Raul Yzaguirre, NCLR and the Menéndez Investigation
By Álvaro Fernández
Raul Yzaguirre grew National Council of La Raza (NCLR) into the largest Latino civil rights organization in the nation during his tenure as its president and CEO from 1974 to 2004. Five years after he retired from his NCLR post, President Obama named Yzaguirre ambassador to the Dominican Republic. That’s where this story begins.
The possible Yzaguirre ties to the ongoing Menendez story fell on my lap as I delved into why a powerful, but small, sector of U.S. Latino leaders, led by NCLR and its current president, Janet Murgia, came to Menéndez’s defense less than 48 hours after the senator was indicted by the Justice Department.
The impression one gets from their emails and articles was one of circling the wagons around Menéndez.
But there was little to circle around, or even defend. Any honest leader, after reading the indictment, should have felt disappointment with the powerful Menéndez – not empathy. And the reaction of these groups should have been one of “this is not the type of behavior we look for in our political leaders.”
Sadly, the tactic smelled of Latinos creating the impression that Menéndez was targeted because he was Latino. The until-last-week powerful Menéndez suddenly became the king with no clothes on. And he is now a Latino, New Jersey Democrat indicted on 14 charges of bribery, fraud and personal enrichment by the Justice Department.
The names are a Who’s Who of Washington, DC, Latino elites: Janet Murguia, National Council of La Raza (NCLR); Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Albio Sires; Frank Sharry, America’s Voice; Mickey Ibarra, Latino Leaders Network; Brent Wilkes, League of United American Citizens (LULAC); Javier Palomarez, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and others.
NCLR took the lead. Janet Murgia, NCLR president and CEO, quickly posted on their blog and later in the Huffington Post Menéndez’s “unparalleled record of service to the Latino community.” She bullet-pointed the numerous Latino causes Menendez has championed. And she ended by stating, “As he has been there for us, we will be there for him.”
Ms. Murgia heads the largest Latino organization in the nation. Give them, and I do, credit for many accomplishments on behalf of Latinos. But I also blame them for buying into the big business, money rules, and powerful interests first, type of Washington governance.
Raul Yzaguirre: A very brief bio
In 1974, Raul Yzaguirre became the second president and CEO to lead NCLR. Until his retirement in 2004, the dynamic Yzaguirre grew the organization into the powerful Washington insider it has become. Their influence reaches inside the White House. A former NCLR senior vice president, Cecilia Munoz, today serves as Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council.
Today Yzaguirre holds a prestigious position as presidential professor at Arizona State University and also serves on the Council of Foreign Relations.
In between the aforementioned years, President Obama named Yzaguirre ambassador to the Dominican Republic in November of 2010, where he served a short stint until May 29, 2013. Guess who pushed and cajoled the president on behalf of Yzaguirre’s ambassadorship?
It was Senator Bob Menéndez.
I see no problem in a senator vouching for a friend. There’s nothing abnormal or wrong with that. It’s what happened after Yzaguirre is named that I wonder about. Remember that part of the Menéndez indictment deals with the Melgen port deal in the Dominican Republic?
Check out the dates on this deal and tell me the smell of rotten fish doesn’t permeate this relationship. Remember, Yzaguirre is named ambassador at the end of 2010 and departs in May 2013.
Here’s a chronology of the Melgen-Menéndez role in the Dominican port deal, according to BreitBart.com:
August 2011 – Dr. Salomon Melgen purchases a 50% interest in ICSSI for $100,000 through his company Boarder Support Services, LLC. The only significant asset of ICSSI-the company in which he now owns a half interest-is a disputed and unimplemented concessionary port contract that could be worth $500 million over ten years, but it has been languishing in litigation for seven years, with no end in sight.
December 2011 – Dominican President Leonel Fernández, a friend of Melgen’s who has attended at least one event at Melgen’s Dominican mansion, creates a commission designed to circumvent the stalled ICSSI legal case. He stacks the commission with Melgen allies, including the former legal counsel for ICSSI.
May 20, 2012 – Danilo Medina is elected President of the Dominican Republic. He is a member of the same party as his predecessor, Leonel Fernández. Fernández’s wife wins election as Medina’s Vice-President.
July 31, 2012 – United States Senator Robert Menéndez, a close friend of Dr. Melgen, publicly pressures State Department officials at a hearing of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee he chairs to “send a message” to the Dominican Republic that the country must not violate contracts with companies that are American owned.
August 15, 2012 – On the last day of his term, the commission established by Dominican Republic President Fernández issues a report with recommendations to him that are highly favorable to Melgen’s ICSSI. It recommends removing the implementation of the contract from the Customs Directorate, which opposes it, to the Dominican Port Authority, which presumably is more inclined to implement the ICSSI contract. The commission also rejects the Customs Directorate’s recommendation that the entire contract be re-opened for competitive bidding.
August 16, 2012 – Danilo Medina is inaugurated as President of the Dominican Republic, replacing Leonel Fernández.
Medina must now decide whether to accept the recommendations of his predecessor’s commission to force implementation of the ICSSI contract or wait for the court case to be resolved.
February 1, 2013 – Senator Robert Menéndez becomes Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
February 5, 2013 – The New York Times reports that a lawyer for Melgen’s security company claims that Pedro Pablo Permuy, a former senior aide to Senator Robert Menendez, will run the operations of the firm’s Dominican port security contract. In an email to the Times, Permuy denies that he is either an employee or a board member of Melgen’s security company. He does not comment on whether he has been paid by Melgen as a consultant. A spokesman for Senator Menendez claims the senator had no knowledge of Permuy’s involvement with Melgen’s company prior to this week.
I am NOT an investigative reporter. And my intention with this column is for a larger outlet with paid investigators to look into this. I don’t believe in coincidences. Ambassador Yzaguirre, practically named by Menéndez, arrives in Santo Domingo months before the Melgen port deal, and departs his post three months after the deal is consummated. Who carried the water for Melgen/Menéndez on behalf of the U.S. government?
Anyone with a nose for news should be going HMMM…
One last parting shot, something I found interesting in Janet Murgia’s love note for Menéndez in the Huffington Post. She writes, “He [Sen. Menéndez] has worked tirelessly to ensure that Latinos are represented in every aspect and at every level of the federal government, including within our ambassadorial ranks.”
It appears that Menéndez’s tireless work included helping a friend – a South Florida doctor by the name of Dr. Salomon Melgen. The same man who for years heaped riches and women on the powerful senator from New Jersey.
Alvaro Fernandez is editor of Progreso Weekly and Executive Director/President of the Miami Progressive Project. He also worked as Southeast Regional Director of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.