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Hernandez Mayoral Condemns Commemorative Plate

Vieques Master Plan On Its Way

Rio Piedras Lawsuits At A Standstill

Firefighters Put Heat On Calderon

Noriega: More Corruption Accusations

Ruiz "Boxer Of The Year"

P.R. Olympic Entry Out

GOP Includes Local Rum Taxes

Legislators: Status Is Priority

PRASA Losses Put At $287M

Hernandez Mayoral Condemns Commemorative License Plate

February 18th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

PONCE (AP) - Jose Alfredo Hernandez Mayoral, who will be running for a legislative post in the 2004 elections, condemned the Department of Transportation and Public Works decision of authorizing the printing and distribution of a commemorative license plate for the Commonwealth's 50th anniversary.

"Although the government has the right to celebrate the political status anniversary, the citizens have more right not to celebrate it," said one of the sons of former Popular Democratic Party Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon.

"The license plate places in a private property an expression of a political status that the majority of the people in Puerto Rico does not support," Hernandez Mayoral added in a radio interview.

The young attorney said the government does not have the right to impose on a statehood or a pro independence supporter the obligation of exhibiting a political ideology that they do not believe in.

"We have to respect those who do not believe in what we believe. I defend the commonwealth, but I do not have to force an expression of celebration of that status on someone who does not believe in the commonwealth," Hernandez Mayoral said.

Vieques Land Use Master Plan On Its Way

February 18th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

SAN JUAN (AP) - The preparation of a "master plan" for the use of the land that the U.S. Navy will transfer to the Conservation Trust and to the U.S. Department of the Interior has already began, announced Vieques Mayor Damaso Serrano.

"I understand that the use of that land should be done in an orderly fashion, and not indiscriminately as has been done before in a lot of places in Vieques," Serrano explained in published reports.

The mayor said the "land use master plan" will be initiated by the municipality "to later present it in public hearings to the people of Vieques, so they can give their ideas or present their opposition to what is being established".

Serrano estimated that the cost of the plan would be between $400,000 to $500,000 and informed that he has requested the Navy to assign that amount from the $40 million that were allocated by means of former President Clinton's executive order.

The Vieques mayor said the municipality will receive 3,200 acres that were under the Navy's control. The Conservation Trust will receive 800 acres and the rest of the land will be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Lawsuits Following Rio Piedras Explosion At A Standstill

February 18th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

SAN JUAN (AP) - Enron's bankruptcy has already had an effect in the lives of hundreds of victims of the gas explosion in Rio Piedras that took place in 1996, as their lawsuits have been put on hold while the courts in San Juan and in New York decide if the cases against the company and several of its subsidiaries should be halted.

The company's bankruptcy now threatens to leave almost half of the claims in limbo, according to published reports.

It is unclear how much money, if any, will receive some 500 of the 1,299 plaintiffs who had originally filed lawsuits, including the family of one of those who perished in the tragic explosion.

The future of the claims rely in the hands of judge John Ward, who has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 19 at the U.S. District Court in San Juan to decide if the halt of the proceedings that was ordered in December following Enron's bankruptcy claim, and in the hands of bankruptcy judge Arthur J. Gonzalez in New York, who had set a hearing for March 7.

Inspectors of the National Transportation Security Board made Enron and its subsidiary San Juan Gas accountable for the Rio Piedras explosion, in which 33 people died and at least another 69 were injured, after finding that the gas escape in the basement of Humberto Vidal, Inc. shoe store could have been avoided if the company wouldn't have been negligent in the training of its employees and in the maintenance of the gas pipelines.

Firefighters Put Heat On Calderon

By Ivan Roman

February 17th, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The firefighters wanted the raise that they had been promised for so long. But instead of parading down the colonial streets to the Governor's Mansion carrying signs and shouting slogans, they serenaded Gov. Sila Calderon with guitars, love ballads and mariachis.

Firefighters union President Jose Tirado said they wanted to do something different at dawn Monday. But like someone playing hard to get, Calderon didn't even come out on the balcony. An aide came out to get the flowers and the card.

A spurned Tirado was disappointed. "Every time someone comes up with some special project, they think of us firemen to do it, but when it comes to addressing our demands, they don't think about us," Tirado told the aide.

But it turned out that Calderon did think about them. She had no choice but to, as the firefighters and tens of thousands of other public employees threatened Monday to protest and even go on strike if they don't get raises.

In her State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday, Calderon got thunderous applause when she announced that her $21.8 billion budget included a $100-a-month raise for public employees.

Noriega Warns Of More Corruption Accusations

February 17th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

PONCE (AP) - David Noriega, chairman of the Independent Citizens Committee for the Evaluation of Government Transactions, warned on Sunday that new corruption accusations would be filed against government officials of the past administration.

"I don't know how far this will go, but one thing I am sure of: we have not reached the end of government corruption cases; we're at the beginning," said the chairman of the so-called Blue Ribbon Committee.

