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Vieques To Celebrate Navy’s Exit…NPP: Tax Amnesty Favors Big Cos.…Water Rationing Still In Effect…Vieques Land Turn Over Progressing…Calderon Consoles Family Of Soldier Killed In Afghanistan… Economy’s Stable, Recovery "Moderate"…House To Help Soldiers’ Families…NPP Asks Disclosure Of Gov’t Publicity Expenses…Humberto Garcia Sworn In

Vieques Mayor Announces Celebration Of Navy’s Exit

April 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The ousting of the U.S. Navy from Vieques will be celebrated by the municipality’s residents for 24 continuous hours starting midnight, May 1, Mayor Damaso Serrano said Monday.

Serrano said numerous activities, including caravans, performing arts, concerts, ecumenical services, and a ceremony to remember those who engaged in civil disobedience during the past two years, will be held in the municipality.

"Vieques is celebrating. . .We hope that the people of Puerto Rico celebrate with us," Serrano said during a press conference at the Bar Association.

The mayor noted that the residents of Vieques will continue their efforts in order to get the land transfer from the U.S. Department of Interior to the municipality and its cleanup.

Meanwhile, All of Puerto Rico with Vieques spokesman Jose "Che" Paraliticci said some people will still be in prison May 1, serving time for trespassing on Navy land, for which activities will also be held outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo.

NPP Claims Tax Amnesty Bill Favors Big Corporations

By Ricardo Zuñiga

April 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

The House New Progressive Party (NPP) minority delegation denounced Tuesday the alleged government intention to implement a tax amnesty disguised as an "incentives" bill to supposedly benefit big corporations with million-dollar debts.

House Minority Leader Anibal Vega Borges said the bill would allow taxpayers who have installment plans with the Treasury Department to pay 70% of their debt and be exempt from paying interests, late charges, and penalties.

Vega Borges noted that the "great majority" of normal taxpayers don’t have installment plans, while many big corporations do. He, however, failed to identify any corporation with such installment plans.

"This is an amnesty for big economic interests. Today they changed the title and instead of amnesty, they are calling it an incentive," Vega Borges said in a press conference.

The lawmaker alleged that the big economic interests would be saving between $300 million to $400 million.

According to Vega Borges, the government income as a result of the bill would be a single payment of $375 million, which will be reflected on the fiscal year 2003-04 budget, while income through installment plans is recurrent.

Vega Borges added that in order for the bill to be fair with the working class, it should be amended to establish a maximum in the debt to which the incentive could be applied. That way, million-dollar debt would be excluded.

Warning that the House NPP delegation would vote against the bill, Vega Borges urged the Treasury Department to be more aggressive in their collection efforts.

House Treasury Committee Chairman Francisco Zayas Seijo immediately rejected Vega Borges’ theory.

"I don’t know where he got that from," Zayas Seijo said.

The Popular Democratic Party veteran legislator argued that the $375 million figure was calculated based on the $250 million the Treasury Department collects annually from the installment plans and they only expect to collect $125 million from the incentive.

Zayas Seijo added that Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza is scheduled to attend a public hearing Monday to discuss the impact of the bill.

Water Rationing Plan Still In Effect

April 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Ondeo’s plan to ration water during the third and fourth week of April continues despite the rain of recent days, company spokeswoman Iris Riefkohl said.

"We are on guard, and depending on the rain, there might still be a rationing during the third or fourth week of this month. We will inform our course of action in the coming days," Riefkohl said in published reports.

Rain registered last week increased the water level at La Plata to 41.79 meters. The normal level is 51 meters, and the critical state is 38.

Meanwhile, the rain failed to increase Carraizo’s level, which remained at 39.94 meters. The normal stage is 41 meters, and critical is 37 meters.

Navy: Turn Over Of Vieques Land In Progress

April 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Within a month, the U.S. Navy will stop using the target range in Vieques and the work to dismantle the site continues at full speed, Roosevelt Roads Naval Base spokesman Oscar Seara said.

Seara said in published reports that the Navy is tearing down temporary structures at the Vieques target range after the U.S. Department of Interior, which will be in charge of the land, informed them that they were no longer necessary.

"We continue to work in order to hand in the land on the east of Vieques to the Department of Interior. We are doing what we promised," said Seara, noting the attack on Iraq could change the plans of the Navy to leave the municipality.

Without giving any details, Seara said the military will clean the land.

President George W. Bush issued a certification indicating that the Navy has until May 1 to leave the Vieques target range.

Calderon Gives Condolences To P.R. Soldier's Family

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

April 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

JOYOUS MOMENT: Sgt. Orlando Morales, who was killed in Afghanistan on Saturday, and wife Roxana in their wedding picture in May 2000.

AGUADA - Gov. Sila Calderon expressed her condolences Tuesday to the relatives of Sgt. Orlando Morales, the Puerto Rican soldier who was killed in an ambush on U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Sunday.

"I had the opportunity to talk with his widow, Roxana, who lives in North Carolina. She described Orlando as a good man, father, son, a brave husband that Orlando was. To his family, I give the condolences of the Puerto Rican people," the governor said.

Morales is the first Puerto Rican soldier killed in the conflicts of the Middle East. His remains are expected to be buried in Miami.

The governor also used the opportunity to read a letter that was e-mailed by Cmdr. Roberto Marrero, brigade general of the 92 Infantry Brigade of the National Guard. In his letter, Marrero guarantees the governor of the readiness of the Puerto Rican troops who have been mobilized for war in Iraq.

"The soldiers are in good shape and present impeccable discipline and high moral," Marrero said in his letter.

