Did Acevedo’s DC Aide Lie in Saying Fortuno "lies"?… Key Senator Cautious About "Constitutional Assembly" Proposal … Congressman Who Defeated Cifuentes Faces Ethics Problem

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

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Did Acevedo’s DC Aide Lie in Saying Fortuno "lies"?

The head of Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila’s offices in the States was quoted Thursday accusing the territory’s representative to the federal government of lying.

Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Director Eduardo Bhatia said that Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuno (statehood/R) lied to his fellow members of Congress in a letter regarding Acevedo’s proposed process for addressing the territory’s political status issue.

Bhatia was the candidate for mayor of San Juan, PR of Acevedo’s "commonwealth" party in the past two elections but lost both. Observers believe that he wants to seek Fortuno’s job in the 2008 election. He began to criticize and to try to embarrass Fortuno with days of arriving in Washington while at the same time saying that he was working closely with Puerto Rico’s sole spokesman in Congress.

Bhatia reportedly asserted that there were two "lies" in Fortuno’s letter. One was that Acevedo had written the members of Congress in support of the status process bill he had submitted to the territorial legislature. The Acevedo aide contended that this was a lie because the governor had only written members of the congressional "leadership," not other members of Congress.

UPDATE, however, has obtained copies of faxes and e-mails that Bhatia and another PRFAA aide sent members of Congress who are not members of the congressional leadership promoting Acevedo’s proposal. The message on the faxes said that Acevedo wanted the senator or representative to have a copy of a letter that Acevedo wrote President Bush seeking support for his local legislative proposal.

The faxes substantiate Fortuno’s reference to Acevedo having written members of Congress on his proposal. Having an aide write at the Governor’s direction is essentially the same as the Governor writing personally.

In the faxes, Bhatia invited members of Congress to call him on the issue. He also wrote that "[o]ur Washington team will keep you up to date as the Governor’s proposal moves forward." He said that the proposal would "empower Puerto Ricans to have a voice and a vote in the development of the roadmap for resolving the issue of status for Puerto Rico."

Bhatia’s faxes made no mention of the facts that:

  • The presiding officers of Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly have said that Acevedo’s proposal will not pass;
  • Large majorities of the members of each of the legislature’s houses were elected on a platform pledging a different approach to the issue; and
  • The territorial senate has already passed resolutions against a major element of Acevedo’s proposal and in favor of the legislative majority’s alternative approach.

Aides to three members of Congress contacted confirmed that their bosses had received the misleading fax from Bhatia.

Acevedo’s proposal would hold a referendum with two options. One would petition Congress for a referendum with "Commonwealth," statehood, and independence options. The other would elect a "Constitutional Assembly" to determine Puerto Rico’s future status choice.

In asserting that Fortuno had lied in his letters, Bhatia also gave a false explanation of Acevedo’s bill. He said that it included the statehood party’s proposal for a petition to Congress for a referendum.

The statehood party’s proposed referendum, however, is different from the referendum proposed in Acevedo’s bill. The statehood party referendum would petition the Congress to identify the statuses under which Puerto Rico would no longer be unincorporated territory of the U.S. That would exclude "Commonwealth" -- the popular name for Puerto Rico’s current status as unincorporated U.S. territory. It would also include the option of Puerto Rico becoming a nation in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end.

Most members of Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly are members of the statehood party.

Bhatia reportedly also said that Fortuno had misled other members of Congress in his letter by just focusing his objections to Acevedo’s bill on the Governor’s proposed "Constitutional Assembly." He suggested that Fortuno should have explained the choice that Acevedo’s bill would give Puerto Rico’s voters.

Fortuno’s letter clarified the misunderstanding that could have been created by the Bhatia and Acevedo communications regarding the status of Acevedo’s proposal by noting that majority of Puerto Rico’s legislators oppose it.

The resident commissioner also explained that the "Constitutional Assembly" option in Acevedo’s bill is "insufficiently democratic" because it would enable a small group of local officials to choose Puerto Rico’s proposed future status rather than the people as a whole.

