Soldier With PR Ties Dies In Iraq, Isabela Burial Set Island 1st In Federal Lobbying Election Finance Bill TermedRushed Banner Day In SJ NPP Legislators Oppose Electoral Reform, Leave Hearing Diaz Saldana Calls Proposed Regulations Political Rationing To Go On For Bayamon, New Reservoirs Under Study
U.S. Soldier Killed In Iraq To Be Buried In Isabela
April 16, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) - A U.S. solider killed in Iraq will be buried on the island, where his parents live and where he spent a part of his teenage years, a military official said Wednesday.
Army Spc. Gil Mercado Roman, 25, died of a gunshot wound in Iraq on Sunday, though officials said he wasn't in combat at the time. Officials at the Pentagon have declined to provide further details but have not ruled out friendly fire or a self-inflicted wound.
He was a cook assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Battalion.
"He will be buried in Puerto Rico," said spokesman Army Maj. Richard Crusan of U.S. Army South at Fort Buchanan in Guaynabo.
Crusan said he did not have further details, except to say Mercado's wife made the decision. She is originally from Colombia and lives at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, where Mercado was based.
Mercado Roman, who was born in Paterson, New Jersey, lived during his teenage years in Isabela. He is expected to be buried there.
His body should arrive Friday or Saturday, said Luis Vega, administrator of the Los Sauces Funeral Home, which is making funeral arrangements. It is already in the United States.
Vega could not say when the soldier would be buried because it would depend on when the body arrives in Isabela.
Mercado's half brother, Sgt. Arnaldo Rivera Roman, who also was on duty in Iraq, was given temporary leave to attend the funeral, has left Iraq, and is now en route to Puerto Rico, Vega said.
U.S. Soldier With Ties To Puerto Rico Dies In Iraq
April 15, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) - A U.S. soldier with ties to Puerto Rico died of a gunshot wound from non-hostile fire in Iraq last weekend, military officials said Tuesday without giving details.
Army Spc. Gil Mercado, 25, who was a cook assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Battalion, was killed Sunday in an incident that is under investigation, Army spokesman Maj. Steve Stover said.
"His death wasn't caused by hostile fire," Stover said by telephone from the Pentagon. Stover did not rule out friendly fire or a self-inflicted wound.
Mercado, who was born in Paterson, New Jersey, lived with his wife at the Fort Campbell Army base in Kentucky.
During high school, he had lived with his father in Isabela.
It was immediately unclear where Mercado would be buried, though military casualty assistance officers were working with Mercado's family in Puerto Rico to determine burial arrangements there, said Army Maj. Richard Crusan, spokesman for U.S. Army South at Fort Buchanan in Guaynabo.
Stover said, however, the final decision would be made by his wife, who is a Colombian national.
There are more than 53,000 Puerto Ricans in the U.S. armed forces, including 22,680 on active duty and 30,940 reservists, according to the Pentagon.
The military currently has deployed about 5,400 Puerto Ricans in campaigns abroad, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Island 1st In Federal Lobbying
April 15, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) A study by the Center for Responsible Politics concluded that the Puerto Rico government has spent $19.8 million in lobbying in Washington during the past five years, the most spent by any U.S. jurisdiction.
Illinois spent the next highest amount - $3.4 million in five years - followed by Nevada with $1.5 million during the same time period, according to published reports.
The report noted that Puerto Ricos investment in lobbying shot up in 1997 when former Gov. Pedro Rossellos administration spent $5.04 million to lobby for projects such as the Urban Train, Section 30A, and the plebiscite project of Rep. Don Young.
In 1998, the Rossello administration spent $5.1 million and in 1999 some $5.07 million. Gov. Sila Calderon lowered the lobbying expenses in 2001 to $2.3 million, but was projected to spend more than $4.2 million in the first half of 2002.
Comptroller, SEC President Agree Electoral Reform Rushed
By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News
April 15, 2003
While agreeing on the need for electoral reform, Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña and State Elections Commission (SEC) President Aurelio Gracia argued that the legislative majority should take more time to discuss the new bill that proposes an increase from $9 million to up to $28.5 million in public funds to finance the electoral campaigns of the islands three political parties.
Both noted that the bill was handed to them Friday afternoon and that they barely had the chance to go over it.
"We worry that this is being hurried and that there may be sectors that won't have the opportunity to present their position. This will certainly be unfavorable to the bill. We respectfully recommend that this Legislative Assembly extend the discussion of this bill and grant other sectors of the island the opportunity to present their stance," Gracia said.
However, Senate Government Committee Chairman Roberto Prats - who was presiding over the public hearing Monday with House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo -insisted that there was no reason to postpone approving the bill. He said the issue had been widely discussed in 2002, when the first version of the bill, proposing the full public financing of political campaigns, was presented and rejected.
