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PAY TO THE ORDER OF

PUERTO RICO

Alexander Odishelidze

and Arthur Laffer

Copyright © 2004 by Alexander Odishelidze

Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico

by Alexander Odishelidze

Printed in the United States of America

ISBN 1-594672-89-X

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced

or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission

of the author.

Allegiance Press

10640 Main Street

Suite 204

Fairfax, VA 22030

www.allegiancepress.com

(703) 934-4411

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements.......................................vii

Foreword Lawrence Kudlow............................................9

Introduction 1 Alexander Odishelidze...................................13

Introduction 2 Arthur Laffer .................................................19

Section I Economy.......................................................25

Chapter 1 My Odyssey to Freedom ...............................27

Chapter 2. The Last Colony............................................39

Chapter 3 America Delivers...........................................51

Chapter 4 The Price of Dependence ..............................59

Chapter 5 Pitorro and Panas

(Moonshine and Breadfruit)..........................95

Chapter 6 The American Taxpayer’s Commonwealth

Burden .........................................................103

Chapter 7 Making Lemons into Lemonade .................159

Chapter 8 Biography of a Tax Gimmick......................173

v

Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico



Section II Status ..........................................................213

Chapter 9 The Young Bill: The Roar of the Coqui ......215

Chapter 10. Eulogies for the Young Bill.........................257

Chapter 11 The Cries of Patriots....................................291

Chapter 12 The Eternal Territory...................................303

Section III Character ...................................................319

Vignette 1 Moncho’s Other Family Business ...............321

Chapter 13 Mainlining Our Kids ...................................329

Vignette 2 A New Friend of Commonwealth ...............351

Chapter 14 Welcome to the Laundromat a la

Boriqua........................................................355

Section IV Identity .......................................................379

Chapter 15 “Mejorando La Raza”

(Improving the Race) ..................................381

Chapter 16 The Last, Full Measure ...............................399

Chapter 17 More Than a Hero, Less Than a

Citizen .........................................................437

Afterword Alexander Odishelidze.................................439

vi

Acknowledgements

I wish I had the space to thank all those who have helped me

develop this book over the years. However, the people that

deserve particular mention are: Chuck Donovan who has been my

relentless Editor/Researcher who added the depth to this work that I

could not have achieved on my own, Professor Gonzalo Cordova,

Ph.D. who has given me the cultural and racial insights into Puerto

Rico and Manuel Rodriguez Orellana who originally opened my

eyes to the Puerto Rico political status dilemma.

vii
Foreword

The United States was founded on economic and political freedom.

A “City on the Hill,” to use Ronald Reagan’s phrase,

metaphorically describes American exceptionalism. This freedom

enables all our citizens to successfully pursue unlimited opportunities

to use their God-given talents to work, produce, take risks,

invest, and grow wealthy while keeping the prosperous fruits of

their enterprise.

All too often in the 20th century, opportunities to do just this

were being taken for granted. But not by a young Alex Odishelidze,

who risked life and limb to escape communist oppression and make

a new start in America.

Mr. Odishelidze’s passion to succeed in business should be

taught in American business schools. As World War II raged across

the European continent, a young Alexander Odishelidze witnessed

carnage by Communists and murder of his own family members in

his mother country. He vividly recalls indoctrination through loudspeakers

placed in the public squares, and before his escape to freedom,

first in Canada and then New York, was honored by Marshall

Tito for his devotion to the Party.

He charged head-first into the insurance business and was

quickly spotted as a go-getter. And no one was going faster than

Alex Odishelidze. With every deal, every sale, every promotion, he

knew that more opportunities were around the corner.

Through his work in the insurance industry, Mr. Odishelidze has

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Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico

uncovered a gaping hole in Puerto Rico’s economic system. U.S.

companies can now not only manufacture their products in Puerto

Rico tax free, but also assign the licenses to manufacture those

products to its Puerto Rican subsidiaries and keep the tax-free profits,

even if the actual work was done in China or elsewhere. This

takes even more jobs from American workers. Americans are subsidizing

Puerto Rico to the tune of $22 billion per year!

My dear friend Arthur Laffer, who nearly single-handedly revolutionized

American economic thought, brings a great deal of

insight to this book. By developing the Laffer Curve, he captured

the incentive effects on work and investment from changing taxrates.

Dr. Laffer shows how higher after-tax economic rewards from

lower tax-rates will expand the economic pie as human behavior

responds to growth incentives by supplying added work, investment,

and risk-taking. In short, when it pays more, after-tax, to

work and produce, then people respond immediately. As a result,

rising national income and production from lower tax-rates actually

throw off higher tax revenues within a relatively short time.

