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Navy Announces Drastic Cutbacks At RR... Carrion Accuses Feds Of Discrimination…Puerto Rico Promoted As Caribbean Link To U.S….Island Tourism Stable…Judge Upholds Governor’s Ads…Over 80 Taxpayers Owe Millions…Supreme Ct.: Law 54 Doesn’t Cover Homosexuals…Acevedo Seeks El Yunque Reserve… NPP Legislators Oppose, Calderon Backs Electoral Reform Proposals

Navy Announces Drastic Cutbacks At RR

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The U.S. Navy announced drastic cutbacks at its sprawling base in Puerto Rico on Thursday, saying half the employees will not be needed when it ends bombing exercises on nearby Vieques island.

More than 2,300 employees at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, including military and civilians, will be transferred elsewhere or lose their jobs, said Lt. Scott McIlnay, a spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, Va.

The base, which has about 4,800 employees, is one of the largest employers in Puerto Rico and injects an estimated $300 million into the economy each year.

Military officials say they have less use for Roosevelt Roads, which administered the bombing range from the main island.

``The base's primary function was the training at Vieques,'' McIlnay said. ``We need to put our resources where our training is, and our training is moving.''

The Navy plans to withdraw from Vieques by May 1, turning over the island's eastern third to the U.S. Department of the Interior and moving training to spots in Florida and elsewhere on the U.S. mainland.

Puerto Rico's government has applauded the end of the bombing exercises but urged the Navy not to close the base, saying it is vital economically to the island, where unemployment stands at 12 percent.

Puerto Rican Sen. Kenneth McClintock said Thursday's announcement ``means the virtual closure'' of the base. An opposition legislator, he blamed Gov. Sila Calderon's pursuit of an end to the bombing exercises.

The Navy had warned previously that an end to the bombing training would mean doing away with many operations at Roosevelt Roads.

Covering 22,600 acres, Roosevelt Roads is the largest U.S. naval base in the world in land area. The Navy said it spends more than $100 million each year operating Roosevelt Roads and that the cutbacks will save $57.2 million.

Carrion Lambastes Feds For Discriminatory Treatment

By Ken Oliver-Mendez of Caribbean Business

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All rights reserved. 

As Richard Carrion sees it, when it comes to applying penalties for infractions of anti-money laundering laws and regulations, federal authorities have been overly harsh in their treatment of Banco Popular as compared to stateside institutions.

In a press conference Thursday, the chairman, president and CEO of Popular Inc. cited a number of cases involving prominent financial institutions on the U.S. mainland—such as Citigroup, US Trust, and Lehman Brothers—where the institutions escaped penalties, despite having incurred in infractions much more severe than those attributed to Banco Popular.

In January of this year, Popular reached an agreement with federal authorities in which it agreed to the confiscation by the federal government of $21.6 million of its funds for having failed to file required suspicious activity reports (SARS) in a timely manner. The failures were primarily related to deposits made in a Banco Popular account by Roberto Ferrario Pozi, who was convicted last year for his participation in money laundering as part of a narcotrafficking ring in Puerto Rico.

"We should have realized what was going on earlier," Carrion acknowledged with respect to Popular’s failure to issue timely SARs in the case. However, Carrion compared the lapse to the one Iraqi missile that hit a Kuwaiti shopping mall two weeks ago. "11 of the 13 missiles were intercepted . . .but one got through." He said like the missile defense system in Kuwait, Popular had an anti-money laundering system in place at the time of the Ferrario Pozzi incidents comparable to the best in the financial industry, but that no system is perfect.

Puerto Rico Promoted As Caribbean Link To U.S.

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The Puerto Rico government made use of the inauguration Thursday of the 11th meeting of a commission of the United Nations about affairs related to the economic and social development of the Caribbean to promote Puerto Rico as a link with the United States.

The promotion appeared in a message that Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado offered to the members of the Caribbean Cooperation & Development Committee, that forms part of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL by its Spanish acronym).

"Puerto Rico has the ideal conditions to become spokesman, defender, and promoter of the interests of the Caribbean before the United States," Mercado said.

According to the official, Puerto Rico had an export volume of $47 billion in 2002, which makes the island one of the most important economies of the Caribbean region.

