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Debate Over U.S. Relationship Reignited…Gov’t Urged To Boost Anti-Crime Fight…Charges Against Vieques Accused Condemned…Mayaguez Seeks Cruise Lines…Pesquera, Rossello Target Corruption… P.R. Among U.S. Jurisdictions With Most Iraqi Casualties… Gov’t Considers Pension Bonds… Police To Enforce Law In Pubs

Debate Over Puerto Rico's Relationship To U.S. Reignited

By Frank Griffiths of Associated Press

August 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

Debate over Puerto Rico's peculiar relationship to the United States was reignited this week by reports of a U.S. warning that the Caribbean territory was overstepping its bounds by asking to join the Iberoamerican Summit.

Published reports ran front-page stories two days running saying Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a memo to U.S. ambassadors in Latin America and Spain urging them to meet with country leaders to remind them of Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth, ahead of the November summit in Bolivia.

The U.S. State Department declined to confirm the existence of the memo, but a State Department official said Thursday that Puerto Rico in recent years has been seeking treatment from several nations normally accorded only to a sovereign state.

"The latest example is Gov. Sila Calderon's request to the government of Nicaragua for support in obtaining an official link to the Iberoamerican Summit," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Given the predominantly political nature of the summit and the fact that the United States is not a participant, it is unlikely that Puerto Rican participation would be approved," the official said.

Puerto Rican officials said they were not violating the commonwealth agreement because the summit is not an international organization but a meeting of leaders from Latin American countries, Spain and Portugal.

"We have never asked to participate as an independent nation in an international organization because we are not a sovereign nation," Puerto Rico's Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado said.

Instead, Puerto Rico wants to be "specially linked" to the event.

The ambiguous language is synonymous with Puerto Rico's peculiar position. While the island of 4 million people is largely autonomous, it must defer to the United States on foreign and military affairs.

"Independentistas" have seized on the controversy to back their claim that Puerto Rico is a colony.

"The only dignified response that Puerto Rico's government can give to the United States' humiliating opposition to the island participating in the next Iberoamerican Summit is to hold a debate on status," said Juan Dalmau Ramirez of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.

The New Progressive Party (NPP) criticized Calderon's administration for antagonizing the federal government, which contributes $14 billion to the island's economy each year though Puerto Ricans do not pay federal taxes.

"This is the administration playing as if it were a republic," said NPP President Carlos Pesquera.

Calderon attended last year's Iberoamerican Summit as an observer.

Government Urged To Boost Fight Against Crime

August 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Civil organization Congreso Nacional Hostosiano members urged Gov. Sila Calderon to declare a "national emergency" to immediately tackle violence and crime in Puerto Rico through extraordinary resources.

Hector L. Pesquera, co-president of the organization, said he was worried about the fact that Puerto Rico has a crime rate of 18.2 murders per every 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 0.9 in Singapore, one in Ireland, and five on the U.S. mainland.

"We propose that they face up to this issue for what it really is: a disaster of huge proportions. Our organization understands, and I believe that it is also the feeling of most Puerto Ricans, that this problem must be treated as a number one priority, as a life or death situation," Pesquera said in a prepared statement.

According to Pesquera, 8% of the murders in Puerto Rico are related to drug trafficking and drug addiction, which makes it a problem that should be addressed from a healthcare perspective.

He also urged the government to acknowledge the failure of federal agencies in guarding airports and coasts where illegal drugs enter the island.

According to police statistics, 492 violent deaths have been reported this year, which is 21 more than during the same period last year.

Vieques Condemns Charges Against Accused For Violent Acts

August 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – For understanding that "they are not criminals," the Vieques Municipal Assembly unanimously approved a resolution condemning the accusations against 11 people who allegedly destroyed federal property when the U.S. Navy left the island municipality.

Vieques Mayor Damaso Serrano indicated Thursday in a press conference that the resolution was favored even by assemblyists who support the permanence of the Navy such as Luz Celenia Ortiz and Marcelino Diaz.

The resolution condemns the alleged intention of the federal authorities to "criminalize the fight" of the Viequenses and demands the dismissal of the charges.

According to the resolution, some of the accused did not act on that occasion with malice or criminal intent but responded to "decades of repressed anger and frustration" at the occupation of the Navy.

"We express our support to each of them, because we understand that they are not criminals but, like us, form part of our community," reads the document, which will be sent to Gov. Sila Calderon and the U.S. District Attorney’s Office, among others.

