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Columnist Natalia Muñoz: UMass Boston creates fake news

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Monday, May 15, 2017

President Trump isn’t the only one who makes up stories. So did the University of Massachusetts Boston when Chancellor J. Keith Motley sent a memo extolling the virtues of speakers and honorees for this month’s commencement ceremonies.

Alongside Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, and other accomplished people, was Puerto Rico’s former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, whose administration in the 1990s was a bed of corruption. He was to receive the Chancellor’s Medal.

Dozens of Rosselló’s cabinet secretaries, program administrators and assistants were imprisoned for stealing millions of dollars from the AIDS Institute and the departments of education, public works, housing, transportation – everywhere. Thankfully, the U.S. Justice Department convicted many of his cohorts.

Rosselló triggered the $73 billion debt crisis that today convulses Puerto Rico. He took out jaw-dropping loans to pay for projects of his own that bankrupted Puerto Rico.

Having lost pensions, jobs and homes, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island in search of jobs in the United States. In 2009, then-Gov. Luis Fortuño, laid off 20,000 public employees to try to balance the books.

Successive governors continued taking out loans to keep basic services running. But in May 2016, then-Gov. Alejandro García Padilla mournfully announced that Puerto Rico’s debt was impossible to repay. The island has not been generating enough even to pay interest rates.

Last year, then-President Obama pushed for, and Congress approved, a fiscal control board to collect the debt.

Since Rosselló’s tragicomical last day in office in 2000 when he was videotaped giggling as he literally ran away from a television reporter, frantic governors agreed to ridiculous loan terms set by vulture investors. Goldman Sachs, for example, owns a part of a highway. If you want to use the less-trafficked extra lane, your vehicle doesn’t need at least two people in it, but you must pay an extra $1.75 or more.

The Puerto Rico Constitution (Article 6, Section 2) expressly prohibits paying out more than 15 percent of the money the government generates through taxes every year. But Rosselló disregarded the Constitution he promised to defend.

He can’t even respect elections. In 2013, after losing a third attempt to win the governor’s office, Rosselló strong-armed an elected senator out and took his post. His actions are as corrupt and crazy as they sound. Think Trump.

There aren’t enough doctors – waiting times take four to seven hours. Families are torn apart by migration. Schools lack basic resources (Rosselló’s education secretary was convicted of stealing $14 million).

Abandoned beloved homes disappear behind thickening green vines. Downtown plazas are deserted. Massacres are frequent. Rage is rampant. So is numbness, denial. To see one’s country crumble is too much to bear on some days.

Chancellor Motley wrote that Rosselló “…was heralded while governor for effectively combating violent crime, restoring English as an official language, and reforming health care, education, the judiciary, and the tax system. He is also credited with paving the way for public employees to unionize, developing Puerto Rico’s New Economic Development Model.”

Yes, if that model is how to plunder millions and still be selected for a UMass award – for the second time. He already received one in 1995.

Motley added that Rosselló has been “widely recognized for his many contributions to human rights and well-being.” Who’s feeding UMass this info? Trump?

More than 1,400 Puerto Ricans in the UMass system corrected the chancellor, point by point, in a public letter that sets the record straight about this violator of human rights and the well-being of Puerto Ricans.

The writers remember how Rosselló unleashed violent SWAT teams on peaceful protesters, how he targeted the poor in his crime plan, which “dehumanized and criminalized racially and economically marginalized communities.”

Chancellor, we remember what you did not bother to learn.

Several phone calls and an email later, your public relations office finally admitted that UMass rescinded the award. But, chancellor, you have not answered the questions: Who nominated Rosselló? Why was he set to receive a second award?

And you have not apologized to the Puerto Rican community.

Natalia Muñoz, of Northampton, is the host of “Vaya con Muñoz” on radio station WHMP (1400 AM).