"The integration and sustainable development of the Caribbean are not possible without the participation of Puerto Rico," he added in the message offered to 45 delegates of 19 countries and nine international organizations that are in session for two days in a San Juan hotel.

Tourism Co.: Tourist Activity Solid On Island

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Tourism Co. Executive Director Jose Suarez said tourist activity remains solid in Puerto Rico, unlike other Caribbean destinations.

As an example, he indicated that the hotel occupancy rate in March was 79.8%, a tendency that is believed to be a result of Tourism’s efforts to emphasize the message that the island is a safe destination.

"The tourism industry in Puerto Rico enjoys stability and solidity," he said in a press release.

He added that other Caribbean destinations are already being affected by the war in Iraq, according to recent reports of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

He said so far this high season, which runs from Dec. 16 to April 15, hotel occupancy registered a rate of 78.2%, equivalent to 3.7 points above the same period of fiscal year 2001-02, when it reached a rate of 74.5%.

"The high season is still not finished, and the occupancy rate reflects increases, which represents for the moment an excellent performance, considering world events," Suarez added.

More Than 80 Taxpayers Owe Treasury Millions

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – At least 42 individuals and 40 private companies each owe more than $1 million in taxes, according to data of the Treasury Department published in a local newspaper.

Some 950,000 taxpayers actually owe money to the government. Nearly 265,700 of them, or more than one-fourth, have debts that still could be recuperated, said Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza.

Tax debts alone reach $2.58 billion, he added.

According to the agency, 68% of individuals owe less than $1,500 and another 20% owe up to $5,000.

Supreme Court: Law 54 Doesn’t Apply To Homosexuals

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The justices of the local Supreme Court ruled that Law 54—which penalizes domestic violence—can’t be applied to homosexual couples. This ruling goes against Gov. Sila Calderon’s public policy.

According to published reports, Supreme Court Justices Efrain Rivera Perez, Baltasar Corrada del Rio, Francisco Rebollo, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Jose Andreu Garcia agreed to this.

However, Andreu Garcia had said in June 2001 that the "interrelation and cohabiting of same-sex couples is a social reality from which no state institution can escape."

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justices Federico Hernandez Denton, Miriam Naveira, and Jaime Fuster opposed the majority stating that Domestic Violence Law applies to any type of consensual relationships. Therefore, this ruling would mean treating homosexuals as second-rate citizens.

Acevedo Vila Insists On Reserve For El Yunque

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila submitted again to the U.S. Congress on Thursday a bill aimed at designating 10,000 acres of land to the west of El Yunque rain forest a wild life reserve.

The bill is aimed at protecting the ecological and scenic values of the forest from the pressures of urban development in the area.

"This is simple legislation; it recognizes the need for conservation of the Caribbean National Forest, the only rain forest within the U.S. National Forest System," Acevedo Vila said while filing the bill in the U.S. House floor.

The bill was approved by the previous House where it got 107 votes in its favor but the process was not completed in the U.S. Senate.

This time the bill was filed with the support of 12 legislators, Acevedo Vila said.

Similar legislation to protect the rivers that run through the forest was turned into law by President George W. Bush last December.

If approved, the 10,000 acres of land, which are within the forest, will be protected by the same laws and strict regulations applied to the Wild Life National Preservation System.

Judge Rules In Favor Of Governor’s Ads

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Superior Court Judge Carlos Davila ruled in favor of Gov. Sila Calderon in the lawsuit filed by the New Progressive Party (NPP) for her publicity campaign titled "Puerto Rico toward the future on a good road."

The governor immediately expressed victory over the decision.

"The court positively ruled in favor of our administration so we can continue to take Puerto Rico toward the future on a good road," Calderon said Wednesday in a press conference in Dorado.

The NPP announced Wednesday its intention to appeal the judicial decision that allowed the governor to continue using her campaign slogan.

NPP President Carlos Pesquera said they will appeal the ruling "to obtain justice for the Puerto Rican people."

"I will not stop until the people are no longer exposed to the use of public funds to advance political causes and make propaganda," Pesquera said in a press conference.

The NPP’s lawsuit sought to declare unconstitutional the use of public funds in the campaign under the argument that the ads were "politically partisan."

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez said the government is prepared to face an appeal.

"That is a right that they have, and if they understand that they have to appeal, then by all means, but it certainly has been a clear and resounding defeat," she said.