Puerto Rico Shipowners Negotiate Opening Cruise Lines to Mayaguez

August 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
AII Data Processing Ltd. All rights reserved. 

The Association of Shipowners in Puerto Rico will hold negotiations with the Association of Shipowners of Florida for including the port of Mayaguez, western Puerto Rico, in the itineraries of Florida cruise ships, the president of the Puerto Rican shipowners committee with the association, Fernando Rivera, said on August 19, 2003.

The Puerto Rican association will also hold talks with Spanish cruise ship operators. The association aims to attract the Spanish-owned cruise ship Pacific to stop at Mayaguez. Pacific has a capacity for 1,000 passengers and is based in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, but so far stops only at the Puerto Rican capital San Juan.

Mayaguez aims to develop cruise travel on smaller cruise ships by also attracting tourists from Spain and other European countries, who will reach the west coast of Puerto Rico by charter flights from Europe to the airport of Aguadilla, north of Mayaguez.

Pesquera To Reinforce Existing Entities To Fight Corruption

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

August 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera announced that should he become governor, he would strengthen the Comptroller’s Office, the Government Ethics Office, and the audit office of each government agency to fight corruption and misuse of public funds.

"The fight against corruption is mainly a matter of good government administration. My policy has been, is, and always will be zero corruption," said Pesquera, adding that he feels proud of the fact that nobody has yet been able to accuse him of government corruption because he has always had a clean record.

Pesquera made public his anti-corruption plan during a press conference Wednesday at the same time that gubernatorial primary contender, former Gov. Pedro Rossello presented his. However, he denied that it had been scheduled at the same time on purpose to compete for media attention.

The NPP president said he would provide more resources to existing agencies in charge of detecting government corruption. He would also create a Center for Excellence in Government Administration. This center would provide training to government officials in charge of managing federal and local public funds to ensure that they know how to manage them according to the law.

He added that an Internal Audit Office under the Governor’s Office would be temporarily established to evaluate the efficiency in the internal audit offices of the executive branch.

"We will identify the deficiencies in these offices that prevent them from doing a better job," said the NPP president.

Pesquera added that he would also evaluate transactions of the current Popular Democratic Party, but without the creation of a Blue Ribbon Committee, like the one created by Gov. Sila Calderon.

"We should never go back to the age of persecution that we have seen in this administration," Pesquera said, referring to the emphasis that the Calderon administration gave to investigating former NPP government transactions and officials.

Several other key elements in Pesquera’s anti-corruption plan are:

*Displaying on the Internet information about all government transactions

*Requiring a bidding process for all government contracts

*Prohibiting agency chiefs from being part of the Evaluating Bidding Board of the office over which they preside.

*Extending the electoral closed season to prevent the government from using public funds to pay for government campaigns during each four-year term.

*Forbidding the use of government funds to pay for national holiday events.

Rossello Presents Five-Point Plan To Fend Off Corruption

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

August 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Former Gov. Pedro Rossello presented an anti-corruption plan Wednesday that he intends to implement should he become governor in 2004, he said during a press conference at his campaign committee headquarters.

Rossello, who will compete against New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera for the gubernatorial candidacy of the party Nov. 9, said his proposal is based on five points that he believes will be key in preventing corruption scandals such as what took place while he was in office from 1993 to 2001.

"These five fundamentals of ‘zero tolerance’ are prevention and deterrent, early detection, aggressive prosecution, empowerment of government employees, and the monitoring and participation of the media, educational institutions, and citizens," Rossello said during a morning press conference that was scheduled at the same time as that of Pesquera’s.

The first point will be to create an Anticorruption Office, which will be made up of antifraud and anticorruption experts in charge of implementing Rossello’s plan. It would also be responsible for creating a culture of ethics at all government levels.

The second point will be to establish a hotline and an Internet site through which citizens who know of possible acts of government corruption can report them without fear of reprisal.

Rossello also proposed the creation of an Executive Nominations Office intended to conduct an exhaustive evaluation and background check on all candidates to the cabinet. The evaluation would include their reputation and personal records such as drug-test results, government certifications, psychological and financial evaluations.

The fourth key point in Rossello’s plan will be to restructure the Special Independent Prosecutor’s Office by first appointing an executive director who would be evaluated and ratified by the comptroller, the Government Ethics director, the Justice secretary, and a representative of the public interest for a fixed term.

