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’05 Opening For Port Of The Americas…Gov’t Spends $1.5M Per Legislator…More Soldiers Deployed, Tax Credit To Cost $3.6M…Archbishop: Pray For Peace…Ponce Airport Gets Fed. Subsidy…Wal-Mart & Gov’t Reach Agreement…Salary Increase Unfunded, Teachers Call Treasury Irresponsible…Rossello, Pesquera To Meet

Port Of The Americas To Receive First Ships In 2005

March 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

PONCE (AP) — The planned Port of the Americas will be ready to receive the first ships with deep drafts in 2005, Project General Manager Hector Jimenez Juarbe said Wednesday.

"We are expecting to start dredging the port of Ponce in February of next year, much earlier than we had thought," Jimenez Juarbe said during hearings of the House Southern Region Affairs Committee.

"If the pier’s renovation stays on course, as expected, and the dredging is completed, the port could open in the first six months of 2005," he added.

Jimenez Juarbe argued that when the dredging is completed, the port of Ponce will have a depth of 55 feet, which would allow entry to ships with deep drafts.

He said some $384 million will be invested in this first stage of the port’s dredging to support a megaport, and he indicated that the total cost would be more than $600 million.

The general manager told the legislators that another $400 million would be invested in projects scheduled for the ports of Peñuelas and Guayanilla, but he stressed that this would only occur if there is a demand for its use.

Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration originally announced that the Port of the Americas would be built in three municipalities.

Jimenez Juarbe denied the versions of New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera, who alleged that the project is being delayed because Calderon has not assigned sufficient funds.

Jimenez Juarbe said the municipality of Ponce granted a $40 million credit for the project and Calderon assigned last year another $38.7 million as part of the infrastructure program.

Local Government Spends $1.3 Million Per Legislator

March 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Former House Speaker Zaida Hernandez urged the local government to measure the performance of the Legislature by its cost-efficiency to make adjustments and improve its operations.

According to the Circuit Court of Appeals judge, the Legislative Assembly’s operations cost $106 million in public funds a year. That is $1.3 million per legislator a year.

Hernandez said in published reports that there is a total disconnect between the legislative work and the people and that the image of the body has greatly deteriorated. Therefore, she said based on her experience, she is absolutely convinced that Puerto Rico would benefit from a unicameral system.

The judge noted that Nebraska reduced its operational costs by 50% after switching to an unicameral system.

"If you add that to more productivity, we will have a Legislature that is easier to control and to manage, and the people will understand the [legislative] process much better," Hernandez concluded.

More Puerto Rican Soldiers Deployed

March 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Another five Puerto Rican military units will be deployed in the coming days for a possible U.S. attack against Iraq.

The U.S. Army said Tuesday that the units, most of them from the Army Reserve, total some 300 people and will join the 15 units of the Reserve and Puerto Rico National Guard who are training in Camp Santiago in Salinas.

Jose Pagan, public affairs official of Fort Buchanan, indicated that another four units of the Reserve and National Guard are "on alert."

He said the 15 units that practice in Salinas total some 2,000 soldiers and indicated that a total of 3,000 Puerto Rican soldiers have already been deployed for a possible military conflict in the Mideast.

Pagan indicated that the National Guard has some 10,000 soldiers, including the members of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard, and the Reserve has another 5,000 soldiers.

At the end of February, the U.S. Defense Department had deployed over 168,000 troops of the Reserve and National Guard throughout the United States for a possible war against Iraq, the official said.

Impact Of Tax Credit On Activated Soldiers At $3.6 Million

March 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Treasury Department estimated Tuesday that if the bill granting tax credits to members of the Puerto Rico National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve who are deployed for the possible U.S. war against Iraq is approved, the government will not receive $3.6 million.

Nevertheless, Treasury said it backs the bill because it is "justice for and acknowledgement of those. . .who put their lives and health at risk."

"This department endorses without objections some of the bill’s amendments to the Internal Revenue Code," said the agency’s legal adviser, Edgardo Arroyo, in public hearings of the House Treasury Committee, which is studying the bill.

The proposed credit for soldiers would be in addition to the compensation they receive for being in a combat zone.

They will also be granted a six-month extension to file and pay their income tax.

Archbishop Asks People To Pray And Fast For World Peace

March 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves called Tuesday on all Catholics on the island to pray and fast for world peace on Ash Wednesday, March 5.

Gonzalez Nieves echoed Pope John Paul II’s call "for the cause of peace, especially in the Mideast."

The archbishop also presented a pastoral letter of the Puerto Rican Episcopal Conference for the beginning of Lent that condemns the possible U.S. attack on Iraq.

