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Teachers Increase Not Possible Till ’04…NPP Supports Bush…Island On Alert…Calderon: No Comment On PDP Anti-Rossello Media Campaign…Gov’t Announces War Contingency Plan …Vizcarrondo Defends Rossello Attack Ads…Retirees’ Increase To Cost $12M…Pesquera & Rossello Confirm Primary Contest

Education Reiterates Salary Increases Not Possible Now

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Education Secretary Cesar Rey reiterated that "there is no possibility" of acceding to the teachers’ demand that the government comply with the salary increase negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement.

Rey said in published reports that after "intensely" studying the agency’s fiscal situation, he arrived at the conclusion that the only solution is for the teachers to receive the $150 monthly increase in January 2004.

The proposal also includes that in August of that year, they will receive the increase between July 2003 and December 2003, but this alternative has not been accepted by the unions, which are consulting with their members about the possibility of paralyzing the system.

"From now till June 30, there is no pragmatic way that I can comply with the expectation of July 1. There is no possibility of thinking of an increase like this," said the official, who has estimated the increase’ would have a fiscal impact of $123 million.

Rossello Joins NPP’s Vote Favoring Bush’s Ultimatum

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

SAN JUAN (AP) - For the first time in three years, former Gov. Pedro Rossello participated in a meeting of the New Progressive Party (NPP) directorate, this time approving a resolution in favor of President George W. Bush’s decision to wage war with Iraq if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein doesn’t leave the country in 48 hours.

"I am very happy to return to the directorate meetings. I had visited the party [headquarters] at other times, but not for meetings. I feel very glad to participate anew in these meetings," Rossello said.

The former governor added that he had no agenda to present at the meeting and that he only participated in the unanimous vote to express support for Bush’s ultimatum on Iraq.

However, the former governor kept his distance from the members who have openly expressed their support of NPP President Carlos Pesquera for governor. Rossello arrived around 1:15 p.m., when most of the directorate’s work had been finished. The meeting had been scheduled for 11 a.m.

After the meeting, Rossello met with members of the press in the same room where Pesquera was about to begin a press conference. Although Rossello was urged to join the rest of the NPP directorate for the press conference, he left the room after talking to reporters.

When asked if there was any animosity between the two of them, Pesquera denied it and refused to comment on why Rossello didn’t join him at the press conference.

"There is no intention to change procedures or to deny anyone access. We are here to contribute to the party. We’ve been here more than two years promoting the strengthening of this collectivity and will continue to work to strengthen the party," Pesquera said.

The NPP president concluded by reiterating his decision to stay in the race for governor. He denied once more that he might give up his aspirations and run for another elective post so that Rossello can be come the official NPP gubernatorial candidate.

Puerto Rico On Alert Due To Imminent War In Iraq

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

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

All local and federal government agencies in Puerto Rico have adopted stringent security measures after the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror alert to its second-highest level, orange, Monday night, Gov. Sila Calderon announced Tuesday during a joint press conference with her cabinet.

The terror alert was raised after President George W. Bush said in a televised speech Monday that U.S. jurisdictions may be targets of terrorist attacks in retaliation for his decision to wage war with Iraq if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein doesn’t leave the country in 48 hours.

"The federal authorities have asked us to stay alert in terms of any person or suspicious movement that may give signs of a terrorist or a violent action," Calderon said.

The governor stressed that there is no evidence of danger for the island. However, she said approximately 4,000 members of the National Guard, 12,000 municipal police officers, and 17,000 state police agents have been placed on alert. Calderon has ordered Police Superintendent Victor Rivera Gonzalez to cancel all vacation days and to mobilize agents to the areas that need more protection.

The governor also said she has talked to federal authorities like the FBI, the Transportation Security Administration, and the U.S. District Attorney’s Office to begin a working session to see how they can work together closely.

"We are taking security measures, particularly at the airports and around our shores. There are no signs leading us to believe that Puerto Rico could be a target of terrorism. Therefore, the Puerto Rican people can be at ease. However, we must be responsible and take all security measures needed to avoid an unfortunate situation," she said.