Although this second bill is different, Prats said one can't be seen as separate from the other because the bill that the Popular Democratic Party majority intends to approve this week is a result of that earlier debate. He referred to this new bill as a middle ground where the ones who are opposed to a 100% public financing of political campaigns and those who favor it can meet.
"We are here evaluating the result of this process and the recommendations made by the Special Committee for the Financing of Electoral Campaigns," Prats said.
However, Diaz Saldaña said it would be a mistake not to reach a consensus among the legislative minorities. He said not doing so would open the door to constant amending of the Electoral Law every time there is a change of government.
"I definitely think it would be good for everyone to have more time to discuss the bill. I think that if a consensus is not reached among the three political parties, it may be up to the people to decide the issue," Diaz Saldaña said.
Although interim Justice Secretary Miguel Santana also testified at the public hearing, only the comptroller and the SEC president expressed their desire for more discussion of the bill. Santana supported approving the bill "for the good of the Puerto Rican democracy."
Meanwhile, Diaz Saldaña, who also supported the bills approval, made it clear that he would like more time to evaluate its content more carefully. He also didn't rule out the possibility of further commenting on the matter.
However, it was the SEC president who presented objections to the bill. He objected to the fact that the new bill doesn't establish how much of the $11 million in public and private funds each gubernatorial candidate may be able to spend on media campaigns. To that end, he proposed that the amount to be spent on media campaigns be limited to $7 million with other campaign expenses limited to $4 million.
Gracia also claimed the need to allow the political parties to use these funds starting January 2004 and not six months later, as proposed in the new bill. He said not following his recommendation might force parties to use additional funds for electoral expenses. It would also give way to a massive bombardment of political ads in the local media, which he said wouldn't be healthy for the Puerto Rican people.
Banner Day In San Juan
-- From News Services
April 15, 2003
Two spectators ran on the field and unfurled an antiwar banner at yesterday's game between the Expos and Mets in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Just after the Mets' Tony Clark hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, the fans jumped from the stands and ran on the field. They displayed a banner, which read: "No a la guerra" ("No to the war") with a drawing of a gun.
About a dozen police and security officials converged on them, and umpire Joe West appeared to say something to them. The banner was taken by the security officials, and the spectators dragged from the field.
[The two spectators who ran onto the field and held up an antiwar banner will be banned from games in Puerto Rico this month, police said Tuesday]
NPP Legislators Leave Hearing On Electoral Reform
By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News
April 15, 2003
The New Progressive Party (NPP) House and Senate delegation walked out of Mondays single public hearing on the electoral reform bill after NPP Sen. Norma Burgos said she wouldn't be part of a process that, in her opinion, goes against the best interests of the people.
Visibly upset and virtually yelling Burgos made numerous complaints but emphasized her opposition to the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) majority decision to hold only one hearing on the electoral reform bill.
The single hearing was scheduled to begin 2:30 p.m. at which time the only three people who would be allowed to present their points of views to the members of the House Electoral Special Committee and the Senate Government Committee were Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña, State Elections Commission President Aurelio Gracia, and interim Justice Secretary Miguel A. Santana.
The PDP majority will take the bill to the floor by Wednesday for its approval. The minority parties have also criticized the decision as traditionally no major bills are taken to the floor this week when many people aren't paying attention to politics, because they are out observing the Holy Week holiday.
Burgos added that the proposed bill only gives more room for corruption in campaign fundraising and fails to provide equal opportunity to all sectors of the island that may wish to state their objections to the bill.
"This is an outrage. I ask my co-workers to leave the room. I won't be an accomplice to this," Burgos said as she stood up and left together with NPP Senators Kenneth McClintock, and Orlando Parga, as well as NPP Reps. Antonio Silva and Anibal Vega Borges.
The senator also noted that the bill not only increases from $3 million to $11 million the amount of money that each gubernatorial candidate can spend in mass media campaign during an election year, but it also allows enough room for violations such as the one pointed out by the SEC after the 2000 general election. Back then, the fundraisers of the PDP gubernatorial candidate had been accused of allegedly giving thousands of dollars to legislative candidates so they could place ads favoring the image of then gubernatorial candidate Sila Calderon, thus violating the limits established by the Electoral Law.
She also criticized the fact that the bill doesn't establish a real limit on anonymous private donations.
The proposed bill states that political parties can raise up to $600,000 in anonymous donations. However, Burgos noted that in 2000, the PDP raised $735,000 , as opposed to the $50,000 raised by the NPP. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) raised nothing.
"That is the transparency of the PDP. Now they want to legalize the "lavaton" (money-laundering schemes)," Burgos stated as she left the room.
Vega Borges, who has expressed himself in favor of the bill, said he still maintains his stance on the issue. However, he noted he was against the manner in which the Legislative majority insisted on conducting the matter.
