- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2010

The U.S. Virgin Islands is implementing public-private partnerships that benefit our territory and the United States. In the middle of a recession, the territory’s leaders should be commended for keeping companies in America, generating significant direct and indirect economic activity, preventing thousands of government layoffs and funding construction of roads and other necessary infrastructure improvements. Yet Naomi Lopez Bauman is attacking our leaders (“Drunk on corporate welfare,” Opinion, Sept. 20) as part of a Puerto Rican smear campaign rather than addressing Puerto Rico’s own crushing economic problems.

Virgin Islands officials secured 30-year agreements with Fortune Brands (owner of Cruzan Rum) and Diageo (Captain Morgan’s owner). The partnerships use the rum excise tax cover-over program, which dates to 1917, as intended - to generate business activity and economic development. In response, the National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC) and its allies, including Ms. Bauman, launched an all-out attack against the Virgin Islands. They want Congress to pass legislation that would overturn these agreements years after they were signed, changing the rules of the game after it already is over.

Most congressional Republicans and Democrats refuse to take NPRC seriously. Intervening in these local economic agreements, which use revenue the Congressional Research Service determined is under full local control, would set a dangerous precedent. A small extremist group’s objections are no reason to make every single government-business partnership vulnerable to retroactive federal legislation years after the fact.

NPRC recently escalated its assaults to get Washington’s attention. But Puerto Rico’s own governor and congressional delegate distanced themselves from the latest round of charges because NPRC’s accusations have no foundation in fact. Jeffrey Farrow, NPRC’s board member responsible for policy, resigned in protest and stated that NPRC Chairman Miguel Lausell and President Rafael A. Fantauzzi were acting without consulting the organization’s board of directors.

NPRC and its allies are out for themselves and are ignoring the harm they are causing to the Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands economic, political and cultural relationship. Rather than solving Puerto Rico’s economic crisis, they are diverting attention and resources to fight their neighbor. This hurts both Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders.

It is hard to imagine how this behavior enhances Puerto Rico’s chances of becoming a state, the goal of many Puerto Ricans involved in these attacks on the Virgin Islands. Would the state of Puerto Rico attempt similar smears on other states? Or is this type of campaign somehow acceptable when the target is its much smaller Caribbean neighbor?

When companies want to invest in America, particularly in troubling economic times like these, we need to welcome and work with them. Puerto Rico’s questionable effort to force these rum makers to foreign countries so it can exploit a legal quirk that would divert money to Puerto Rican coffers each year is the definition of anti-American behavior.

PAUL ARNOLD

President

Virgin Islands Economic Leadership Council

Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands