Calderon: Respect SEC Rulings
Embattled Gracias Wont Seek New Judicial Term
Extended Latin American Ties Sought
Probe Of Public Funds Used For Governor's Address
US Status Group Yet To Meet
Parties Criticize SEC Over Allegations That 16 Legislators Are Possible Electoral Law Violators
Multiple Sites To Replace Vieques
Calderon: SEC Rulings, SEC President Should Be Respected
By Proviana Colon Diaz
August 1, 2002
ISABELA Gov. and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President Sila Calderon said Thursday that despite "criteria differences," all rulings by the State Elections Commission (SEC) Board and its president, Aurelio Gracia, should be respected.
"There might be different personal perceptions, but beyond that, we should all respect the institutions rulings and that of its president," Calderon said.
Following the announcement of Gracias report, PDP Secretary General Fernando Torres said, among other things, that the SEC president lacked objectivity, that his decision had been arbitrary and superficial.
Similar arguments were uttered by legislators mentioned out in Gracias report, some of whom are members of the Senate Nominations Committee, which has the last word in confirming the judge for another term in the judiciary branch. Garcia asked the governor not to resend his nomination again, but she declined.
Still, despite the possible conflict of interest, Calderon said she would not ask any legislator to abstain themselves from the nomination process.
"I think these are two totally separate issues and should be maintained as such," Calderon said.
SEC President Insists He Doesnt Want New Judicial Term
August 1, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - State Elections Commission (SEC) President Aurelio Gracia reiterated Thursday that he stands by his decision not to seek a new term as Aibonito Superior Court judge.
Gracia insisted on his decision during a radio interview one day after Gov. Sila Calderon had issued a prepared statement to announce that she would submit Gracias nomination as soon as the second ordinary session starts Aug. 19.
"I will sustain my position not to be reappointed. Ive thought about it a lot. Ive had the chance to evaluate this, and I believe that my reappointment now could carry a stigma," said Gracia when explaining that he doesnt want the public to doubt his integrity.
The SEC president has been a target of criticism and praise from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and the New Progressive Party (NPP) this week when he referred to the Justice Department 16 of the 19 legislators and public officials whom he decided may have been linked to a possible violation of the Electoral Law and regulations.
Some of the governors detractors, including NPP Electoral Commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz, had accused the Calderon administration of exerting pressure on Gracia by delaying the confirmation of his appointment to a new 12-year judicial term.
However, Graciawho was an Aibonito Superior Court judge before being appointed to the SECdenied this allegation Tuesday after he announced his decision to refer all eight PDP legislators who had been identified as possible violators of the Electoral Law and regulations.
Gracia said after the Senate failed to approve his reappointment, he sent a letter to Calderon on July 16 requesting that she not submit his nomination for Senate consideration in the next legislative session.
The SEC president said he believes there is not conflict with his appointment as SEC president in the absence of his judicial title.
He said this means that when his 4-year term at the SEC ends, he intends to continue his private practice as a lawyer.
On the other hand, Graciaa self-proclaimed PDP supporterwas praised by Rivera Schatz and by former SEC President Juan R. Melecio, both of whom said the new SEC president has done an excellent job in handling the electoral campaign controversy.
On Thursday, Gracia was also praised by call-in radio show listeners who expressed respect for his decision, which could affect members of his own party.
On the other hand, Gracia used the opportunity to react to criticism of PDP and NPP leaders by saying that he acknowledges their right to express their opinions, especially if they feel they have been wronged.
"I differ from them. I believe I made my evaluation, I read the law, I had the benefit of the commissioners and the auditors opinions, and I was prepared to make a decision," Gracia said.
The SEC president reiterated that he will continue doing his job and that he hopes that his decision in the electoral scandal marks the beginning of a new political era in terms of compliance with the Electoral Law.
Government Seeks To Extend Its Latin American Ties
August 1, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado reported Thursday that he discussed alternatives to extend economic ties with Latin America during a meeting with Giovanni E. Reyes, director of Development and Regional Cooperation of the Latin American Economic System, known in Spanish as SELA.
Reyes, who will be on the island for a few days, is in charge of economic development in Latin America and is the author of numerous articles, manuals, and books on related subjects, the State Department said in a press release.
"I am reaffirming Puerto Ricos interest in participating in international organizations that support economic benefits, trade, standards, and technologies for Puerto Ricans. At the same time, it endeavors to support the Puerto Rican experience in discussions on challenges that face our America. Our liaison with SELA unites us even more so with our Latin American and Caribbean brothers in search of solutions to common problems," said Mercado.
SELA is a regional intergovernmental organization headquartered in Caracas, Venezuela and unites 28 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean. It was created on Oct. 17, 1975, through the Panama Convention.
