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Last Fugitive Gives Up…Nat’l Guard Denies Danger Of Training With Mines… SJ Vies For Latin Grammys… Navy Arrests 4 Trespassers… Super Aqueduct Capacity Increases… Retailers Assoc. Favors Sales Tax…Miranda Trusts Island Will Get Navy Land… Nat’l Guard’s MP’s Mobilized…PIP: Education Might Be Violating Students’ Civil Rights

Last Of Las Cucharas Fugitives Turns Himself In

January 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Victor Gonzalez Diaz, one of the five inmates who escaped a maximum security prison in Las Cucharas, Ponce turned himself in to local authorities on Saturday, police officials said.

Gonzalez Diaz, who was serving a sentence of 113 years for murder and other felonies, arrived at a local police station accompanied by relatives and neighbors.

The fugitive escaped Las Cucharas on Dec. 30 aboard a hijacked helicopter.

The other four fugitives were captured within days. Some had thought Gonzalez Diaz had been killed by his partners.

National Guard Denies Danger Of Training With Mines

January 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Puerto Rico National Guard Asst. Gen. Francisco Marquez denied Friday that an agreement with communities neighboring Camp Santiago, where a mine exploded Thursday leaving three military personnel wounded, has been violated.

He indicated that since 1999, there is an order that prohibits practicing with artillery, which refers to firing from canons.

"The Puerto Rico National Guard has three artillery battalions. Since the agreement, none of the three battalions has fired in Camp Santiago; they have all left to bases in the United States and practice over there," Marquez said in La Fortaleza.

He affirmed that training with mines has a "very minimum reach that there is no problem with using them in Camp Santiago."

"What concerns me is training soldiers, and if part of the tasks to train a soldier entails correctly using these mines, then that is the way I have to do it," he said.

He said the accident that occurred Thursday during a training of the Special Operations Command, whose base is in Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba, is "part of the training."

In related news, Lt. Col. Nicolas Britto, U.S. Army Special Operations Command spokesman, said the soldier who received the most serious injuries of Thursday’s accident was diagnosed as brain dead.

The injured soldier was identified as Capt. Adam Kocheran, 31, of Columbus, Ohio.

"We are waiting to see if he comes out of the comatose state," Britto said.

The military spokesman said the three soldiers were injured when a Claymore mine exploded during training at 11:30 a.m.

Kocheran was taken in a "comatose state" to the Rio Piedras Medical Center with an open trauma to the head, according to hospital authorities.

Emergency Room Director Dr. Benjamin Rodriguez said the patient is being assisted by mechanical ventilation with a tube from his mouth to the trachea. The other two soldiers - Sgt. 1st Class Amil Alvarez, 32, of Santurce, and Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Brautigam, 35, of Burlingame, California - were treated at hospitals for shrapnel wounds and released.

San Juan Vies For Latin Grammys

By Madeline Baró Diaz

January 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Miami is in the running to host this year's Latin Grammys awards show, almost two years after Grammy officials pulled the show from Miami rather than allow Cuban exiles to protest across the street.

The Latin Recording Academy announced Friday that Miami is one of four cities vying to host the Latin Grammys, which will be televised internationally by CBS. The site will be announced in a few weeks; other cities in the running are New York, Los Angeles, and San Juan.

Miami-Dade County leaders are preparing to submit a letter of intent to the academy, said Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas. "The Latin Grammys belong in Miami," he said.

To win the fourth annual show next fall, city and county officials must walk a fine line. They will have to accommodate anti-Castro Cuban exiles who want to protest the likely presence of Cuban musicians from the island -- within the sight of cameras -- while also satisfying the television show's goal of keeping such protests from taking center stage.

Ron Roecker, a spokesman for the academy, said he could not discuss any negotiations.

U.S. Navy Arrests Four Trespassers In Vieques

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Four more trespassers were arrested Thursday on U.S. Navy restricted land in Vieques, Navy spokeswoman Kim Dixon confirmed Friday.

Dixon indicated that with these arrests, the total number of people arrested during this round of maneuvers amounts to 18.

"They were detained in the restricted area and handed over to federal marshals," the Navy official told The Associated Press.

