Santini Avoids Meeting with Bush Aide… Bhatia Gives Himself a Party in Congress but Few in Congress Show up… Kennedy Criticizes White House Inaction on Puerto Rico Democracy Issue… Acevedo Again ‘Announces’ Housing Fund Hike Rossello Initiated… Acevedo and Fortuno Agree on Federal Agenda… McClintock Makes Waves with Puerto Rico Consumer Equality Action

April 29, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Santini Avoids Meeting with Bush Aide

San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Jorge Santini (statehood/R) reportedly made an odd exit from a White House meeting this week to avoid a political aide to President George Bush who has also worked for the territory’s resident commissioner in the U.S., Luis Fortuno (statehood/R).

Santini was in the White House complex to meet with Ruben Barrales, Bush’s assistant for Puerto Rico affairs as well his liaison to local government officials. According to a White House source, Santini beat a hasty retreat when he heard that the meeting was to be joined by Bush aide Annie Mayol of Puerto Rico.

Mayol, an Associate Director of the President’s Office of Political Affairs, was Fortuno’s campaign manager during the last election. She is now Bush’s coordinator for political matters in the Northeastern States and the territories, including Puerto Rico. Prior to helping Fortuno win election, she worked in various capacities for the national Republican Party.

Santini leaving the Barrales meeting after hearing that Mayol was to join it was apparently one of many examples of disunity among Puerto Rico Republicans in relating to the Bush Administration. Among the consequences has been that a non-Puerto Rican was named U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico after Puerto Rico Republicans disagreed on local candidates.

Bhatia Gives Himself a Party in Congress but Few in Congress Show up

The head of Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo’s offices in the States held a celebration for himself at the U.S. Capitol complex Tuesday night . . . but few of the targeted guests -- Members of the Congress -- showed up.

Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Director Eduardo Bhatia arranged a symbolic swearing-in ceremony for himself in a U.S. House of Representatives Office Building lobby after more than three months on the job. The brief ceremony -- and much longer party -- was intended to enable Bhatia and Acevedo to meet Members of the Congress.

According to observers, only six of the 435 representatives, one of the 100 senators, and one of the five delegates to the House stopped by. Most of the 200 people enjoying the refreshments were PRFAA employees, "commonwealth" administration lobbyists, and residents of the Washington region who are of Puerto Rican origin.

Only one of the Members of the Congress who went has been active on Puerto Rico issues: House Minority Whip Bob Menendez (D-NJ). He has primarily backed up Acevedo on political questions and done little on Puerto Rico’s substantive issues.

The other Members of the Congress present were: Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), who has announced his retirement from the Senate; Representatives Jerry Costello (D-IL), Mike Honda (D-CA), Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), and Hilda Solis (D-CA); and Delegate Donna Christensen (D-VI). At the affair, Sarbanes admitted he was not up to date on Puerto Rico’s fundamental issue -- the territory’s ultimate political status. Solis flatly said that she does not discuss the issue, which she described as "difficult."

In addition to Honda, another candidate for a recent Democratic National Committee (DNC) vice-chairmanship, Nelson Diaz, was present. "Commonwealth" party Democrats associated with Acevedo initially supported Diaz for the post over DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair Alvaro Cifuentes. Both are of Puerto Rican origin. When it became clear that Diaz had little support, the ‘commonwealthers’ switched their allegiance to Honda. Cifuentes a decade ago was Secretary of the Governorship under now Puerto Rico Senator Pedro Rossello (statehood/D). Acevedo was elected governor over Rossello in a contested election last year and Rossello is thought to want a rematch in 2008. Acevedo’s fear of Rossello and U.S. statehood for the territory led to a mud-slinging campaign by ‘commonwealthers’ against Cifuentes.

Among lobbyists present at the Bhatia party was Charlie Black, a former Republican National Committee Chairman with close ties to Senator Trent Lott (R-MS). At Acevedo’s request, Lott has been a strong opponent of statehood even being an option for Puerto Rico. Black is nominal Democrat Acevedo’s top federal lobbyist.

Kennedy Criticizes White House Inaction on Puerto Rico Democracy Issue

U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) Wednesday criticized the Bush White House for not exercising leadership on the issue of Puerto Rico’s lack of votes in its national government.

Asserting that the White House had not paid "much attention" to the issue to date, the senior Democrat said that he did not expect it to press the issue forcefully enough to stimulate serious action in the federal government.

President Bush has required his Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status to issue a report by December 6 on progress made in resolving the question of the territory’s ultimate status. The Task Force is headed by Bush Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Barrales.

The panel is also mandated to answer questions about the territory’s status options and the process by which Puerto Rico’s ultimate status can be determined. This is to be done in consultation with Puerto Rican and congressional leaders. Although Barrales has consulted with territorial leaders on the questions, he has not discussed them with congressional leaders.

Kennedy made the statements just before a meeting with Governor Acevedo, whom he has supported politically. The support is due to the influence of former Senator John Culver, who was Kennedy’s college roommate and has been a "commonwealth" administration lobbyist.

In his comments, Kennedy also said that it is widely accepted in the federal government that Puerto Ricans should choose the territory’s status. After the meeting, Acevedo said that Kennedy additionally believes that Puerto Ricans should choose the process by which the choice of status is made.

