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Archive for February, 2011


As reported by El Nuevo Día, former Puerto Rican Governor Carlos Romero Barceló had a few strong words for the student protesters who interrupted a ceremony of the island’s former governors inside Puerto Rico’s Capitol building in San Juan today.

“It is revolting to see those who don’t want to study,” said Romero Barceló in Spanish. “The worst crime you can commit in a democratic state is when you try to impose your own personal agenda.”

According to El Nuevo Día, the incident with the students occurred when Jenniffer González, the Speaker of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, was about to begin her remarks honoring the island’s ex-governors in the Capitol’s Rotunda area, where the original copies of Puerto Rico’s Constitution (ratified in 1952) are housed.

Student protestors being forced out of Puerto Rico's Capitol Building today. ©A Primera Hora

The students began to read a message opposing the decision by the University of Puerto Rico’s administration to raise annual tuition by $800. The 15 protesters were taken forcefully out of the building by Puerto Rican police and Capitol security guards. The Puerto Rican website A Primera Hora reported that the protesters entered the Capitol building dressed professionally to gain access. Once they were taken outside the building, they began to talk with the press. The report identified student Jesús Veléz as the spokesperson for the group.

Many of the island’s ex-governors were at the ceremony, including Rafael Hernández Colón, Pedro Rosselló, and Romero Barceló. Both Rosselló and Romero Barceló are members of the island’s New Progressive Party, which supports the push for Puerto Rican statehood. Hernández Colón is a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports the island’s current commonwealth status, although new voices in the party are pushing for free association if ever The Puerto Rico Democracy Act passes through the US Congress.

The biggest absence at the ceremony was current Puerto Rican Governor, pro-statehooder, and registered Republican Luis Fortuño.

Governor Luis Fortuño

This Capitol protest in San Juan is a stark contrast to events in Madison, Wisconsin, where pro-labor supporters were allowed to remain in Wisconsin’s State Capitol building and were not forced out by police. Also, the protestors in Madison number in the thousands, while only 15 protestors showed up in San Juan today.

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It started with a simple Facebook update from my friend, Rolando Poet Ortiz, who tagged me in the following photo of his wrists after he got handcuffed by a Fontana, California police officer last Friday as he was waiting in a parking lot minding his own business.

The posts from his friends were that of shock and anger. Yeah, Rolando was mad too, wouldn’t you be if you were mistaken for another person and unjustly cuffed? So, I reached out to him this weekend and let him share with us what happened. We recorded the conversation and you can hear it here below. You decide for yourself. I have my own opinions, and Rolando, who has worked his tail off after being incarcerated ten years go, is a role model to us all, a strong Latino who didn’t lose his cool under what appears to have been a very tense and ugly situation.

My friend Rolando with Edward James Olmos

CLICK ON LINK BELOW FOR INTERVIEW

AUDIO: Fontana, CA Police Harassment

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While Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño still has not commented about the remarks made by Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez that compared Fortuño’s activities to that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, another pro-statehood student association published an open letter to Gutiérrez.

February 16th, 2011

Hon. Luis Gutierrez

2266 Rayburn House Office Building

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Gutierrez,

Today, you stood up to denounce the Government of Puerto Rico and its response to violent student protests. You also used the opportunity to address resting issues such as the Puerto Rico Bar Association and the elimination of its compulsory membership fees. You are widely regarded as a fearless champion for causes such as immigration reform, where I must admit that I stand with you. In fact, I stand with you on nearly every single controversial issue.

However, it troubles me that you insist on venturing into issues pertaining to Puerto Rico and the state of affairs there. As a member of Congress, you have consistently spoken against the people of Puerto Rico, rather than with them. You have opposed the government they elected, the political status option they prefer, and today you seemed appalled that its highest court would refuse to acknowledge a fictional right to strike.

