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NPP Seeks Elimination Of Vieques Commissioner's Office… Ricky Martin Releases New Album…Vieques Cases Misclassified As Terror…808 Students To Graduate With 4.0…Nat'l Guard To Consolidate Hdqtrs…40% Of Anti-Corruption Proposals OK’d…Referendum On Unicameral Legislature Sought…Education Dept. Deficit Over $60M…Singapore Co. Wins Vieques Ferry Contract

NPP Asks To Eliminate Vieques Commissioner's Office

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

SAN JUAN (AP) - Two New Progressive Party (NPP) representatives filed a bill on Sunday to eliminate the Vieques & Culebra Special Commissioner's Office because they believe it has already served its main purpose of halting the military maneuvers in Vieques.

NPP Reps. Jennifer Gonzalez and Jose Chico said the office's existence would only increase bureaucracy and public spending.

"We must ask ourselves if the office is worth a budget of $1.2 million for the new fiscal year," Gonzalez said in a prepared statement.

Chico added that if the government believes Vieques and Culebra deserve a special treatment, then it should help them through existing operational and administrative structures or by declaring both islands special communities.

"Our brothers and sisters of Vieques and Culebra are special, but so are our brothers and sisters of the remaining 76 municipalities," the legislators said.

Ricky Martin Releases New Album


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

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Ricky Martin is back with a new album he hopes will sway those who wrote him off as a one-hit wonder.

Martin's 1999 smash hit, ``Livin' La Vida Loca'' sold 15 millions copies worldwide, but his 2000 follow up, ``Sound Loaded'' dropped to 4 million.

His latest, ``Almas del Silencio'' (Souls of Silence), hits stores Tuesday. It's the first Spanish-language album for Martin, 31, in five years. It's also more introspective than much of his recent work.

``I really needed to go back to my focus, to my center, to the beginning,'' said Martin, who got his start 20 years ago as a child star in the Puerto Rican teen group Menudo. ``I had the need to search within, and really dig deep, and find those emotions that, because of the adrenaline and the euphoria that I lived for a couple of years, were probably sabotaged.''

As for ``Livin' La Vida Loca,'' Martin said he doesn't miss it at all: ``I lived it. I loved it. But it's the past.''

Vieques Cases Misclassified As Terror, Paper Finds

Audit indicates three-fourths of 2002 convictions were wrong


May 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Knight Ridder News Service. All rights reserved.

PHILADELPHIA - In the first two months of this year, the Justice Department filed charges against 56 people, labeling all the cases as ``terrorism.''

But a Philadelphia Inquirer investigation has found that at least 41 of them had nothing to do with terrorism -- a point that prosecutors of the cases themselves acknowledge.

Among the cases:

• Eight Puerto Ricans charged with trespassing on Navy property on the island of Vieques, long a site of civil protests of ordnance testing.

The problems are nothing new. In January, the General Accounting Office reported that three-fourths of all ''international terrorism'' convictions were wrong in fiscal 2002.

The GAO audit, opened in response to a Dec. 16, 2001, said the exaggeration was serious because it prevented Congress and the public from understanding how much taxpayer money was being spent to prosecute terrorism.

Puerto Ricans who have long protested the use of Vieques as a practice bombing range for the Navy were outraged to hear last week that demonstrators had been labeled as terrorists.

The Vieques protest occurred as the Navy conducted its final live-ammunition practice in January.

The eight Vieques protesters pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and were given sentences ranging from one to four months in jail.

Prosecutor Sonia Torres-Pabon, who handled the eight cases, said it was unclear why they were classified as terrorism.

Hundreds have been arrested in Vieques protests since 1999, but earlier cases were not listed as terrorism.

808 Public School Students To Graduate With 4.0

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

PONCE (AP) – Education Secretary Cesar Rey highlighted as an educational achievement the 808 students of the public school system graduating from high school this year with a perfect average of four points.

"The achievement of the 808 students is for me cause of much pride because there are 200 more students than last year," Rey said during a visit to Ponce on Friday. "We are also celebrating that this year there is a greater number of retention among the students who attend public schools."

Rey said some 35,000 of the 190,000 students in public high schools are graduating this year.

The Education chief added that the tests given to the students in public schools demonstrate an upturn in academic progress.

Nat'l Guard To Ax Number Of Headquarters

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

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Air National Guard and Army National Guard will reduce the number of their headquarters in 54 states and territories by two-thirds, the chief of the National Guard system said Friday.

The consolidation plan will apply to Air National Guard and Army National Guard headquarters in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

``The National Guard cannot remain the way it is,'' Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum said.

Like the active-duty force, the reserve force must transform from Cold War-era practices to the reality of today's defense needs, he said. That includes organizing itself in ways that bring the Air and Army elements closer together.

Blum said that in each of the 54 states and territories the National Guard has three separate headquarters -- one for the Air Guard, one for the Army Guard and one for the ``area command'' run by the state's adjutant general. By Oct. 1, the three will be consolidated into one, Blum said.

He said he had no estimate of how much money the consolidation would save. The savings will be used to make the Guard units more combat ready, he said.

Blum, who became chief of the National Guard Bureau in April, said he had not briefed the adjutants general on his plan but was confident they would accept it.

