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Archbishop Concerned With Women’s Advocate Law…Violent Crimes Decline…Exec. Intervention Aborts Law Firm Investigation… PIP Proposes Prohibiting Gov’t Ads…Gov. Calls Unicameral Proposal Premature, Says Melecio Is NPP’s Problem Now…BPPR Urged To Explain $21.6M Plea Pact…PR Launches Tourism Campaign

Archbishop Concerned With Women’s Advocate Law

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

March 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Episcopal Conference President Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves met Thursday afternoon with Gov. Sila Calderon to express his concerns over the law that creates the Women’s Advocate Office.

Following the nearly one-hour long meeting, Gonzalez Nieves said Calderon was attentive to his concerns and would evaluate them and consult them with her legal advisors.

"I didn’t expect an answer from her today, but she heard what I had to say," Gonzalez Nieves said.

The archbishop is particularly concerned with the faculty in law given to the office to interfere with private corporations. The church considers itself to be a private corporation.

The Catholic church expressed its opposition to the creation of the office as stated in the law and was against the designation of Maria Dolores Fernos to the post.

The church’s opposition to Fernos is in great part because of her position in favor of a woman’s right to abortion.

The subject of abortion came up again Thursday evening when Gonzalez Nieves used it as an example of the interaction that the office might have in the church.

He noted that there are two Catholic hospitals on the island that because of their faith do not practice abortion, but the way the law is written, it could force the hospitals to do so.

12.6% Reduction In Violent Crimes Reported

March 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - A 12.6% reduction in violent crimes, known as Type 1 by police, has occurred in the first three months of 2003 when compared with the same period last year.

However, as of March 15, a dozen more killings have occurred than at the same time last year, Police Superintendent Victor Rivera said Wednesday.

Rivera, like all superintendents before him, argued that the dozen killings were all drug related. He added that in all cases the killing occurred following the impact of police on a drug point.

"Once a drug point is broken up, a chain reaction occurs that unfortunately sometimes takes the most violent form, that of a slaying," Rivera said.

The chief of police added that killing is not the only form of violent crime and that rape, assault, car theft, robbery, and breaking and entering are also considered Type 1 crimes. It is in those areas that crime reduction has occurred.

Gov. Sila Calderon, prior to promoting 32 high ranking police officers, announced the reduction in crime with much pride.

"I am pleased to inform you that as of March 15, Type 1 crimes were reduced by 12.6%, meaning 2,476 fewer crimes were reported compared with the same time last year," Calderon said.

The governor then affirmed that under her administration, statistics are not manipulated and accused the previous administration of Gov. Pedro Rossello of doing so.

Calderon, who returned to the tradition, abandoned by Rossello, of approving all promotions within the Police Department from commander on, personally greeted the 31 men and one woman who Wednesday were promoted to the posts of commander, inspector, lieutenant colonel, and colonel.

Calderon, who once referred to the police organization as a fossil and caused indignation among the force, lauded Wednesday the qualities of the officers being promoted.

Both Rivera and Calderon dismissed allegations that the promotions were based on political references as police sources had argued.

Rivera failed to include Deputy Superintendent in Criminal Investigations Lt. Col. Jose Caldero in the group being promoted but said Calderon was currently evaluating his case.

House Committee Decides Not To Summon Law Firm Documentation

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

March 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Following a statement by Gov. Sila Calderon denying her intervention in a House Education & Culture Committee investigation, House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo acknowledged Thursday that the committee, advised by Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado, has decided not to request certain documents from the Reichard & Escalera law firm.

Vizcarrondo’s admission confirms the executive branch’s intervention in a legislative branch investigation, but the speaker repeatedly denied that this had occurred.

"Honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with it. . .We are a team," Vizcarrondo said.

Until Wednesday, Committee Chairman Javier Garcia Caban wanted the law firm to testify with its minutes, memorandums, and bills and explain why it recommended that the Education Department renew a contract with Island Security despite the corporation’s admission that it gave money for political purposes to the previous administration.

