Supporters of Puerto Rican statehood are poised to take over Latin America’s oldest civil rights group

Puerto Ricans have the numbers to take control of a 93-year-old civil rights group founded by Mexican Americans in Texas, but the organization could get caught up in a messy legal battle over it.

The League of Latin American Citizens, founded in Corpus Christi in 1929, is holding its annual conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this week, the group’s first in-person gathering and voting since 2019 because of Covid.

In the run-up to the conference, the number of councils — as the group calls its chapters — has exploded from 54 last year to at least 343, according to LULAC. That surpasses councils in Texas, where most of the group’s presidents have been elected over the years, although LULAC said there was a similar number of councils in Puerto Rico in the 1990s.

Dallas attorney Domingo García, a Mexican, could very well be defeated by his challenger Juan Carlos Lizardi, a Puerto Rican-born New Yorker and son of a longtime board member and Puerto Rican Activist of Statehood Elsie Valdes.

A woman waves the Puerto Rico flag during a press conference on Puerto Rican statehood on Capitol Hill March 2, 2021.
A woman waves the Puerto Rico flag during a press conference on Puerto Rican statehood on Capitol Hill March 2, 2021. Patrick Semansky / AP file

That’s in large part because members have to vote at the Puerto Rico conference, which many older mainland members have opted out of in the midst of inflation.

David Contreras, a Houston LULAC 688 member and group historian, said the organization has had a practice of establishing “paper councils” for years. The paper councils are made up of people who pay the membership fee but were not active with LULAC prior to enrollment but can vote.

“We saw it to some extent at the Texas convention, on a smaller scale… So they’re going to bring people to the convention to vote, people who are or have not been active in LULAC,” he said.

There have been attempts to change this, as well as requiring voters to attend the conference, but so far these efforts have failed.

“One of the main issues, which is voting,” said Contreras, “is coming back to bite our butts.”

While the prospect of a LULAC president of Puerto Rican descent is exciting for some members, the rapid increase in councils has been ringing alarm bells and could once again throw the group’s elections into question.

Years of disagreement in Puerto Rico over the island’s status has led many mainland Latino groups to remain relatively neutral, confining their positions to helping residents of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, in deciding their future support. Political divisions have emerged on the island primarily from support for Puerto Rico’s status of becoming a state, maintaining the status quo, or being an independent nation.

Last month, LULAC CEO Sindy Benavides said the organization was taking a stand for statehood, telling The Hill newspaper in March, “The moment is now.”

However, García said later that same month that the group’s position had not changed and that LULAC continued to support Puerto Rico’s future status, to be decided by its residents.

have democrats introduced Legislation requiring a state election in Puerto Rico on whether the US territory should become the 51st state, an independent nation, or a sovereignty with a treaty of free association with the United States. The deal would give the US government some authority over various government policies.

“LULAC is a powerful group and the possibility is that they can help us for a year or more,” said René Rodríguez, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Bayamón and a proponent of statehood. Rodríguez, a more than 10-year member of LULAC Council 14967 in Puerto Rico, said he reached out to his colleagues at the university and easily formed five more councils.

Lizardi, García’s challenger, agreed that Puerto Rico faces an historic opportunity for statehood.

Juan Carlos Lizardi, candidate for LULAC President.
Juan Carlos Lizardi, candidate for LULAC President.Courtesy League of United Latin American Citizens

“There’s momentum and it’s historic and as a civil rights organization we should be there and we should take the lead,” he said, noting that he is not a resident of New York and therefore would not be voting in the Puerto Rico election.

The legislation, a compromise between conflicting Puerto Rico status bills and Puerto Rican congressmen, calls for a referendum on November 5, 2023. However, the prospects for the legislation are good unsure.

Amid power struggle, Latinos are trying to recover from the economic hit and education-related setbacks of uncontrolled Covid. Meanwhile, LULAC is battling a lack of Latino representation in district redistributions, pushing for immigration reform and asserting Latinos’ place in the country’s political landscape as the Republican and Democratic parties race for more votes ahead of the 2024 presidential election Latino voters run election.

Disputed LULAC elections have led to this evil fights in the past with allegations of voter fraud and voter fraud and lawsuits. In the early 2000s, former Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Rosselló’s administration became an issue detection whether government funds were used to pay for LULAC council memberships and conference costs.

Syndication: Milwaukee
LULAC President Domingo Garcia speaks at the League of United Latin American Citizens National Convention in Milwaukee on July 11, 2019. Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn

When García was elected president of the LULAC Institute, the nonprofit arm of the organization, in 2018, the group was in the red. However, according to tax forms, it reported net income of $2.21 million in 2020 Posted by ProPublica. Revenue has grown from approximately $3.5 million in 2018 to $5.6 million in 2020.

The “social care” arm of LULAC had net income — income minus expenses — of $638,179 in 2020, compared to a negative net income of $8,971 in 2018, tax forms released by ProPublica show.

LULAC’s welfare arm cannot endorse a party or candidate, but it can take a position on legislation. If Democrats pass the referendum bill, LULAC’s welfare arm could launch a campaign to get voters to vote.

The group also has a nonprofit education arm, LULAC National Educational Service Centers, Inc. Lizardi is listed as vice chair and García is chair. Should Lizardi win the election, he would become chairman of the nonprofit arm, which had $8.8 million in revenue Tax Report 2019 Posted by Cause IQ.

García said he fears that LULAC’s return to financial health is at risk in this election and that the way leadership may change “could create serious problems for LULAC with the IRS going forward and for our donors.” , he told NBC News.

The LULAC Social Welfare Department may engage in grassroots lobbying on specific laws and partisan activities so long as partisan activity is not its primary purpose.

If Democrats approve the referendum legislation, LULAC’s welfare arm could launch a campaign to win voters in favor of, and possibly, statehood.

But LULAC may also need to overhaul its boards to better keep its nonprofit and advocacy arms separate. A March 2020 memo from LULAC legal counsel to García and board members indicated that insufficient separation between the nonprofit and social welfare branches puts the organization and the tax-exempt status of their nonprofit at risk.

Some LULAC members fear the issue could take precedence over others the organization is campaigning for – immigration, voting rights, recovery from Covid and pandemics, and health care.

In an interview on Tuesday, Benavides attributed the explosion of LULAC councils in Puerto Rico to years of suffering from hurricanes and earthquakes. She also said she hears many members talking about “igualdad,” or equality.

“The conversation about civil rights and equality in Puerto Rico is always front and center. That’s the conversation I’ve always heard,” she said. “I’ve certainly heard various people, some not affiliated with LULAC, talk about statehood.”

The conference, she said, was sold out with the convention center at maximum capacity.

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