Posted on 02/22/2007 Hispanic Vista 12:02 AM EST
When corruption is the norm
Víctor M. Rodriguez Domínguez
Dr. Rene Vazquez Botet, a respected, skillful Puerto Rican ophthalmologist, seemed awkward as he hid behind a young black prisoner. Mr. Vazquez Botet was making sure that press photographers could not get a good shot of his shiny new handcuffs. Ironically, the young black man smiled unabashedly toward the cameras while this former political campaign director of Puerto Rico’s former governor, Pedro Rosselló, did his best to hide behind the young man. His face seemed anguished as he and his convicted partner were led outside of the court room after being sentenced.
The irony of a wealthy, highly educated man hiding behind a poor convict may not have eluded the young man. He was walking down the same path of Vazquez Botet who had been one of Puerto Rico’s most powerful politicians, who now is facing five years in a federal penitentiary and three years of probation for, among other crimes, extortion. But he was not alone.
In addition to Mr. Vazquez Botet, who led the political campaign and fund-raising efforts for the Rosselló administration and who was accused of extorting millions of dollars from contractors to finance the New Progressive Party’s political campaign, Attorney Marcos Morell Corrada, secretary general of the New Progressive Party, which supports statehood for the island, was also convicted of extortion and other white collar crimes.
Both were accused of extorting close to $2.4 million which would be used to finance lobbying congress for statehood, the electoral process and other political projects of the New Progressive Party (PNP).
Their role in this process seems to have been part of a larger plan to provide the necessary funds to maintain the party in power and to advance the campaign for statehood. This pattern of corruption rose to the highest levels of the PNP administration.
In the last few years more than forty Puerto Rican politicians and public servants have been convicted of major acts of corruption including extortion, embezzlement and other white collar crimes. The majority of them belong to the New Progressive Party. Among these are the former secretary of education, the president of the local house of representatives, the main executive aide and the assistant chief of staff of former governor Pedro Rosselló (1993-2000), the executive director of the port’s authority, a few mayors all whom served during this regime, labeled by many as the most corrupt government in Puerto Rico’s political history.
After this period, Governor Sila Nazario de Ferrer named Attorney David Noriega, a legislator for the Pro-Independence Party who led anti-corruption investigations, as head of an independent ‘blue ribbon’ commission to investigate this pattern of corruption.
According to Mr. Noriega, “during this period (1993-2000) a systematic pattern and plan existed to pillage the public treasury from the highest spheres of government with profit and ideological objectives.”
Recently, a former secretary of health under former Governor Rosselló said he “he had to know” this pattern was taking place under his administration. Dr. Enrique Vazquez Quintana was asked to resign when he opposed the efforts to privative the health care system, a process where much corruption took place.
In the meantime, Puerto Rico suffers an economic recession, one of the highest public and private debt in the world and a murder rate that is higher than in any part of the United States. In the first 32 days of the year more than 62 persons have been murdered in this nation of four million inhabitants.
However, despite the fact that Dr. Vazquez Botet will be going to jail, he will most likely never have an encounter with the young black man who was also convicted of other crimes that day in the federal court. Class differences in Puerto Rico impinge on how the courts treat criminals, Vazquez Botet was able to meet his family without his handcuffs while the young convict was probably not granted that privilege. Also, contrary to the young black convict Mr. Vazquez Botet will be sent to a minimum prison in the South east, where the climate is similar to Puerto Rico and where the prison does not have fences and instead of cells they have dormitories. Very likely, Mr. Vazquez Botet will never find the young black man in the camp’s tennis court for doubles.
Victor Rodriguez Domínguez is a professor in the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies at California State University, Long Beach. He is presently on sabbatical in Puerto Rico.
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