For years, Art Laffer has advised top Puerto Rican officials and

is in a unique position to analyze this situation. In 1979, Art Laffer

drafted a report for the incoming governor of Puerto Rico on how to

mend the island’s economic ills. He notes that the purpose of this

book is to shine more light on the myriad opportunities for

economic prosperity.

Laffer points out that in 1987, Puerto Rico cut the top marginal

rate on personal income taxes. A respected study showed that

Puerto Rican taxpayers declared 50 percent more income than the

previous year. The total number of taxpayers increased by one third

and total tax revenues increased by 28 percent.

These extremely able and insightful men have combined their

efforts to show the American people that the current support system

for Puerto Rico is unfair to American taxpayers and unjust for the

residents of Puerto Rico. However, unlike the days when empires

ruled colonies around the world, rules and regulations could be

changed by executive decision.

Such is not the case with Puerto Rico. Only the Congress can

alter Puerto Rico’s status. Numerous Members of Congress from

10

Foreword

diverse parts of the country agree with Odishelidze and Laffer’s

position to allow Puerto Rican self-determination. However, many

Americans are unfamiliar with Puerto Rico’s unique status and its

impact on the American economy. Odishelidze and Laffer provide

an eye-opening look at how Puerto Rico’s status siphons tax dollars

from hard-working Americans, while impeding its own economic

progress.

The authors give a detailed chronology of Section 931 of the

Internal Revenue Code. From its inception in 1921, which

exempted from federal income taxes all income of individuals and

corporations that originates in U.S. possessions, including Puerto

Rico, subject to certain key limitations.

Mr. Odishelidze and Dr. Laffer reveal key facts about Puerto

Rico under this system such as the fact that unemployment has

risen significantly and has outpaced that of the mainland United

States. They also show the intense lobbying efforts by pharmaceutical

companies and other U.S. concerns to preserve the status quo in

Puerto Rico’s tax system.

This tax structure, while well-meaning in the early 20th century,

no longer has any purpose in the Puerto Rican economy, and in fact,

is counterproductive. During the more than eighty years it has been

in effect it has only helped to create jobs in a fifteen to twenty year

period.

Odishelidze and Laffer show that every working middle and



upper-middle class American contributes $400 annually to the

upkeep of Puerto Rico.

Yet, what are the results of this misguided tax and political

status policy when we compare Puerto Rico to the other fifty states?

Puerto Rico is second in out-of-wedlock births, fourth in high

energy costs, and dead last in per capita income. The United States

has also spent billions on improving Puerto Rico from 1981-2001.

Some of those expenditures include: Food Stamps, $19.25 billion;

Educationally Deprived Children Program, $3.59 billion; nearly $1

billion on public housing and a half billion dollars on a school

lunch program.

Even more alarming, grants given to Puerto Rico from the

United States account for significant portions of local departmental

budgets. For example, the Public Housing Administration in Puerto

11

Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico

Rico received a grant of $200 million from the federal government.

This accounted for 92.9% of its budget. The Puerto Rican

Education Department received $875.9 million, which accounts for

35% of its budget.

The poverty level in Puerto Rico is extremely high, despite a

close relationship with the United States.

The authors also demonstrate how Washington works with the

1996 effort to change Puerto Rico’s status. Mr. Odishelidze shows

the strong power of the pharmaceutical lobbies, which benefit handsomely

from Section 936. He takes the reader inside breakfast

meetings with then-Vice President Al Gore and stands his ground

against the Vice President’s skepticism.

The authors go on to document that the United States is not

getting a return on its investment. They make the case that the

federal government should move away from the current system of

tax subsidies for corporations. They show that Puerto Rico has

splendid opportunities ahead of it, but needs a new fiscal system to

realize its long-term potential. The work of Alexander Odishelidze

and Arthur Laffer will surely open that discussion.

Lawrence Kudlow

12

Introduction 1

If anyone had told me 43 years ago, when I first came to America,

that the years of my youth in Nazi-occupied Belgrade and later in

Communist Yugoslavia would drive me to develop a passion for

Puerto Rico’s self-determination, I would have advised them to

seek professional help.

Back then ideology wasn’t even on my radar screen. I was 19

years old and I had just arrived in the land of my fantasies,

America, the land of opportunity that made millionaires out of

anyone who dared dream the dream. I was here, in the country of

gleaming alabaster cities and amber waves of grain, where you

could open a business, make a profit and not have to go to jail for it.

