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U.S. Mayors Award SJ Program…Thousands Protest War…Rossello Leaves Island…Nat’l Guard Completes Security Plan…Calderon Asks For Tolerance & Unity…Rossello Apoints Melecio As 2004 Committee President, Says Gov’t Should Remove Campaign Slogan Ads…Security Measures Increased…Puerto Rican Artists: War Unnecessary…Coast Guard Steps Up Patrols

U.S. Mayors Conference Awards San Juan Program

March 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The U.S. Mayors Conference awarded the "Best Practice" award to the San Juan municipal government for its program "Better Health Alliance," San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini said Sunday.

"This is a distinction received by our city that demonstrates our energy, assertiveness, and effectiveness in the development of health programs," the mayor said in a press release.

He indicated that the U.S. Mayors Conference groups the mayors of cities with more than 30,000 citizens in the United States. The organization is presided over by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

A committee of the conference selected the designation of "Best Practice" and who evaluated the innovative programs that the mayors created and developed in their communities, he said.

According to Santini, the programs should demonstrate their effectiveness with the interest that other U.S. mayors develop similar projects in their respective cities.

Thousands Fill Caguas Field To Protest U.S. War In Iraq

March 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

CAGUAS (AP) - Thousands filled a field to demonstrate against the U.S.-led war in Iraq, waving Puerto Rican flags and listening to pro-peace religious messages on Sunday.

Chanting and holding signs reading "Peace on Earth, no to war," the protesters represented various sectors, including ecumenical groups, professional organizations and several people wearing Korean War veteran hats.

Caguas Mayor William Miranda Marin, who joined the demonstration, estimated the crowd at 10,000 people.

The protesters, who came from throughout the island, gathered on a large parcel of vacant land near the center of the city, about 15 miles south of San Juan.

San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves said he was here to "pray for a miracle." Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora also attended, but he rejected that his presence contradicted the government's official position supporting President George W. Bush.

"Once (war was) declared, the only thing one can do is unite for peace," said Fas Alzamora of the governing Popular Democratic Party.

Yousef Yassin, a 52-year-old Palestinian who has lived on the island for 25 years, said it is every person's obligation to press for world peace and to oppose war.

"The least a human being can do is to reject this genocide," Yassin said, adding that allied bombs do not distinguish between supporters or opponents of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

He and several others held a huge sign that said: "Mr. Bush: If your power stimulates you to abuse people, remember the power that God has over you."

A tiny counter-demonstration of a dozen people supporting the war waved American flags. Several wore military fatigues and held a big sign which said "We Support Bush."

Several musical groups, including a classical orchestra, played on a stage set up on the field.

On Thursday, hundreds of mostly university students demonstrated against the war outside the U.S. Army's Fort Buchanan at the outskirts of San Juan and federal buildings in the capital.

The U.S. military has recently activated about 4,000 members of Puerto Rico's National Guard, with about half to be mobilized to the Middle East, officials said.

After Week Of Campaigning, Rossello Leaves Island

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

March 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Former Gov. Pedro Rossello [left] the island Sunday following a week of campaigning with the intention of moving back to the island during the summer to embark on a full-time campaign in the months prior to the November gubernatorial primary of the New Progressive Party (NPP).

He will be coming to the island for brief periods until he finishes his duties as professor at the George Washington University.

Until June, his campaign team will work full-time.

"I’m on campaign, temporarily from another place, but my team is here," Rossello said.

Rossello’s campaign committee is called Rossello 2004, affirming with the name, his confidence in a primary vote in his favor.

"I don’t want you to see this as short term. We are prepared for a campaign that ends in November 2004," Rossello said.

The former governor denied that by assuming that attitude, he is failing to recognize his opponent, NPP President Carlos Pesquera. Rossello argued that although Pesquera is indeed his opponent, he does not see him as such.

"He is my contender, that is right, but I do not see him as such. I am on campaign against the current administration," Rossello said.

Meanwhile, Rossello admitted he has not contributed to the party’s finances for the past two years but will begin to do so again once he becomes president.

