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Calderon Launches Re-Election Campaign, ’04 Budget Up 1.7%, Soldiers’ Protection’s Proposed…U.S. Justice To Probe Alleged Electoral Fraud… Pesquera Gets Set For Primaries, Seeks Mayors’ Backing… PIP Wants Status Meeting…De Castro Decries Gov.’s Record…Nat’l Guard To Ship 165 MP’s…Support Centers For Soldiers' Relatives Created

Calderon Launches Her Re-Election Campaign

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

February 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

Gov. Sila Calderon’s State of the Commonwealth address turned into the launching of her re-election race when she spent much of her speech making direct references to the previous administration.

Calderon made references to corruption schemes, unbalanced budgets, failures to effectively operate the health reform, and even the previous administration’s decision not to demand the continuation of the U.S. Tax Revenue Section 936 benefit for the island.

"Four more years, four more years," yelled mayors, head of agencies, and special guests from the balconies of the House of Representatives.

Her address comes one week after former Gov. Pedro Rossello announced his comeback into politics.

Dressed in the Popular Democratic Party’s characteristic color, the governor entered the House of Representatives floor at 6:23 p.m. wearing a red and golden pant suit.

From all political points, Calderon seemed to have begun her re-election campaign, as the loudest cheers from the crowd, as well as standing ovations, occurred when she made reference to the previous administration.

Calderon, who made corruption among the New Progressive Party (NPP) one of her campaign’s key issues, made repeated references Tuesday night to the cases in which convictions were obtained as a result of corruption schemes within the Rossello administration.

The NPP minority received a direct reprimand from the governor when they declined to give a standing ovation to the retired employees in the House balconies.

"Stand up; the applause is not for me. It is for the retired people. Those who can’t give an applause to the elderly have serious problems," Calderon said.

In addition, she made a call to the island’s youth to reject the administrative styles of the past.

"My dear youth, there are paths that are not good for Puerto Rico. Those are the paths of extreme politics, confrontation, division, and abuse. Those paths are of the sale of our patrimony, of imposition and altercations. These are paths of disrespect, and unfortunately these are the paths of corruption," Calderon said.

The governor then in clear reference to Rossello asked the youth to reject this "path" and to join her in "the good path."

"We have already suffered those paths. Many close their eyes, then many failed to listen, many failed to speak. Now they pretend we forget what occurred. But Puerto Rico wants to leave that past behind," Calderon said.

As part of her promise to continue an administrative end to corruption, Calderon announced a $23.5 million assignment, a 13% increase, for the government agencies in charge of investigating corruption schemes, including $3 million for the Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office and $1 million for the Government Ethics Office.

But Calderon did not only attack Rossello’s styles as she also made reference to the many construction projects, with irregularities, that were authorized and approved under then former Finance and Infrastructure Administrator Carlos Pesquera.

The irregularities were mentioned following her announcement to initiate 1,633 new infrastructure projects with a nearly $4 billion investment and the potential creation of 58,000 jobs.

"How different are these projects to the Urban Train, Route 66, Super aqueduct, Transshipment port, Conventions District and the Coliseum. Projects with a bad administration, that were left unfinished, with violations to the law, some were taken to court with cost excess and with corruption," Calderon said.

The previous administration’s key project, the health reform, also came under attack during Calderon’s speech.

Calderon denounced that the health reform had been based on politics with false financial premises and lack of technological support.

"The card for political purposes won’t be tolerated again. The health card is for those who need it and their rights will be protected," Calderon said.

Calderon’s proposed budget of $23.3 billon for fiscal year 2003-04 also included a promise for a $100 monthly increase for public employees, as well as an increase in public funds from $750 to $1,000, including municipal employees.

Some six tax cut measures were also announced.

1.7% increase in proposed 2004 budget

February 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Puerto Rico Consolidated Budget for Fiscal Year 2003-2004 presented Tuesday night by Gov. Sila Calderon amounts to $23.28 billion, a $388 million increase or 1.7% more, when compared with the current budget.

The governor said cuts were necessary in several agencies to achieve a balanced budget, most of them in administrative areas such as car expenses, contracts, and advertising.

The budget, Calderon indicated, includes an allocation of $8.19 billion from the General Fund, a $351 million increase when compared with fiscal year 2002-2003.

Calderon said the program of government public investment amounts to $540 million, which sums up to $3.95 billion with the public corporations capital improvements.

Some of the agencies that suffered the biggest cuts, according to the budget given by La Fortaleza officials, are the Transportation and Public Works Department with a cut of 43% ($99.39 million), Recreations and Sports Department with a 24.52% (17.69 million) cut, and the Treasury Department, which suffered a 16.93% (38.13 million) reduction in its budget.

The biggest allocation went to the Education Department with $2.76 billion, an increase of $20.25 million, or 0.74%, when compared to the current budget.