When asked if she thought going to war against Iraq would be a mistake, Calderon said it was something that nobody wanted. However, she added that Bush’s decision was based on specific information and that Puerto Rico would back up any decision of the president. Still, the governor said she hopes the conflict ends soon.

"This is a war that Puerto Rico, just as the majority of Americans, don’t want, but it seems imminent. Should this war take place, our wish is that it will be swift and that this conflict gets solved as soon as possible," Calderon said.

The governor spoke one day after Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda announced a contingency plan to protect the local economy and all its main areas, such as energy, tourism, industry, commerce, public works & infrastructure, agriculture, maritime & air transportation, price control, and job markets.

Governor Refuses To Comment On Rossello’s Comeback

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

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

GURABO – Gov. Sila Calderon refused again Tuesday to issue any comment on former Gov. Pedro Rossello’s arrival to Puerto Rico.

"I have said before that I don’t have anything to comment at this time," Calderon said.

Calderon’s expression regarding Rossello’s comeback to island politics is her first since he spoke to the people during a televised message Thursday.

On Friday and following her participation in a public activity to commemorate the island’s youth, Calderon refused to answer the media’s questions.

She said she had no comment regarding Rossello’s comeback, but she said so while walking toward her car en route to leave the activity.

Over the weekend and while attending another public activity in Vega Baja, the governor again refused to issue any statement regarding Rossello.

Tuesday’s press conference was the first held by Calderon this week in which questions of other matters not withstanding the official activity could be asked.

Still, when Calderon was asked for a reaction to Rossello’s comeback and the welcome he was given by thousands of his followers, the governor declined to comment.

She was then asked to react to Rossello’s counter allegations of corruption within the Calderon administration. She also declined to comment.

"I have no statements at this moment regarding that issue of the New Progressive Party (NPP)," Calderon said.

The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) that Calderon presides has, however, begun an advertising campaign in which the photos of the NPP leaders who have been arrested for corruption schemes appear. Rossello also appears as their head.

Calderon was then asked why the campaign started on the day of Rossello’s arrival and how much it had cost.

She failed to answer either question.

"I don’t have the cost because the campaign isn’t over, and the decision to place the ads is PDP internal nature," Calderon said.

Government Announces Contingency Plan For Possible War

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda announced Monday that the Puerto Rico government is ready for the possible start of a U.S. war against Iraq.

Miranda said the government’s contingency plan envisages preventive measures in the main sectors of the Puerto Rican economy: energy, tourism, industry, commerce, public works and infrastructure, agriculture, maritime and air transportation, price control, and job markets.

The official said the most sensitive area is energy cost since it mostly depends on the petroleum price that usually increases in times of crisis in the Middle East.

"The control measures will be implemented as the circumstances require it," Miranda said in a press conference at La Fortaleza, accompanied by several agency chiefs and businessmen. "The government is completely prepared to face any crisis that could arise as a consequence of this war."

He said among the preventive measures is the purchase of an insurance to establish a maximum price of petroleum, which was acquired last year, and to protect some 2.5 million barrels of Fuel No. 6, the most used by the generatrix plants on the island.

Consumer Affairs Secretary Javier Echevarria said his agency is constantly monitoring the private industry, especially establishments that sell gas and first necessity products, to avoid speculation of prices and destabilization of the market.

Echevarria recognized that gas prices have increased since uncertainty began about the possible war, but he said his agency has mechanisms to manage it.

Meanwhile, Alfonso Ballester, of the food distributor company Ballester & Hermanos, indicated that the island should not have a problem of food shortage nor price increase.

"I don’t think there will be any impact of shortage of any product in Puerto Rico," the businessman said.

Vizcarrondo Defends Campaign To Attack Rossello

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – With the phrase "Forgetting is prohibited here," House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo defended Monday the Popular Democratic Party’s (PDP) campaign that mentions all the officials of former Gov. Pedro Rossello’s administration who were convicted for corruption acts.