The former governor said he would also seek to provide more resources to the Justice, Comptroller, and Government Ethics offices to monitor corruption.

He would also seek to educate government employees of all levels on the dos and don’ts of how to handle public funds and finances.

The fifth point of the plan would seek to evaluate bidding processes and special contracting within the government. This part would also include the evaluation of all bidding board members by the comptroller, the government ethics director, the Justice secretary, and a representative of the public interest.

"The people of Puerto Rico deserve transparent public officials and institutions that respond to them with integrity and commitment. That has always been our aim and will continue to be our aim so that Puerto Rico can progress," Rossello said, stating once again that he has nothing to do with the corruption scandals that ended in the conviction of several of his cabinet members, including former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo.

P.R. Among U.S. Jurisdictions With Most Casualties In Iraq

August 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Pentagon statistics have revealed that Puerto Rico is one of 15 U.S. jurisdictions with the most casualties of war in Iraq.

The Pentagon has certified the deaths of 268 American soldiers since the beginning of the Operation Iraqi Freedom in March.

Six of those soldiers were of Puerto Rican origin. The seventh Puerto Rican casualty was that of Antonio Sledd Figueroa, who died in an ambush north of Kuwait, according to published reports.

California and Texas, the two most populated states in the U.S. have lost 30 and 23 soldiers, respectively since the beginning of the war. The third jurisdiction with the most casualties of war is New York, 13, followed by Pennsylvania and Illinois, with 12 casualties each.

Puerto Rico National Guard spokeswoman Major Millie Rosa said approximately 450 Puerto Rican National Guard members remain at the central command in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Another 500 are in Europe, and 1,600 were shipped to Fort Bragg, in North Carolina and have been stationed in several ship missions.

In total, 3,000 Puerto Rican National Guard members have been activated for the war against terrorism since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

Puerto Rico Government Considers Pension Bonds

August 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003
REUTERS LTD. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Puerto Rico's Government Development Bank said on Tuesday it was considering a $500 million bond sale to help address an $8 billion unfunded liability in its public employee pension fund.

Hector Mendez, president of the bank that acts as fiscal agent for the Commonwealth, said pension bonds are part of a larger plan forwarded to the governor to shore up Puerto Rico's pension fund, which provides benefits to the island's large public service sector.

Other steps Mendez has proposed would require approval from the U.S. territory's Legislature. Those include capping benefits and increasing the amount of contributions made by both the government and employees.

Currently, employee contributions total 8.27 percent and government contributions amount to 9.27 percent. But the amount of funds generated leaves the pension fund with a $50 million shortfall every year, according to Mendez.

The bank president, in an interview, said the government and employee contributions should both be increased to 10 percent to generate $60 million annually.

"If we put this (plan) in place, it will solve the problem in the system," Mendez said.

Mendez said the plan, if approved, would be implemented in 2005, after Puerto Rico's next gubernatorial election.

Puerto Rico is not alone among U.S. debt issuers considering pension bonds as states address unfunded liabilities in their pension systems.

Calderon Authorizes Police To Enforce Law In Pubs

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

August 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Gov. Sila Calderon said the Police Department and other agencies have the authorization to enforce the law in pubs and night clubs after a shooting occurred in a pub in Bayamon, where three youngsters were killed and another five wounded.

Calderon praised the work of Police Superintendent Victor Rivera Gonzalez and said incidence crime has decreased 10.4%, while violent crimes decreased 17%.

However, Calderon acknowledged that murders have increased by nine since the same period last year and said those killings are the result of drug dealing and the constant intervention of the Police Department in drug sites.

Calderon said that in the San Juan and Bayamon area, there are nearly 800 pubs or night clubs, and that the Police Department would focus on those that are not covered by the Public Order Code.

"The government will be evaluating the possibility of setting a determined hour to close those establishments, and I also agree with the Police superintendent to require the installation of metal detectors in the entrance of those establishments," Calderon said.

Calderon added that the permission process to confer licenses to pub owners will be strengthened and that the Police superintendent has authorization to verify if each one of the establishments complies with the legal standards.

She added that the Police Department budget was increased by $75 million in fiscal year 2004 and that 1,200 new police officers will be recruited.

Calderon said parents and government are equally responsible for the supervision of minors.

Calderon noted that Rivera Gonzalez will offer more details on the Police’s strategy to prevent crime on the island, where 14 people were killed during the weekend.

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