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Port Of Las Americas Will Begin Construction In ’04…Tension Mounts In Vieques… Capitol Gathering Protests Practices… Viequenses Will Continue To Fight… Vieques Transition Committee Named…New Wal-Mart Petition Denied… American Eagle Pilots Protest Sale… Anti-Drug Plan Law… Navy To End Vieques Training On May 1st

Port Of Las Americas Manager Will Begin Construction In 2004

January 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Port of Las Americas general manager Hector Jimenez on Monday said he expects to obtain all the local and federal permits needed for the project and that he hopes to begin the construction of the transshipment port in 2004.

Jimenez said that this week amendments to the location permit request filed before the Planning Board will be made. The amendments include changes authorized by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the development of the Ponce port instead of Guayanilla, as the main terminal.

He said the changes disregard original plans to fill 125 acres of the Guayanilla Bay.

Jimenez Juarbe said the plan was disregarded because of its high cost and its environmental sensitivity.

The government official said that the Guayanilla works will be limited to the construction of a 3,000-foot terminal.

He indicated that originally, the development of the Ponce terminal was limited to the navigation channel dredging and the extension of pier 8 to 3,610 feet.

He explained that the new plan establishes the filling of 70 acres of the Ponce bay, the extension of pier 8 to 3,610 feet along with the dredging of the Ponce port navigation channel.

"We expect that for July both processes can be completed and the map site be approved by the Planning Board," the government official said.

Jimenez added that along with these amendments, this week amendments to the Preliminary Environmental Declaration Impact will also be filed.

Tension Mounts In Vieques

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

January 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

VIEQUES - Hours short of the beginning of the last round of U.S. Navy military practices in this island municipality, tension was already growing outside the main entrance of Camp Garcia on Sunday, when pro-Navy demonstrators established a camp only a few feet away from the Justice and Peace camp which has been in the area for the past three years.

Luis Sanchez, who has lead the pro-Navy movement on the island since civilian guard David Sanes was killed by an errant bomb on April 1999, gave no explanation as to why he had chosen the last round of military practices in Vieques to establish his camp but said he was there and he would not leave.

Justice and Peace Camp leader Nilda Medina warned that Sanchez's group will be responsible for any confrontations that might occur in the area.

Still she predicted that the group's militancy will be present for only a couple of days as she doubted that they would endure the 29-day military practice.

"I doubt they will be there for 20 to 30 days, when in reality their motivation is purely of an economic nature….we have been here for three years…our cause is for peace and justice," Medina said.

The Vieques leader described as "suspicious" the rapport among the state police, the military guards, and Sanchez's group as it is "amicable" and "helpful."

Sanchez, who was accompanied by ten demonstrators--none of them from Vieques-- denied receiving help from the police and said he had "invaded" the area just like the anti-Navy demonstrators had done down at the Luisa Guadalupe camp.

"No one gave us permission. We came here and took this area," Sanchez said.

One of Sanchez's supporters is Jose Julio Diaz, one of the pioneers of the Statehood Rebirth Movement, who accompanied by New Progressive Party Sen. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer and Patillas student Felix Plau have been the authors of the so called "War of the Flags" movement.

Diaz was one of the key players in an April 2001 confrontation at the same area where Sanchez's group is now established when he tried to place a U.S. flag outside Camp Garcia's fence to express his solidarity to the military personnel.

Medina and Diaz lead that confrontation.

Sanchez, however, argued there was no personal agenda behind their decision to establish the camp. He said they merely wanted to show solidarity to the Navy.

That solidarity comes one day after U.S. Navy Secretary Gordon England issued a certification for the closing of the Vieques' target range.

Although he declined to identify them, Sanchez said he had people lobbying in favor of the overruling of that certification.

Meanwhile, Police Superintendent Victor Rivera warned that the police's priority would be to guarantee the rights pro-Navy and anti-Navy demonstrators. However, he noted that the police would be on guard to avoid any incidents.

"Freedom of expression is not an absolute right," Rivera said.

