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PuertoRicoWOW News Service
The Year 2000 At-A-Glance
by Proviana Colon Diaz
January 1, 2001
As the year 2000 comes to a close, PuertoRicoWOW looks back at the top stories that made this year unforgettable.
January: Gov. Pedro Rossello was hospitalized and underwent surgery at the Ashford Presbyterian Hospital to remove two small kidney stones. The operation was a success and the governor was released shortly thereafter. 1992 San Juan mayoral candidate Carlos Diaz Olivo was arrested after refusing the answer prosecutor questions in federal court related to the second trial at the San Juan AIDS Institute. Diaz Olivo was later released when he agreed to talk. Actress Lydia Echevarria, convicted for murdering husband Luis Vigoreaux was released on parole after serving 13 years of a 208-year prison sentence. Vigoreaux's family openly opposed the release, but the Parole Board unanimously approved it. Rossello and President Bill Clinton signed an accord that called for the U.S. Navy's departure from Vieques by 2003 and limited the Navy to using inert ordnance, among other things.
February: In an unprecedented televised message, Clinton asked the "help" of Puerto Rico residents to implement the agreement on Vieques. Later that month, Rear Adm. Kevin Green was named as head of the Navy in Puerto Rico. About 150,000 people participated in a march to demand "Peace For Vieques" in Hato Rey. Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo described the religious and civic demonstration as the largest he had ever seen. Meanwhile, the second trial on fraud charges at the San Juan AIDS Institute continued with the testimony of Rossello, who denied ever requesting money from defendant Luis Dubon for his 1992 gubernatorial race. A 12-member jury convicted Dubon and Dr. Jorge Garib for conspiracy in the $2.2 million fraud and embezzlement trial.
March: A San Juan Superior Court judge found no cause to try Eugenio Jose Rodriguez for the murder of 7-year-old, Lilliana Barbara Cepeda. Charges against the other defendant, Jose Luis Ortiz Moreno, were dropped because he died a month before his new preliminary hearing. The 1998 murder of Barbarita, as the girl was known, remains unsolved. Rossello traveled to Baltimore's John Hopkins Hospital to undergo surgery for a kidney obstruction. He was absent from the island for about two weeks.
April: Senate Vice President Anibal Marrero resigned amidst reports that he participated in a scheme to favor businessman Andrew Cipollo. The daily newspaper El Mundo was shut down by publisher Gaspar Roca. It was the third time since El Mundo was first founded in 1919 that the daily had to close. The 1950 Oscar awarded to deceased Puerto Rican actor Jose Ferrer was stolen from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Rio Piedras Campus theater.
May: The nearly year-long civil disobedience campaign in Vieques ended when 146 people were arrested by FBI agents and U.S. Marshals. Those arrested included U.S. Congress members, politicians and religious leaders, and Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) gubernatorial candidate Ruben Berrios, who had lived within the bombing range for almost a year. Throughout the month, hundreds of people continued to trespass into restricted areas in Vieques. Some were released pending trial, while others were imprisoned at the Guaynabo Federal Detention Center. Meanwhile, over 100 National Guards members from Puerto Rico were deployed to Kosovo on a peace mission. FBI Director Louis Freeh admitted that his agency kept political files against Puerto Ricans based on their beliefs and agreed to release those documents.
June: Multi-Grammy winner Tito Puente, known as "El Rey del Timbal," died at age 77 in New York, following heart surgery. Former New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Freddy Valentin was released pending trial after posting a $25,000 bail set by a federal magistrate when he was indicted on 44 charges of fraud. Fifteen days later, an Arecibo Superior Court judge found cause to try NPP Rep. and mayoral candidate Norberto Nieves on 46 counts of illegal appropriation. In New York City, more than 2 million people participated in the Puerto Rican Day Parade dedicated to Vieques and Tito Puente. In Washington, D.C., the three gubernatorial candidates met with Clinton, who said he wanted to establish a mechanism that would allow the Puerto Rican people to define their status. Some 122 PIP followers trespassed on the Navy's restricted area in Vieques and were imprisoned after refusing to post bail, arguing that they did not recognize the federal court's jurisdiction. The month ended in grief as the bodies of a mother and her four children were found with their throats slashed inside their humble home in Utuado's Barrio Vivi. The father, Hector Mercado Cedeño, was identified by police as the suspect.
July: Although authorities believed he had fled the country, Mercado Cedeño, known as "Nicky," was arrested blocks away from his home and he was charged with the murders. Thousands of residents in Guaynabo, Bayamon, Caguas and San Juan were left without water service after a filtration plant was contaminated by an unknown chemical. U.S. District Court Judge Jaime Pieras ruled that Puerto Rico residents had to be allowed to vote for U.S. president. The first load of FBI files created against Puerto Ricans based on their political beliefs arrived on the island. The Government Ethics Office (GEO) imposed a $10,000 fine against Public Service Commissioner Nydia Rodriguez and two of her employees for unethically soliciting contributions.
