Attorney Scandal: Latino Groups Are Staying Silent on Alberto Gonzales

The recent scandal involving the firing of eight U.S. attorneys by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has yielded mostly silence from the country's pre-eminent Latino organizations.

Gonzales is the first Latino Attorney General in U.S. history and many of those same Latino organizations heavily endorsed him when he was up for confirmation.

The silence among the mostly Washington, D.C.-based organizations contrasts strikingly with testimony in Senate hearings, press conferences and other public statements in support of Gonzales when he was nominated by President Bush in 2005.

"We have not taken a public position on the firing controversy," said Lisa Navarrete, vice president of the Office of Public Information at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest Latino advocacy group in the country.

But during his confirmation hearings, NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía wrote in a letter to then Senate Judiciary Chair Arlen Specter: "Not only is Judge Gonzales a compelling American success story, it is also clear that few candidates for this post have been as well qualified."

During the same hearing, Ray Velarde, then national legal advisor to the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the oldest Latino civil rights organizations in the country, stated that, "there is no question that he (Gonzales) is as eminently qualified, balanced and principled a nominee as the Senate is likely to see."

But when contacted this week, Lizette Olmos, communications director with the League said that her organization had, "not taken a position on the [controversy], but will discuss it at a board meeting."

Dallin Lykins, communications specialist with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than two million Latino-owned businesses in the United States, said, "At this time we really don't have comments to make about that issue."

During his confirmation hearings, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's then-president and CEO, Armando Ojeda, praised Gonzales as an "inspirational example of what is possible to achieve in this great country."

During the recent controversy, the Chamber released a statement asking Congress not to rush to the judgment of Gonzales, praising him for "his patriotic and devout service to justice, legal equality and the administration of our laws." Calls to the Latino Coalition, a conservative Latino civil rights organization, went without response as did calls to the National Hispanic Bar Association.

The silence on the part of major Latino organizations with regard to Gonzales' scandal is a "sad comment on national Latino leadership," says Antonio Gonzalez, President of the William C. Velásquez Institute, a research and public policy organization focusing on Latino leadership.

The Institute has come out in support of further investigation into the recent allegations around the firing of the prosecutors. "We have to have a standard that applies to Latinos and non-Latinos, one that's rooted in ideals like constitutionality, justice, equality and freedom. If, in fact, these allegations are true, then he needs to resign," says Gonzalez, whose organization remained neutral on the Attorney General nomination because of "concerns about the allegations involving the (legal) facilitation of torture."

The one national Latino organization that didn't support Alberto Gonzales before or after the current controversy, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was unavailable for official response.

"We can't just celebrate the good times," Gonzalez says. "We also have to be willing to speak when things are bad." Despite the lack of response from Latino leaders around the calls for the Attorney General's resignation, Gonzalez of the Velázquez Institute believes that it's not too late. "I call on my colleagues to take a position. They need to take their heads out of the sand. I'm confident that they eventually will."

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