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Governor Supports Electoral Reform Despite SEC Objection, Bar Association Asks Ashcroft To Probe Fajardo Case Dismissal, Anti Drug-Trafficking Raid Targets Ponce, Flag Video Subpoena Called Disastrous, Acevedo Vila: We Are Doing All We Can With Vieques, Cruz Demands Crime Summit, Study Reveals Murder Rate Discrepancy

Calderon Supports Electoral Reform Despite SEC Objection

October 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

HATILLO - Despite State Elections Commission (SEC) President Aurelio Gracia’s opposition to a proposed public finance campaign bill, Gov. Sila Calderon affirmed her intention of making it a law, as it is one of her campaign promises.

Gracia opposed the bill, arguing among other things that public financing of electoral campaigns does not guarantee the purity of the process.

Calderon acknowledged that a single bill does not guarantee an end to "corruption" and said her administration’s proposal is open to amendments.

"Corruption, as it is, can’t be totally eliminated with a single project. What we all have to do, starting with the government, is to face and attack the damage that has been done to the people of Puerto Rico," Calderon said.

Although Gracia argued that a public financing system will end up in a proliferation of candidates for primaries, Calderon highlighted a guarantee of equal funds for all as one of the her bill’s key points.

The governor then added that an average of $100 million is spent on electoral campaigns and $40 million of public funds will cut those expenses considerably. She noted, however, that her proposed figure could also be amended.

Calderon made her statements Wednesday morning during a visit to the northern municipality of Hatillo, where she handed over keys to new homeowners as part of her administration’s "Key to Your Home" policy. So far, 22,749 new homes have been built as part of her plan to deliver 50,000 houses during her administration.

The governor also visited the low-income communities of Barrio Clan and Abra San Francisco, where along with Housing Secretary Ileana Echegoyen, she announced improvements to the sidewalks, architecture, and public spaces of the neighborhoods.

She also took the opportunity to praise the administration of Mayor Juan Luis Cuevas Castro, whom she described as the island’s best mayor.

"May the others forgive me; this is a mayor; the rest are nonsense," she said, adding that he obtained a 100% on annual Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office audits.

Bar Association Requests Probe Of Fajardo Case Dismissal

October 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Puerto Rico Bar Association announced that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was asked Wednesday to investigate the U.S. District Attorney’s Office over the dismissal of all the charges against 10 people accused of corruption in the Education Department.

Bar Association President Arturo Davila said his request is contained in a letter sent to Ashcroft in which he asks for an investigation of what happened with the prosecution to determine if the prosecution was guilty of any irregularity in the procedures that resulted in the dismissal of the case.

Davila emphasized the importance of the Fajardo case for all sectors of Puerto Rican society, because of the implication of corruption within the highest levels of government and of political party structures, since federal funds were allegedly used in the alleged corruption scheme in the Education Department.

In his letter to Ashcroft, the Bar Association president said the U.S. District Attorney’s Office decision has caused great concern among the public, and the island’s attorneys because it is not clear why such a drastic decision was made.

Dismantling Of Drug-Trafficking Organizations Announced

October 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Some 500 local and federal law enforcement agents were able to execute Tuesday 52 of 87 arrest warrants aimed at dismantling seven drug-trafficking organizations in Ponce.

The organizations, which used firearms and violence to exercise their control, are said to be responsible for some 50 homicides that have occurred since 1997.

Only seven of those violent deaths, however, will be brought to court as a result of arrests made during the raid, dubbed Operation SOS II.

All other information pursuant to trials related to any of the other 42 violent deaths believed to have been caused by the violent organizations was turned into the Justice Department by federal authorities for further investigation.

Jerome Harris, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the Caribbean, said Tuesday was part of an initiative to target the most violent drug-trafficking areas on the island.

He identified the violent areas where Tuesday’s arrest were made as Ponce’s Atocha and Acueducto streets, Los Naranjales and Ponce de Leon public housing projects, and La Ponderosa, Callejon de los Conejos, and Puerto Viejo sectors.

According to police statistics, Ponce’s type one violent crime activity increased 28.6% in 2002, compared to 2001.

Twenty-four individuals are still at large, who are to be arrested soon.

Tuesday’s raid is a follow up to a September 2001 operation, dubbed SOS I that focused on dismantling drug-trafficking gangs in the southern municipality of Juana Diaz.

Although the indictments against the seven organizations dismantled Tuesday put an end to SOS II, Harris could not rule out the possibility of holding another SOS operation in the southern part of the island.

Harris was joined during his press conference at DEA headquarters in Guaynabo by local law enforcement heads Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez and Police Superintendent Miguel Pereira.

Although this is not the first time such cooperation between federal and state authorities has occurred, it was emphasized that Tuesday’s raid responds to President George W. Bush’s "Project Safe Neighborhood" initiative.

As in the past, Operation SOS II combined efforts of federal and state law enforcement agencies. The secrecy, however, of this operation was different from similar raids held in the past because as arrests were being executed since Saturday evening, none were leaked to the press. In fact, it wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon in San Juan, when final details of the raid in Ponce were released.