The entity, among other things, fosters a consultation and coordination system for the consensus on joint positions and common strategies for the Latin American and Caribbean region on economic issues vis-à-vis countries, groups of countries, international forums and organizations. It enhances cooperation and integration among Latin American and Caribbean countries and favors the articulation and convergence of various existing economic concepts in the region.
Comptroller Investigates Use Of Public Funds For Governor's Address
July 31, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña is investigating the legality of the use of public funds to pay for a television address by Gov. Sila Calderon regarding allegations of possible irregularities in the financing methods used during her gubernatorial campaign.
Calderon sent a message to the people in March, after she met in La Fortaleza with Popular Democratic Party (PDP) mayors, legislators and PDP Electoral Commissioner Carlos Lopez Feliciano and former PDP Secretary General Jorge Colberg all implicated in the alleged illegal scheme of transferences on the past political campaign.
The Comptroller told The Associated Press that his office is auditing the use of the electoral fund and also the use of public funds from La Fortaleza to pay for the message.
"We are investigating Gov. Sila Calderons use of public funds on the address she gave over the alleged illegal transfers," Diaz Saldaña said.
The comptroller said auditors are also investigating how the three political parties used the electoral fund, examining Treasury departments documents among other documents.
Status Workgroup In U.S. Has Yet To Meet
July 31, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) One year after its creation, the workgroup that U.S. President George W. Bush had appointed to discuss the status issue of Puerto Rico has yet to meet.
The groupcomprised of 14 federal agenciesheld a conference call in August 2001 without yielding a report.
Luis Fortuño, the Puerto Rican spokesman for the Republican Party, said the White House follows the issue of Puerto Ricos status very closely.
"I believe the Bush administration has a genuine commitment to the Hispanic community in general and that includes Puerto Rico," Fortuño said.
The pro-statehood leader said the federal government "acknowledges that something must be done with the status issue, but I cannot guarantee when or how that action will be taken."
PDP Criticizes SEC Presidents Decision
July 30, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) criticized Tuesday the determination of the State Electoral Committee president for referring the cases to the Justice Department on 16 legislators who are alleged of violating electoral law regulations.
Speaking on behalf of the secretary general, Fernando Torres Ramirez, the PDP said that the electoral committee president, Aurelio Gracia Morales, abdicated his responsibility of making a determination and transferred it to the Justice Secretary, Anabelle Rodriguez.
"The SEC President, instead of complying with his responsibility specifically imposed by Electoral Law in Article 1.006, to adjudicate this type of controversy, he opted to transfer it to the Justice Secretary," continued the official.
To uphold his opinion, Torres Ramirez cited one of the resolutions issued today by Gracia Morales in which he indicated that he referred the case to Justice " with the objective of proving or dismissing the possible violation of Articles 8.014, 8.016 and 8.018 of the Electoral Law."
According to the PDP secretary general, the SEC presidents resolutions suffers from failures, omissions and violations to the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and association.
He also said you have to have "the certainty that once it is objectively analyzed by any impartial forum or any sensible person... the outlined analysis, will clearly establish the superficiality of this process," that he called "marred from the start."
Torres Ramirez called on the PDP supporters to stay calm because "neither PDP legislators nor members of the collective nor its president have incurred in electoral law violations."
The State Electoral Committee announced Tuesday that he will refer to the Justice Department the audit reports of 16 PDP and NPP legislators that may have violated regulations and electoral law.
Immediately Gov. Sila M. Calderon said that the SEC allegations had nothing to do with corruption and called them an interpretation from the SEC president.
"To begin with, this is not corruption. We are talking about interpretations of the Electoral Law. The Committee president has made an interpretation and believes that it requires an additional evaluation from the Justice Secretary," said Calderon.
Moreover, Gracia Morales explained in a separate press conference that he referred to the Justice cases because the findings, in his opinion, reflected that public crimes had been committed.
NPP & PDP Commissioners React To SEC's Decision
July 30, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - The official announcement of the decision of the State Elections Commission (SEC) President Aurelio Gracia to refer 16 of the 19 cases of possible violations to the Electoral Law triggered mixed reactions of New Progressive Party (NPP) and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Electoral Commissioners Thomas Rivera Schatz and Carlos Lopez Feliciano, respectively on Tuesday.
While Rivera Schatz lambasted the PDP for allegedly conspiring to commit a fraud scheme and then conspiring again to conceal it, Lopez Feliciano said he worried that Gracia may have affected the image of PDP legislators by limiting himself to refer the cases to the Justice Department instead of using his power to say there were in fact violations to the Electoral Law.
Lopez Feliciano cited a lack of equity in the way the possible violations to the Electoral Law were classified as substantial, significant or as a mere deficiency, as it was in the case of legislators who submitted after the deadline.
