Judge Finds Cause For Trial Against The Four NPP Leaders
Defense Spending Plummets In Puerto Rico
Officers In Pentagon Recovery Return Home
Govt Claims Credit For 14K New Jobs
Protesters Who Destroy Property Face Arrest
Pesquera Blasts Calderon Over ARPE Sex Scandal, Berrios' Criticism Doesn't Worry Her
$2M For Blue Ribbon Committee
J& J: U.S. Won't Extend Island Probe
Judge Finds Cause For Trial Against The Four NPP Leaders
By Proviana Colon Diaz
August 30, 2002
San Juan Superior Court Judge Lourdes Velasquez found probable cause for trial against four New Progressive Party (NPP) leaders, including party President Carlos Pesquera, on the charge of riot for their actions during the June 20 incident at the Womens Advocate Office, while attempting to place an American Flag alongside a Puerto Rican flag.
The defense announced it's right to a speedy trial and Velasquez scheduled the reading of charges hearing for September 13 and the trial for November 12.
Immediately after the court proceedings had concluded Pesqueras lead defense attorney Teodoro Mendez said he did not rule out soliciting a "reconsideration" to the court of its ruling with the intention of possibly filing a case before the Court of Appeals.
If convicted, defendants Pesquera, NPP Electoral Commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz, former House Vice President Edwin Mundo and former NPP President Leo Diaz could face a minimum two-year prison sentence and a maximum of five years.
Following and extensive third day of probable cause hearing Velasquez issued her ruling around 7:15 p.m. noting that the prosecution had "presented effectively the weight of the evidence" that needs to be presented in such hearing. By law, during a probable cause hearing the judge must rule, based on the evidence presented, if there is a possibility that the defendant might have committed the crime.
Velasquez added that her ruling is "no cause for anyone to celebrate."
"We should not forget that these events began in response to a licit activity that is born out of the right of free speech, but a licit activity can conclude in the commission of a crime," Velazquez said.
The judge ruling was received with surprise by the defendants and their supporters, who filled the courtroom.
Silence overcame the courtroom and not a single expression was made by either the defendants or their families.
Outside the courtroom however Pesquera, accompanied by his wife and sister, said he respected Velazquez ruling but did not agree with it. He added that he was confident that in trial by jury the outcome would be in their favor.
Pesquera also disagreed with Velazquez in that the evidence presented by the prosecution was "poor", and it was "filed with lies."
"There were testimonies of people that one after the other lied and this will be proven in its given time," Pesquera said.
Mundo, who had earlier lashed out at the press after the judge admitted into evidence a video of Channel 6 newscast, said that the "sadly" ruling, such as the one made by Velazquez, help in having citizens who don't believe in their judicial system. Mundo could not say if Thursdays ruling could have an adverse effect on his aspirations for an at-large-house post election to be held September 29.
Rivera Schatz for his part, urged the people not to loose faith on the judicial system despite, the fact that "the evidence presented was contrary to the facts."
While Diaz, said the ruling had been based on the minimum evidence needed for this stage of the proceedings and that he too was confident that a favorable ruling will be issued in trial.
The group then went outside the San Juan Judicial Center to meet with the followers who for the past three days have been waiting, marching, singing, dancing and praying in support of their leaders.
Pesquera thanked the crowd and urged them not to be saddened by Thursdays ruling.
Contrary to what had been expected the over 30 defense attorneys declined to present any witness and submitted it case to the judge with their cross examination of the prosecutions five witnesses. The defense also submitted a copy of a forensic test that concluded the Womens Advocate Office glass door had been broken from the inside out.
Velasquez allowed the lead attorneys of each defendant to make a closing statement as well as the prosecution.
In his closing statement Assistant District Attorney Jose Capo said that the elements constituting the charge of riot had been presented in court including violence, threat and excessive force.
He argued that on the day of the event no one in that office was able to work, as a result of the defendants actions, who failed to make use of all resources available to them before engaging in violence.
Defense Spending Plummets In Puerto Rico
Ceiba and San Juan hardest hit by cuts
BY KEN OLIVER-MENDEZ
August 29, 2002
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Defense show that procurement spending in Puerto Rico by agencies such as the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Corps of Engineers has fallen dramatically during the first nine months of 2002.
During the first nine months of 2002, U.S. defense agencies in Puerto Rico will have spent $133.8 million on procurement contracts greater than $25,000. During all of calendar year 2001, the same agencies spent $297.5 million on such procurement contracts, and during calendar year 2000 the total was $294 million.
The tabulations do not include Defense Department salaries in Puerto Rico or consumer spending by military personnel on the island. According to the latest figures available, the U.S. military population in Puerto Rico stands at 11,246 (2,796 military, 3,032 civilians, 5,333 command-sponsored dependents, and 85 noncommand-sponsored dependents).