``I'm leaving them enough room'' to determine how their states or territories will execute the consolidation, he said, ``which takes lots and lots of the angst out of it.''

There are about 350,000 members of the Army National Guard and about 105,000 people in the Air National Guard.

40% Of Recommendations Against Corruption Implemented

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Of the 52 recommendations that the Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office presented in December 1999 to fight corruption and develop good practices of public administration, the government has only implemented 21.

The statistic was revealed Friday by Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña in testifying before the House Public Integrity Committee, which is following up on those proposals.

According to the official, between September 2000 and this Thursday, the government had carried out 40.3% of the recommendations, while another 15 (28.8%) were considered "partially carried out" and another 16 (30.7%) are "pending or not complied with."

"In making the recommendations, we said they were formulated as part of the interest to provide more transparency to government actions and to support measures aimed at promoting greater effectiveness in the use of public property and funds," the comptroller said.

Diaz Saldaña emphasized that the bulk of the recommendations implemented – some 15 – were carried out by the present government that began in January 2001.

Since then, several measures were filed that included several recommendations not accepted into the legislative debate.

Diaz Saldaña urged House Public Integrity Committee Chairman Jorge Colberg Toro to reconsider some of those measures.

People Should Be Consulted On Unicameral Legislature

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

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

The issue of whether the island should have a unicameral system has been discussed since before the drafting of the Commonwealth Constitution in 1952, but the people of Puerto Rico have never been consulted on the matter.

With Gov. Sila Calderon’s promise for legislative reform, a referendum or a people’s assembly on the issue should be held before the end of her four-year term in office, according to a group of historians, attorneys, and professors who testified Friday before the House Special Committee on Legislative Reform. Members of the group stated that not to do so would be a poor service to the people.

"We recommend that a concrete proposal for a constitutional amendment be drafted, and the people be consulted on the matter this same year, 2003," said attorney and former legislator Jose Varela.

The group known as Citizens and Organizations in Favor of Legislative and Constitutional Reform also lobbied in favor of returning to the "citizen legislator" concept, which was how legislators were categorized prior to the approval of the Full-Time Legislator Law.

"We believe it is convenient to study the effective means of returning to the concept of citizen legislators, who are the ones with a real and effective commitment to contribute solutions for the serious problems that affect our island," attorney Rosa Bell Byron said.

Special Committee Chairman Luis Raul Torres accepted the group’s proposal and asked how to deal with its political aspect, given the fact that Calderon has already said a referendum on the issue is not one of her administration’s priorities.

Attorney Emlio Soler Mari said it was his understanding that both minority parties would include the issue in their campaign platforms, which means the idea is being considered by all island parties.

Prof. Nelson Canals urged the legislators to include the civil society in the discussion because in the end, if the people are convinced that a single chamber will produce a much better legislature, then they will demand it.

"Take these hearings out of San Juan, take them to Mayaguez, to Ponce, to Lajas, make people part of that discussion, and their interest will be magnified," Canals said.

Torres noted that a sort of "mini people’s assembly" has been scheduled for June and that he will continue to consult the civil society on the matter.

Education Department Has Deficit Of Over $60 Million

By Luis R. Varela of Associated Press

May 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

GUAYANILLA – Education Secretary Cesar Rey admitted Friday that the agency he leads will close the operational budget in June with a deficit of more than $60 million.

Rey said this is one of the obstacles the agency faces as it tries to comply with the collective bargaining agreement signed with the Teachers Federation, which grants a $150 monthly salary increase to teachers.

"When I took charge of the department, I inherited a deficit of almost $260 million. The deficit projection at this moment continues to be between $60 million and $70 million," he said.

Rey said he is searching for formulas to balance the new budget that starts July 1.

The teachers have threatened to hold protests and strikes when the new school year begins in August because they reject Gov. Sila Calderon’s proposal to grant the salary increase beginning in January.

The teachers have requested a $150 monthly salary increase effective in August.

The Education chief said he signed the agreement for the salary increase at a time when projections of economic growth and collections by the Treasury Department were greater than what has subsequently occurred.

Although the $150 monthly increase will not be granted, Rey said he was confident that he will be able to reach an understanding with the four unions that represent the department’s employees to avoid strikes and protests.

Rey participated Friday in a ceremony at which Guayanilla company Eco Electrica granted $1,000 scholarships to 40 students. ?

Singapore's Vt Halter Marine Wins Passenger Ferry Contract

May 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Asia Pulse. All rights reserved.

SINGAPORE - Singapore Technologies Engineering (SGX:STEG) (ST Engg) announced that VT Halter Marine Inc. has signed a S$5 million (US$2.8 million) contract with the Puerto Rico Port Authority (PRPA) to design and build a sea-going passenger ferry.

VT Halter Marine, an indirect subsidiary of ST Engg, is the U.S. operation of ST Engg's marine sector, Singapore Technologies Marine (ST Marine).

The 95-feet, all-aluminum vessel, with a 24-feet beam, and five feet, six-inch draft will be U.S. Coast Guard classed and U.S. flagged.

The inter-island transportation ferry will operate and service the Fajardo-Vieques-Culebra Ferry Line, ST Engg said in a press statement.

The ferry is expected to be delivered in the second quarter of 2004.

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