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VA Hospital Sought… Electoral Reform Bill Due In 90 Days…NPP Leadership Divided, Pesquera Campaigns In Mayaguez… Sara Lee To Cut 1,200 Jobs…More Nat’l Guard Troops Activated… Vieques Resort Opens…New Group To Study Status…PIP Alleges Pesquera Used Public Funds In Campaign… NPP Denounces Increase In Gov’t Public Debt

Puerto Rico Legislators To Lobby For New Veterans Hospital

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — Sen. Rafael Irizarry said Wednesday that he and other legislators would lobby in Washington for a new veterans hospital, saying the existing one was inadequate to deal with an influx from the possible war in Iraqi.

Irizarry, who is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a former Army reservist, said many Puerto Rican soldiers could return from a possible war suffering from health problems caused by chemical or biological attacks.

The Puerto Rico National Guard has recently activated about 3,300 of its 8,500 troops, the largest mobilization in recent history as the United States considers war to topple Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Congress has designated $50 million for repairs to the current hospital in San Juan. Veterans have complained the hospital has a leaky roof, is too small, and has other infrastructure problems.

The estimated cost of a new hospital is $400 million, officials said.

Thousands of Puerto Rican veterans have served in the U.S. military since islanders were granted citizenship in 1917, right before World War I started. Puerto Rico became a U.S. commonwealth in 1952.

U.S. Veteran Affairs also administers two medical clinics in Ponce and Mayaguez, but the two don't provide hospitalization.

Irizarry said he would lead a delegation to Washington on Sunday and return about March 7 after meetings with U.S. Congress members.

Among members of the delegation are Sen. Jose Ortiz Daliot and Veterans Advocate Luis Ramos.

The senator indicated that Puerto Rican soldiers being deployed for a possible war against Iraq have not been able to be processed on the island because local camps do not have the necessary infrastructure to comply with these procedures.

He also criticized alleged overcrowding and lack of hygiene at Camp Santiago in Salinas, where activated soldiers are housed for the moment.

Special Electoral Reform Committee To Submit Bill In 90 Days

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

February 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

Gov. Sila Calderon’s appointed special committee on the electoral reform began working Tuesday with her and vowed to submit a new bill to her by May 26.

The committee chairman, former San Juan Mayor Hector Luis Acevedo, said the group will meet as often as three times a week to evaluate all the material that has already been gathered on the matter, as well as new ones.

Acevedo is heading the special committee created by Calderon after her administrative bill for the public finance of electoral campaign failed to even reach the House of Representatives floor following an overwhelming number of voices against it.

Acevedo said the new committee will hold "open dialogue" meetings with representatives from the island’s three political parties, starting from the presidents all the way down to precinct leaders.

"We don’t want to start working with already established premises; we want to begin a new dialogue with everyone," Acevedo said.

Joining Acevedo in the committee are former Popular Democratic Party Senate President Miguel Hernandez Agosto, former Puerto Rican Independence Party Electoral Commissioner Damaris Mangual, former New Progressive Party Sen. Reinaldo Paniagua Diez, InterAmerican University President Manuel Fernos, as well as Ponce Catholic Law School Dean Charles Cuprill.

Cuprill, a lifetime statehood advocate, was in charge of the last committee that reformed the electoral law back in 1982-83 under Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo’s administration.

Given his experience on the matter, WOW News staff asked Cuprill if 90 days were enough to complete and draft a new bill on public financing campaign.

‘If we reach a consensus, which I think we will, it is more than enough time because I did it in a similar amount of time," Cuprill said.

Although the bill might not be ready to be implemented for the next primaries, Acevedo said it is the intention of the committee that it be turned into a law by the next general elections of November 2004.

NPP Leadership Divided Between Pesquera And Rossello

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

AGUADILLA (AP) – Despite the support given former Gov. Pedro Rossello by the San Sebastian, Moca, Aguadilla, and Añasco mayors in his run for governor in 2004, New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera is gaining supporters in the western region of the island.

