on life in 1999 when the Clinton White House and Army officials overcame opposition from the Pentagon budget office to move the Army’s Southern Command there from Panama. The move was requested by then Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood/D). It included a thousand military and civilian positions and spending estimated at $90 million a year.

The headquarters was relocated to Texas in 2003, however. A new commander from the State wanted the move and cited an inhospitable environment for personnel in Puerto Rico.

The community problems included verbal and physical attacks on military personnel encouraged by the tactics of opponents of the U.S. Navy training range on the island of Vieques, PR led to an extent by then Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no U.S. party). Personnel also felt that the Commonwealth’s public services, such as public safety, were inadequate. The commander was helped with the move by Texas’ power in the federal government.

Calderon opposed the move after the decision was well underway within the Pentagon.

Strategic arguments for Ft. Buchanan include those that got the Army’s Southern Command located there. Ft. Buchanan is the Army’s southernmost base and in a Latin environment.

It is also used for training Reserve troops, which are shouldering a large part of the military burdens in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The base’s limited military value led members of the Congress in 2000 to consider closing it as a consequence of the decision on closing the Vieques range in 2003 under an agreement between President Bill Clinton and Rossello. The idea of these members of the Congress -- which was then authorized by law -- was to move Ft. Buchanan’s functions to the much larger Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba on the island of Puerto Rico’s east coast if the nearby Vieques range was closed. The Ft. Buchanan activities would have used facilities freed up by the closure.

Caledron actions that broke the Vieques agreement, however, and her (unsuccessful) her lobbying with now Governor Acevedo for a change in the Vieques law led the Navy to decide that the Roosevelt Roads base should be closed. That decision was also enacted into law.

The Commonwealth is also handicapped in defending Ft. Buchanan by its lack of votes in the federal government. Puerto Rico is only represented by a sole resident commissioner in the House of Representatives – despite having the number of residents that six representatives would represent.

Another possible challenge Puerto Rico faces in keeping Ft. Buchanan is that one of the House Republican majority’s two representatives on the BRAC commission is former Representative James Hansen. Hansen was the House member most upset by the actions of Calderon and Acevedo regarding the Vieques range.

The economic problem facing 82-year old Ft. Buchanan is that its 476 acres have become extremely valuable. Selling the land could be a boon to the federal treasury.

It was revealed this week that Calderon had a secret study done of the challenges facing the continued existence of Ft. Buchanan. The report by high-ranking former military officers and a Washington lobbyist said that the base was "not receiving significant support" from Calderon. Calderon’s consideration of the issue trailed the aggressive effort of President Bush’s brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, to preserve Florida’s bases in this year’s BRAC decision by a matter of years.

Aides to Acevedo plan to follow-up on the Calderon study later this month. Acevedo’s replacement as resident commissioner, Luis Fortuno (statehood/R), already raised the issue with Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey this week.

Bush Drops Proposal To Exclude Puerto Ricans From Tax Refunds

President Bush sent his proposed budget for fiscal year 2006, which begins October 1st, to the Congress Monday.

The biggest news for Puerto Rico was that it did not include his fiscal year 2005 proposal which would have excluded Puerto Rican workers with three or more children from a program that grants up to $1,000 per child. Maintaining Puerto Rican eligibility for the program means an estimated $2.1 billion for at least 152,000 island families over the next decade.

The dropping of the proposal was somewhat of a surprise in light of the amount of money it meant for the federal budget, which has a record deficit, and because it would have also simplified the paperwork nine million families in the States must complete to obtain the assistance.

Resident Commissioner Fortuno had lobbied to preserve Puerto Rican eligibility. The Bush administration was criticized by the Kerry presidential campaign and other Democrats for making the proposal. The criticism was used in radio advertisements in areas of the States where there are many people of Puerto Rican origin.

Bush’s budget also surprisingly proposed extending through calendar year 2006 a temporary increase in the amount of collections of the tax on Puerto Rican rum and 90% of imported rum that is granted to Puerto Rico.  The higher amount -- $13.25 per proof gallon vs. the $10.50 in permanent law -- would add $56 million to the $303 million that it was estimated Puerto Rico would get in fiscal year 2006 without the one-year extension.   It would also add $19 million in fiscal year 2007, since calendar year 2006 includes a quarter of fiscal year 2007.

The estimate for rum tax grants in fiscal year 2006 decreased from $404 million this fiscal year, however, based on estimated rum sales.

The similar grants to Puerto Rico of Customs duties collected in the territory, less the cost of collecting the duties, were estimated to increase from $89 million this fiscal year to $95 million next fiscal year.

The budget also plans Navy spending of $76 million in a multi-year effort to clean the Vieques range of ordnance and other contaminants from military training.

The special tax credits for manufacturers based in the States with operations in Puerto Rico as of 1996 were estimated to be worth $500 million in fiscal year 2006, $50 million in fiscal year 2007, and zero after that. The estimates were down from $900 million in fiscal year 2005 and much more in earlier years. The credits, provided under Internal Revenue Code Sections 936 and 30A, expire at the end of this calendar year.

A surprising estimate was that the grant for Medicaid, the health care program for low-income individuals, did not reflect an increase from the $219.6 million for this fiscal year. The grant is supposed to be increased annually for inflation.

The amount of the grant is only one-tenth of one percent of the program, although Puerto Rico has about one and a third percent of the country’s population and about four percent of the American population below the federal poverty level.

The Nutrition Assistance Program that Puerto Rico gets in lieu of Food Stamps was estimated to increase from $1.495 billion to $1.516 billion for inflation.

Puerto Rico would receive $2.5 billion under a number of State aid programs when added together, up from $2.403 billion this fiscal year. The territory’s share was .71% of the aid to all States and territories. The programs in addition to Medicaid and Puerto Rico’s share in the Bush budget are as follows.

School Lunch: $122.725 million, up from $116.9 million. 1.68% of the total.

Women, Infants and Children Nutrition: $196.946 million, up from $185.037 million. 3.55% of the total.

Child and Adult Care Food: $21.556 million, up from $20.484 million. .99% of the total.

Elementary and secondary education programs for schools serving low-income children: $536.146 million, up from $467.838 million. 4.02% of the total.

Improving Teacher Quality: $96.331 million, unchanged. 3.32% of the total.

Special Education: $105.629 million, up from $99.371 million. .95% of the total.

Vocational Rehabilitation: $67.984 million, up from $66.280 m. 2.55% of the total.

Children's Health Insurance: $38,953 million, no change. .95% of the total.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: $71.035 million, no change. .42% of the total.

Child Support Enforcement Administration: $30.16 million, up from $29.367 million. .72% of the total.

Child Care and Development Block Grant: $41.463 million, no change. 1.99% of the total.

Child Care and Development Fund: $0, as at present.

Head Start: $249.260 million, no change. 3.62% of the total.

Foster Care: $6.759 million, down from $6.79 million. .15% of the total.

Operating Public Housing: $95.604 million, up from $68.188 million. 2.81% of the total.

Section 8 Housing Rehabilitation: $8.056 million, down from $8.856 million. 3.92% of the total.

Housing Choice Vouchers: $170.704 million, up from $158.754 million. 1.08% of the total.

Public Housing Capital Fund: $134.253 million, down from $165.334 million. 5.77% of the total.

HOME Investment Partnerships: $35.412 million, up from $33.722 million. 1.82% of the total.

Airport Improvements: $26.921 million, down from $29.591 million. .87% of the total.

Highways: $114.101 million, up from $102.579 million. 35% of program.

Transit Formula Grants: $110.318 million, up from $99.839 million. 1.61% of the total.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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