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Polar Bears Seized… Governor Could Postpone Electoral Reform…DA Ordered To Reveal Fajardo’s Alleged Perjury…Pesquera To Calderon: Stop Persecuting Statehood Employees, Withdraw Electoral Reform Bill…Excise Tax Increase Barely Meeting Projections

Puerto Rican Authorities Seize Abused Polar Bears

November 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002 EFE News Service. All rights reserved. 

San Juan - Federal authorities in Puerto Rico have seized six polar bears from a Mexican circus, claiming the animals were abused, Attorney General's Office official Humberto Garcia said Tuesday.

For over a year the bears have been the focus of a legal battle, started by international animal rights activists who filed complaints with Puerto Rican courts to get the owners of the Hermanos Suarez circus to treat the animals better.

Earlier this year, Puerto Rican authorities seized a polar bear shipped to the island with papers belonging to a dead bear. The bear was subsequently turned over to a U.S. zoo.

Karla Capelli, a spokeswoman for Puerto Rican environmental groups, recently claimed that the circus' other polar bears were suffering from malnutrition and skin lesions.

In the coming days the six bears will be transferred to the Detroit Zoo, which has successfully bred polar bears.

Calderon Willing To Wait For Electoral Reform Approval

November 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Gov. Sila Calderon said Tuesday that she is willing to postpone the approval of the electoral reform, until a process of internal discussions ends.

Calderon announced that she might convoke an extraordinary session or wait until next year for the approval of the bill, that might suffer some changes, due to the lack of support from Popular Democratic Party (PDP) legislators.

However, the governor refused to say when she would start the discussions or who she would include, besides the president of the State Elections Commission.

"I prefer not to tie myself down to a deadline at this time. Extraordinary sessions always exist, if that’s what we want, and we also have next year. . . If the Legislature’s bill is different, I will not receive it at La Fortaleza until there has been a discussion," she said in a press conference.

She also said she is willing to meet "sometime" with House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo before the bill goes to vote. However, she said she prefers the meeting to be held after the discussion process ends.

D.A. Ordered To Reveal Fajardo’s Alleged Perjury

November 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — U.S. District Court Judge Hector Laffitte ordered the U.S. District Attorney’s Office to make public the contents of a sealed motion that explains the alleged perjury committed by former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo when he testified against three co-accused in the million-dollar fraud scheme in the agency.

Laffitte also ordered a hearing to be held Friday to present evidence about the alleged perjury, saying Fajardo should be present.

According to published reports, the perjury responds to the contradictory information offered by Fajardo about the companies Community Services and RV Management and about his wife’s knowledge of the business between both companies.

The former secretary has been in the federal jail in Guaynabo since Oct. 8, when the U.S. District Attorney’s Office requested the dismissal of the case against the three co-accused after indicating that Fajardo lied during his testimony.

Crossfire Between Calderon And Pesquera

November 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera described as political persecution Gov. Sila Calderon’s statements regarding officials from the past administration who are allegedly hindering public projects.

Pesquera was referring to an interview in which Calderon said there are many public employees affiliated with the NPP whose temporary posts were turned into permanent jobs.

The governor said some of those employees are "atornillados" [clinging to their posts], allegedly making the agency heads’ work difficult.

Pesquera said the employees to whom the governor is referring are "public employees who have been working honestly and should not serve as an excuse for Calderon’s lack of public projects."

"For months we have been denouncing the political persecution that this administration has waged against statehood supporters who are public servants, and now we see Calderon making a confession that she is, in fact, discriminating against public employees who support statehood for Puerto Rico," Pesquera said in a press release.

He alleged that Calderon tries to hold public employees responsible for her alleged lack of public work.

Calderon denied Tuesday that her administration has a plan to remove from the public service hundreds of employees affiliated with the NPP.

According to Calderon, these employees are hindering and damaging her government management, but denied that her administration has a persecution plan against them.

"That is not true. They are wrong," she said about the alleged persecution.

Pesquera Asks Governor To Withdraw Electoral Reform Bill

By Proviana Colon Diaz

November 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera urged Gov. Sila Calderon on Monday to desist from her administrative bill on campaign public financing and let the State Election Commission (SEC) draft its own electoral reform.