Governor Presents Benefits For Puerto Rican Soldiers

February 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Gov. Sila Calderon proposed Tuesday that if public employees deployed by the U.S. Armed Forces earn less money as soldiers, the Puerto Rico government will pay the salary difference.

Calderon also presented a measure to exempt the military earnings Puerto Rican soldiers earn while they are activated in the combat zone during a possible war with Iraq.

Both measures were presented by the governor during her State of the Commonwealth, in which she presented a consolidated budget of $23.28 billion for fiscal year 2003-2004, an increase of $388 million or 1.7% in comparison to this year’s.

More than 4,000 Puerto Rican soldiers have been deployed.

U.S. Department Of Justice To Probe Alleged Electoral Fraud

February 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - New Progressive Party (NPP) Electoral Commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz announced that U.S. Department of Justice officials have informed him that they would look into the 2000 campaign fraud allegedly committed by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP.)

In a letter sent to Rivera Schatz, Election Crimes Branch Director, Craig C. Donsanto urged the NPP electoral commissioner to send specific information of the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigations’s office in San Juan.

Although he refused to mention any names, Rivera Schatz said he has people who are willing to testify before the federal authorities with the intention of prosecuting Gov. Sila Calderon as well as everyone allegedly involved in the scheme.

Donsanto’s reply follows Rivera Schatz’s letter which was sent on Jan. 29 to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. At that time, the NPP electoral commissioner urged federal authorities to investigate the violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act and the Puerto Rico Electoral Law regarding the 2000 general election on the island.

In his letter, Rivera Schatz said the alleged fraud scheme violated the federal law regarding campaign financing, because Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila is a federal government official who ran on the same ballot as the gubernatorial candidate. He claimed that Acevedo Vila’s campaign benefited from the corruption scheme that allegedly funneled funds through Popular Democratic Party leaders and their donors.

He also told Ashcroft that the local Justice Department has done nothing with the State Elections Commission’s (SEC) findings that revealed violations to the local Electoral Law. Some of these violations had to do with excessive donations to legislative candidates of the PDP and the NPP.

In July 2002, SEC President Aurelio Gracia referred the cases to the Justice Department only to get them back a few months later with a note saying that they had not been correctly filed. Almost immediately, Gracia sent the cases again without any changes.

Last week, Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez said in published reports that criminal charges would not be filed against the 16 legislators who were referred by SEC. Rodriguez said most of the alleged crimes which constituted misdemeanors had surpassed the statute of limitations.

Pesquera Gets Ready For Primaries

February 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — As soon as he was informed of former Gov. Pedro Rossello’s intentions to run for governor in 2004, New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera opened a bank account to support his own candidacy.

"As soon as I understood that there was going to be a primary, I opened a bank account because you cannot receive any donations that are not through the bank. The campaign is under the name "Comite Pesquera 2004," Pesquera said in a radio interview.

The NPP leader also said he is confident that NPP supporters will continue to contribute to the party’s bank account, even when they begin donating to the candidates’ campaigns.

"We are going to motivate people. If we divide the fund-raising responsibility among numerous candidates, more people will contribute," Pesquera said.

Published reports revealed that the NPP financing plan known as "Alianza Progresista" has only collected a third of what was expected.

According to NPP financial reports filed at the State Elections Commission (SEC), "Alianza Progresista" collected an average of $9,800 monthly between January 2002 and September 2002.

Pesquera Seeks Mayors’ Backing

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

February 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera on Monday described former governor Pedro Rossello’s comeback as an "effective" political strategy, but asked the island’s mayors to remember his efforts on their behalf as Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Public Works even against orders from La Fortaleza.

"Mayors are extremely important in our party, but remember who was the one who many times solved your problems even against the orders of La Fortaleza," Pesquera said.

Still, he noted he will allow everyone to pick his or her candidate for the post and will not prohibit anyone from speaking in favor of any of the two.

Pesquera reaffirmed he will not quit his aspirations to run for governor and spoke in favor the primaries as the best way for NPP followers to choose their candidate, and not by an open political agenda.

"This is the people against the political machinery. I am convinced, because the people on the streets tell me so, that I am the best candidate to govern Puerto Rico in 2005," Pesquera said.

Rossello’s former protégé also questioned his predecessor’s intention of making a comeback when he had always argued he would be in office for two terms only.

Pesquera requested a meeting with the Mayors Federation for them to personally answer the mayors’ questions and recommended the same thing be done with Rossello.

"Don’t allow yourself to be governed by remote control," Pesquera said.

Pesquera made his statements on Monday following a press conference to denounce an alleged deficit in the island’s budget.

The NPP president said the deficit has reached $597 million--$150 million projected revenue and $447 million overdrafts for estimated programs and agencies.

