Anibal Acevedo Vila, Former Governor of Puerto Rico

Anibal Acevedo Vila, Former Governor of Puerto Rico

Sometimes how the United States Government works may seem a little cumbersome to those of you who live in the fifty states. But if you think some processes are a bit fuzzy on the mainland, they’re even more muddled for disputes between the United States and it’s commonwealths and territories who lack full representation in Congress and the same rights and privileges as the states.

This week, in the Federal Court for the District of Puerto Rico, the matter of United States of America v. Anibal Acevedo Vila, et als, takes center stage. Acevedo Vila is the former Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, who served from 2004 until 2008.

The Case
Anibal Acevedo Vila was the Governor of Puerto Rico from 2004 to 2008, and was the Resident Commissioner from 2000 to 2004.  The Resident Commissioner is the elected official that represents the interests of Puerto Rico in the United States Congress.  For the last three years of his Gubernatorial term, he was the target of a Federal Investigation that included a review of his college transcripts, and the Law Review articles that he wrote.

On March 27, 2008 a Grand Jury indicted him on 23 counts of campaign money laundering. All but four of those were dismissed.  However, on a later date he was indicted on five more counts of denying the people of Puerto Rico of the Honest Services they are entitled.  This Criminal Code disposition provides a presumption that the citizens of any jurisdiction are entitled to be served by their elected officials in an honest manner.  This event marked the beginning of a clash between the local form of government and the Federal  way of government, where Puerto Rico lacks any representative in Congress that has the authority to vote on any legislation presented.

The Jurisdictional Issue
For some time now, the main defense of the defendants has been that even if what is alleged in the indictments is true, these are not crimes to be prosecuted by the Federal Courts of the United States of America, because they are State Crimes of the territory of Puerto Rico.  That ladies and gentlemen is not an appropriate defense theory.

In fact, the subject matter that makes the crimes eligible for prosecution at the Federal level arises from the fact that the time frame when they were allegedly committed was when Anibal Acevedo Vila was the Resident Commissioner and a non-voting member of the United States Congress.  The Federal Elections Commission ethics rules and laws only apply to those who serve in Congress.  Even as a non-voting member of Congress, as long as he is representing Puerto Rico in a n official capacity, he must comply with those rules and regulations.   Also, as a member of Congress, he had to file Federal Tax Returns that included the revenue he received while he held the position of Resident Commissioner.  So there are a myriad of routes the United States Attorney could’ve worded the complaint to the Grand Jury as to attach Federal Jurisdiction to the case.

The sad part for the Puerto Rican society is that of representation.  Even when we Puerto Ricans do have a Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C., his powers are limited to voting in a committee, and then if the vote is a tie, his voting powers are revoked.  Therefore, a citizen of Puerto Rico being tried in the Federal Court is being prosecuted for crimes approved as such by representatives of the States, without the consent of the local citizenry.

The Effect of the Issue in Puerto Rico
It is the first time the sitting Governor of Puerto Rico has been indicted of any crime.  And this one, while indicted, ran for re-election as if nothing had happened.  Anibal Acevedo Vila taunted the United States Government, practically dared them to present the charges against him, and challenged the authority of the United States while promoting a sovereign nation as the future for Puerto Rico, when his party’s platform has always been of remaining a mutual commonwealth, in a close relationship to the United States, without the full rights and privileges of statehood.  Puerto Rico’s political status can be named as commonwealth, territory, colony, or property of the United Staes of America.

Puerto Rico’s political and ideological status is risky, and has its flaws.  Maybe we are experiencing these flaws throughout the judicial process where Acevedo Vila is facing a Federal Judge that was brought from New Hampshire for this case only, who was appointed by a US President that Puerto Rico didn’t vote for and was confirmed by a Senate without Puerto Rican representation, in a Federal Building in Puerto Rico, being tried by a Jury of Puerto Rico citizens that are bilingual, and that are willing to be sequestered until the process is complete.

How Democratic is that! We have a republican form of government within our territory, where Puerto Ricans choose their Executive Branch, their Legislative Branch, and their Judicial Branch.  Nevertheless, the Puerto Rican Governor is being prosecuted by a judicial system not representative of the citizenry of Puerto Rico.

The complicated relationships between the United States and it’s various commonwealths, territories, and protectorates will be explored in future posts on Inside Government.

-C.G. Salgado

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