He also said it wasnt fair to refer PDP legislators to the Justice Department for allegedly submitting false information about their expenses and finances, because in those cases none of the legislators refused to provide the information and even provided the information after having been informed of the irregularity.
Finally, Lopez Feliciano said there was no evidence to prove that the PDP had conspired to violate the Electoral Law by transferring funds to PDP candidates to place ads that favored then gubernatorial candidate Gov. Sila Calderon.
According to the Electoral Law, gubernatorial candidates arent allowed to receive private contributions to pay for their electoral campaign, since the Treasury Department assigns $3 million for such expenses.
He said Rivera Schatzs claims that Calderon had given illegal funds to PDP candidates to place ads whose messages were mostly focused to enhance Calderons image than the candidates, have no grounds.
Lopez Feliciano said that just as any other citizen, political candidates have the constitutional right to freely express what they want to say in their campaign ads, as well as the right to present themselves as an ally of the gubernatorial candidate, for that is a way of also boosting their political image and increasing their chances to win the electoral race.
But Rivera Schatz said these are excuses of the PDP to conceal a fraud scheme at an institutional level and said there was sufficient evidence to prove that the governor had broken the law as well as for a possible impeachment.
"It is a shame for a gubernatorial candidate to offer a clean and transparent government of consensus while campaigning with dirty money," Rivera Schatz said.
Rivera Schatz also urge Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez and General Prosecutor Pedro Geronimo Goyco to abstain from evaluating the cases reported by the SEC, since they had helped raise funds for the PDP political campaign.
Also Rivera Schatz expressed his support for Gracias decision by comparing him with former SEC President Juan R. Melecio, who has always been regarded as an honorable individual of impeccable reputation.
Rivera Schatz added that he wont defend any of NPP legislators from possible charges against them, but urged them to speak up and defend themselves if they think they have been wronged in any way.
He also established a difference between the violations adjudicated to NPP and PDP legislators, as he believes that none of the irregularities found in the report of NPP legislators denote a clear intention to conspire to violate the Electoral Law.
SEC Refers 16 Legislators To Justice For Possible Violations To The Electoral Law
July 30, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) The State Elections Commission (SEC) referred to the Justice Department on Tuesday the cases of 16 legislators, who may have violated the Electoral law.
Gov. Sila Calderon immediately said the SEC findings are not about corruption, but are an interpretation by SEC President Aurelio Gracia Morales.
Gracia Morales also said the SEC examined the cases of 19 legislators from all political parties and did not find cause for referral in three of them. The three legislators were identified as Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Fernando Martin, PIP Rep. Victor Garcia San Inocencio, as well as New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer.
Among the possible violations of the law found were the filing of false reports and raising of funds greater than the amount permitted by law, said Gracia Morales.
Among the cases referred to the Justice Department for their pertinent action are those of Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sens. Jose Dalmau, Roberto Prats, Roberto Vigoreaux, Cirilo Tirado, and Maribel Rodriguez.
From the NPP Sens. Lucy Arce, Kenneth McClintock and Orlando Parga were referred to the Justice Department, as were the cases PDP Reps. Ferdinand Perez and Alida Arizmendi, NPP Rep. Angel Cintron, and todays independent Rep. Jorge de Castro Font.
In the cases of NPP, Rep. Melinda Romero and of PDP Sen. Cirilo Tirado, the SEC president said the SEC resolved to perform a complete audit of their reports.
Former PDP legislator Maribel Rodriguez, refused to cooperate with the audit, forcing the SEC to ask the House Ethics Committee to present the testimonies and the evidence gathered in their investigation, including Rodriguezs sons statements that he received from La Fortaleza administrator Fulgencio Correa $10,000 that was not reported adequately before the committee.
Multiple Sites To Replace Vieques
July 29, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) The United States Armed Forces have worked on the creation of a national joint training center an initiative that coincides with Navy plans to distribute among various military installations maneuvers currently being conducted in Vieques.
"It can be a conglomerate of training centers," indicated Navy Vice Admiral, Edmund Giambastiana, designated as the next Armed Forces Commander, on discussing the new strategy to coordinate integrated training.
According to press reports, the Joint Armed Forces Command currently manages the Millennium Challenge maneuvers which began last week at nine (9) U.S. firing ranges and seventeen (17) computer-generated fictitious locations.
These maneuvers, part of a training plan that will be extended for two years and considered the most important that the United States has developed since World War II, were made known at the public confirmation of Vice-Admiral Giambastiana before the Senate Armed Forces Committee.
The military official indicated that the "Millennium Challenge" exercises include maneuvers with real fire in shooting ranges from the western United States, computer generated war simulators and the establishment of an operations center in Norfolk, Virginia, where the U.S. Joint Forces Command is headquartered.