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Sen. Prats Attacks Legislature…Gov’t Lambastes National Geographic…Retail Sales Stagnant…Treasury To Get $7-$8M For MLB Games…Wal-Mart Pact Criticized…Canadian Trade Increases…100’s Of RR Employees To Be Jobless…Tourism Recovers…Hawaii Hopes To Eradicate Coqui…P.R. Tops 37 States In Call-Up…Rossello, Ramirez Greet Troops

Sen. Prats Attacks Legislature

March 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

PONCE (AP) — Popular Democratic Party Sen. Roberto Prats admitted Sunday that the Puerto Rico Legislature has been inadequate and has not produced in the past two years what citizens have expected.

"The people expected great things from the Legislature, great debates that have not happened. The island expects much more from us in the next two years than what has happened in the last two," said Prats, chairman of the Senate Government Committee.

The at-large senator affirmed in Ponce that people in general have a very negative opinion of the senators and representatives.

"The people are angry at the legislative system and with the senators and representatives," Prats said in a radio interview.

Prats said when one or two legislators act incorrectly, all their colleagues are harmed before public opinion.

He said the people’s frustration is with the Legislature’s work agenda and with the number of legislators, and he said he supports a unicameral system.

Prats indicated that each citizen who votes in elections chooses five people for the Legislature — two at-large senators, one district senator, a district representative, and a precinct representative.

"I assure you, without fear of being mistaken, that if you ask 99% of Puerto Ricans to mention three with first and last name of the five they voted for, they won’t know who they are," he said.

Gov’t Lambastes National Geographic Article

March 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Government officials wrote a letter to the editor of National Geographic to express their indignation at an article that allegedly portrayed a distorted image of Puerto Rico.

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila and Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra told editor William L. Allen that the article didn't show a balanced point of view regarding the Puerto Rican culture.

"We are outraged at the unbalanced article that lacks investigation and which describes a biased image of Puerto Rico and of its four million hardworking, educated citizens," they said in the letter.

The article summarizes the drug addiction problem, the heated political-partisan debates, and even santeria or religious rites that are practiced on the island.

Acevedo Vila and Segarra accused writer Andrew Cockburn of failing to capture an accurate image of the true social, cultural, and economic composition of Puerto Rico. They said that by excluding traditions that are much truer to the Puerto Rican society, the magazine readers will perceive an extremely distorted image of the island.

The local government officials noted Puerto Rico's role as a key consumer of U.S. products. They also pointed out that each year 22,000 students graduate from internationally renowned universities on the island.

Retail Sales Stagnant

March 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Retail sales in Puerto Rico substantially decreased in real terms between January 2002 and the start of the current year due to the economic crisis, said Friday the main analyst of Commercial Development, Fernando Lugo.

Retail sales in 18 economic sectors studied by Commercial Development reflected an average increase of 0.7% in January 2003 compared with the same month in 2002.

However, the reported increase in retail sales really represents a decrease when the 4.5% inflation rate during fiscal year 2002 is taken into consideration, Lugo said.

"In real effects, there was a decrease," the economic analyst affirmed in a telephone interview.

He said usually stable sales on the island are a product of consumerism of the Puerto Ricans.

"It is due to continuous demand. People don’t stop consuming; demand is usually stable, and commerce tends to reflect this stability," the official said.

For that reason, he said, retail sales are a vital aspect of measuring the island’s economic performance. He added that a "relative crisis" exists in the Puerto Rican economy, closely related to the global situation and specifically the U.S. situation.

Treasury To Receive Over $7 Million For Major League Games

March 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Treasury Department disclosed Friday that the Puerto Rican treasury will receive between $7 million and $8 million for holding 22 Major League baseball games here.

Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza defended a bill before House Treasury Committee public hearings that would reduce from 29% to 20% the tax foreign players should pay for income they generate during these games.

The Montreal Expos will play 22 games as locals on the island this season.

According to Flores Galarza, the purpose of the executive bill is to standardize the tax percentage to 20% to comply with the commitments undersigned by the government with U.S. Major League Baseball to bring the games to Puerto Rico.

"The idea is to make these 22 games viable," the official said.

He added that if a tax percentage reduction is being considered, "when added and subtracted, in reality we are winning, not only in treasury income, but in the creation of jobs, product sales, and tourism support."

As an example, he said he has information that more than 500 hotel rooms have been reserved during the season in which the Major League teams will be playing on the island and that the promoter of the games has temporarily contracted more than 450 people.

Justice, Wal-Mart Pact Criticized

March 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Coalition of Puerto Rican Associations criticized Friday the agreement reached by the Justice Department and U.S. megachain Wal-Mart for the purchase of Amigo supermarkets and gave the Justice Department until Tuesday to amend it.

Ricardo Calero, president of the United Retailers Association and spokesman for the coalition that groups small and medium businesses, said the agreement was negotiated without the consent of all parties involved and it "does not have stipulations" to sanction Wal-Mart if it doesn’t comply.

"If these demands are not met in a clear and affirmative manner. . .a mandamus appeal will be presented and any corresponding civil action," he said in a press conference.

According to the coalition, the agreement reached continues to violate the anti-monopoly laws in zones where there is a high concentration of supermarkets.

The Justice Department announced Monday an agreement with Wal-Mart that ends the lawsuit in which the government opposed Wal-Mart’s purchase of the Amigo supermarkets.

Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez said the agreement was reached after Wal-Mart acceded to three basic demands of the government that looked after concerns of a possible monopoly, elimination of jobs, and reduction of purchases of Puerto Rican products.

Trade Between Puerto Rico And Canada Increases

March 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Commercial exchange between Puerto Rico and Canada increased last year over the $1.5 billion achieved in 2001, said Denis Langlois, consul of Canada for the U.S. southeast region, which includes the island.

Of that amount, $1.2 billion were exports from Puerto Rico to Canada, particularly of medicine, according to published reports.

"In that past few months, an increase has been seen in the number of commercial links between Puerto Rican and Canadian companies," Langlois affirmed.

The official gave as an example the expansion plan of Canadian pharmaceutical company Biovail, which started two years ago with a $55 million investment in the island.

He said Canada sells to Puerto Rico mostly paper and wood, but the range of exported products has expanded to include machinery and construction equipment.

Hundreds Of Roosevelt Roads Employees To Be Jobless

March 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Some 312 soldiers, 35 civilians, and 287 independent contractors will stop working at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba on Monday because of the dismantling of two groups supporting the naval exercises in Vieques, confirmed Oscar Seara, director of public affairs of the military base.

Seara emphasized in published reports that the disappearance of the two units does not mean the closing of Roosevelt Roads, which he understands still has a long, useful life.

The official said 1,900 soldiers, 730 civilians, 1,150 independent contractors, and 1,203 reservists who train there periodically will remain working on the base.

He indicated that the decision to disband the two units, taken by North Atlantic Fleet Cmdr. Robert Natter, was officially announced to military personnel two weeks ago.

The support units to be dismantled prepared the Vieques firing range for military exercises and included specialists in communications and sensor systems, among other fields, Seara said.

Tourism Industry Saw Recovery In February

March 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Tourism Co. Executive Director Jose Suarez announced that the hotel occupancy level in February was 85.1%, an increase of 6.3 points compared with February 2002.

Suarez said hotel occupancy for February 2002 was the highest in the past three years and exceeded February 2001’s figure by 4.4%.

"The figures of hotel occupancy show that our industry is successfully recovering and is strengthened more each time. In fact, we are already surpassing the figures before the events of Sept. 11, 2001," the official said in a press release.

Gov. Sila Calderon announced an allocation of $90 million to boost the island’s tourism industry during the next fiscal year.

Group Holds Out Hope For Eradicating Coqui Frog

March 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - A Big Island group working to rid the island of noisy Caribbean frogs says it is still hopeful that the coqui frog can be eradicated, despite statements from the government that it is not possible.

"We're not ready to concede anything," said Coqui Frog Working Group coordinator Arnold Hara, an entomologist at the University of Hawaii.

The working group has made incredible progress over the last year, said Hawaii County spokesman Bill Kenoi.

"We've really kicked the eradication effort into high gear," he said. "We've got multiple state and federal agencies working together on field research, pesticide development, community education and outreach. We are going to continue to fight to eradicate the coqui frog from this island."

At last count, there were 273 populations of coqui on the Big Island, with at least 23 on Maui, five on Oahu and two on Kauai, Wilkinson said.

Coqui frogs are native to Puerto Rico, where they are beloved as a symbol of the island, and likely ended up in Hawaii in shipments of tropical plants. Since about 1990, they have been shattering quiet nights with their shrieking mating call.

P.R., Proportionally Ahead Of 37 States In Call-Up

By Robert Friedman

March 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE SAN JUAN STAR. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON — Puerto Rico ranks proportionally ahead of 37 states in how many men and woman in reserve and guard units have been activated for the Iraqi buildup.

So far 2,995 island residents have been called up, or one out of every 1,274 people, according to Pentagon figures.

While numerically 17 states top the island in call-ups, only 13 and the District of Columbia have a proportionately larger segment of the population recently transferred from civilian to military life.

When the number of call-ups is divided into the population, Puerto Rico is contributing proportionately more reserves and guard members to the buildup than New York, California, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey, among other states.

Proportionally, North Dakota has the most residents called to active duty: one out of every 462 (1,391 activated) who live in the state. The District of Columbia has called up one out of every 464, (1,233 activated) who live in the district.

Numerically, President Bush’s home state of Texas has contributed the highest number of reserves and guard for military duty, with 8,025. But proportionally Texas ranks more than twice below Puerto Rico, with one out of every 2,598 Texans activated for the Iraqi crisis.

The smallest number of activated military, in both numbers and by population, are in Alaska and Hawaii. Only 85 Alaskans have been activated, one out of every 7,376 in that state, while 161 Hawaiians, one out of every 7,525 of the state’s residents, have been called to serve.

Puerto Rican Troops Train At Fort Hill

By Ruth Finch

March 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Fredericksburg [Virginia] Free Lance-Star. All rights reserved. 


Former governor Pedro Rossello and Senator Miriam Ramirez visited with the soldiers from the 92nd Separate Infantry Brigade in Fort. A.P. Hill, Virginia


About 1,000 soldiers from the Puerto Rico Army National Guard have arrived for post-mobilization training at Fort A.P. Hill.

The 92nd Separate Infantry Brigade has been mobilized to protect American ships around the world from pirates and terrorists. It's the first time ever the entire brigade has been mobilized and the first time the unit's colors have left the island.

The job is traditionally thought of as one for Marines, but the brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Roberto Marrerro Corletto, said his unit has experience on ships.

"The Marine Corps is spread thin, so it became time for the Army to provide assets as well," he said.

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