Acevedo Vilá questions how NPP will get $3.5 million for statehood referendum

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for resident commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá urged the governing New Progressive Party (NPP) on Monday to explain how the island government will find $3.5 million for the “Statehood Yes or No” referendum given that the U.S.

Department of Justice (DOJ) has ignored the request for those funds made under Law 51 of 2020, which was signed on May 16 by Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced.

During a press conference held at PDP headquarters in Puerta de Tierra, Acevedo Vilá noted that the Puerto Rico government had until June 30 to complete all procedures, certifications and disbursements related to the plebiscite and that the State Elections Committee (SEC) president had up to 30 days to coordinate with U.S. attorney general and other federal authorities for approval. In addition, if the procedures under Law 113-76 of 2014 were not complete on or before June 30, the recent law offered guidelines for guaranteeing the process’ success and protecting voters’ rights, while the governor, the resident commissioner and the SEC president were responsible for informing the U.S. president and the leaders of both houses of Congress and of the island Legislature of any actions taken.

“This is not what the PDP says, we did not invent this; that is the law that [Puerto Rico Senate President] Thomas Rivera Schatz wrote, what the NPP majority approved unanimously and what the governor signed,” Acevedo Vilá said. “Obviously, here we are on July 6, and yes, they submitted a request for funds to the U.S. DOJ to hold the [political] status plebiscite and the SEC followed in order to get ballot approval, that was on June 3, which was compliant with Law 51 of 2020. However, after that, officially, we have not been informed about anything.”

Acevedo Vilá also raised concerns as the only update known by the general public came from PDP ex-senator Ramón Luis Nieves, who called out powerbrokers hired by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority who were using public funds to lobby for statehood in Washington.

Likewise, the former governor called on the party to clarify how they were going to fund the referendum slated for Nov. 3 when NPP Electoral Commissioner María Dolores “Lolín” Santiago had insisted that there was not enough money for the primary elections.

“Although they say that the referendum costs $2.5 million, it could actually be $3.5 million -- $3.5 million that might come out of the budget that we do not have, $3.5 million that could be used for so many other things that we need in Puerto Rico,” Acevedo Vilá said. “We also call on the Financial Oversight and Management Board to tell us if they will validate this squandering of public funds on a plebiscite that is not endorsed by the [U.S.] DOJ, the Constitution, laws or U.S. public policy. We can’t make Puerto Rico waste their time and money on a referendum that will not lead to any consequence.”

Meanwhile, the PDP governing board still insists on citizens voting “No” if the referendum takes place. However, when The Star asked if the PDP had other options for addressing Puerto Rico’s political status, Acevedo Vilá replied that, as it is a priority to address such a situation, the island government should stop making the same mistakes and commit to holding a constitutional assembly, “but that’s something up for discussion by the party.”

PDP expresses concern over Justice secretary’s dismissal As for ex-Justice Secretary Denisse Longo Quiñones being dismissed by Vázquez, Acevedo Vilá said he thought it was worrisome. He also said he felt incensed because there is not enough press coverage and citizens feel uneasy about the matter.

“You don’t dispose of a [cabinet member] because you lost your trust in them on a Friday night, at 8 p.m., so they leave that same date. Unless, analogically speaking, you own a store, you have a security camera and you find an employee stealing money from the cash register.

You tell them that they must get out,” he said. “Hierarchically, it is the third most important position in our Constitution. This person could be governor, as Wanda Vázquez well knows.

She [Longo Quiñones] gets fired when there are five ongoing cases that involve her [Vázquez’s] government.”

Acevedo Vilá went on to say that there are no reasons for firing Longo Quiñones other than some dispute with the ex-Justice secretary’s mother, former Health Department acting secretary Dr. Concepción Quiñones de Longo, or that, last Tuesday, there was a referral from the island House of Representatives Health Committee that involved half of the governor’s staff, which she later made an effort to debunk.

“If any of these were not the reason, then what was it? Two sources confirmed it was due to a dispute between [Vázquez and Longo Quiñones] after the governor wanted to shelve some investigations. If that was the reason, that is called obstruction of justice,” Acevedo Vilá said.

“For two years, Donald Trump was being investigated; this is an extremely serious matter, as a governor gives someone instructions or insinuates to a [Justice] secretary to stop investigations, this could be material for impeachment.”

Rep. Luis Vega Ramos, meanwhile, asked Longo Quiñones to come clean and tell the public if Vázquez asked for her resignation because she refused to shelve ongoing cases against the government.

“If there’s another reason as to why she got fired, then we can all move on from this discussion,” Vega Ramos said. “However, if her dismissal, which has been confirmed by the governor herself, is involved with prolonging investigations that involve La Fortaleza and Puerto Rico’s government, she has the moral duty to confirm that.”

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