According to Rodriguez, the court determined that "the campaign is synonymous with the principles of our constitution serves a public end."

Pesquera filed the lawsuit based on a decision of the Supreme Court, which in 1995 declared unconstitutional the use of public funds in a campaign by then Gov. Pedro Rossello, who included the phrase "Promise Fulfilled" in his government ads.

NPP Legislators Oppose Electoral Reform Proposal

April 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Three New Progressive Party (NPP) representatives opposed Thursday the project presented by Gov. Sila Calderon for the public financing of electoral campaigns.

According to Reps. Oscar Ramos, Jose Aponte, and Epi Jimenez, the proposal would increase the investment that the government makes for campaigns from $9 million to $21 million if the three existing parties are included, which they described as a "lack of respect to public employees."

The representatives alleged that the proposal is not justified because among other things, the present fiscal year could close with a deficit of $150 million, while the salary increase promised to teachers was postponed because of an alleged lack of funds, meaning that the $21 million investment is too high.

"This proposal is an insult and disrespectful to the public employees that day by day see their salaries reduced and are denied a decent increase," Ramos said in a press conference in the Capitol.

However, the trio only proposed that the government contribution remain at $9 million, to be divided among the three parties.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party, also in the minority, proposed last week that the government contribution be reduced from $9 million to $6 million.

Governor Approves Electoral Reform Recommendations

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

April 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

After meeting with members of the Special Committee for the Financing of Electoral Campaigns on Wednesday, Gov. Sila Calderon okayed the 19 proposals that were presented to her to amend the Electoral Law. The governor said the proposals are a step forward toward reducing the probability of fraudulent fundraising in the upcoming elections. It also reduces the approximately $100 million government financing to $28.5 million in public funds, when compared to the original plan that was submitted last year.

"This project is for the good of the people, for the cleansing of the electoral procedures in Puerto Rico. I call for putting aside political partisanship, thinking positively about the future of Puerto Rico," Calderon said.

The committee proposed that the program for the financing of electoral campaigns be applicable only to the electoral parties that voluntarily choose to participate in it. Those that do, would obtain $3 million in public funds for the gubernatorial campaign. The government would also match every dollar that they raise in private funds up to $4 million.

The governor also favored the proposal of limiting anonymous donations to $600,000. According to Committee Chairman Hector Luis Acevedo, this reduces the possibility of illegal donations. He said that right now, political parties don't have a limit on how much they can collect from anonymous donations just as long as they are no greater than $50 each.

"We didn’t want to eliminate them because there is a tradition of collecting money at the street intersections. We don’t want to eliminate legitimate anonymous donations. We want to eliminate multimillion-dollar donations that may be used for other things," Acevedo said.

"What we did was to limit this risk to an amount that is reasonable," he added.

However, those political parties who don’t wish to participate in the proposed plan wouldn’t be limited to these specifications.

Another important proposal was the extension of this new financing plan to the mayoral candidates of San Juan, Guaynabo, Carolina, and Bayamon. Acevedo explained that the committee thought it necessary to include them because they are most financially impacted during election years, according to the State Elections Commission (SEC).

The committee estimated the expenses for the 2004 elections at:

  • $1.5 million for San Juan
  • $850,000 for Guaynabo
  • $900,000 for Carolina
  • $750,000 for Bayamon

Acevedo said the government would give each mayoral candidate of each of the aforementioned municipalities 25% of these amounts. Half of what’s left must be collected from private funds in order to receive the other half from the government.

Once these proposals are submitted to the Legislative Assembly, if approved, the amendments to the Electoral Law will apply for the 2004 general elections. However, the campaign public fund would be available as of July 1 of the electoral year in order to shorten the campaign period. Therefore, the money to pay for this new financing plan would come from the budget for fiscal year 2005.

Other amendments proposed by the special committee are:

  • The creation of an electoral auditor designated by the SEC president and approved by at least two of the three electoral commissioners of the SEC.
  • Increasing the statutes of limitations of grave electoral felonies to five years and to three years in the case of electoral demeanors.
  • Allowing equal time to all political parties on government-owned TV and radio stations from August to November.
  • The prohibition of Electoral Law violators from having contracts with the government for the next four to 10 years.

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