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Bush To Announce Increase In Funds For Island... Calderon Asked To Mediate Arizmendi’s Seat... Vieques Cleanup Debated ... Freddy Valentin Sentenced To 33 Months... Coors Drops Fight On Rebates ... Decertification Of Health Reform Beneficiaries Questioned

Bush To Announce Increase In Federal Funds For The Island

February 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — U.S. President George W. Bush will send a $2.23 billion budget bill for Fiscal Year 2004 to Congress, which will grant more federal funds to several educational and social programs to the island.

According to published reports, the largest grant will be in the federal educational program known as Title I, to which $400 million more will be granted.

New allocations for road constructions, the Urban Train, and housing, as well as $8 million for the Sergio Cuevas water treatment plant improvements are also included.

The budget is subjected to the approval of Congress. 

Calderon Asked To Mediate In Conflict For Arizmendi’s Seat

February 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Mayors Association President Jose Aponte on Saturday asked the president of his Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Gov. Sila Calderon, to personally intervene in the conflict for the vacant House seat left by Rep. Alida Arizmendi’s resignation.

He specifically requested that she give her support to La Fortaleza Public Affairs Secretary Jorge Colberg Toro and guarantee Juan Eugenio Hernandez Mayoral the commitment that the PDP will back his aspirations to the Legislature in the 2004 elections.

"The only one who can make that commitment is obviously the party president," Aponte said in a phone interview.

Aponte, who is also mayor of Carolina and member of the PDP Governing Board, said 75% of the 45 PDP mayors support Colberg Toro in his aspirations to cover the vacancy in the House of Representatives.

"We are talking about the leadership of the island’s mayors, who are in charge of the organization of the elections at a local level. . .and with such a substantive difference, we have to make a recommendation that is just," he said.

Aponte said both candidates "are good," with "good qualities and good populares," but he stressed that Colberg Toro’s experience makes his admission to the Legislature "more beneficial" for the PDP at this moment.

Calderon has preferred to remain out of the contest and has expressed her wish that the House seat be occupied through consensus without the need to convoke a special election.

However, a meeting between both candidates concluded without an agreement to withdraw. On the contrary, both reaffirmed their intention to run.

Cleanup Debated As Navy's Time On Vieques Nears End


February 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 HOUSTON CHRONICLE. All rights reserved.

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico - Carmen Valencia points to each marker, reads the name, tells a story.

Manolin Portella owned the little market in town. Varo Comas moved back here after retiring on the mainland. Minerva Bermudez, just married, was raising two small children.

All are dead now, felled by the cancer that stalks residents of this offshore island at a higher rate than in the rest of Puerto Rico. Each is remembered here with a simple white cross outside the chain-link fence that surrounds the Navy firing range at Camp Garcia.

The Navy last month confirmed the end of training here by May 1, but plans for the land remain far from resolved. While the carrier battle group USS Theodore Roosevelt conducts what officials say will be the last round of exercises on Vieques , both the Navy and the activists who campaigned against the practice bombing are bracing for the next phase of the dispute: the cleanup.

Under current legislation, the Navy is to turn the land over to the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the agencies are to work together to address environmental contamination. Gov. Sila Calderon has appointed a commission to represent Puerto Rico . Activists are demanding a role in the discussions.

"There is a plethora of deadly military toxins here," says Roberto Rabin, a leader of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques . "If there's no decontamination, even if the Navy didn't drop another bomb, they would go on killing us for decades."

The Navy says periodic exercises at Camp Garcia have not endangered public health on this island of 9,100 mostly poor inhabitants. Studies have indicated both elevated levels of several contaminants in the water, food chain and population and higher- than-normal rates of cancer, but direct linkages are difficult to prove.

Studies by the commonwealth government have indicated a higher- than-normal rate of cancer on Vieques . Islanders say they also suffer abnormally from asthma, skin conditions and birth defects. The government is planning more studies.

After training ends, the 15,587 acres used by the Navy will be turned over to the Department of the Interior. Details of the planned environmental study, cleanup, schedule and costs have yet to be determined.