His announcement is issued one day before to Gov. Sila Calderon’s presentation of her proposed budget for fiscal year 2003-04.

PIP Hopes To Meet With Calderon Regarding Status

February 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) announced on Monday that they will continue discussing the status issue and they expect Gov. Sila Maria Calderon to meet with them soon.

PIP Sen. Fernando Martin said his party has opted not to respond publicly to the most recent statements made by the governor regarding the postponement of the discussion of this issue and will wait for a meeting between the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) president and PIP President Ruben Berrios Martinez.

"We will discuss all the possibilities and alternatives, so such an important issue as this one will be discussed in a responsible manner," the legislator said in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that the meeting will be held in the next few days, according to what La Fortaleza announced on Friday.

The governor said she will postpone the controversial issue, alleging that this is not the right time to present the issue to the U.S. Congress because of the economic problems on the island, the lack of consensus in the process and the NPP internal controversy.

Martin insisted that the issue of the future political relations between Puerto Rico and the U.S. is a fundamental issue that has to be addressed.

Last July, Calderon announced the creation of the Puerto Rican Unity and Consensus Committee, a group which included leaders from the three political ideologies on the island aimed at seeking an agreement regarding the status issue.

However, Carlos Pesquera, president of the NPP declined to participate in the committee and the committee never had the chance to meet.

De Castro: Calderon’s Performance Shrinks Next To Rossello’s

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

February 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. Jorge De Castro Font urged Gov. Sila Calderon to use the State of the Commonwealth address on Tuesday to explain why her administration hasn’t come close to what former Gov. Pedro Rossello had achieved in 1993 and 1994.

"I demand that the governor give a good explanation as to why Gov. Rossello was able to do it and she isn’t," he said.

De Castro Font stated that during Calderon’s first two years in La Fortaleza she has done nothing but increase excise taxes, postpone the elimination of the marriage penalty law, and approve unbalanced government budgets.

He said that for the same period back in 1993 and 1994, Rossello had already implemented the health, tax, and judicial reforms, as well as the reorganization of the executive branch.

The NPP legislator accused Calderon of offering excuses instead of results. He said that for the past two years, the governor has sought shelter in the exploitation of the corruption scandals within the NPP to conceal her lack of leadership. He added that the Calderon administration hasn’t been an exception.

De Castro Font said that while the unemployment during Rossello’s tenure dropped to 9%, it has climbed to 13% during Calderon’s administration. He said the construction industry in Puerto Rico has decreased by more than 50%, contrasting with the surge that took place under Rossello, when infrastructure projects were developing all over the island.

National Guard To Ship 165 Military Police Officers

February 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

PONCE (AP) - One hundred sixty-five members of the National Guard Military Police will depart to an undisclosed site Monday as part of the preparations for a possible U.S. attack on Iraq, public officials said Sunday.

National Guard General Aide Francisco Marquez told The Associated Press that the first mobilized soldiers of Camp Santiago in Salinas belong to the 480 division of the military police.

"Tommorrow [Monday] a group of 165 will depart. This is the first group to directly ship out from Salinas," he said.

Marquez made the announcement during Gov. Sila Calderon's visit to Camp Santiago on Sunday to express solidarity to the soldiers and their families.

A second group will ship out Tuesday also to an undisclosed location.

Government Creates Support Centers For Soldiers' Relatives

February 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Local Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado announced on Sunday that five centers have been established on the island to aid the families of Puerto Rican troops which have been activated for a possible U.S. war in Iraq.

Mercado said the centers will be located at the former Ramey Base in Aguadilla, Arecibo, Juana Diaz, Juncos, and San Juan with the collaboration of the local Family Department, the National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve. These centers are additional to the existing Camp Santiago in Salinas.

According to a prepared statement, 3,145 National Guard soldiers and 2,212 soldiers of the U.S. Army Reserve have been activated.

The centers will open Feb. 18 for orientation. However, personnel of the Family & Child Administration and of the Child Support Administration will join the centers on Feb. 24.

Mercado said a system has been designed to ensure that the children of Puerto Rican soldiers continue to receive child support while the soldiers are gone. He also said a communications center would be located at Plaza Las Americas for the family members who wish to send messages of support to their soldiers stationed in Guantanamo, Cuba; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bosnia, and the U.S. mainland.

Meanwhile, Police Superintendent Victor Rivera announced that the relatives of the 343 activated police officers may seek support and psychological services through the Human Resources Bureau at the Police Main Headquarters.

On the other hand, Corrections & Rehabilitation Secretary-designate Miguel Pereira said 78 correctional officers have been activated for war. However, he added that this fact won't jeopardize the security of penal institutions in Puerto Rico. Twenty-five firefighters have also been activated, Firefighters Chief Agustin Cartagena said.

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