Published reports identify the ones arrested as Martin Castro, 22; Cesar Pacheco, 21; and Nestor de Jesus, 32; all members of the Workers Socialist Movement. The fourth was identified as Feliciano Rivera, 55.

The Navy is conducting its last training in Vieques before closing the range in May.

Ondeo Begins Gradual Increase Of Superaqueduct Productivity

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

Ondeo officials announced Friday the beginning of the gradual increase in the Superaqueduct productivity in their effort to delay extreme rationing measures due to the lack of rain in the La Plata reservoir area.

Ondeo, which is the operator of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewers Authority, has been lowering the water pressure of La Plata in the past three months and will continue to do so in the next two months.

Technical Director of Ondeo Joel Mallevialle said starting Friday, Ondeo will gradually reduce the production rate of La Plata from 66 million gallons per day (mgd) to 40 mgd. This drop will be compensated for by an increase in the Superaqueduct’s productivity from 74 mgd to 100 mgd.

Pierre Achard, operations director of Ondeo, said this and several other measures will help them delay from 45 to more than 60 days the possibility of engaging in extreme rationing methods such as intermittent interruptions to the water supply.

"The Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewers Authority received Thursday a permit from the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources to extend the use of water of the Superaqueduct," said Mallevialle.

Meanwhile, Infrastructure Financing Authority Executive Director Ramon Amador said although the Corps of Engineers as well as other federal and local agencies have yet to evaluate the study of the Superaqueduct’s capacity, the decision to grant a temporary permit was based on the study’s final results.

"The law requires that these results be thoroughly evaluated and approved, and we have to comply with the law, [however] the data we have show that there is no reason to deny the permit," said Amador, who added that the Superaqueduct is capable of surpassing its production capacity.

As far as the other measures are concerned, Achard said Ondeo will reduce the pressure of the distribution mains between Arecibo and Bayamon. He also said Ondeo will remove deposits from the dry areas of the reservoir to increase its capacity if it rains.

He also said Ondeo could rehabilitate two reservoirs–Comerio I and Comerio II that belong to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority–to increase La Plata’s capacity.

Mallevialle acknowledged that there are certain areas that have been left without regular water service, not necessarily due to low pressure but to deficiencies in water plants that should be corrected.

He added that there are more than 10,000 clients on the island without regular water service and that in those cases, water would be distributed through cistern tanks.

Achard said Ondeo will also speed up repair work on broken water pipes and will launch a campaign to urge Ondeo clients to moderate water consumption.

Mallevialle added that the municipalities of San German, Santa Isabel, Humacao, Naguabo, Vieques, Culebra, Cidra, Barranquitas, Aibonito, Corozal, and Naranjito have been affected or could be affected by the lack of rain.

Retailers Association Favors Implementing Sales Tax

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

United Retailers Association President Ricardo Caldero favored Friday the implementation of a sales tax for all services and goods except food and prescription drugs.

The association that represents 18,000 small and medium size businesses believes that a sales tax will benefit all those who are currently affected by the 6.6% excise tax imposed on all imported goods.

Caldero said at times, small businesses end up with losses because of the excise tax which is paid prior to reaching the store, so if the merchandise isn’t sold, they end up paying for the product and the tax.

"It will be of complete benefit to small and medium business owners because they will pay the excise tax on making the sale. The current situation has the business owner paying the tax on receiving the merchandise, which is then stocked, representing additional taxes on inventory, plus storage and other expenses that could be invested in obtaining more goods or hiring more staff," Caldero said.

If a sales tax of 4% to 6% is imposed, then Caldero suggests that the 6.6% tax be eliminated from imported goods.

Caldero made his statements during a Friday morning hearing of the House Treasury Committee, which is investigating the possibility of establishing a new tax model for the Commonwealth.

The legislators present at the hearing asked Caldero what guarantee the association could give to ensure that if a sales tax is imposed and the 6.6% tax is eliminated, retailers will actually eliminate it.

Caldero could not give any concrete guarantee but said he was confident that small and medium business owners are honest, hard-working people who will most likely honor the elimination of the 6.6% tax.