During a visit to Puerto Rico in December, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said the agency would oversee a thorough cleanup of the range at Vieques .

"We are going to make sure that it is safe," she said. "We're going to do it right, and we're going to do it as fast as we can."

Freddy Valentin Sentenced To 33 Months In Jail

February 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — U.S. District Court Judge Salvador Casellas on Friday sentenced former Sen. Freddy Valentin to 33 months in jail for his participation in the fraud at the Public Housing Administration.

Valentin pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge and an extortion charge related to the fraud in which he used his public position to favor several development companies.

Casellas determined that the prison sentence be concurrent with the sentence that U.S. District Court Judge Jose Fuste imposed in October for another 33 months in jail and three years of parole.

The judge also ordered him Friday to pay a $50,000 fine, which he has been paying as part of the cooperation agreement with the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.

Before the sentence, U.S. Assistant District Attorney Rebeca Kellogg emphasized before the judge the cooperation Valentin has given the federal authorities since his arrest.

Because of his help, she requested that the sentence be concurrent with Fuste’s sentence and said the U.S. District Attorney’s Office reserves the right to request through a motion a reduction in the sentence as soon as another case in which Valentin is participating as a witness is concluded.

She was referring to the case of the sale of influences related to the sale of the Manati Hospital, for which his childhood friend, former House Speaker Edison Misla Aldarondo, was convicted.

However, both the assistant district attorney and the judge emphasized that despite his cooperation, Valentin will have to pay for the crimes he committed and his betrayal of the trust the people give to elected officials.

"During this time, my life has changed enormously. I thank God for a situation that changed my life, to improve it," said the former legislator, who said he now attends a Protestant church.

He also apologized to the system, the people of Puerto Rico, and his family "for the offenses I have committed."

As he left the court, Valentin refused to comment.

The federal accusation established that as senator, Valentin influenced officials of the Housing administration to grant contracts to Centrex or Program Management. For his work in favor of these companies, the former senator received money.

Coors Drops Washington Fight On Rebates To Puerto Rico

February 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

GOLDEN, Colorado (AP) - Adolph Coors Co. has abandoned lobbying efforts to suspend $300 million in rum tax rebates to Puerto Rico.

Coors and the government for the commonwealth on Thursday announced both sides' willingness to resolve the issue.

The Golden-based brewer had lobbied for the suspension in rebates to get back at Puerto Rico for raising excise taxes on American beers last year.

Coors complained that its third-quarter sales in Puerto Rico suffered dramatically from the excise tax increase, which effectively raised the cost of a case of Coors Light by $6. Coors controls half of Puerto Rico's beer market share.

The Golden-based brewer has promised not to pursue any more "threatening measures" in Congress, apparently in return for a dialogue with the Puerto Rican government on changing its tax policy, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila said Thursday.

Coors said it would focus its efforts on the issue in Puerto Rico instead of Washington, said Alan Timothy, Coors vice president for public affairs.

The armistice came about a week after Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican from Colorado, tried to freeze the rebates the United States annually gives back to Puerto Rico from excise taxes levied on its rum.

The language got slipped into an appropriations bill, but two senators struck the language, saying tax legislation didn't belong in a spending bill.

Decertification Of Health Reform Beneficiaries Questioned

February 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — New Progressive Party Rep. Melinda Romero questioned Friday, because it seemed "strange" to her, that the decertification of some 200,000 beneficiaries of the public health system coincided with the government’s acceptance that a budget deficit exists.

"The Health Secretary’s story does not seem completely true; with all due respect, I think the findings have been exaggerated and should be explained more. There must certainly be people who don’t qualify and should not receive this right, but I think that there are people among those 200,000 who do qualify," she said in a press release.

Health Secretary Johnny Rullan and Health Insurance Administration Executive Director Orlando Gonzalez revealed Thursday that out of the 200,000, only 202 cases (.1%) unsuccessfully challenged the government’s decision.

According to Rullan, the government currently pays $66.80 monthly for each beneficiary, which means the government saved more than $13 million monthly after the decertifications.

The Health Secretary’s announcement coincided with Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza’s acceptance that a budget deficit of $41.2 million exists.

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