Your only price for this great privilege was just to pay a few dollars

in taxes, and only if you made the money. How much better could

life get?

To most native-born Americans, raised in the protective cocoon

of this nation’s freedoms, the above words may seem silly, even to

the point of being ridiculously obvious. Perhaps it is precisely

because those freedoms are so obvious that they are ignored by

those who were born here, where the main focus in life becomes a

good job, a house in the suburbs, and a gold watch when the

company puts you out to pasture. If you were raised, however,

where those “obvious” freedoms did not exist, coming to America

allows you to see them clearly, to touch them, to feel them, and to

mold them into a life of unimaginable possibility.

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Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico

In the beginning, I thought that the freedom to accumulate capital

was the only thing that mattered. It wasn’t until some 25 years

later, when I no longer needed to amass capital in order to live my

lifestyle, that I discovered that capital was not an end in itself. It was

merely the measure of progress in only one department. Life, I

learned, had many other, equally if not more important departments.

Even today, I hear people ask me about some of the things that I

do now. The question comes up time and again in discussions of my

efforts in support of Puerto Rican self-determination: “What’s in it

for you?” Anywhere else and this question would be pure cynicism.

Here in the United States, I have found, people ask the question

with a kind of cynicism that is anxious for idealistic reassurance.

The question often means, “Please persuade me that there is some

altruistic reason for your actions.”

This book was written in response to that question. It seeks to

answer whether there is an altruistic position on Puerto Rico’s

future and to urge people of goodwill to take that position and

pursue it to its conclusion. My colleague Arthur Laffer and I have

written these words with that aim in mind. In these pages the reader

will learn some details about my early life and how I came to New

York City and its Puerto Rican neighborhoods, and, through them,

to a business career in San Juan and the Caribbean. This journey

from wartime and tyranny, to sunshine and liberty, was not unique

to me. Many others, from every corner of the globe, have made this

trek. What compels me to write is that, because my destination was

Puerto Rico, this journey is incomplete.

In the vignettes and chapters that follow, we lay out the essential

nature of Puerto Rico’s economy, status, character, and identity.

Because we seek change (change with the goal of permanence), we

write a great deal that is critical. Because human beings – Puerto

Ricans, mainlanders, lawmakers and lobbyists, businessmen and

politicos – are at the center of this drama, it is a tale of courage and

conviction, of flaws and folly. The underlying theme here is not

criticism, however, but love: of equality, prosperity, human fulfillment,

and the blessings of freedom. We merely want to see these

blessings secured for an island whose courageous though, like all of

us, flawed people we have come to know and love.

The legal status of Puerto Rico lies at the physical center of this

14

Introduction 1

book, and it truly is the heart of the matter. We argue that the dependent

notion of the current territorial status cannot last, that it is colonialism

in modern dress. We make the case for what either

independence or statehood, both of which are permanent forms of

self-government, will accomplish for Puerto Rico. In fact, each of

us has been making this case for many years, and in the course of

our labors we have come across some of the best and the worst in

our fellow citizens.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Why, as a resident

of the U.S. mainland, should I care about these issues involving

some distant island in the Caribbean?” My answer is simple:

“Because this distant island is costing you, the American taxpayer,

more than $22 billion a year to maintain.” That’s about $400 for

every American tax-paying family. You are offering up this sum of

money (which is growing every year), and the typical Puerto Rican

is gladly receiving it, but neither you nor that average resident of

Puerto Rico is likely to know all the adverse ways in which this

transfer is affecting the well being of both parties to the transaction.

Bringing up the truth about U.S. dealings with Puerto Rico

makes a great many people uncomfortable these days, whether they

live on the mainland or on the island. Allow me to relate an example.

I first met the plainspoken Congressman Dan Burton in the

early 1990s. Burton, an Indiana Republican, was a key member of

the House International Relations Committee. We had just begun

our efforts to eliminate the obscenely expensive tax shelter called

Section 936 that was funneling profits through Puerto Rico but

doing precious little for its people. We were also working on the

closely related matter of Rep. Don Young’s bill to fashion the first

real Puerto Rican plebiscite on its future status. Burton came down

to Puerto Rico for a visit. I had heard he was an avid fisherman. I

made arrangements for a fishing trip with Mike Benitez, a local

deep sea fishing professional who was well known for his ability to

deliver a solid catch for those who booked his services.