Soldier From Puerto Rico Killed In Ambush In Afghanistan

March 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A Puerto Rico-born serviceman was one of two soldiers killed when four gunmen on motorcycles ambushed a U.S. military reconnaissance patrol in southern Afghanistan, authorities and family members said.

The Department of Defense on Sunday night identified the soldier as Sgt. Orlando Morales, 33, of Manati, Puerto Rico, assigned to A Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group. The Pentagon earlier announced that Staff Sgt. Jacob L. Frazier, 24, of St. Charles, Illinois, died in the attack.

Morales had lived in Reading, Pennsylvania, before joining the Army a few years ago, his wife, Maria, said by telephone from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Morales was stationed. She said military officials came to the couple's home and notified her of his death on Saturday.

Maria's brother, Charlie Prada, who was with her at the home, said the soldiers' bodies were expected to be returned to the United States later this week, and funeral arrangements hadn't been made.

Maria Morales said the two had a 17-month-old daughter, Angelina Marie Morales.

"He was here for her first year," she said.

Morales moved with his family to Reading in 1975 and attended Tyson Schoener Elementary School, Southwest Middle School and Reading High School, dropping out but earning his General Equivalency Diploma before enlisting, his family said.

"I think he went into the military trying to get his life together and found he had a knack for it," his sister, Nellie Rodriguez of Muhlenberg Township, said Sunday night. "He was a proud soldier and really loved it. He became a Ranger and had been all over the world. I know he spent time in Saudi Arabia and Egypt."

Rodriguez said she last talked to Morales in late October or early November, before he was deployed to Afghanistan.

"He called all of his brothers and sisters to say goodbye," she said. "I remember the last time I saw him was in August last year when we christened his baby."

Morales and Frazier died after four gunmen on motorcycles ambushed a U.S. military reconnaissance patrol in southern Afghanistan on Saturday. Another American and three Afghan soldiers were wounded.

There are more than 53,000 Puerto Ricans in the U.S. armed forces, including 22,680 on active duty and 30,940 reservists on the island, according to the Pentagon.

Puerto Rico's Economy Stable, Recovery "Moderate"

March 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003
EFE NEWS SERVICE. All rights reserved. 

Ponce, Puerto Rico - The Puerto Rican economy is "stable" and experiencing a "moderate" recovery, officials said over the weekend.

Hector Mendez, president of the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico (BGF), said in a radio interview Sunday that last year's gross national product (GNP) grew 0.20 percent and is expected to expand by 1.7 percent this year.

The economic slowdown in the United States and the rest of the world is not favorable, but "we've been very fortunate, in how we've been working the problem, tackling all areas where jobs can be created," Mendez said.

Closings of companies operating under Section 936 of the U.S. tax code, which grants tax benefits to U.S. businesses located in Puerto Rico, resulted in many job losses. The jobs lost, however, have been offset by continued growth in the pharmaceutical industry, Mendez said.

BGF has "approximately $2 billion in cash being used for very short-term financial investments," Mendez said, adding that the banking institution has the ability to respond to any emergency situation that arises in the island as a result of the war in Iraq.

House To Help Families Of Mobilized Puerto Rican Soldiers

March 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Some 10 women religious leaders of different Protestant churches will organize a support network for family members of participants in the military conflict through which they will offer spiritual counseling and workshops on relaxation and emotion management, among other subjects.

The initiative will be coordinated through the House of Representatives, House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo announced Monday.

"We want our families to have the necessary tools to face a very difficult situation. It is our duty as citizens to hold the hands of those who need it," the House leader said in a press conference at his office, accompanied by the ministers.

However, Vizcarrondo could not say how much money will be assigned for the group to function in an integrated manner nor has he identified a place where the services will be offered.

It was said that preliminary efforts would be coordinated from the speaker’s office, where each family member could go to seek help.

NPP Asks For Disclosure Of Government Publicity Expenses

March 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The New Progressive Party (NPP) delegation in the House of Representatives called on Office of Management & Budget Director Melba Acosta to disclose a breakdown of each agency’s publicity expenses in the next five days.

House NPP Minority Leader Anibal Vega Borges said Monday that if Acosta does not comply with the deadline, "we would be forced to go to the courts to obtain that information."

He outlined the theory that publicity expenses are being concealed because this group has not seen money saved, contrary to what Gov. Sila Calderon promised.

The legislator, however, did not present evidence to sustain his remarks.

"The importance of requesting this disclosure is that there we will see what are the real priorities of this government," Vega Borges said in a press conference at the Capitol.

Humberto Garcia Officially Sworn In As U.S. Attorney

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

March 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

In a ceremony marked by his acknowledgement of the labor of his peers for the past 10 months, Humberto S. Garcia was sworn in Monday as the U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.

Garcia is the first official U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico in nearly nine years, since his predecessor Assistant District Attorney Guillermo Gil Bonar held acting positions throughout President Bill Clinton’s years in office.

Garcia, a Texas native, comes to an office that has been dominating headlines in the past years for prosecuting corruption schemes dealing with federal funds within the local government.

Yet in his acceptance speech, the fight against corruption was given a lower priority as he mentioned terrorism, drug trafficking, and weapons violations as the priorities that the U.S. prosecution was going to work on.

Later, Garcia would tell reporters in U.S. District Court Judge Jose Dominguez’s courtroom, where the ceremony was held, that the fight against public corruption would continue in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.

"You have to remember that 80-85% of the work deals with cases related to drug dealing, but that doesn’t mean that public corruption will not be prosecuted," Garcia said.

Garcia noted that the nation’s priorities are dealing with the fight against terrorism, and as a jurisdiction of the United States, the District of Puerto Rico must also pursue it.

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