May 13, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
The Political War is On in San Juan.
Any hope that Puerto Ricos divided government might find the basis for compromise and collaboration seems to have vanished. What had been rhetorical sparring beforehand became all-out warfare in April when Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá broke his word to the Legislature and vetoed a bill that he assured everyone that he would sign.
The bill related to the one subject on the top of every politicians "do-list" -- status.
In April, both houses of the Puerto Rico legislature had unanimously agreed on a status-initiating bill but it failed to become law due to the Governors shocking reversal of his previously announced position to support it. The bill would have presented the U.S. Congress with the following resolution: "We, the people of Puerto Rico, in the exercise of our right to self-determination, demand from the President and the Congress of the United States of America an expression of their commitment to respond to the people of Puerto Ricos claim to solve their political status among fully democratic options of a non-colonial and non-territorial nature."
Acevedos rejection of the bill flabbergasted legislators of the majority New Progressive Party (NPP) as well as those Popular Democratic Party (PDP) members who voted for the bill after it had been approved word by word --by the PDP party leadership and had been given the Governors blessing. Additionally, as the bill moved along in committee, Acevedo asked for and received modifications relating to the timing of provisions calling for an island referendum to petition the Congress for action and, if the federal government had failed to act, triggering a constitutional assembly in Puerto Rico.
An attempt to override the Governors veto failed when he leaned on the PDP delegation in each house to change their previously favorable votes, depriving the legislature of the necessary 2/3 majority to make the bill law.
By this move, Governor Acevedo was able to block any decisive move towards the islands achievement of a permanent political status, but he seemed to have lost any possibility of comity with the opposition majority in the Puerto Rico House and Senate.
The seething NPP majority pulled out the war wagons. More than one angry legislator was heard to publicly call the Governor "a liar." Since then, relations between El Capitolio and La Fortaleza have been acrimonious. The Governors budget is still languishing in committee. The latest battle is the controversy regarding the approval of Acevedos choice for Secretary of State, Marisara Pont Marchese.
The Puerto Rico Senate approved her but the House of Representatives, at first agreeable to her approval, changed course and turned her down by two votes.
Governor Acevedo has filed petitions in the Puerto Rico Supreme Court asserting that the House did officially confirm her by the earlier vote. He has asked the high court to require House Secretary Jose Enrique Melendez to certify Ms. Ponts appointment and provide the court records of House proceedings on the night of the vote. The litigation is currently on-going.
NPP leadership is holding firm and called on Ms. Pont to immediately vacate the post which she now holds in an "acting" capacity. Late yesterday, the Governor announced that, "in deference to the Supreme Court," Ms. Pont had agreed to leave office until the justices decided the case. Acevedo also expressed confidence that the court would declare her confirmed.
Yesterday, NPP former Governor Carlos Romero Barceló, testifying before a government commission, expressed the opinion that Pont Marchese was a victim of the confrontational atmosphere existing between the legislative and executive branches of the island government. He laid the blame for the quarrel squarely at the feet of Governor Acevedo Vilá. "He has ruined the atmosphere," opined Romero. "He does not wish to share power with the NPP majority in the legislature."
House sources say that other cabinet nominees may fall victim to the NPPs wrath.
Speaking on the subject of the Pont controversy earlier in the week, Senate President Kenneth McClintock said that Governor Acevedo "lacks the moral strength to talk about what the Legislature does and doesnt do, especially after he broke his promise to the people that he would sign the status bill if the NPP amended it."
Perhaps the Governor is hoping that the NPP forces in the legislature will become divided after Sundays party conference, called by Senator Pedro Rosselló, to decide whether he or current President Kenneth McClintock should hold the Senates top post. No matter how that decision goes, it is predictable that deep resentments will emerge that could fracture what has so far been solid NPP opposition to the administration of Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá.
Meanwhile the political war is raging in San Juan. As with all war, it is the "innocent civilians" who suffer more and endure the preponderance of casualties. In this case, it is the 4 million inhabitants of the island that have become "collateral damage" in this battle. It is they who must wait for the elements of their government to stop the combat and begin the governing.
Some of those inhabitants mostly the Governors supporters have taken to the streets to protest the impasse. One group held a protest last night in front of the Capitol building calling on the legislature to break the deadlock over the Governors appointments and the islands budget.
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