August: Sister Sor Isolina Ferre died in Ponce at age 85. PIP Sen. Manuel Rodriguez Orellana and Rep Victor Garcia San Inocencio were arrested for trespassing on federal land in Vieques and taken to federal prison after refusing to post bail. A bill to allow island residents to vote for president in the November elections was filed. During the hearings to approve the bill, NPP member Juan Beto Rivera died at the Capitol of a heart attack while testifying. Eighteen people, including NPP Villalba Mayor Bernardo Negron and Corozal Mayor Carlos Serra, were indicted on a millionaire fraud case at the Municipal Revenues Collection Center, known as CRIM by its Spanish acronym. Two years after their unexplained disappearance, officials found the missing blue car of Juan Luis Ortiz at La Plata River. Inside where the bodies of Ortiz, Ivette Rivera and her 5-year-old son Christopher Rosado. Police determined that they were the victims of an automobile accident. After years of separation over political differences, the three pro-independence leaders, Juan Mari Bras, Carlos Gallisa and Berrios appeared together and called for unity in the upcoming elections. The Rossello administration announced the selection of a $25 million sculpture named the "Triumphal Circle" as the new monument to be erected at the Third Millennium Park.
September: Puerto Rican Carlos Caceres, a United Nations employee working with refugees in West Timor was killed by pro-Indochina guerrillas. It would take more than two weeks for his body to be returned to the U.S. for a proper burial. Rossello traveled to Sydney, Australia, to head the island's delegation to the Olympics. The Puerto Rican delegation did not win a single medal. The government inaugurated the North Coast Superaqueduct. Rossello signed the bill to allow island citizens to vote for the U.S. president in November by way of a fourth ballot. Opponents immediately went to court to challenge the law. After spending more than 40 days in prison for a trespassing misdemeanor, Rodriguez Orellana and Garcia San Inocencio were released.
October: Environmentalist attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court asking the U.S. Navy to stop military practices in Vieques, arguing that the Navy is in violation of environmental laws. NPP Sen. Victor "El Buho" Marrero was convicted of misappropriation of funds and possession and transfer of false documents. He resigned this post the day after he was sent to prison. Berrios, head of the PIP, is hospitalized for an intestinal condition the day after the first gubernatorial debate. He had earlier been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Clinton signed into law the bill approving $2.5 million in federal funds to educate Puerto Rico voters on alternatives to solve the island's status. He also approved a bill to transfer 8,000 acres of land in Vieques to the municipality and the U.S. Department of Interior. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court found that the law enabling the presidential vote in Puerto Rico was unconstitutional and ordered a halt to the process. Rossello asked Family Secretary Angie Varela to quit after she supported the findings of a preliminary audit report on the Child Support Administration, which indicated deficiencies in the system.
November: In an electoral month all the news were election-related. Although all newspaper polls favored NPP gubernatorial candidate Carlos Pesquera, two hours after polls closed, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) rival Sila Calderon lead the election. On the night of Nov. 7, Calderon became the first woman elected to govern Puerto Rico. The PDP also won a majority of municipalities, and both chambers in the Legislature. One week after being elected, Calderon left the island on a three-week vacation, without naming any of her Cabinet members. She left the transition process in the hands of private sector businessmen Enrique Vila del Corral and Ramon Cantero Frau. Rossello, for his part, sent more than 140 appointments to the Legislature on posts that would become open Dec. 31. The governor nominated defeated NPP Sens.. Luisa Lebron and Luis Felipe Navas as Superior Court judges and Rodriguez, who had been fined by Ethics, to fill the post of Minors Advocate. In the NPP, the battle over who was going to be House Minority Leader began, pitting President Carlos Pesquera against outgoing House Speaker Edison Misla Aldarondo. Pesquera asked Misla to step aside and allow a renovation of leadership, which the veteran legislator refused. Pesquera then disappeared from the public eye and did not resurface until mid December.
December: Despite Pesquera's threats, Misla prevailed in the caucus vote leading Pesquera to quit and giving way for First Vice President and Sen.-elect Norm Burgos to become interim president. For the first time in the history of Puerto Rico, both major parties were lead by women. The battle over the presidency began shortly after Burgos officially took office as several NPP senators expressed their opposition to her and nominated outgoing Rep. Leonides Diaz Urbina for the post. Meanwhile, Calderon returned to the island and immediately began appointing her Cabinet. In the end of the transition process, officials revealed that Calderon inherited a $391 million government deficit and a $28 billion public debt. The 110 National Guard members who left on a peace mission for Kosovo in May returned to the island. Mercado Cedeño, who had pleaded guilty to five counts of murder for killing his wife and four children, died in prison. Officials awaited for the results of an autopsy report to establish the cause of death, which had been preliminarily declared as a heart attack.