As you spoke next to a large portrait of one of our most distinguished jurists, you spewed gross misinformation about the ongoing student protests in the University of Puerto Rico. For one, you said the right to free speech was being abridged. I would ask you to say whether the right to destroy public and private property has ever been gathered from the First Amendment. Maybe there is a United States Supreme Court ruling that protects the right to attack police officers. I am certainly not a constitutional expert, at least not yet, but I do not believe those rights are there. Neither is the student body’s right to strike in our Constitution or the U.S. Constitution. I do not believe there is a single state in the Union that acknowledges that right.

Since you are so concerned about the protection of the First Amendment, there is one U.S. Supreme Court decision that I think is very relevant to your argument. In Keller v. State Bar of California (1990), the Court voted unanimously to oppose the use of a state bar’s collected dues to finance its political and ideological activities. As far as I know, the State Bar of California is far from dismantled. Again, I fail to see how the Government of Puerto Rico acted in a way that was so anathema to the laws and rights guaranteed by our great nation.

I know you care about my Island as much as I do; that you only want what’s best for its people. Therefore, it would be negligent of me to miss this opportunity to make an all-too-familiar appeal. Stop obstructing Puerto Rico’s self-determination and allow us to vote on our political status. And if we choose statehood, please stand aside and allow us to enjoy the rights you so fiercely demanded in your speech today.

Sincerely,

Eduardo J. Soto

President

The Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association

As with a previous letter we published by an anti-UPR-strike organization, we have several questions for Mr. Soto and we hope he can reach out to us to answer them. Here are just a few questions we would like to ask him:

  • Representative Gutiérrez is Puerto Rican and like most Puerto Ricans we know, he has opinions about the island. Are you implying by this letter that Rep. Gutiérrez does not have the right to freely express his opinions about Puerto Rico just because you do not agree with him?
  • The current status of The Puerto Rican Democracy Act is with the Senate, and not the House of Representatives. Even though Rep. Guitérrez did not support the act, it still passed the House. Why are you saying that Rep. Guitiérrez is obstructing Puerto Ricans’ right to self-determination? Shouldn’t you be lobbying the US Senate instead?
  • You write as if the act has already passed the Senate. Are you also aware that this Act is a non-binding resolution and Puerto Rico is still at the mercy of the US Congress, no matter what option it chooses, assuming there will even be a vote?
  • As for your claims that the UPR students do not have a right to protest and strike, the Constitution is contradictory between Amendment 1 and 2. Have you read the Constitution of the United States?
  • Have you done research about Constitutional law or do you like to draft political rhetoric to make your point?

We are here to interview you any time you like.

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Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Last Friday, award-winning author Raul Ramos y Sanchez, whose new book HOUSE DIVIDED launched in late January, made an appearance on CNN en español. Here is the subtitled video in case you misssed it. Yes, Raul, we LOVE your CUBANO accent! ¡VAYA!

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The Spanish "¿Y pa' quién?" means "And for who?"

A group opposed to the new Whole Foods store scheduled to be built in the Hyde Square section of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood has recently launched a new web page to promote their message against urban gentrification. The group, called Whose Foods?, has created WhoseFoods.org. The site contains videos in English and Spanish from JP residents who oppose the new Whole Foods store, which is taking over the location where the Hi-Lo Latino market used to stand for the last 37 years.

According to its bilingual website, the group is “a multicultural, multigenerational group of Jamaican Plain residents and allies working together for a better JP.” It has listed three mission statements, and it is inviting anyone interested in this issue to speak out. The statements are as follow:

  • Against: a Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain and against the continued gentrification of JP”
  • For: a locally‐owned business that serves low and moderate income families in JP and beyond”
  • For: strengthening JP’s cultural, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity”

On Monday evening, February 28, JP will be active, as a Rally for an Affordable and Diverse JP is being planned for 6 pm at Mozart Park. At 7 pm, the JP Neighborhood Council will hold its second neighborhood forum at the Kennedy School regarding this issue. At the council’s first forum on February 7, an overwhelming majority of JP residents opposed the new Whole Foods.