Vizcarrondo said the media campaign, which publishes the pictures of former officials and the crimes for which they were convicted, seeks to refresh the memory of the Puerto Rican people on the corruption acts that shook the former governor’s administration.

"This is a campaign to remember [the corruption acts]," Vizcarrondo said after his press conference at his office in the Capitol.

The House leader said Rossello’s arrival to the island reawakened the PDP and its followers.

"From the party’s point of view, it has given us an additional reason to unite forces and energy," Vizcarrondo said.

He assured that the PDP is not worried about Rossello’s return to the political arena and said he was confident that the Puerto Rican people will not give their trust to the former governor.

He also said Rossello represents a return to the past and said the former governor does not seem to have changed much, as he has said in several occasions.

He mentioned as an example that Rossello has repeated in several occasions that he is willing to talk about the corruption under his government but he has not been concrete in his approach.

Government Retirees’ Increase To Cost $12 Million

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – The central government will have to spend some $12 million of the budget of fiscal year 2003-2004 to increase the Christmas bonus of their retired employees from $300 to $400.

This investment also includes an increase of 30% to 50% in the annual pension received by family members of retired employees who have died, said the administrator of the Government and Judiciary Employees’ Retirement System Administration, Marisol Marchand.

According to calculations presented Monday by the official in public hearings of the Legislative Assembly’s Special Commission for the Study of the Retirement System, the Christmas bonus increase will cost $6.03 million.

Meanwhile, the increase in the annual payment for family members of pensioners who have died will cost $6.4 million.

Although Marchand reiterated that both items have been included in the budget recommended for fiscal year 2003-2004, she recommended that the Christmas bonus increase bill be amended because the bill indicates that the increase will be effective December 2004, although the expense is included in the budget for December 2003.

The official also said it would cost the municipalities $1.9 million to implement both increases, while it would cost public corporations some $4.27 million.

These costs have to be assumed by the municipalities and corporations, respectively, she said.

Meanwhile, the Government Pensioners’ Association recommended that the Christmas bonus be increased to $500 in 2004, which represents half of what is received by active government employees.

The Office of Management & Budget, in a written communication by Director Melba Acosta, favored the increases because they were a program commitment of Gov. Sila Calderon and were included in the budget.

Pesquera And Rossello Confirm There Will Be A Primary

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

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

CAROLINA — The much expected meeting between former and current New Progressive Party presidents Pedro Rossello and Carlos Pesquera failed to produce the retirement of either from his aspiration for the race for governor.

For which reason, as of Monday NPP members will participate in the first primary ever to be held on the island for the governor’s post.

Rather than producing a compromise, an accord could not be reached to push forward the primaries when former Gov Rossello declined to accept Pesquera’s proposal for the event to be held this summer.

Rossello said his decision not to agree to push the primary forward had nothing to do with the fact that he won’t be able to move back to the island until summer, but he admitted that in practice he would be more comfortable if he were to be on the island for the entire campaign period.

The former governor added that his decision not to agree on a change of date was also because of his desire not to receive any special treatment.

"The best for everyone, based on the feedback I have received from the mayors, precinct presidents and the base is that this should be held with the same rules that apply to every other post," Rossello said.

He noted that contrary to Pesquera’s belief a primary in the summer, rather than helping the NPP finances, would affect it.

Furthermore in light of Pesquera’s allegations of the bad financial state of the NPP Rossello requested that a Certified Public Accountant be allowed to audit the party’s books.

The much awaited meeting took place at an Isla Verde Condominium in the apartment of one of Pesquera’s campaign helpers, attorney Luis Berrios.

Rossello said the meeting took place in an friendly way in which he had coffee but Pesquera did not eat anything as he had already had breakfast.

Pesquera, who was the first to come leave the meeting agreed that the meeting was a cordial one in which the two issues were discussed; primaries and the financial state of the party.

The possibility of quitting the race was not discussed.

"I was not asked to quit, I did not ask him quit," Pesquera said.

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