Following a meeting late Wednesday with Mercado and after being informed that the Education Department had resigned its client-attorney privilege and would submit all information requested, Garcia Caban said for now, he would not request the minutes and memorandum from the law firm.

"At this time, I believe that the documents that will be provided to me by the Education Department are enough for me to continue my investigation," Garcia Caban said.

He did not rule out the possibility of requesting the law firm to hand in later anything they thought might be needed.

The law firm alleged that the committee was violating the client-attorney privilege by requesting the data in question.

Like any other law firm, however, their allegations were not made through the court, not by personally expressing their opposition through the Legislature, but instead their claims were discussed at La Fortaleza and the State Department.

The law firm has many contracts with the government, and one of its main partners, Rafael Escalera, has had a long working history with Calderon, including being part of her transition team.

Most recently, on Tuesday, Escalera represented Calderon in court in the lawsuit and interdiction request filed by the New Progressive Party against the governor for the use of the phrase "on a good path toward the future" in government advertising.

The law firm’s efforts to prevent giving out the information included calling House Vice President Ferdinand Perez and requesting that the efforts of the committee be stopped.

Perez admitted that a call was received in his office from the law firm but just to request a change of date for their turn to testify before the committee.

However, questioned by WOW News on Wednesday, Calderon denied any calls from the law firm were made.

"That is false, what she [WOW News reporter] is saying - that calls were made - that did not occur," Calderon said.

Calderon was then asked what was La Fortaleza’s particular interest in the investigation, but she argued that as president of the legislative conference, she had the right to ask about any investigation.

PIP Proposes Prohibiting Government Ads

March 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Electoral Commissioner Juan Dalmau proposed Thursday the drafting of a bill to extend the ban on government advertising during an electoral year to the entire four-year term.

With it, Dalmau argued, the government’s advertising budget will be cut considerably.

He believes that now is the correct time to draft a bill on the matter because there seems to be a consensus that all parties are in favor of cutting down the amount of money spent on government advertising.

This is after the New Progressive Party (NPP), following the 1995 example of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), took the governor to court to request an interdiction for her to stop spending money on government advertising, which they claim is being used as political propaganda.

Back in 1995, the PDP took then Gov. Pedro Rossello to court for the use of the phrase "Complied Commitment" in every government advertisement. The court then ruled that the phrase was being used in a political context, which was to the party’s advantage, and the governor was told to eliminate it from all ads.

Last week, the NPP took the government to court based on the 1995 ruling, arguing that the phrase "On a good path toward the future," which is now used by Gov. Sila Calderon in all propaganda, is also being used in a political context.

Dalmau said if both the NPP and the PDP were attempting to control the use of public funds for government advertising, then there was no better time to draft the bill than the present.

"The PIP has always been in favor of cutting down government advertising, now that the PPD and the NPP are arguing the same, we say let’s do it," Dalmau said.

The electoral commissioner issued letters to his colleagues - NPP Electoral Commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz and PDP Electoral Commissioner Carlos Lopez Feliciano - asking them to join in his effort to draft the bill.

"In light of the inability of the Legislature to take action on the matter, I’m urging my fellow electoral commissioners to do it," Dalmau said.

The bill would be drafted using as its base a 2000 ruling by Judge Angel Hermida prohibiting the use of public funds for public broadcasting.

Hermida is now a member of Calderon’s Blue Ribbon Committee.

Calderon Won’t Evaluate Proposal For Unicameral Legislature

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

March 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

The legislative reform proposal of having a single legislative chamber instead of two will not be evaluated by the present government as Gov. Sila Calderon said Wednesday that she is against holding a referendum before the end of her tenure in office.

"Certainly we don’t contemplate, and I as president of the legislative conference, do not contemplate holding any consultation on amendments to the Constitution during this tenure," Calderon said.

She added that the nature of the process by which the people would determine whether the Senate and the House of Representatives would merge into one was yet to be decided.

Calderon noted that the date in which the consultation was to take place was yet to be decided but it could be during the tenure that begins in 2004.