Acevedo has proposed that Puerto Ricans choose in a referendum between petitioning the federal government for "commonwealth," statehood, and independence options to choose among and conducting a "Constitutional Assembly" to propose a new status to the federal government -- the process he favors. He wants the assembly to forge a coalition between delegates who support his proposed "Commonwealth" and those who support independence in favor of his proposal to have Puerto Rico recognized as a nation to which the U.S. is permanently bound. Under the proposal, the Commonwealth would have the powers to determine the application of federal laws and enter into international agreements that U.S. States cannot. The U.S. would continue to grant citizenship and all aid now provided Puerto Ricans as well as grant a new subsidy to the Commonwealth government.

Majorities in each house of Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly oppose Acevedo’s proposal. They want the federal government to clarify Puerto Rico’s true options for a form of government that is democratic at the national government level.

Tuesday, Acevedo ally Menendez said that an agreement in Puerto Rico on the process for resolving the issue was essential to progress on it in Washington. Recently, both houses of the territory’s legislature unanimously passed a bill for initial steps in the process that Acevedo said he would sign. The bill would have called a referendum on petitioning the President and the Congress to express commitments to respond to a Puerto Rican choice of a fully democratic status. If no such expressions were made by the end of 2006, the legislature would have acted on Acevedo’s proposed status process. Acevedo flip-flopped on the legislation, however, and vetoed the bill.

Acevedo Again ‘Announces’ Housing Fund Hike Rossello Initiated

Governor Acevedo Wednesday announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had proposed new rules for the grants it makes to localities for operating public housing that would increase the federal subsidy for Puerto Rico’s 56,000 units from $100 million to $157 million a year.

Acevedo did not note that he had announced the proposed rules late last year when they received initial approval from the President’s Office of Management and Budget.

He did, however, try to suggest personal credit for the proposal, saying that he had been working on it for two years, most of the time as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner.

In fact, the proposal -- based on a multi-year study of fairness of the rates paid in localities throughout the nation -- has been in the works for at least five years. And Acevedo’s rival Senator Rossello deserves the primary credit for the Puerto Rico funding increase.

As governor, Rossello sued HUD for "discrimination" in the current rules, which placed limitations on the subsidy to Puerto Rico not placed elsewhere in the nation, providing substantially less funding. The suit sought hundreds of millions of dollars.

Rossello also convinced the Congress’ appropriations committees to write that HUD should correct the situation and the White House of President Bill Clinton to intervene.

HUD made some changes in the formula for Puerto Rico to close the gap between its funding at that of other U.S. areas in response to White House pressure but Rossello continued to press the suit for equality.

In a 2000 settlement negotiated by representatives of Rossello, Clinton, and HUD, the agency redirected over $100 million to Puerto Rico and committed that the territory would be treated equally with other parts of the nation in the new allocation formula which would be developed over the next few years.

Acevedo and Fortuno Agree on Federal Agenda

Governor Acevedo and Resident Commissioner Fortuno agreed on a joint federal agenda during a brief meeting Tuesday.

Included on the agenda were:

  • Preventing the closing of the Army’s Fort Buchanan in the San Juan area and improving the facility.
  • Medicare payments for in-hospital services in Puerto Rico equal to those in the rest of the nation.
  • An increase in the cap on the federal share of the Medicaid program in the territory.
  • Federal incentives for investment in Puerto Rico by companies based in the States to be determined after the Congress’ Government Accountability Office and Joint Committee on Taxation staff issue reports this year on federal tax and social program policies regarding Puerto Rico, the territorial economy, local programs, and the behavior in Puerto Rico of manufacturers based in the States.
  • Transportation funding, including the extension of the Urban Train that links adjacent Bayamon, Guaynabo, and San Juan to also adjacent Carolina.
  • Clean-up of the Martin Pena Canal in San Juan.
  • Army Corps of Engineers flood control projects.
  • Further environmental protection of the El Yunque U.S. National Forest.
  • A new Veterans Hospital.
  • Redevelopment of the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station.

The agreement to seek the federal funding came two days before the Congress agreed to major spending cuts.

Among the savings will be restricting the growth of the Medicaid program by $10 billion through 2010. The limitation in the growth of Medicaid is a part of a $35 billion restriction in ‘entitlement’ program increases over the period. Among the other programs that could be affected are nutrition programs. This could include the special Nutrition Assistance Program that helps feed the poor in Puerto Rico.

The five-year, $14 trillion budget aims to reduce the annual federal deficit -- $412 billion in fiscal year 2004 -- to $211 billion in 2010.

The budget includes $106 billion in tax cuts over the five-year period. However, $70 billion of these are intended to be extensions of current, expiring tax reductions.

McClintock Makes Waves with Puerto Rico Consumer Equality Action

Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock (statehood/D) got attention -- and action – this week in his efforts to have consumers in Puerto Rico treated equally with their fellow citizens in the States by businesses based in the States.

The Hill, a newspaper that serves the congressional community ran a long article on McClintock’s complaints and actions to have consumers in Puerto Rico treated equally. Another report was distributed across the nation by the Dow Jones news service. In the stories, McClintock pointed out that companies send inferior and old products to Puerto Rico and that many product offers to U.S. consumers are not available in the territory.

He said that Puerto Rico is used by some companies as a "Third World dumping site" and called the practices "geographic discrimination."

The Puerto Rican Senate leader also disclosed that he is ordering that the legislative body not purchase from companies based in the States that "discriminate’ against Puerto Rico.

One of the examples of discrimination provided by McClintock was that Dell Computers had not made its newest and best models available in the territory and was charging more than in the States for its older models. At first, a spokeswoman for Dell denied the charge. But a Dell official later said that the company would act to ensure equality in the treatment of Puerto Rican consumers.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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