National Guard Completes Security Plan

March 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The Puerto Rico National Guard finished assigning positions to 1,000 officers who will participate in a plan to reinforce security in several sensitive facilities of the island, as ordered by Gov. Sila Calderon, said Capt. Samuel Agosto, who is a security officer of the National Guard.

Agosto said National Guard facilities, including the Muñiz Aerial Base have increase their security alert to the last but one level, "charlie" because of the war in Iraq.

He said the National Guard increased its security level one notch higher than the rest of the military facilities on the island as a preventive method, because the guard has many civilians and it takes more time to mobilize its personnel.

He added in published reports that the 1,000 National Guard officers would be guarding government agencies such as the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the Ports Authority, and the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources.

He added that the officers won't be too visible to the public as they will concentrate on guarding electric plants, reservoirs, fuel tanks, and communication facilities where an attack could affect a large population.

Calderon Asks For Serenity, Tolerance, And Unity During War

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

March 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

In a seven-minute televised address, Gov. Sila Calderon asked the residents of Puerto Rico for "serenity, tolerance, and unity" during the war against Iraq.

In doing so, Calderon affirmed her support for President George W. Bush, arguing that as citizens and allies, Puerto Rico has to support and participate in the war.

"As a Commonwealth, it is our duty to comply with common defense. As citizens of the United States, it is also our responsibility to support the president during these difficult times," Calderon said.

She added that her administration has been working on contingency plans to deal with possible direct consequences of the war on the island.

Calderon said she was particularly worried about the island’s children and encouraged parents to talk about the war and answer all their questions.

Asking for serenity, Calderon urged residents not to alter their lifestyles but to continue about their daily routines even though she understands that war does affect the mental state of the people.

"We must keep our normal life," Calderon said.

The governor went on to ask for tolerance for every point of view regarding the war.

She particularly asked for tolerance for the Arab residents of the island.

"Let’s show the Arab community that lives here that we understand their pain," Calderon said.

Calderon said Puerto Rican soldiers must be on our minds.

"Let’s not allow an opinion wrongly expressed to make our soldiers feel alone," she said.

Melecio Appointed As Rossello 2004 Committee President

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

March 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Rossello and Melecio

Former State Elections Commission (SEC) President Juan R. Melecio, who is considered by many as one of the most respectable and righteous public officials of the island, was appointed Friday as Gov. Pedro Rossello’s campaign committee president.

Rossello himself announced Melecio’s appointment Friday during a morning press conference, in which he also announced that his former communications secretary, Frances Rodriguez, will be his campaign manager.

Melecio’s task, in short, will be to ensure that every single aspect of Rossello’s campaign complies with the law.

"In essence, he presides over the entire campaign committee," Rossello said.

Melecio, whose credibility has been unquestioned, left his retirement to join Rossello in his campaign, convinced that he was doing the right thing and without worries about what people might think.

The judge argued that as a public servant, one can’t think in terms of what to gain and what to lose, but in terms of what needs to be done in justice. In justice, Melecio said he became convinced Rossello was being treated unfairly by public opinion.

"I was convinced, once this man left the island, and with the comments that he left fleeing and all the rest of the things that were said. I began to understand that it was about destroying a human being for his political ideas," Melecio said.

Appointed to the SEC in 1991 by Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon and confirmed twice by Rossello, Melecio raised the SEC to an international level. His decision and his performance as president won him the credibility of all political sides.

His decision to support Rossello, however, unavoidably identifies him as a member of the New Progressive Party.

Now that his political preference is in the open, he acknowledges that he too once was PDP.

"Not only was I Popular [as PDP members are called], I believed in the basis of the Commonwealth. . .But in time, with my travels abroad, I realized that the best thing for Puerto Rico is statehood," Melecio said.

Rossello denied that the appointments of Melecio and Rodriguez, who is considered by many as the best press secretary of his administration, had anything to do with a strategy to clean his image of corruption.

"To think that will be an offense to them," Rossello said.

Rossello: Calderon Should Remove Campaign Slogan Ads

March 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Former Gov. Pedro Rossello acknowledged Friday that he was mistaken when he used public funds to announce government work with the campaign slogan "Commitment Complied."