Meanwhile, PIP Sen. Fernando Martin and PIP Rep. Victor Garcia San Inocencio also expressed discontent with the bill. However, contrary to the NPP delegation they decided to stay, claiming that they wanted to participate in the public hearing process.
Nevertheless, Garcia San Inocencio agreed with Burgos' claim that the approval of the bill was being rushed. Martin added that the bill is a step backwards on the road to achieving equality among local political parties.
"By allowing the matching of private funds, they are only favoring those who have more means to raise funds. Here we see more private money and less equality," Martin said.
NPP Legislative Conference Opposes Electoral Reform
April 14, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) The New Progressive Party (NPP) legislative conference on Monday expressed their opposition to the Electoral Reform and demanded their position be heard during legislative public hearings.
NPP President Carlos Pesquera described the electoral reform as an "attack on Puerto Rican Democracy."
"This is a bill filed without consensus of the political parties and attempts against the parties of the opposition. This is an attack on democracy," Pesquera said following a press conference at party headquarters in Santurce.
According to Pesquera NPP delegations in the House and Senate will work together to ensure the bill does not pass in the legislature.
"It is our legislative conference decision to oppose the bill and the procedure by which it is claimed to have been approved without the proper course of public hearings," Pesquera said.
The legislature plans to hold only one hearing of the controversial report and take it to the floor for approval by Wednesday.
According to Senate Government Committee Chairman Roberto Prats the majority will only hold one public hearing because there was already a process of public hearings last year when Gov Sila Calderon filed her administrative bill.
That bill however received opposition and was retrieved by Calderon who formed a special committee at La Forteleza to file a new bill.
The new electoral reform was made public last week and is to be approved by Wednesday in both the House and the Senate.
The new electoral reform proposes maintaining the $3 million of public funds for each political party and allowing parties to raise up to $4 million in private funds to later be matched with public funds raising the maximum spent for gubernatorial races to $11 million.
Proposed Regulations Upset Diaz Saldaña
April 14, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña was upset on Monday by a joint House and Senate Committee decision making it necessary to regulate the requirement for the post of Commonwealth Comptroller.
Diaz Saldaña said the recommendation was of a strictly political nature.
"This is a political attempt to intervene with the Commonwealth Comptroller Office," Diaz Saldaña said.
Díaz Saldaña noted that some legislators of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) majority along with members of the executive branch make continuous attacks on his offices work.
He affirmed that if what the legislators are seeking is his resignation they wont achieve it as he is determined to remain in his post no matter what and is even willing to go to court if he has to.
"With all respect I will continue to defend the comptroller office," Diaz Saldaña said.
The Comptroller said the legislative report recommending modifications be made to the office are based on false premises and do not respond to the reality of the offices responsibilities.
Diaz Saldaña defended the integrity of the over 50-years-old office and its autonomy.
His statements on Monday were a reaction to a legislative investigation which determined that no one who has been in office, being elected by the people or as a member of the executive branch, should be nominated for the post. If his or her tenure in the public service occurred five years prior to the nomination then he or she may be nominated.
The new requirement is suggested after the ongoing investigations revealed current Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña disqualified himself from numerous audits by his office as he had been a part of what was being investigated.
At the time of his nomination and appointment Diaz Saldaña served as the Treasury Secretary and was a member of over 20 government boards.
His nomination was then opposed by the Popular Democratic Party and Puerto Rican Independence Party minorities.
Water Rationing To Go On For Bayamon
April 14, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) The water rationing plan for clients of La Plata reservoir is still to go on in June, Ondeo spokesman Gerardo Gonzalez said.
"There have been no significant changes in the water levels," Gonzalez told a local newspaper.
On Sunday Carraizo reservoir levels were at 40.99 meters, 0.02 meters more than Saturday. The normal level is 41 meters. The level of La Plata had reached 41.38 meters on Sunday; its maximum capacity is of 51 meters.
If the water levels dont improve, as they did last week for the Carraizo reservoir, water rationing for La Plata reservoir clients will go on for 24 hours two days a week in Bayamon affecting 49,000 clients.
Government Still Pondering Whether To Build New Reservoirs
April 13, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) - The urgency to build two reservoirs--one for Caguas and the other for the western side of the island--may change if Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority's (Prasa) private operator Ondeo, manages to repair a great number of broken water pipes, according to published reports.
"Do you know how much we could save on investments if we reduce those losses? If we recover half of the water we are losing, we wouldn't need a new reservoir in Caguas," said Prasa Executive Director Juan Agosto Alicea.
"But if we only recover 25%, then another reservoir would be necessary," he added.
Prasa produces around 560 millions of gallons of potable water per day. This is enough to satisfy the demand of the local population. However, 228 millions of gallons per day (41% of Prasa's production) doesn't reach consumers because it is lost and another 14% is never accounted for because it is consumed through illegal connections.