Many Gather At The Capitol To Protest U.S. Navy Practices

January 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - "We will enter at once," repeated Vieques Catholic Priest Nelson Lopez to a group of anti-U.S. Navy protesters who rallied in front of the Capitol at the end of the so-called "A Walk for Peace and Life in Vieques."

Several hundreds gathered to reiterate their opposition to the military practices in Vieques.

During his turn to talk to the crowd, Vieques Mayor Damaso Serrano said the people should be happy for their new triumph over the Navy, referring to the official announcement that the Navy would end its military operations in May.

Sunday's event which began Saturday with a walk from Fajardo coincides with the beginning of the last round of military practices on Monday.

Meanwhile, anti-Navy community leader Ismael Guadalupe said there are several groups that are ready to trespass on Navy restricted land in Vieques.

On Saturday some 200 Viequenses joined several opposition demonstrators to walk about 25 miles from Fajardo to Carolina.

The group spent the night there and resumed its journey on Sunday morning until reaching the Capitol in Old San Juan.

Viequenses Affirm They Will Continue To Fight

January 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques spokesman Ismael Guadalupe said the Viequenses are "pleased" with the most recent turn in the struggle they have been fighting for years.

"We can't hide our happiness that after so many years and so many struggles we have managed to stop the bombing, with which we could not live in peace," he said.

However, he reminded that "they have been fighting and will continue to fight for four demands: demilitarization, the return of the lands to Vieques, decontamination, and the sustainable development" of the island municipality.

"If the lands are controlled by the Department of the Interior, we cannot develop Vieques," Guadalupe said.

Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Executive President Sen. Fernando Martin said the certification "constitutes an important achievement toward the final triumph of the Vieques cause."

However, he said the Navy’s certification only obliges the closing of the firing range and the cease of military practices in Vieques starting May 1, but according to the federal law, "not one piece of square meter of the land now occupied by the Navy will be given to our people, nor is a cleanup plan for these lands being contemplated."

Likewise, he warned that "with or without the certification," the PIP will continue to confront the military practices that start Monday.

"That is the only way we can guarantee the continuance of the conquests that have been achieved and impede any reconsideration of the decisions taken," he said.

Meanwhile, New Progressive Party Sen. Miriam Ramirez said she was disappointed by the news but added that the issue is not closed for some members of the U.S. Congress.

"I'm disappointed that the wrong side of the issue won this battle," she said.

Calderon Names Vieques Transition Committee

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

January 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

Upon receiving the U.S. Navy certification for alternative sites to Vieques, Gov. Sila Calderon declared the end of military practices as a "triumph for all Puerto Ricans" and recognized the struggle of the residents of the island municipality.

"Today is a day of jubilee, unity, and joy for all Puerto Ricans. I want to recognize the people of Vieques for their perseverance and verticality in their example of struggle," Calderon said in a two-page written statement issued Friday evening.

She immediately announced the names of those who will compose the transition committee, including La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez, Vieques Commissioner Juan Fernandez, Vieques Mayor Damaso Serrano, Rev. Wilfredo Estrada, and San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves.

The governor thanked President George W. Bush for making good on his word and U.S. Navy Secretary Gordon England for issuing her a letter informing his notification to Congress on the location of alternative sites.

England’s letter officially informs Calderon of the decision to cease training in Vieques and to transfer the Navy property to the U.S. Department of the Interior and not to the municipality.

"Interior and Navy have begun active discussion on the interagency issues related to the transfer of property. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the citizens of Vieques will have every opportunity provided by law to participate in and lend their expertise to other decisions concerning the property at the appropriate time," England said.

The President Bill Clinton-Gov. Pedro Rossello agreement indicated a federal disposal of 9,000 plus acres on the eastern side of the island after the training ends, with Puerto Rico having a priority claim on the land, with the remaining 3,000 acres going to Interior for preservation. But the law now gives all 12,000 acres to the Interior.