Tomorrow’s forum should be more balanced, since some pro-Whole Foods groups have also been formed, primarily on Facebook. We Are All Whole Foods, formed by JP resident and social media professional Steve Garfield, is perhaps the most active one. It currently has 129 fans, compared to Whose Foods? and their 348 fans. The majority of comments on We Are Al Whole Foods are more pro-Whole Foods. For example, one JP Resident posted the following about the Whose Foods? videos:

Watching the videos on “Whose Foods, Whose Community” I see a distinct lack of diversity, and nothing but opinion full of unsupported if/then statements being made. E.g. If Whole Foods moves in, then rents will increase. If WF moves in, Latinos can’t afford food. If WF moves in, there will be no more diversity in JP. If WF moves in, Latinos won’t be able to find the foods they need for cooking native dishes. What? It strikes me that the underlying motive is really “keep Hyde Square Latino.” Where are the Anglo voices on their site? The Afro voices? The actual diversity of JP which spans cultures and income ranges?

As for an official statement from Whole Foods, we have contacted the Whole Foods Northeast office for comment several times, but they have not responded to us.

Boston politicians have also been contacted to comment about this issue, but except comments from City Councillors Ayanna Pressley and Matt O’Malley, other leaders have not returned our calls or emails for comments. These include Boston Mayor Tom Menino, State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, and Councillor Felix Arroyo. If we do hear from any of these elected officials, we will post their statements.

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On Friday, as reported by the Associated Press, Rolando Crespo, the House Majority Whip of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, had tested positive for cocaine use during a mandatory drug test of the island’s legislators. Today, after facing pressure from his political allies, Crespo announced his resignation.

Rolando Crespo

El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s top newspaper, reported an article in Spanish at 3:34 PM EST (4:34 PM local island item) that chronicles Crespo’s resignation. Crespo met with Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s Speaker of the House, and offered his resignation. He also told González that he would go into a drug rehabilitation program.

“[Speaker González] who has given me advice. Over the weekend, I went through a process of reflection,” said Crespo in Spanish today. “I talked with my family, with God and with myself. Today, I announcement my resignation.”

Crespo, as well as González, are members of the island pro-statehood party the New Progressive Party (PNP), which is also the party of Governor Luis Fortuño. Fortuño, who won the election in 2008, had included a “zero-corrpution” government on his formal platform, and promised that any political leader—no matter what party—would need to follow all ethical and legal requirements. Fortuño and González were both very vocal in tell Crespo that he had to resign from his post. Initially, González had announced that a formal ethics hearing would be held in the House for Crespo, but the pressure for his resignation had already mounted.

On Friday, the AP reported the following:

“I accept that I failed. I am human. I ask the citizens of Puerto Rico for forgiveness. … I will submit to all processes to rectify this ignorance,” Crespo was quoted as saying in the statement.

Gonzalez said Crespo had denied to her that he used drugs. She said he had stepped down as House majority whip.

Shortly after Gonzalez’s announcement, Gov. Luis Fortuño said he was indignant about the results and urged Crespo to resign immediately instead of waiting for a decision from the ethics committee.

“This is an uncomfortable and unacceptable situation for both the legislature and for the citizens of Puerto Rico,” Fortuño said in a statement.

Today, Fortuño commented from the National Governors Association meeting in Washington:

“I spoke with [Crespo] this morning. He knows that within minutes of my finding out about the revelations, I recommended and urged him to resign,” Fortuño said in Spanish. “He must focus on whatever personal issues that would arise from this situation.”

Fortuño also said that Crespo had assured him that Crespo would not seek a canadidacy to the Puerto Rican Legislature in 2012.

