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Calderon Hails Saddam’s Capture… Over $30m In Federal Aid For Rain Victims, $3m For Ports’ Security…PAN Workers Get Transition Period…Siemens To Repair UT Flaws…Comptroller: Political Layoffs Expensive…Gore Warns Of Environmental Disaster…5 Development Areas Planned For RR…Island Faces Flu Vaccine Shortage…Status Panel’s 2 Years Questioned

Calderon Celebrates Capture Of Saddam Hussein

December 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Gov. Sila Calderon echoed world leaders Sunday in celebrating Saddam Hussein's capture, saying it closed a chapter of oppression and human rights violations in Iraq.

Calderon, expressing solidarity with U.S. troops in Iraq, said she also hoped the deposed Iraqi leader's detention "represented the possibility of a more quick return of troops to their homes."

At least 11 U.S. soldiers of Puerto Rican descent have died in Iraq, provoking criticism from some in this U.S. Caribbean territory.

More than 1,000 islanders from Puerto Rico National Guard and reserve units are stationed in the Middle East, the military says. Earlier this month, nearly a 1,000 more were activated for duty in the region.

Puerto Rico's 4 million residents cannot vote for president and have no vote in U.S. Congress. They were made American citizens in 1917 during World War I and have served in the U.S. military since then.

Over $30 Million In Federal Aid For November Rain Victims

December 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The federal authorities have approved over $30 million in aid for the victims of the rain that fell in November, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Saturday.

The agency indicated in a press release that $30,322,525 has already been approved, but it did not specify how much has been distributed so far.

According to FEMA, some 33,537 families requested assistance after the disaster. Those who suffered losses because of the rain have until Jan. 21 to claim government aid.

In other news, FEMA announced that starting Monday, the hours of the centers of disaster recovery, where information about government aid and ways to cushion future material losses because of rain, have changed.

The hours of operations will be from Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The FEMA centers are located in Canovanas, Fajardo, Guanica, Juana Diaz, Lajas, Maunabo, Patillas, Rio Grande, and Salinas.

The heavy rain, which occurred between Nov. 10 and 23, left up to two feet of water in some sectors and caused two deaths and the evacuation of hundreds of people whose homes were flooded or suffered the battering of landslides.

President George W. Bush granted federal aid for the individuals affected and for infrastructure damage in some 20 municipalities.

Federal Funds Granted To Increase Security In Ports

December 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration granted the Ports Authority an allocation of $3 million to increase security in the island’s piers.

Ports Executive Director Miguel Soto said the funds are to establish a Center of Command, Control, Coordination, Communication, and Intelligence in the maritime port of San Juan.

The center would begin operations in April and will have between 150 and 180 digital cameras to detect suspicious elements in the surrounding port areas, Soto said in a press release.

They will also have to issue identification cards with access to determined points of security control according to the level and responsibilities of the employee.

"The main purpose of this subsidy is to strengthen the security of our maritime ports for the rapid detection, prevention, and reaction of terrorist acts, as well as the fight against illegal trafficking," the official said.

Transition Period For PAN Users Who Work Granted

December 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – A recently approved amendment to the Nutritional Aid Program (PAN by its Spanish acronym) grants a transition period to its beneficiaries so that the subsidies that they receive are not halted if they obtain employment, two government officials announced Saturday.

The amendment was approved at the beginning of November in Congress and made effective Dec. 1, Family Secretary Yolanda Zayas and Family Socioeconomic Development Administration Chief Gretchen Coll Marti said in a press release.

"Since we arrived in 2001, we have been hearing the same complaint: that the government penalized them for working because they automatically lost the aid of the PAN card. We feel very excited that this amendment, part of our programmatic goals, was approved," Zayas said.

The transition period granted with the amendment to the PAN beneficiaries will be a year and a half, they explained.

The benefit also protects the participants of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which need to find a full-time job before 60 months to leave the social welfare ranks.

TANF has approximately 20,000 beneficiaries.

Most of the participants, 97%, are female heads of household with children under 18 years old, according to government figures.

As for PAN, 402,000 families - 1.2 million people – benefit from the subsidies, the Department of the Family said.

Fagundo: Siemens Accepts To Repair Flaws In Urban Train

December 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Siemens, in charge of the construction of the Urban Train, accepted to repair the flaws in the transportation system, which will allow its inauguration between February and June 2004, according to Transportation & Public Works Secretary Fernando Fagundo.

The official said in published reports that Siemens will not be saved, however, from having to pay a $9 million fine after Dec. 29, the date that the company had stipulated for the train to be ready to operate.

He specified that the German company verbally agreed to repair all the flaws though it has still not signed a formal agreement.

Last week, the secretary said the Urban Train has security problems, such as the inclination that it should have in the stretches with a curve to prevent vehicles from derailing or turning over because of the centrifugal effect.

Comptroller: Political Layoffs Expensive For Commonwealth

By Proviana Colon Diaz – WOW News Editor

December 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

In 2002, the second year of Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration, 35% of the island’s municipalities violated the law by unfairly firing or transferring 369 employees, a special report by the Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office said.

Further, in 14 of those 27 municipalities, the illegal transfers or layoffs were for political reasons, costing the municipal administration over $3.7 million, Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña said.

"Municipalities can’t continue with this practice, which is costing the municipal administrations so much," Diaz Saldaña said.