For that reason, he urged Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration to stop using public funds for ads with the slogan "Puerto Rico toward the future on the right track."

Rossello recalled that this practice was declared unconstitutional by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court because of a lawsuit filed by Calderon as president of the Popular Democratic Party against him.

As a consequence, Rossello supports the lawsuit filed Thursday at the San Juan Superior Court by the New Progressive Party (NPP) and its president, Carlos Pesquera.

"I’m in complete agreement with the lawsuit that the NPP has brought against this administration. . .[because] those who opposed it are now doing it. Let’s judge things with the same yardstick; I’m not asking anything extraordinary," he said.

Calderon Increases Security Measures On Island

March 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Gov. Sila Calderon announced that to intensify the security measures adopted because of the U.S. war against Iraq, 1,046 National Guard soldiers were mobilized to complement the security duties of the Puerto Rico Police.

The daily cost of the soldiers’ activation is approximately $110,000, which will be taken from the Emergency Fund, administered by the Office of Management & Budget.

The governor also announced in a press release that Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez is serving as the link between the Commonwealth and the Homeland Security and other federal authorities. Rodriguez presented the governor with the security plan that includes measures in case of a terrorist attack. This plan follows the parameters of the Homeland Security Department led by Tom Ridge.

On the other hand, the governor said the Financial Institutions commissioner gave orders to the island’s banks to immediately notify any significant transaction between foreigners and freeze the active funds of people related to terrorism.

Finally, Calderon said three Muslim mosques in the metropolitan area will have special police protection.

Puerto Rican Artists: War Unnecessary, Not A Solution

March 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - For Puerto Rican star Ricky Martin, the U.S. war against Iraq is "stupid," and for Puerto Rican actor Benicio del Toro, "it isn’t a solution."

Martin and del Toro are among more than 20 Puerto Rican stars who have expressed their sadness and indignation with the military conflict.

"This is a stupid war. Really, all wars are stupid," said Martin, winner of a Grammy award.

"I don’t believe that war is the solution to the situation that we face at this moment," said del Toro, winner of an Oscar for best leading actor in 2000 for his work in "Traffic."

Merengue singer Olga Tañon and salsa singer Gilberto Santa Rosa said they were worried for the innocent people who would lose their lives during the conflict.

"The war is totally unnecessary. It takes many innocents lives, like women and children who have the right to live," said Tañon, winner of two Grammy awards.

Her words were backed by Santa Rosa, who said that his main concern is for the well-being of the civilian population and innocent people.

U.S. Coast Guard Steps Up Patrols In Caribbean, Florida


March 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The U.S. Coast Guard is more closely watching the coastlines of Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island now that the nation is at a heightened orange threat level, a spokesman said Thursday.

The increased security is part of the U.S. government's plan called "Operation Liberty Shield" to fortify the country against terror and involves federal, state and local governments, as well as private businesses such as chemical plants and banks.

The Caribbean, with hundreds of hard-to-patrol islands, is an area of major drug and illegal migrant smuggling. U.S. and regional officials have voiced concern about the region being used as a launching pad for terrorists.

About 200 reservists have been called up to help out the 5,000 or so active members of the Coast Guard's 7th District, which includes Florida and the Caribbean, spokesman Ryan Doss said.

"We're pulling a lot of our cutters and bringing them closer to our coasts," Doss said by telephone from Miami.

Customs and border patrol officials were also increasing security checks at land borders, airports, sea ports and railroad crossings, said Zachary Mann, U.S. border patrol and customs spokesman for homeland security.

"We're increasing the level of activity...this would also include activity by our own air and marine assets," Mann said, but could not give information on where they were deployed for security reasons.

The nation's terror alert status was raised Monday night from "elevated" to "high," after Bush said the U.S. military was ready to attack Iraq.

The Coast Guard said the focus shift on protecting U.S. territories would not compromise patrolling for illegal migrants and drug smugglers in the Caribbean.

"We are protecting our borders with more assets and personnel than ever," said Captain Wayne Justice, chief of operations for the Coast Guard district.

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