Governor Luis Fortuño

It has been a tumultuous month for the Puerto Rican Governor, the first Republican to be elected on the island since 1969. His remarks at February’s 2011 CPAC (The American Conservative Union) conference claimed that most Puerto Ricans are conservative in nature and that the Republican party can successfully reach out to voters on the island, as his victory proved. (Note: Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote in national elections.) In the same speech, Fortuño urged Republican lawmakers to take advantage of the new House majorities on the mainland during the budget debate and “make the tough cuts early and stick to them with courage”.

Fortuño, who has been credited for improving the island’s debt issues and establishing the island’s highest bond rating since 1976, is still facing tough criticism for his handling of the recent strikes at the University of Puerto Rico. This criticism reached a crescendo when Illinois Democrat Luis Guitérrez publicly railed against the Fortuño government for violating basic American rights and suggesting that Fortuño’s tactics are similar to that our Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. In addition, The Puerto Rico Democracy Act, a referendum that would allow for Puerto Ricans to vote on their political status, is stuck in the Senate and Fortuño is facing pressure from his own party to ensure that the Act is passed to Puerto Ricans can vote on their political future.

The Crespo resignation has dealt a blow to the Fortuño administration, and it is no surprise that the governor wanted to distance himself from Crespo as quickly as possible.

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Last week, while we learned of the death penalty sentence given to Minutemen leader and murderer Shawna Forde for the home invasion killing of two Latino American citizens, two Pennsylvania men convicted of severely beating an illegal Mexican immigrant in 2008 were sentenced last Wednesday to nine years in prison.

As reported by CBS News, the two men, Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky, were part of a group of white high school football players in Shenandoah, PA who attacked 25-year-old Luis Ramírez in 2008. Prosecutors in the case, which produced a conviction last October, claimed that the players beat Ramírez because of his ethnicity and because they didn’t want Ramírez living in their town. Ramírez eventually died from the injuries sustained in the brutal beating.

Luis Ramírez, beaten by white teenagers and eventually died from the injuries sustained

As CBS reports:

Justice Department prosecutor Myesha Braden said in court Wednesday that while Piekarsky, now 19, and Donchak, now 21, did not intend to kill Ramirez, they decided his ethnicity made him “somehow worthy of being beaten like a dog in the streets.”

Defense attorneys said they will appeal the verdicts and sentences.

The pair were convicted in October. They could have received more than 12 years to more than 15 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo granted them a reduction because of their personal character and conduct before Ramirez’s beating, as well as the numerous letters and testimonials he received.

He also noted Ramirez’s death and the crimes of Piekarsky and Donchak.

“The jury found that Mr. Ramirez died as a result of his ethnicity or race. This is serious business in America,” said Caputo, adding: “There are no winners here, only losers.”

Brandon Piekarsky, Copyright © The Associated Press

The report presents a good summary of the case, which garnered national attention last year:

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that youth, testosterone and alcohol played a role. But they argued over the mindset of a quartet of belligerent teens who called Ramirez an ethnic slur, told him to go back to Mexico and assaulted the immigrant with their fists and feet.

Federal charges were brought against Piekarsky and Donchak after another all-white jury acquitted them of serious state crimes, including third-degree murder in Piekarsky’s case. Hispanic activists decried the May 2009 verdict, calling Ramirez’s death part of a rising tide of hate crimes against Latinos. They and Gov. Ed Rendell appealed for a Justice Department prosecution.

Piekarsky was accused of delivering a fatal kick to Ramirez’s head after he’d been knocked unconscious by another teen, Colin Walsh, who pleaded guilty in federal court and testified against his childhood friends. A fourth teen, Brian Scully, pleaded guilty in juvenile court and also testified for the prosecution.

Both defendants were convicted of a hate crime under the Fair Housing Act. Donchak also was convicted of two counts that he conspired with three Shenandoah police officers to cover up the crime. Those officers were tried last month in federal court on charges they obstructed a federal investigation into the fatal beating, but a jury rejected most of the government’s case.

Derrick Donchak, Copyright © The Associated Press

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