The report on U.S. Defense Department procurement spending shows that during calendar year 2001, more than $137.1 million in U.S. Defense Department contracts were spent in the municipality of Ceiba, home to U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads. During the first nine months of 2002, however, only $11.4 million in such contracts have been spent in Ceiba.
San Juan has also experienced major declines. More than $38.1 million in Defense Department procurement contracts were spent in that municipality during calendar year 2001, but only $5.5 million of such contracts have been spent in San Juan during the first nine months of 2002.
Similarly, more than $6.1 million in contracts were spent in Guaynabo during 2001, but during the first nine months of this year only $1.5 million in spending on such contracts has been reported.
The figures point to downsizing underway at both U.S. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba and U.S. Army Fort Buchanan in Guaynabo. Both bases have been the focus of controversy and political tugs of war in recent years.
Roosevelt Roads is the support base from which the U.S. Navy operates its target range on the nearby offshore island of Vieques, while Fort Buchanan is the home to U.S. Army South.
President George W. Bush had previously announced that the Navy would discontinue use of the Vieques range as of May 2003. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is also currently contemplating moving U.S. Army South to a stateside military base.
Reserve Officers Who Assisted With Recovery Efforts Return Home
August 29, 2002
AGUADILLA (AP) Approximately 160 reserve officers who assisted in recovery and identification efforts of bodies at the Pentagon returned to the island on Thursday.
Members of the 394 Battalion, with headquarters on the former Ramey Military Base in Aguadilla, were mobilized last Sept. 24 after the terrorists attacks to the Twin Towers in New York and one of the Pentagon buildings in Washington.
The group, who arrived on Thursday on a commercial flight, was received by relatives and friends and by General Alfred Valenzuela, Army South Chief with headquarters in Buchanan.
The rest of the group of 190 reserve officers mobilized last September returned earlier to their home base.
Aguadilla Mayor Carlos Mendez was also present at the welcoming ceremony.
Government Claims To Have Created 14,000 Jobs
August 29, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) Government Economic and Commerce Secretary Ramon Cantero Frau said on Wednesday the government has created over 14,000 jobs, in the construction sector thanks to the multiple internal changes made within the agencies to accelerate the permit granting processes.
According to the government official, the agencies have contracted more professionals, who have revised more than 60 regulations, increasing the time they give to the evaluation of cases pending and eliminating excessive bureaucracy.
However, Cantero affirmed in a press conference held in his office along with several agency chiefs that the changes have been made to guarantee the balance between economic development and preserving the environment.
As an example, the Planning Board (PB) President Angel Rodriguez said that 78 permits have been denied on the last two months, which represented investment of $250 million.
Despite the fast track in permit granting, the number of cases pending continue to be greater than cases denied.
According to statistics presented by the PB, 290 cases were approved between July and August, most of them of the government, 78 were denied and 100 are still pending. There are 60 cases under the "others" category.
During the same months last year, 77 projects were approved, five were denied and 48 were pending. Under the "other" category there were 17 cases.
The Permit and Regulations Administration (ARPE by its Spanish acronym) Interim Director said that thanks to the Express Center created in August 2001, the evaluation time for granting a permit fell from 80 days to 38.
Environmental Quality Board (EQB) Deputy Director Flor del Valle said that during the current year 6,210 requests has been filed of which 5,044 have been evaluated (80%).
Police To Arrest Protesters Who Damage Property In Vieques
August 28, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) Just few days before the renewal of the military exercises in Vieques, Gov. Sila M. Calderon ordered that protesters who destroy public or private property during the upcoming maneuvers should be arrested.
Calderon affirmed that the right to protest peacefully must be guaranteed, but did not include those who inflict "any damage to property", according to published reports.
The governor said that security plans are yet to be discussed with Police Superintendent Miguel Pereira.
"We have not discussed the details, but what I want is for there to be space for peaceful demonstrators, those who are not going to do any damage to property. Those who violate the law, obviously have to be arrested," the governor affirmed.
Acts of civil disobedience that have taken place in Vieques on the past years have consisted, mainly, of trespassing on U.S. Navy restricted land, which is achieved by cutting the fence that separates the civil population from the military camp.
Pesquera Blasts Governor For ARPE Sex Scandal
August 27, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera criticized the government for designating Laudelino Rivera Alicea as head of the Permits and Regulations Administration (ARPE by its Spanish acronym) one month after he had been arrested for allegedly soliciting the sexual favors of an undercover agent.
Pesquera accused Gov. Sila Calderons administration of trying to cover up the case to avoid political fallout and additional changes to her cabinet.
