The League of Latin American Citizens, known as LULAC, held its annual conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last week.

It ended with a lawsuit, a symbolic election and a lot of confusion and disappointment for many of the members of the group founded in 1929 in Texas, making it the oldest, active Latino civic organization in the U.S.

At the crux of the controversy was an election between the national president: Domingo García, a Mexican-American from Texas, and his challenger for president, Juan Carlos Lizardi, a New York resident born in Puerto Rico, and a supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico.

There was a LULAC election slated for Saturday but that was stalled after a lawsuit was filed and a judge in Texas ordered Friday the suspension of the election. LULAC’s  president García then reportedly left the island on Friday.

Still around 900 LULAC delegates from the island and the mainland gathered Saturday anyway and overwhelmingly supported Lizardi as their next president. It was a voice vote, technically a poll, as they were not allowed to hold an official election per the judge’s ruling. According to delegates in the room, when García’s name was called only eight people stood up to support him. The rest stood up for Lizardi.

It’s unclear what will happen next with LULAC leadership as it was not an official election.

At the heart of the lawsuit are allegations by LULAC members that the Puerto Rican political party the PNP, the New Progressive Party, which favors statehood for Puerto Rico, was trying to take over LULAC.

The number of councils (or chapters) in Puerto Rico has exploded from 54 last year to at least 343 this year, according to LULAC. That outnumbers the councils in Texas. Most of the LULAC’s past presidents elected over the years have hailed from Texas.

 There also are allegations the PNP paid travel, hotel and other expenses for LULAC delegates.

“LULAC is not for sale, nor for rent, and we will not let the corruption of the PNP tarnish the good name of our organization. As president, my goal is to confront and resist any internal or external force that attempts to bring LULAC under its leadership through corrupt means,” García said in written statements.

Lizardi told El Nuevo Día in Spanish that the lawsuit was a ploy to stop the election. “It’s simply that the current LULAC president did not have the necessary votes, did not have near enough votes to be re-elected,” he said.

LULAC has officially been on the record in supporting statehood for Puerto Rico since 2018, when its delegates officially voted in favor of that position.

At the 2022 conference, LULAC leaders reiterated their support of statehood for Puerto Rico.

“Piecemeal legislative efforts help, but they are not enough, and they are not a permanent solution. Statehood would provide the necessary stability for long-term planning, recovery, and sustainable development,” said the organization’s CEO, Sindy Benavides.

“It’s about igualdad,” she added. “It’s about equality.”

However, Benavides was reportedly suspended from her duties by García by the end of the conference.

All this is happening as there are negotiations underway in the U.S. Congress to pass the Puerto Rico Status Act to allow Puerto Ricans on the island to vote in a plebiscite in November 2023. It would give the voters three choices – “Independence,” “Sovereignty in Free Association with the United States,” or “Statehood.”

At a press conference on Wednesday in San Juan, LULAC president García, said he supported the plebiscite proposed for November 2023.

“Let’s have all options on the table,” he said. “LULAC has taken the position in favor of statehood, but the final decision (should be made) by the Puerto Rican people.”

It was the first gathering of members of this national organization since 2019. In-person conferences were canceled the last two years due to the pandemic.

“It was very disappointing,” said longtime LULAC member Alicia Tafolla, 85, who lives in Oceanside, California. “I’m just hoping this fiasco doesn’t hurt LULAC.”

Tafolla abstained from taking the poll but attended the unofficial gathering Saturday. There also were members who didn’t attend at all because there wasn’t an official election.

Among the other issues the organization is highlighting this year education, gun control and voting rights.

It’s unfortunate that there was so much upheaval at a time when Latinos need to stay focused on the issues that impact Latinos, including more equity and rights for the people of Puerto Rico for self-determination.

Teresa Puente

Teresa Puente has spent her career reporting on immigration and Latino issues in the U.S. and has also reported extensively from Mexico. Previously, she was a staff reporter at the Chicago Tribune and...