Before the fishing trip, which was to take place the day after

Mr. Burton arrived, I had arranged for him to speak at the local

Rotary club. These were the first days of our struggle to set the

record straight on what Puerto Rico’s status really was. We wanted

our fellow business and community leaders in San Juan to know

15

Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico

that we did have a problem and that it was in the best interest of

Puerto Rico to have it resolved once and for all.

Up to this point, the majority of Puerto Ricans actually believed

that the island had some kind of special status, that it was outside

the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution, and that it had some

kind of “bilateral agreement” with the United States that made this

status permanent and impossible to change without mutual consent.

During the luncheon, when Dan Burton began talking about a

change in Puerto Rico status that could be initiated at any time by

the U.S. Congress, there were a lot of exclamations of surprise

among the audience. Tarring and feathering is out of fashion these

days, but it wasn’t hard to imagine bread rolls flying through the air

at the visiting congressman.

During the question and answer period, one indignant attendee,

who was visibly shaken by Mr. Burton’s words, stood up and, in a

voice bordering on panic, asked, “But isn’t Puerto Rico an

‘Associated Free State’ of the United States and isn’t that association

based on an unbreakable ‘compact’?” Mr. Burton, with his

usual blunt honesty, blurted back, “I don’t know of any ‘compact’

between Puerto Rico and the United States. All I know is that

Puerto Rico is under the U.S. territorial clause, a possession of the

United States, and that Congress can change that relationship any

time it wants to and, besides, if there were any agreement between

Puerto Rico and the United States passed by Congress that I do not

know about, it is a simple fact that the acts of any one Congress do

not bind the actions of any future Congress.”

The audience was shocked by this reply. It was the first time

that any member of the U.S. Congress had told the people of

Puerto Rico the truth about their status. The next day, the local

newspapers had a field day with Mr. Burton’s comments. Some

accused him of being uninformed. Others were outraged that a

representative from Washington had dared to question Puerto

Rico’s “sovereignty.” As events over the next few years bore out,

Mr. Burton’s plain talk was right on the mark. Congress could alter

the terms of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States by

majority vote. In the end, the passage of Rep. Young’s bill in the

House of Representatives left no doubt about Puerto Rico’s current

status. Today Puerto Ricans are no longer kidding themselves

16

Introduction 1

about the bill of goods sold to them by Muñoz Marin.

The next day we went fishing as planned, and I brought along

my son Michael to meet Mr. Burton. They got along very well

because Mr. Burton was an Indiana State graduate and Michael

graduated from Purdue, so that during the trip they were constantly

razzing each other about their respective alma maters’ football

teams. I think that Mr. Burton must have won the arguments, not

just with the people of Puerto Rico but with Michael, because,

toward the end of the day, Michael got violently sick (which he

never does, because he has been raised on boats) and emptied his

stomach onto Mr. Burton’s sneakers. It was the second day in a row

that Mr. Burton had given some of his hosts a little nausea.

For the first time in history, Mike Benitez, the famous fisherman

who guarantees every customer a catch, came back empty-handed.

Our group didn’t even get a strike. I guess all the fish in Puerto

Rican waters that day must have been busy debating the status

issues Mr. Burton had raised to the Rotary audience. Even they had

lost some of their appetite.

A final word about the organization of this book. I am a semiretired

businessman who has lived and worked many years in

Puerto Rico. Some of the chapters that follow tell the story of my

transit from Eastern Europe to the States and finally to the

Caribbean.

Other chapters tell the full story of the Young bill and those who

worked for and against it, describe the dilemmas posed by Puerto

Rico’s massive role in the drug trade and money laundering, and

ponder the meaning of Puerto Rican identity in our rapidly changing

world. All of these chapters contain first-person narrative. The

vignettes at the beginning of Chapters 13 and 14 are fiction, depictions

of various aspects of Puerto Rico’s social dilemmas. These

vignettes are in third person.

Arthur Laffer, as he relates in his introduction has seen Puerto

Rico as an adviser who has made a tremendous impact on both U.S.

and Puerto Rican economic policy. His analysis is set forth in

Chapters 4, 6 and 8, and he has given me excellent advice on the

other chapters that touch upon Puerto Rico’s economic well-being,

specifically the chapters on the drug trade and money laundering.

The remaining chapters and stories are all my own, and I am solely

17

Pay to the Order of Puerto Rico

responsible for their content.

“What’s in it for me?” My answer is: “If you have a couple of

hours, let me tell you my story and perhaps then you might understand.

But I will give you one clue; it is what America is all about.

And it is about what all the Americas can be.”

Alexander Odishelidze

18


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