In addition, the imposition of a sales tax will in some way affect the island’s underground economy that is believed to account for 20% of the money that circulates on the island.

Committee Chairman Francisco Zayas Seijo said by imposing a sales tax on all goods and services, tax evasion is also avoided as currently not all goods pay the 6.6% tax.

"We don’t have the figure because we don’t know what the evasion is, but when you have 500,000 freight cars coming into San Juan, and you only examine 12,000 to 15,000, you know for a fact not all are paying the 6.6%," Zayas said.

Miranda Trusts Navy Land Will Be Transferred To Island

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

Although federal authorities haven’t stated their intention of transferring the 900 acres of land that has been used as a firing range in Vieques to the local government, Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda said Friday that Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration is confident that this will be possible.

"Part of the job we will do here will be to develop all strategies that enable [the transfer]," said Miranda, following the first meeting of the so-called Vieques Transition Committee on Friday. The committee will work with all the details regarding the withdrawal of Navy troops from Vieques.

In the past few days, Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) President Ruben Berrios and PIP Sen. Fernando Martin have expressed their concern about the possibility that the lands might not be transferred to the local government. They have said that to do this, the U.S. Congress would have to legislate. Berrios and Ruben said they fear that if this isn’t done, the lands could be transferred to other federal agencies, including the Pentagon.

To this end, Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez said the local administration would study the legal procedures needed for the transfer and admitted that federal legislation is a must.

"We would do everything within our power because that is our goal, and we will continue to work to make that happen," Rodriguez said.

According to Miranda, in the letter that Navy Secretary Gordon England sent to La Fortaleza to announce the end of military practices on Vieques, it was also made clear that the lands would be transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Although nothing was said about a transfer from that federal agency to the local government, Miranda said a precedent was established in May 2001, when the U.S. Department of the Interior transferred 800 acres of the 4,000 acres of land on the western side of Vieques previously owned by the Navy.

The chief of staff acknowledged that the committee is not working together with a similar committee on the U.S. mainland. He said the committee would prepare to present Calderon with a plan of what needs to be done legally, economically, and environmentally for the complete withdrawal of the military and the transferring and cleaning of the land.

National Guard’s Military Police Mobilized

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Troops of Military Police Unit 755, adscript to the Puerto Rico National Guard, were transferred from their headquarters in Arecibo to Camp Santiago in Salinas to begin their mobilization process Friday.

The U.S. Army announced that the process of preparing the military police for a possible support mission to operation Noble Eagle/Enduring Freedom will be performed in several phases.

According to a press release issued by the Army in San Juan, the mobilization of officers of the National Guard and Reserve in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which will be done in four phases, is one of the main missions in Fort Buchanan.

The Army explained that on their arrival at Camp Santiago, their files are revised to check if the soldier has all his legal, financial, and health documents in order.

As part of the process, according to the press release, the officials go through rigorous physical exams that include an HIV test and registry of DNA and the required vaccinations, as well as a check of all their equipment.

The Army also announced that Reserve Unit 456 is in its final training stages at Camp Santiago.

Officials said activated units of the Puerto Rico National Guard and Reserve could be sent to replace units or directly serve in the United States, Europe, or the Middle East.

PIP: Education Might Be Violating Students’ Civil Rights

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) warned Education Secretary Cesar Rey on Friday that the agency might be exposed to lawsuits if it fails to honor the civil rights of students who oppose providing their personal information to military authorities.

PIP Executive President Fernando Martin insisted on the party’s objection to the letter sent by the Education Department to parents regarding the No Child Left Behind Act, which he described as misleading.

Rey warned parents of high school students Wednesday that failing to fill out the form would be the equivalent of consenting to provide the information.

The PIP is evaluating the possibility of taking the controversy to court to oblige the Education Department to comply with what is established by the U.S. Education Department by adequately orientating students and allowing them to oppose access to their personal information.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican Alliance for Peace asked the Education secretary Friday to request the federal government for an extension in the implementation of the federal law.

Alliance spokesman Hiram Lozada said the request is aimed at giving parents and students enough time to receive information regarding the law.

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