The new bill will be drafted with the participation of the island’s three electoral parties, which according to Pesquera is something the current bill is lacking.

Pesquera noted the bill will be much more expensive that has been stated. It will cost $50 million, and fails to solve the problems of corruption, which has been Calderon’s main argument for enforcing the bill.

"My position is that the bill should be removed and the President of the SEC be assigned the responsibility of seeking amendments in consensus," Pesquera said.

That consensus should be reached between the electoral commissioners and general secretaries of the island’s political parties.

Pesquera added that the Calderon bill is defective not only because it is too expensive but because it also dismantles the SEC which is one of the government institutions most trusted by the people of Puerto Rico.

Calderon’s most discussed bill has been opposed by many sectors including mayors, legislators, former politicians and even SEC President Aurelio Garcia.

Still Calderon insists on its approval and has now said she will begin a private process of listening to people in groups of 10 to 20.

But Pesquera described the action as a mere publicity stunt.

Meanwhile in other matters related to Calderon, the NPP defeated gubernatorial candidate, urged the governor to give up her "fixation" with him and think in solutions for the people.

Pesquera was reacting to a published report in which the governor once again affirmed that he will not be contender in the gubernatorial race of 2004 because among other things he lacks "strength."

"It is nothing new that Mrs. Calderon is worried about me. What is incredible is that two years after her election she continues to have this fixation with me," Pesquera said.

Excise Tax Increase Barely Meeting Government Expectations

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin

November 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Even though the Treasury Department reported a 5.6% increase in tax collection during the first three months of fiscal year 2003, it is still $4.5 million short of what the government had estimated.

Since the implementation of the excise tax increase on alcohol, cigarettes, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), the treasury has collected $44.7 million more than in the first quarter of fiscal year 2002. However, the revenues are still $14.2 million below the government ‘s projections for that period.

Nevertheless, Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza said these differences fall within acceptable margins and hoped that the government would reach its estimated goal by the end of fiscal year 2003.

"I cannot talk about the future because the future of economic aspects is always uncertain and may be subject to situations such as a possible war. What I can say is that during this first quarter we have been breaking even. If we continue this way, we don’t foresee any problems in meeting our budget," Flores Galarza said.

According to the Treasury department, in the first quarter of fiscal year 2002, the government collected $1.52 billion, as opposed to $1.6 billion for the same period during this fiscal year, below the projected $1.61 billion.

The government collected $58.8 million in beer taxes, which is $15.6 million more than in fiscal year 2002. This number lags behind the estimated figure by $2.5 million.

As for cigarettes, $36 million in taxes was collected, that is $7.5 million more than last year but $4.7 million less than expected.

Meanwhile, SUVs yielded $108.4 million, $15 million more than last year but $4 million less than what had been projected.

Flores Galarza said alcohol consumption has certainly decreased, but he couldn’t say exactly how much. He said a reduction of up to 11% would be within their expectations.

The Treasury chief added that consumption rates aren’t the same throughout the year. For example, alcohol consumption on the island traditionally increases during the summer and holiday seasons. Therefore, he said they have to see what the market will be like during the second quarter of 2003.

Also, the addition of lottery games yielded $49.7 million, $40.1 million more than last year.

Flores Galarza has already said Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration doesn’t contemplate eliminating the excise tax increase, as it is the only way to ensure the government has enough recurrent funds to pay for its recurrent expenses.

When asked if the Calderon administration could have avoided the excise tax increase by not increasing government expenses to create new entities such as the so-called Blue Ribbon Committee and the offices of the Solicitor General, the Patients Advocate, the Special Communities, and the newly proposed Statistics Office, Flores Galarza said these new organizations aren’t expendable.

"The majority of the offices that are being created are offices the people of Puerto Rico needs. The investment in those offices isn’t as significant as their benefits," Flores Galarza said.

Furthermore, he said the Calderon administration has had to compensate for the debt inherited from the past government. He criticized former Gov. Pedro Rossello’s administration for issuing bonds to pay for project operations. Meanwhile, Calderon has recently been lambasted for her plan to transfer $500 million from the Government Development Bank to help pay for her proposed Permanent Trusteeship for Special Communities.

Flores Galarza ended his Monday press conference by underlining his commitment to issue a monthly report on the government’s revenues in order to keep tax payers informed.

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