Michael Nazario, the adviser to Aguadilla Mayor Carlos Mendez, who said he would run for the Senate in the next elections, affirmed that Pesquera has the support of leaders from Mayagüez, San Sebastian, San German, and Aguada.

Nazario, who initially backed Rossello’s comeback to partisan politics, said Pesquera has a lot of support in the western region, where he studied and worked for several years.

He also acknowledged that Pesquera’s support has been increasing, and he prefers not to pick a side in the hopes that the controversy over the NPP candidacy can be solved through dialogue.

At a meeting called by the Federation of Municipalities in Manati on Monday, 18 of the 33 NPP mayors said they favor Rossello, seven support Pesquera, and two didn’t say, according to Fajardo Mayor Anibal Melendez.

"The majority supports Rossello. There is great enthusiasm in the people," said Las Marias Mayor Edwin Soto Santiago, one of the mayors who abstained, during a radio interview.

Pesquera On Campaign Trail In Mayagüez

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

MAYAGUEZ (AP) – New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera met Tuesday with former coworkers of the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus (RUM by its Spanish acronym) as part of the campaign to motivate his followers to participate Sunday in the commemoration of Citizenship Day.

Pesquera, who was professor at the RUM, took advantage of his visit to attack Gov. Sila Calderon for what he called "her broken commitments" with the western zone of the island.

"The same way La Fortaleza promised for the west from Mayagüez, with that same style, the governor has forgotten the region where the unemployment is one of the highest in Puerto Rico. . .because it does not respond to her political interests," the NPP leader said. "Here there is an 18.1% unemployment rate and the housing deficit is more than 10,837 units," although he didn’t say where he had obtained the information.

Pesquera, accompanied by the representative of the municipalities Moca and Aguadilla, Jose Luis Rivera, and other leaders of the base, met with several professors and with his coworker, Sergio Gonzalez, former Roads secretary, as part of his full agenda for the western zone.

Sara Lee To Cut 1,200 Jobs In Puerto Rico

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

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Sara Lee Corp. will cut about 1,200 jobs as it scales back operations at three plants in Puerto Rico that produce underwear, the company said Tuesday.

"The continuing pressures of a weak economy and an intensely competitive atmosphere leave us no other option but to make this difficult decision," Rafael Rodriguez, Sara Lee Intimate Apparel's vice president of operations in the Caribbean, said in a statement.

The job cuts affect plants that produce Playtex women's undergarments in the towns of Dorado, Humacao and Vega Baja. The company said it will continue operations in other textile divisions in the U.S. territory. In 2001, Chicago-based Sara Lee eliminated about 3,900 jobs on the Caribbean island.

Puerto Rico's official unemployment rate stands at 12 percent, but private economists say it's closer to 25 percent.

Puerto Rico National Guard Activates More Troops

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

SAN JUAN (AP) - The Puerto Rico National Guard has activated more than 120 troops in its latest mobilization while the United States prepares for a possible war against Iraq, officials said Tuesday.

The troops, who belong to the 770th Military Police Company, leave later this week to receive training in the U.S. mainland before deployment to an undisclosed location, National Guard spokeswoman Maj. Millie Rosa said.

Rosa would not immediately provide the name of the U.S. base where the soldiers will receive training.

With the latest mobilization, the National Guard has activated about 3,300 of its 8,500 troops.

The military police unit, based in Arecibo, has 10 women, and is the first to be activated in the company, Rosa said.

Resort Opens On Puerto Rico's Vieques

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

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A new 256-room hotel opened on Vieques Monday, establishing a business projected to become the Puerto Rican island's largest employer.

Until now, the island of 9,100 people has had only small hotels and inns.

The U.S. Navy's pledge to abandon its bombing range on Vieques by May 1 contributed to the decision to open the Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa, the owners and managers have said.

Construction started on the $60 million resort in 1998 and finished in March 2001. A deal for Dallas-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts to manage the hotel fell through last year.

Dallas-based Wyndham International announced its agreement to manage the seaside resort on Feb. 10, two days after the Navy concluded its last planned training on the island.