Fortuno additionally criticized the assembly option because it would propose a new governing arrangement for Puerto Rico to the federal government with minimal consultation with federal officials.

Fortuno suggested that "a more democratic and productive process would be one in which the people of Puerto Rico exercise their inalienable right to self-determination by choosing the status of their preference from among federally-sanctioned and constitutionally viable options. " He noted that such a process would be consistent with the platforms of the national Democratic and Republican Parties.

The resident commissioner also reported that "the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status — established by President Clinton and continued by President Bush — is expected to issue a report soon which should provide a basis for progress" on the issue.

The misleading Bhatia and Acevedo communications with members of Congress also prompted Puerto Rico’s senate president to write members of Congress.

Senate President Kenneth McClintock wrote to explain why Acevedo’s bill "will not pass."

One reason, he said, is that the bill would enable the proposed "Constitutional Assembly" to choose Puerto Rico’s status choice instead of having the choice made by the territory’s voters.

Another reason is that the "assembly option would also enable Puerto Rico’s choice for its future status to be made without regard to whether the choice is even a possibility."

McClintock explained that "federal agency objections to the governing arrangement that the Governor has proposed are a primary reason that he advocates the assembly option." He noted that the "proposed arrangement would supposedly empower the Commonwealth to determine what federal laws apply and to enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation while the United States continues to grant citizenship and all current assistance to Puerto Ricans and appropriates a new block grant of aid."

"This ‘Covenant,’" McClintock went on, "would also bind the U.S. to its terms in perpetuity — effectively making the U.S. a colony of Puerto Rico."

McClintock also explained that the assembly would enable "an artificial majority" to be created for Acevedo’s proposed "Commonwealth" by encouraging assembly delegates who favor nationhood to support it along with ‘commonwealthers.’

McClintock also criticized the other status process option in Acevedo’s bill: the petition to Congress for a referendum. He objected to the inclusion of "Commonwealth" as an option because it "cannot resolve Puerto Rico’s status issue." He explained that "all people have a continuing right to a democratic form of government" and "’Commonwealth’" . . . does not permit Puerto Ricans to have voting representation in their national government."

Key Senator Cautious About "Constitutional Assembly" Proposal

The senior Democrat on the U.S. Senate committee with lead jurisdiction over territorial affairs spoke cautiously of Governor Acevedo’s "Constitutional Assembly" proposal Thursday.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Democrat Jeff Bingaman (NM) noted that Congress would have to approve a Puerto Rico status proposal when asked about Acevedo’s "Constitutional Assembly" approach. He also said, however, that he was not thoroughly familiar with the proposal.

Bingaman has said little about Puerto Rico’s status issue since he publicly told Acevedo that his proposed "Commonwealth" seemed to be the "free beer and bar-b-que" proposal among the various proposals for the territory’s future status. The criticism prompted vociferous complaints from the "commonwealth’ party’s leading spokesman in Congress, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).

Bingaman also said that the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status may issue a report required to be issued this year as early as this summer. He said that the report could lead to congressional hearings on the issue. He noted that Senate hearings would depend upon his fellow New Mexican in the Senate, Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R).

Congressman Who Defeated Cifuentes Faces Ethics Problem

Puerto Rico ‘commonwealthers’ tried to block the election of former Puerto Rico Secretary of the Governorship Alvaro Cifuentes, a statehooder, as a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by alleging that Cifuentes was linked to Government of Puerto Rico improprieties.

No such links have ever been identified and the tactic backfired as DNC leaders condemned it. Cifuentes was, however, defeated by U.S. Representative Mike Honda (CA).

It was revealed Wednesday that Honda had taken a trip to South Korea paid for by a Korean organization registered with the House of Representatives as a "foreign agent" group. House rules prohibit House members from travel paid for by such organizations.

Honda was one of several House members and staff who accepted the travel. The most prominent was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) but an aide to House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also took a trip paid for by the group.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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