He identified the municipalities that transferred or laid people off for political reasons as Arecibo, Cayey, Coamo, Culebra, Hormigueros, Juana Diaz, Maricao, Maunabo, Mayaguez, Morovis, Rincon, Sabana Grande, Toa Baja, and Trujillo Alto.

His special report, made public Friday during a noon press conference, recommends that action be taken to prevent such practices, including the passage of legislation authorizing personal fines against those who illegally order such transfers or layoffs.

In that way, settlements for unlawful transfers or layoffs would be paid out of the offender’s pocket and not from public funds.

Gore Warns Of Environmental Disaster

By Frank Griffiths of Associated Press

December 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

RIO GRANDE - Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said Friday that to avert an environmental "catastrophe," the world must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Describing a scenario of the future unless action is taken, Gore said huge expanses of forest will vanish and polar ice caps will eventually disappear as atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide rise.

"Business as usual would cause an utter and total catastrophe," Gore said, speaking to some 200 people at a conference of the Alliance for the New Humanity, a consortium focusing on global issues.

Gore made headlines earlier this week when he endorsed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he didn't mention current political leaders Friday, instead focusing on flaws in humanity's current way of thinking.

"The future of energy in the United States, for example, can be dominated by renewable energies," Gore said. "Wind and solar alone have a very promising future."

Meanwhile, he said, the United States is releasing a grossly disproportionate share of the world's greenhouse gases.

"We would not be able to look our grandchildren directly in the eye, and say we knew what was happening but we lacked the courage to do something about it," he said. "We knew we were creating for you a hell on earth, but it was just too hard for us to change the pattern of our lives, so sorry."

However, Gore said there was hope, noting recent positive signs in preserving the ozone layer.

The U.S. Senate rejected a plan in October to curb carbon dioxide emissions from industrial smokestacks. The administration of President George W. Bush said the bill would seriously harm the economy.

The United States also has rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty setting limits on greenhouse gases that Gore signed in 1997 but was never ratified by the Senate. The treaty has not been implemented because not enough countries have ratified it.

Gore visited Puerto Rico for the conference along with 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and author Deepak Chopra.

Also present at the hotel some 20 miles east of San Juan was Gov. Sila Calderon, who spoke on the importance of greater action against poverty.

Gore, who lost a presidential bid in 2000, has long been an advocate of stricter environmental measures, which he proposed in his 1992 book "Earth in the Balance."

Five Development Areas Contemplated For Roosevelt Roads

December 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – After its permanent closure, U.S. Naval Base Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba will be divided into five development areas that will generate more than $1 billion in investments, according to the preliminary plan prepared by an independent firm.

Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra said the five areas would be the airport, the Science & Technology Park, the port, the residential area, and the eco-tourism area.

The final master plan should be operational in the summer of 2004, according to published reports.

Segarra indicated that the airport, which covers 1,500 acres, has 11,000 feet of runways and would be "the anchor area of the project, where multifaceted operations will be recommended."

To the south of the airport zone, 1,200 acres would be allocated for the Science & Technology Park, which would include a conference center and hotel, a retail center, and housing.

The port zone, consisting of 500 acres, would have a marina for yachts, mooring for cruise ships, several hotels, and piers for commerce with the rest of the Caribbean.

Another residential complex would be established in the western sector of the base, which would also house another commercial area, he said.

It was also recommended that 1,200 acres be set aside for eco-tourism, an area of ecological interest that would be developed in collaboration with federal and state agencies.

Health Faces Shortage Of Vaccine Against Influenza

December 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Puerto Rico will have a shortage of influenza vaccine, warned Angel Rivera, the deputy director of the vaccination program of the Health Department.

Rivera said that in view of the epidemic that has affected some 24 U.S. jurisdictions, the vaccine supply has begun to be affected here.

Meanwhile, there is no vaccine in the main warehouse of the Health Department in San Juan, he confirmed in published reports. However, the agency is waiting for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send supplies to continue the massive vaccination that began in October.

In 2001, 924 people died in Puerto Rico because of pneumonia or influenza.

People who suspect they have influenza should immediately visit a doctor. The most common symptoms are persistent fever, sore throat, muscle pain, headaches, and coughing. These symptoms, in most cases, can last a few days; treatment consists of rest, acetaminophen for pain and fever, and lots of liquids.

Why 2 Years For Status Panel?

Scott McClellan Holds White House Regular News Briefing

Political Transcripts by Federal Document Clearing House

December 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. 


DECEMBER 11, 2003


[*] MCCLELLAN: Let me read out a couple of world leader calls from earlier today.

And with that, I'll be glad to go into questions.

QUESTION: On the president's task force to determine the future status of Puerto Rico, why is no firm date set for his findings? And why is it necessary to take up to two years to make a recommendation to the president when the issues in Puerto Rico are so well known?

MCCLELLAN: Well, first of all, this is something that is just getting under way. It was just announced, so they need to begin their work and have the discussions and listen to the wishes of the Puerto Rican people. And the president, under this directive -- I believe it's at least an annual report that needs to be made to the president of the United States -- but we've always said we wanted to look at the wishes of the Puerto Rican people, and this is an issue that has been discussed for a long time in Puerto Rico.

I might add that Puerto Rico is a wonderful place to visit, as I was just there on my honeymoon.


MCCLELLAN: Thank you.


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