The news broke on Monday, when a local daily newspaper published that Rivera Alicea had been detained in June for allegedly offering $25 to an undercover agent in exchange for sexual favors. However, a judge ruled there was no cause for arrest.
Rivera Alicea, who resigned his post Monday, was appointed ARPE director in July.
"While Sila Calderon dedicates herself to persecuting pro-statehood supporters, her administration has been covering up acts of a highly questionable nature, and it is only after the case goes public that [her administration] does something about it," Pesquera said in a prepared statement.
"I am sure that if it hadnt been that way, the ARPE administrator would still be in his post," he added.
Calderon: Berrios' Criticisms Don't Worry Her
August 27, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) - Gov. Sila Calderon on Tuesday once again defended her stance regarding the Vieques issue, while at the same time saying that the criticism she has received from Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) President Ruben Berrios and anti-U.S. Navy activist Ismael Guadalupe doesn't worry her.
"I believe each person makes the statements he or she deems necessary. We are in a democracy. The people of Puerto Rico know we've done everything we can in terms of Vieques and that thank God, the U.S. president has given his word that the practices will end in May 2003," the governor said at a press conference held at La Fortaleza following a cabinet meeting.
On Saturday, Berrios criticized Calderon for allegedly assuming a submissive position regarding the new round of military practices that have been scheduled to begin on Sept. 3. He also urged the governor to exert pressure on U.S. President George W. Bush to make him put his words in writing.
Berrios and Guadalupe even said they were willing to participate in massive acts of civil disobedience if the U.S. government fails to comply with its promise to withdraw the military from Vieques by May 2003.
Calderon refused to say if she would do anything to dissuade them from trespassing on U.S. restricted land in Vieques.
"It doesn't worry me. That is a hypothetical question and we are in 2002," the governor said.
Calderon has also been criticized by other Vieques activists like Carlos Zenon and Jose Paraliticci, as well as by former Gov. Pedro Rossello.
Vieques activists accuse the governor of giving up in the fight to oust the Navy from the island municipality, while Rossello has held Calderon responsible for letting the presidential directives he worked for go down the drain.
However, the governor has insisted that she has done everything she can and that she still believes that President Bush will keep his promise.
On another note, Calderon said Berrios' expressions won't hinder the efforts of the proposed Puerto Rican Unity and Consensus Committee to find a mechanism to resolve the political status issue of the island.
"Those expressions don't in the least affect my determination to reach a consensus regarding the status issue and my position to continue the dialogue with the presidents of the other two political parties [of the island]," the governor said.
Since the status issue was brought up again in July, nothing else has been said about it after New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera repeatedly refused to participate in it.
Even so, Calderon said her openness to continue the dialogue about the status still stands.
Senate Approves $2 Million For Blue Ribbon Committee
August 27, 2002
SAN JUAN (AP) The Senate approved a bill to allocate $2 million for the operational costs of the Independent Citizens Committee for the Investigation of Government Transactions, also known as the Blue Ribbon Committee.
According to published reports, the members of the New Progressive Party senatorial delegation voted against the bill, but didnt participate in the debate because they were busy discussing budget issues.
The bill was approved with the votes of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) majority, Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Fernando Martin, and independent Sen. Sergio Peña Clos.
The Senate Treasury Committee recommended in its report that the bill be approved so that the $2 million may be used to cover payroll expenses as well as professional services, information systems, and other expenses.
J& J: Govt. Won't Extend Puerto Rico Probe
August 27, 2002
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (Reuters) - Diversified health care giant Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) said on Monday the U.S. government would not seek to extend a lawsuit filed by a former employee alleging fraudulent record-keeping at a company plant in Puerto Rico.
The lawsuit was brought by a former employee who was fired by the company in 1999. The employee alleged J&J's Ortho Biologics unit engaged in improper record-keeping at the plant, which makes the main chemical used in J&J's blockbuster anti-anemia drug Eprex.
In July, news surfaced that federal regulators had begun their own probe of the allegations made by the former employee, sending shares of the company, a Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) component, to a 16-month low.
Although the Food and Drug Administration probe has not officially concluded, the U.S. government has not indicated any intention to intervene or pursue a separate case regarding these allegations, J&J said.
The former employee's civil lawsuit can now proceed and Johnson & Johnson is preparing to vigorously defend against the complaint, the company said. It added that claims in the suit are without merit and there is no connection between them and the integrity of the product manufactured at the plant.
There has been some concern over J&J's Eprex, which has been linked to 141 cases in Europe and Canada of a rare but potentially fatal blood disorder called pure red blood cell aplasia. The medicine has annual sales of about $1.3 billion, or some 4 percent of company revenue.
``There is no connection between the allegations and the occurrence of pure red blood cell aplasia,'' J&J said last month.
J&J said the fired employee was a maintenance worker with no responsibility for manufacturing.