Noriega warned that new corruption cases against past administration officials will be revealed during the next few months.

He also said the committee will soon file the new reports to Gov. Sila Calderon.

On another note, Noriega revealed that so far the committee has received a total of $1.6 million in public funds and added that he doesn't have any problems with going before the House Treasury Committee to explain how the money has been spent.

The Blue Ribbon Committee has been the center of strong criticism from all sectors, mainly from Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña, who believes committee members should file their financial statements in accordance to the Government Ethics Law.

John Ruiz Named "Boxer Of The Year"

February 17th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

CAROLINA (AP) - The boxer of Puerto Rican roots John Ruiz received this weekend the Boxer of the Year award, presented by the Puerto Rico Professional Boxing Commission.

Ruiz arrived on the island at 11:37 a.m. Sunday from Venezuela at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, in Carolina, where he had a brief interview with the press.

The boxer admitted to having mixed feelings because the father of Puerto Rican boxer Felix "Tito" Trinidad filed a petition at the San Juan Superior Court to request that the award wouldn't be given to Ruiz, as he believes Trinidad should be Puerto Rico's boxer of the year.

Trinidad won the middleweight championship when he knocked out William Joppy, only to lose it to Bernard Hopkins in September.

Despite the legal petition, Boxing Commission President Jose Peñagaricano didn't hesitate to continue with the plans of honoring Ruiz.

Ruiz was born in the continental U.S., but considers himself to be a true Puerto Rican.

P.R. Olympic Entry Forced Out

February 16th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Puerto Rico's Olympics lasted about as long as winter in San Juan.

The delegation's lone entry was forced to drop out Saturday, hours before its only event, when one of the members of the two-man bobsled team was declared ineligible -- not by international standards but by the island's own rules.

Michael Gonzales could prove he's lived on the island for two years and one month. While that's a month longer than required by the International Olympic Committee and the international bobsled federation, it failed the team's three-year rule.

``He's a great, great guy, but those are the rules,'' said Hector Cardona, president of the Puerto Rican national Olympic committee. ``We have to follow the rules. As president of the Olympic committee, I took him out according to our constitution.''

That's it. No lengthy appeals, no late-night interrogations in hotel suites. Just a strict interpretation of the handbook, even for a guy who was an alternate at the 1998 Olympics.

Cardona said the matter wasn't cleared up before Friday night because officials didn't think it was a problem.

``We know he has the three years, but we need the proof,'' Cardona said. ``Without it, we authorize nothing.''

Gonzales has documents that show him living in Rincon, a small town on the western part of the island, but he can't date them far enough back to meet the criteria.

U.S. Republicans Include Local Rum Taxes In House Bill

February 16th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

SAN JUAN (AP) - The Republican delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a new economic stimulus bill that includes the two-year renovation of an increase in the funds Puerto Rico receives for tax purposes in Puerto Rican rum.

The bill would give the Puerto Rico government an additional annual income of $40 million, according to published reports.

However, the leader of the Senate Democrat majority, Tom Daschle, said the bill "is not going anywhere."

In other news, the Senate approved an agricultural bill that would extend the benefits Puerto Rico receives under the Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN by its Spanish acronym) for five years.

The version approved by the House extends PAN benefits in Puerto Rico for 10 years, which means both bills will have to be worked out in a conference committee.

Legislators: Status Is Priority Agenda

February 16th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

SAN JUAN (AP) - Contrary to Gov. Sila Calderon's preference, the priority for most of the members of the Legislative Assembly is the political status, according to a legislative survey conducted by two professors of the University of Puerto Rico Political Science Department.

In published reports, 51.5% of those surveyed favor Spanish as the only official language, while 48.5% don't.

70.3% of the legislators consulted were in favor of the woman having the right to decide on abortion, while 29.7% don't. However, 63.1% expressed that abortion should only be chosen in cases of incest, rape, or imminent danger to the life of the mother.

58.2% favor the government to provide contraceptives to students in public schools, while 41.8% don't.

Meanwhile, 79.1% understand that Domestic Violence Law 54 is an indispensable resource in confronting the increase of these cases, while 20.5% opined differently. But the majority (61.2%) thought the statute was unfair to men.

Legislator Reveals Million-Dollar Losses In PRASA

February 16th, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.  

PONCE (AP) - The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) will lose $287 million this year, House Treasury Committee Chairman Francisco Zayas Seijo said Saturday.

"PRASA's losses this year will be $287 million, plus another $300 million that was given by the Infrastructure Financing Authority for permanent improvements," Zayas Seijo said.

He added that "that raises the state's contribution to PRASA to over $500 million. The government will have to continue to assign money to this public corporation so that it can continue operating."

The legislator for Ponce and Jayuya said taxpayers are paying almost half of PRASA's losses.

He said he is in favor that PRASA publicly inform how it has used the $96 million that the Legislative Assembly has assigned it in the past four years.

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