Terrorism and business development fill the agenda at the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute conference.
Organizers of the 19th annual United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI) conference faced a grim dilemma. The program was built around Hispanics in the Bush administration, but September 11 made such a topic seem secondary. In response, the USHLI conference, held September 27–30 in Chicago, became a primer on "Terrorism and Its Impact on Race Relations."
"This is not just about right now, and it's not just about Arab Americans and Muslim Americans," Bill Lann Lee, former assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration, told the USHLI audience. He explained that the current situation highlights the need for greater public awareness on diversity, better sensitivity training for law enforcement, and a renewed effort to eradicate hate crimes.
The conference also addressed long-term effects of the terrorist attacks. In an exclusive interview during the conference, Juan Andrade, president of the USHLI, predicted tough times for economic-development policies in the Hispanic small-business community.
"To be perfectly honest, it's going to be very difficult to fight two wars at the same time – we learned that during the Great Society and the war in Vietnam," Mr. Andrade told HISPANIC BUSINESS. "Unfortunately, my sense is that the focus on terrorism is going to cut into our ability to foster effective business development growth. I don't want to be pessimistic, but I am a realist, and it's going to be very tough for this administration to create that sense of a sound market, where it's a good time to invest, when we're facing layoffs in the hundreds of thousands in the service industries."
Mr. Andrade cited Census statistics showing that Hispanics have created businesses at a rate three times that of the general population, establishing more than 100,000 new businesses a year, and that Hispanic women led the nation in business development, surpassing all other ethnic, racial, and gender groups. "Our business community is generating $170 billion in revenues a year. In the next five years, we should be able to double that, and that's going to be contingent to a large extent on this administration's commitment to support that development," he said. "Having Hector Barreto Jr. [as administrator of the Small Business Administration] is encouraging, but we cannot afford just to have him as a voice in the wilderness. His good intentions need the unqualified support of this administration. Whatever he would propose to do would be ambitious to say the least, and possible only through the administration's support."
On the subject of appointments, Mr. Andrade said he doesn't expect any more high-profile positions to go to Hispanics. "But I think there's a good possibility this administration will nominate the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice; many of us would like to see that more than anything," he said. "We've had Cabinet and sub-Cabinet members since the Reagan Administration. But I think the challenge for this administration is whether they can break new ground."
The USHLI conference featured a number of prominent politicians, notably Governor Sila Calderon of Puerto Rico. She reasoned for greater economic investment in Puerto Rico on the part of the federal government – a difficult request, given the competing priorities of security and economic revival.
For more information about the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, visit www.ushli.com.
PHOTO BY MARK HAGLAND
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