As expected, Tuesday’s round of arrests of drug dealers by federal authorities poses a threat of retaliation and more violent activity in the area; however, Pereira said police would take action to prevent such consequences.

In addition, Pereira urged citizens not to turn their back on delinquent activities and to denounce to authorities any crimes they observe, including the mere suspicion of drugs being sold in their area. Cooperation from citizens, Pereira said, is needed to guarantee safety and tranquility on the island.

News Videos Demand Precedent Described As Disastrous

October 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Puerto Rico Freedom of the Press Center described Tuesday as disastrous the Justice Department’s decision to require several television news teams, through the courts, to hand over unedited videos of the June 20 incident at the Women’s Advocate Office in which New Progressive Party leaders were involved.

Mariemil Rodriguez, the center’s executive director, said the organization, as well as other press organizations in Puerto Rico, believes that this action has created a disastrous precedent for freedom of the press in Puerto Rico.

"Today, the Justice Department demands the raw tape, and tomorrow, it can raid journalists’ notes and recordings. From there, there is only one step left - to raid journalists’ homes," the center said in a press release.

She said this action also converts journalists and news media into an investigative arm of the government, a role that is not part of a journalist’s job, which puts them in a very precarious and delicate situation — one that could be risky — with their sources and the people of Puerto Rico.

Acevedo Vila: We Are Doing All We Can With Vieques

October 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila said Tuesday that Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration is doing all it can to have the U.S. Navy out of Vieques by May 2003.

Acevedo Vila’s statement followed that of All Puerto Rico with Vieques spokesman Jose Paralittici, who on Monday criticized the resident commissioner for not taking any firm action to investigate the use of biological and chemical weapons on Vieques during the 1960s and 1970s.

"I’m a little surprised with [Paralittici’s] expressions because we met in my office in Washington D.C. two weeks ago. We went over all the Vieques issues, and one thing I told him was to call me every time he had a suggestion. He hasn’t had the courtesy to call me," Acevedo Vila told reporters Tuesday.

So far, Calderon has sent a letter to President George W. Bush and to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking them for the beginning of a transition plan to withdraw the Navy from Vieques.

Acevedo Vila has also sent a letter to the White House, together with several members of Congress, making a similar request. However, none of the petitions have been answered.

Nevertheless, the resident commissioner said he believes the federal government’s initiative to confirm that biological and chemical weapons were indeed used for military practices on Vieques is a sign the Navy is preparing to leave the island municipality.

"This is an acknowledgement that doesn’t surprise me. For many years, we’ve been hearing that [practices with chemical and biological weapons] did happen. Secondly, [this revelation] strengthens our case that the Navy should halt the bombing on Vieques," the resident commissioner said.

Acevedo Vila noted that it is the local Justice Department that must act on behalf of the Calderon administration. As of now, Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez announced that she has already begun gathering information to eventually draft a strategy to deal with the issue.

"Obviously, the Justice secretary is the one who has the legal power to represent the people of Puerto Rico," the public official said.

Acevedo Vila made his statements after giving a speech to the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce in Condado regarding the use of federal funds.

PDP Legislator Demands Summit To Discuss Crime Rate

October 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

PONCE (AP) — Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Roberto Cruz on Monday demanded that Gov. Sila Maria Calderon convoke a government summit to analyze crime and drug trafficking.

"I propose to Gov. Calderon to convoke civic institutions and religious leaders to a summit regarding the serious problem of crime and drug traffiking," Cruz said.

"The crime problem and the drugs are a killing us," the legislator said in a radio interview.

Cruz said that although the opposition might use the issue for political means, this summit would do a great service to Puerto Rico. "We have to accept that drugs and crime are a cancer which is destroying us.

The PDP legislator insisted that both issues must be discussed as part of a program aimed at lowering crime rate.

Cruz also insisted in the dismissal of Police Superintendent Miguel A. Pereira because of his ineffectiveness in dealing with the problem.

"What I want is a person who can be effective in enforcing an anticrime plan whose results can be seen soon," Cruz said. "I have to say that I don’t know what kind of anticrime plan is being enforced because I don’t see it anywhere," the PDP legislator added.

Study Confirms Discrepancy In Murder Statistics

October 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — A study performed by demographer Judith Rodriguez Figueroa confirmed that from 1990 to 2000, there was a substantial difference between the reports of violent murders registered by the Health Department and the Police, which may confirm the alleged tampering of statistics denounced by Police Superintendent Miguel Pereira.

According to the study, revealed by a local newspaper, nearly 550 people who died of violent incidents were excluded from official police statistics.

The difference in statistics is greater from 1998 to 2000, according to the study.

Pereira last week accused his predecessors of hiding homicide cases and, according the facts he presented, 757 murders were not reported by the Police.

Rodriguez Figueroa, a retired professor from University of Puerto Rico Public Health Graduate School, said the differences should be studied.

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