CNMI SEES OPPORTUNITY IN COHEN RESIGNATION

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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Dec. 19) - U.S. Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs David Cohen’s resignation, which takes effect on January 31, 2008, is seen by the Fitial administration as an opportunity to improve its ties with the federal government.

Press Secretary Charles Reyes Jr. yesterday said the administration regrets that the Bush administration’s key official in-charge of insular areas like the CNMI did not agree with their anti-federalization stand.

"We also regret that Mr. Cohen was not able to establish a better working relationship with the CNMI government. We would have appreciated a more cordial and constructive relationship based on trust, good faith, and goodwill," said Reyes in an e-mail.

He added, "With Mr. Cohen’s departure, we look forward to a fresh start with Interior. We would certainly appreciate a more positive and constructive relationship with the Office of Insular Affairs under a different, more capable, reasonable, and responsible leadership -- one that genuinely respects the needs of our islands."

House Minority Leader Rep. Arnold I. Palacios, R-Saipan, commended Cohen for his commitment to improve the living conditions in the U.S. insular areas, including the Northern Marianas.

Palacios said Cohen’s hands-on approach in dealing with the challenges faced by the islands benefited residents in terms of financial aid and technical assistance.

"Mr. Cohen, I believe, is one of the few OIA officials who really engaged in places that they oversee. Whenever there are things to be done, he acts on it," the incoming speaker of the 16th Legislature told Variety.

He said Cohen, who is from American Samoa, saw first hand the situation on the islands and did not rely on field reports.

"The federalization issue kind of put things in a bad light," said Palacios. "A lot were said (against him). Some people portrayed him in a negative light. But I’ve had the chance to speak with him and he’s very understanding. I wish him well."

Jerry Custodio, the president of the Human Rights Dignity Act Movement, said the guest workers he represents are saddened by Cohen’s decision.

"We are very grateful for his commitment to help improve the situation of guest workers in the Northern Marianas," said Custodio.

He said Cohen spent countless hours educating the migrant workers about the federalization bills and their impact on them and the CNMI.

He expressed hope that Cohen’s successor would have the same passion and sense of fairness.

Former Senator Juan T. Guerrero, the outgoing president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, said: "I wish him the best. I cannot say that I liked him or enjoyed his company."

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that Cohen will be leaving the department "after an unprecedented five- and a-half-year term at the helm of the Office of Insular Affairs."

"David has been a passionate advocate for the U.S.-affiliated islands," Kempthorne said in a statement. "His passion has rubbed off on me, and I have become personally committed to island issues. I wish I could have convinced David to stay until the end of the term."

Cohen, who earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, will return to California to practice law. (See his op-ed on page 11)

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