"The call for preventive war is being irresponsibly promoted without considering the conditions of moral legitimacy or the laws of international rights or the incalculable consequences of a military conflict," reads the letter, signed by the five Puerto Rican bishops, Cardinal Luis Aponte Martinez, and other Catholic leaders.

Gonzalez Nieves said the reasons given by the United States and its allies for attacking Iraq do not comply with the statutes of international rights, which establish that war is only justified in cases of defense and humanitarian aid and when all peaceful measures have been exhausted.

"For the Catholic Church, the concept of preventive attack does not exist, cannot be given," the prelate emphasized.

Gonzalez Nieves applauded the mediation efforts of the Catholic Church to avoid the conflict, which have included meetings of the pope’s envoys with Iraqi, Spanish, and British officials and a cardinal’s meeting with President George W. Bush.

"As an institution, we favor dialogue, diplomacy, and peaceful measures to resolve conflicts," he said.

The archbishop also described the massive demonstrations in several countries against the war as "the conscience of all races against the arrogance of weapons."

Federal Subsidy Obtained For The Ponce Airport

March 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila announced on Monday that the U.S. Transportation Department extended until December 2004 a federal program, which benefits the Ponce regional airport.

Acevedo Vila indicated that the federal agency extended until that date the federal annual subsidy known as Essential Air Services, of the Federal Aviation Administration, offered to Cape Air, from which the Ponce airport obtains most of its profit.

Acevedo Vila explained that the decision implies assistance aide of $474,910 this year and $337,551 next year. A $467,371 subsidy retroactive to last year was also authorized.

Agreement Reached Between Justice And Wal-Mart

March 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Justice department revealed on Monday an agreement reached with Wal-Mart, which ends the legal controversy in which the government opposed the merger between Wal-Mart and Amigo supermarkets.

Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez announced that the agreement was reached after Wal-Mart accepted three requirements made by the government, which dealt with the possibility of the creation of a monopoly, elimination of jobs and reduction in purchasing of Puerto Rican products.

"Today I announce that we have reached an agreement because every one of our requirements has been met," the secretary said in a press conference held at the agency.

According to Rodriguez, Wal-Mart promised to maintain the current level of jobs during the next ten years, and to not replace full-time employees with part-time employees. Amigo has 4,000 employees, she said.

Rodriguez also said the company agreed to maintain the current levels of acquisition of Puerto Rican products for the next 10 years and to sell two stores.

"The agreement we have signed represents Gov. Sila Calderon administration’s public policy regarding jobs and support of the Puerto Rican industry.

Teachers Federation Calls Treasury Irresponsible

March 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Teachers Federation President Jesus Delgado called Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza’s statements that the salary increase negotiated by the teachers was not included in next fiscal year’s budget "inexcusably irresponsible and dishonest."

Flores Galarza confirmed that the $150 monthly increase negotiated by the federation in its collective bargaining agreement with the Education Department was not included in the budget Gov. Sila Calderon presented to the Legislature.

He also said the budget should not be amended by the Legislature to include the raise because the document was presented after a long study of the island’s economic situation.

Delgado indicated that this statement "is a call for legislators to conspire with this breach of contract, not only of the agreement, but of the governor’s campaign promise."

Treasury Chief Acknowledges Lack Of Funds For Salary Increase

March 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza confirmed that the $150 monthly salary increase that was negotiated with local teachers has not been included in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2004, that Gov. Sila Calderon presented to the Legislature.

He said in published reports that legislators should not amend the budget to include the raise because the document presented by Calderon was the result of a long and careful study of the economic situation of the island.

Flores Galarza explained the lack of funds by saying that Education Secretary Cesar Rey can make internal adjustments to grant the raise.

Rossello To Meet Pesquera To Discuss Gubernatorial Candidacies

March 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Former Gov. Pedro Rossello plans to use his visit to the island in March to meet with New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera to discuss their aspirations to the NPP gubernatorial candidacy, said Manati Mayor Aubin Cruz Manzano.

Cruz Manzano is one of the people organizing the event to welcome the former governor on March 15. The rally will be held on the grounds of the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in Hato Rey.

"There has been communication between Rossello and Pesquera and there will be a meeting," said Cruz Manzano during a press conference in which the details of the welcoming event were disclosed.

"This is the beginning of a relatioship between them, either to continue with the primary or to avoid it," the Manati mayor said.

NPP Sen. Kenneth McClintock estimated that there are eight to nine Rossello sympathizers for each of Pesquera’s followers among the people and he said he believes the ratio to be similar among the party leadership.

"Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge this, has not been on the street," he said.

McClintock said he still hopes that the primary will not take place. He said that the more leaders show support for the former governor, the more difficult it will be for Pesquera to organize an effective primary campaign.

Cruz Manzano said that about 26 of the 33 NPP mayors of the island will be present at the welcoming event.

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