The Navy says it will turn over the island's eastern third to the U.S. Department of the Interior later this year and move training to spots in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. mainland.

The Vieques range has been used by the Navy since 1947. But the training has been the focus of protests since off-target bombs killed a civilian guard on the range in 1999. Since then, the Navy has used only inert ammunition.

New Group To Study Status Issue

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Without the participation of representatives from pro statehood movement, a group of 15 university professors, attorneys, and legislative advisors, on Monday announced the creation of a committee for the Study of the Puerto Rico Political Future.

Ateneo Puertorriqueño President Eduardo Morales Coll said the committee was created based on a document issued and approved by the U.S. Congress in 1998, and that opened the door to present other alternatives.

Morales said the report was approved after the failure of the Young bill, aimed at seeking a solution to the Puerto Rico status.

"The committee is created to seek viable alternatives to solve the Puerto Rico status," he said in a press conference.

According to Morales Coll, statehood supporters are not included in the group because their status option was not included in the Congressional document and they refused to take part in the group.

Among the group members are House of Representatives Clerk Nestor Duprey; Luis Vega, advisor to the House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo, and former senator Marcos Rigau.

Also participating are Manuel Rodríguez Orellana, Juan Manuel García Passalacqua, Hamid Galib, Morales Coll, Edgardo Pérez Viera, Wilma Reverón, Alejandro Torres, and Eduardo Villanueva.

PIP Denounces Use Of Public Funds In Pesquera’s Campaign

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

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

Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Rep. Victor Garcia San Inocencio requested an investigation from the Commonwealth Comptroller and the Justice Secretary on the possible use of municipal funds for the rally held by the New Progressive Party (NPP) over the weekend around the island.

San Inocencio issued a written request on Monday to both Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldana and Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez questioning the use of municipal funds and resources to promote NPP President Carlos Pesquera’s candidacy in the primary race against former Gov. Pedro Rossello.

The legislator argued that although the official motive for the rally was to promote Sunday’s U.S. Citizen Day the reality is that all the mayors who provided official cars and resources for the activity have already publicly endorsed Pesquera candidacy.

"The NPP might be forced to return the municipal funds used in the campaign which has expanded to the municipalities of Bayamon, Cataño, Guaynabo and Toa Baja among others," San Inocencio said.

He noted that 15 patrol cars from the Guaynabo municipal police alone were used during the rally.

In his letter to Diaz Saldaña, the legislator noted that in the past mayors have assigned funds to the federations and mayors association for similar activities and thus, evaded the rigorous use of public funds that should prevail.

Meanwhile, a request to Rodriguez asked that the conduct of the municipal executives be investigated.

NPP Denounces Increase In Government’s Public Debt

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

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

Five New Progressive Party (NPP) representatives on Monday denounced Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration public debt rate calling it "alarming" and saying that it does not compare to any other in the island’s history.

Legislators Anibal Vega Borges, Jose Chico, Jennifer Gonzalez, Jose Aponte and Treasury Committee minority leader Antonio Silva’s claim comes five days after the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Treasury Committee Chairman Fracisco Zayas Seijo acknowledged an increase in the public debt.

In two years of Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration public debt has increased by $3.5 billion.

The current public debt amounts to $30 billion, which is to be paid for by 12% of the island’s general fund.

Zayas Seijo acknowledged the increase in the public debt under Calderon’s administration but argued that it grew at a much slower rate than that at which former Gov. Pedro Rossello increased it. He argued that percentage wise the increase was below the 15% which the constitution allows. At 7.2 %, it was much lower than under the former governor.

But Silva argued otherwise, he noted that in the first year of Calderon’s administration the increase of $2.8 billion in the debt was of 10.3% and of 20.2% for the two years which came to far more than Rossello’s 12.3%.

According to Zayas Seijo from the drafting of the Commonwealth’s Constitution until 1992 the island’s public debt had reached $13 billion. From then on, under Rossello’s administration that debt doubled to $26.5 billion.

Vega Borges said that Calderon’s administration’s debt in four years will compare to that of Rossello in eight.

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