Any consultation, if we decide which one it will be, will have to be during the next tenure," Calderon said.

The governor’s statements put an end to House Legislative Reform Special Committee Chairman Luis Raul Torres’ proposal that that consultation be held in November along with the primaries.

Torres’ proposition was discussed on Wednesday at La Fortaleza during a legislative conference with the governor.

Following the morning-long meeting House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo told the media that the idea of turning the two-house system into a unicameral one had been discussed in the majority caucus and had was approved by most members.

He acknowledged, however, that the idea was yet to be discussed among leaders of the Popular Democratic Party. Vizcarrondo explained that the matter must be discussed on a party basis because it will be part of the party platform for the next general elections. That way, voters will be accepting that sometime in the next administration a consultation would be held on the one house system.

Calderon Has No Comment On Melecio

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

SAN JUAN (AP) - Gov. Sila Calderon declined to comment on former State Elections Commission President Juan R. Melecio’s decision to become former Gov Pedro Rossello’s campaign committee president.

Calderon, who hadn’t held a public appearance since Melecio was appointed to the post last Friday was asked repeatedly on Wednesday to react to the former judge’s statements regarding his transition from being a believer in the Commonwealth to being now a convinced promoter of statehood.

Yet the governor would repeat the same answer given to each and every question regarding Melecio.

"All that I have to say regarding Judge Melecio is that now he is the NPP’s problem," Calderon said.

Considered by many one of the most respected and non biassed public servants, his reputation has come under fire in the days following his decision to join the Rossello team.

Calderon was then asked if she still respected Melecio as she had previously said, but she denied ever having made any comments in favor of the former judge.

"I did not say that," Calderon said.

BPPR Will Be Urged To Explain $21.6 Million Agreement

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – The new advisor of the Senate Banking & Consumer Affairs Committee, Edgardo Perez Viera, said officials of Banco Popular de Puerto Rico (BPPR) should explain the details of the multimillion-dollar agreement that it signed to pay $21.6 million to avoid criminal charges of money laundering.

Perez Viera, who in the past has been involved in the senatorial investigation of the Cerro Maravilla case, and has worked as advisor to several House speakers and Senate presidents of the Popular Democratic Party, said the worries regarding the main banking institution of the island are very legitimate.

"The idea is to publicly discuss why there is a trust issue between the people and the main banking institution in Puerto Rico," said Perez Viera in a radio interview.

The legal advisor also noted that the Senate has the power to summon the main officers of BPPR and force them to turn in documents related to the case.

"The committee intends to summon them. If they refuse, they will have a tiny legal problem," he added.

Right now, there is a lawsuit in a New York court and the U.S. District Court on the island against BPPR from one of the bank’s shareholders for failing to make sure that the bank acted in accordancewith the federal laws.

BPPR paid $21.6 million to federal authorities at the beginning of the year to avoid judicial charges for neglecting to report suspicious money laundering activities related to drug trafficking.

Puerto Rico And Dominican Republic Launch Tourism Campaigns

March 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003
EFE NEWS SERVICE. All rights reserved. 

San Juan, Mar 25 (EFE) - Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have launched separate publicity campaigns aimed at U.S. tourists looking to vacation in the Caribbean.

Developed to counter decreased tourism due to the war in Iraq, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (CTPR) unveiled a new page Monday on its Internet site ( touting the island as one of the world's safest destinations.

A new icon, labeled "Travel Advisory," lists the advantages of traveling to Puerto Rico as a U.S. territory and security measures in place at airports, under the slogan "We are Right Next Door," CTPR chief Jose Suarez said.

"Puerto Rico has again taken the initiative in the Caribbean area to implement measures aimed at maintaining and increasing hotel occupancy rates," Suarez said.

Through March 20, hotel occupancy rates have hovered between 81 percent and 89.6 percent in the San Juan metro area and 76 percent in the rest of the island.

Dominican government officials, meanwhile, called the Dominican Republic "an ideal tourist destination for the local (Puerto Rican) market," due to its proximity to that island.

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