Judge Denies New Petition From Justice In Wal-Mart Case

January 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – U.S. District Court Judge Juan Perez Gimenez denied Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez’s petition to suspend the preliminary interdiction that prohibits the government from continuing with the lawsuit in state court to halt the Wal-Mart/Amigo transaction.

"If we suspend the effects of the preliminary interdiction, we would be authorizing the lawsuit to continue in state court," Perez Gimenez said in his order, revealed in published reports.

The judge also explained that there is no evidence before the court that the secretary will suffer irreparable damage if the interdiction is maintained.

According to Perez Gimenez, none of the evidence presented by the Justice Department in its motions in court sustain that the agency could win its appeal in the Boston Circuit Court of Appeals.

American Eagle Pilots Protest Unit Sale

January 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A pilots union said a proposed sale by American Eagle's parent company of its Caribbean affiliate would violate contract agreements and could affect employee benefits.

The sale of Executive Airlines, American Eagle's Caribbean division, breaks the provision of a collective bargaining agreement that commits the company to pursue the airline's growth, said Luis Cruz, a spokesman for the 2,600-member Air Lines Pilots Association.

About 15 pilots picketed Thursday outside San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, saying the sale could also jeopardize their benefits.

AMR Corp., which owns American Airlines and American Eagle, has signed a letter of intent to sell the affiliate to Puerto Rico hotelier Joaquin Bolivar.

However, AMR, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is still exploring options for keeping its Caribbean branch, airline spokeswoman Minnette Velez said.

Under Bolivar's ownership, the pilots and other employees would keep their jobs and benefits, Velez said.

``Only the owner would change and the name would change to American Connection,'' she said.

AMR is negotiating with another union, the Allied Pilots Association, to amend an agreement clause that limits American Eagle's ability to expand operations if pilots have been laid off or put on furlough. Rewriting that clause would allow the company to keep its Caribbean branch.

``The management of American Eagle does not want to sell ... The sale is the last option,'' Velez said.

American Airlines, the largest Caribbean carrier, controls 70 percent of the region's $1 billion air travel market. Its Caribbean operation has 69 airplanes with 246 flights daily to 40 regional destinations.

Anti-Drug Plan Promoting Methadone Use Now Law

January 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – The anti-drug plan that promotes the use of methadone in the private sector is now a law, although after signing it, Gov. Sila Calderon promised to continue listening to the organizations opposed to the plan to analyze possible amendments.

Religious and community organizations like Hogar Crea, Teen Challenge, and the Pentecostal churches that have aid programs for drug addicts oppose the extension of methadone to the private sector.

These groups request that the services offered by the Mental Health & Anti-Addiction Services Administration in its five centers be evaluated first, according to published reports.

Drug Control Office Director Luis Guillermo Zambrana said although the petitions of the plan’s critics will be considered, the expansion of methadone will go ahead. The governor signed the bill Jan. 4, Zambrana said.

Navy To End All Vieques Training On May 1

January 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003 REUTERS. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ending years of bitter contention, the U.S. Navy said on Friday it will halt battle training on Vieques Island off Puerto Rico on May 1 and transfer the exercises to bases in the southeastern United States and areas at sea.

The announcement followed a decision by President Bush in mid-2001 to end a half-century of Navy and Marine Corps live-fire training on the tiny island off Puerto Rico's east coast.

Navy officials said training for aircraft carrier battle groups and Marine forces headed abroad would in the future be shared chiefly by Eglin and Pinecastle Air Force Bases in Florida and at two Marine bases in North Carolina -- Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point Air Station.

Much of the training will also be conducted at sea and using a new computer simulation system known as ``Virtual at Sea'' (VAST), the officials told Reuters.

Navy Secretary Gordon England said the service also plans to spend $400 million in the next few years to improve facilities at other training areas and to simulation technology.

The Navy's notification, which will go to the Senate Armed Services Committee, means that exercises scheduled to begin in Vieques next week involving the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group will likely be the last for east coast naval units on the island.

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