AAV Wants Execution Exemption, Praises House’s Unanimous Opposition To Death Penalty… Santini Offers Ambitious Plan For SJ Rebuild… Gov Seeks Consensus On Status Bill, Needs Funds For Unicameral Vote… Drought Endangers Island Agriculture… Cruise Passenger Visits On Rise… Treatment For Vieques’ Heavy Metals Exposure Demanded

Governor To Ask U.S. Justice Department To Not Apply Death Penalty On Island


March 29, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Puerto Rico's governor announced Tuesday that he will ask the U.S. Justice Department not to apply the death penalty to residents of this U.S. Caribbean territory.

Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila said he would outline Puerto Rican opposition to capital punishment in a letter to American officials that follows the murder convictions handed down last week against two Puerto Ricans by a U.S. federal court on the island. The ruling opened the way for the death penalty to be applied in a Puerto Rico case for the first time in nearly 80 years.

"In the coming days, probably (Wednesday), I will write a letter to (Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales, asking in the name of the Puerto Rican people that he not apply the death penalty in these cases," Acevedo said.

Last Tuesday, a U.S. federal court in Puerto Rico convicted Hernando Medina Villegas, 25, and Lorenzo Catalan Roman, 24, of murdering a security guard in 2002. The sentencing phase begins April 11.

The case has reopened tensions in the U.S. possession of 4 million people, with some saying the U.S. government is imposing the death penalty on the island in a colonialist fashion.

Puerto Rico banned capital punishment 75 years ago, and in 2000 its Supreme Court ruled it violated the island's constitution. But a year later, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned the ruling, saying the territory is subject to federal law and the death penalty can be applied in some cases. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the decision.

The governor praised Puerto Rico's House of Representatives for approving a bill Monday opposing the application of the death penalty to residents. He also asked that the territory's Senate express its opposition.

"In this way, all the elected bodies of Puerto Rico will send a clear message to the head of the U.S. Justice Department," he told reporters.

Federal prosecutors say the death penalty should be applied to the men because the murder of the armored truck security guard during an armed robbery was premeditated.

House Formalizes Its Opposition To Death Penalty

March 29, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution to declare its rejection of the application for the death penalty in Puerto Rico.

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Pedro Rodriguez, author of the resolution, said Tuesday that it is intended to request that the attorney general on the island respect the regulations in Article 2 of the Puerto Rico Constitution, which expressly prohibits imposing this punishment.

"The processes of creating and forming the constitutions as the supreme law of the people, must take into account the norms, values and principles of those to whom they are applied," the resolution reads.

Currently, Puerto Ricans Lorenzo Catalán Román and Hernando Medina Villegas could face capital punishment after being convicted in federal court of killing a security guard.

Santini Presents Ambitious Plan For San Juan Improvements

March 29, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini presented a plan that looks to rebuild the capital over the next two to three years, improving infrastructure and creating nearly 1,200 jobs.

Santini said that the project will take an investment from the private sector of $323 million, while the city will initially contribute about $56 million.

Among the proposals are 1,324 new housing units, new office and commercial space, and parking.

"We have projects for new housing, tourism, commercial space, offices, sports. We have been thinking about people who can buy at market price, but also the young people who can not afford a property over $125,000," the mayor said in media reports.

According to Santini, the city government asked for proposals for six renovation projects in the areas of San Agustin, Rio Piedras, San Mateo, Monte Flores and Santurce, as well as on land adjacent to Parque Central.

Acevedo Vila Asks To Continue Talks On Status Bill

March 29, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The president of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, on Tuesday instructed party spokespeople in the Legislature to continue conversations to achieve a tri-partisan consensus bill that will deal with the status issue.

"We are going to continue the conversations to have some guarantee that our proposal of the Constitutional Assembly on Status is included in some area of the bill," said Jose Luis Dalmau, PDP Senate spokesman.

Dalmau said the governor remains open to dialogue, despite having publicly said he will not sign any bill that does not contain a Constitutional Assembly on Status.

"We hope to approve a bill that meets the country hopes: participation in making decisions on the status issue," Dalmau said.

The caucus of the New Progressive Party (NPP) majority in the Senate agreed Monday to approve a status bill that does not include the Constitutional Assembly alternative.

Budget Office Must Find Funds For Unicamerality Vote


March 29, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The election commissioner for the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Gerardo Cruz, on Tuesday said Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila will order the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to identify the necessary funds to hold a vote on unicamerality.

The referendum remains scheduled for July 10, after the governor two weeks ago vetoed the bill approved by the Legislative Assembly that repealed the vote.

"What the governor mentioned to me is that he is going to give instructions to the OMB director (Ileana Fas) so they can identify the funds to hold the referendum on July 10," Cruz said after leaving a meeting with the governor at La Fortaleza.

He said he did not know how much money will be needed for the vote and the education campaign that will be carried out by the State Elections Commission.

Drought Endangers Island Agriculture

March 29, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

PONCE (AP) — The next coffee harvest and the production of plantains are at risk due to the drought that has hit Puerto Rico, designated Agriculture Secretary Jose Orlando Fabre said Tuesday.

Fabre said the present drought also is affecting fruit and cattle harvests, and if it continues, it could affect citrus crops.

"I am very worried about coffee; remember we are already in the period where the second ‘florecida’ begins, which represents approximately 60 percent of the harvest for next year," he said.

"If there is not rain there is no root to the grain, which will lead to a drop in the harvest," he added.

Number Of Cruise Passengers Visiting San Juan Is On Rise

March 28, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Ports Authority Executive Director Fernando Bonilla said Monday that there has been an increase in the number of tourists visiting the island on cruises.

He said the number of passengers in January increased 12.8 percent, the equivalent of 19,908 tourists more than the 156,025 recorded last year.

"We hope that cruise visits, as well as the number of passengers, continues to increase, as a result of the incentives awarded by the Tourism Co. of Puerto Rico to strengthen the cruise industry," he said in a press release.

Bonilla said thanks to the work of the Tourism Co., February will be one of the most productive months of this quarter.

Vieques Leader Demands Treatment For Those Exposed To Heavy Metals

March 28, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

PONCE (AP) — Only days from when the government announces the results of the epidemiological study on the presence of heavy metals in Vieques residents, the spokesman for the Vieques Rescue and Development Committee, Isamel Guadalupe, asked authorities to guarantee treatment for affected people.

Guadalupe also asked that all 9,000 residents of the island be tested for heavy metals. The Health Department study, which should be released at the end of the week, tested a group of 500 residents.

"We don’t know which of them (the residents) are sick … The government must give us the opportunity to give treatment to the contaminated," he said in media reports.

Designated Health Secretary Rosa Perez Perdomo warned Saturday that there could not be treatment for those that are contaminated, depending on the amount of exposure to the metals, such as mercury, cadmium and lead.

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