A Capitol rally planned weeks ago to protest budget cuts affecting Hispanic community programs turned into a memorial Tuesday to state Rep. John S. Martinez.

“If he was here today, he would be advocating on this issue. Johnny would not give up,” said Carmen Sierra, executive director of the Connecticut Association for United Spanish Action. “We are not going to give up and that’s why we’re here. We’re here to remember him. We’re here to fight and to continue.”

Hours after the rally, Gov. John G. Rowland announced that up to $400,000 in funding could be released to help Hispanic programs in Bridgeport, Danbury, Meriden, New Britain, Norwalk, Waterbury and New London.

Chris Cooper, Rowland’s spokesman, said Rowland and legislative leaders determined late last week how the money — surplus funds from 2001 — would be distributed. Some $250,000 of the money will be released immediately; another $150,000 may be allocated later this month.

Ironically, Cooper said, the decision to release the money was made around the same time Martinez, D-New Haven, died.

Before his death, Martinez was working to find funds to replenish cuts in aid to social service agencies that help Hispanics. Sierra said she and the lawmaker met two weeks ago with state Department of Social Services about the reductions.

“He was so committed to making sure that we were not going to close. He gave me his word,” Sierra said.

The $400,000 will help some community-based programs that offer employment services, youth programs, English as a second language classes and information and referral classes. Sierra said CAUSA, a coalition of Hispanic community-based organizations, will work to find alternative funding for other programs — some of which have closed.

About 200 people, some arriving on buses, decided to attend the rally on the state Capitol steps rather than Martinez’s funeral. Many held candles and waved signs that read: “Thank you Johnny,” “You gave us a voice” and “Keep John’s dream alive.”

–Associated Press