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Saturday January 29, 2000

UNITED STATES

RICHARDSON: DEMOCRATS SHOULD NOT COUNT ON HISPANIC VOTE

Washington, Jan 28, 2000(EFE) - The Democratic Party should not count on the support of a majority of Hispanic voters, especially now that the Republican Party has set aside massive funding to reach Hispanics, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson said Thursday.

Richardson was the keynote speaker at a summit between Democratic legislators and Hispanic businessmen dedicated to analyzing economic development, education, health care and the so-called "digital gap" of Hispanics.

Richardson said presidential hopeful George W. Bush, the Republican governor of Texas, has a "decent" record of working with Hispanics and added that in the upcoming November elections, the Republican Party will attempt to increase its share of the Hispanic vote in key states.

For that reason, in addition to seeking support from Congress and the White House, "all Hispanics - Central and South Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans - should work together to create a common agenda that will benefit us," Richardson said.

"I am proud of my Hispanic community because we worked together to develop a common agenda that benefited both homeowners and businessmen," Richardson said.

As secretary of energy, Richardson is the highest-ranking Hispanic in the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Richardson, however, said there are still many obstacles for Hispanics to overcome, including a lack of attention from federal agencies, deportations, lack of health care benefits and an alarmingly high dropout rate among Hispanic students.

Richardson praised the support many legislators give Hispanic causes, as well as the increasing number of Hispanics in the U.S. House of Representatives, with more than 20.

On the other hand, Richardson manifested his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico, emphasizing that Latin America as a whole is moving towards free trade with agreements such as the Mercosur pact between Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.

The Hispanic Leadership Summit included the participation of various legislators including Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle (South Dakota), and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (Missouri).

In an earlier speech, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) announced that he co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) that is aimed at reducing the Hispanic student dropout rate by 30 percent in an effort to "prepare Hispanic youth for the economy of the 21st century."

The measure authorizes 145 million dollars in funding for dropout prevention programs.

Sen. Reid then announced he is sponsoring a bill that would allow federal courts to reinstate work permits for many immigrants that have had their work permits revoked by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The legislation would grant immediate residency to illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States continuously for 15 years or more.

Reid also mentioned the technology gap that separates Hispanics from other ethnic groups.

"In order to resolve this problem, we have to begin from a very early age, with preschoolers, and make sure the Internet is available to everyone," Reid said.

(c) Agencia EFE S.A.