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Justice Chief: P.R. Can’t Stop Federal Death Penalty Cases, Mum On Art. 103…Gov’t Faces $140M Deficit…Heat Exhibition Set…Rodriguez: ‘I Will Be The Last Res. Comm.’…So. Command Holds Exercises At RR …Rossello Opens Campaign… Jury Selection Begins For 1st Death Penalty Case… New Haven P.R. Day Draws Thousands

Justice has little chance of challenging the death penalty in Puerto Rico

June 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Secretary of Justice Anabelle Rodriguez said that Puerto Rico has no legal resources available to override the use of the death penalty against those who commit federal crimes.

The Department's only remaining possibility is to try negotiating an agreement with the federal agencies to make them "respect local idiosyncrasy" so they won't be able to enforce that sentence, and she did not dismiss the possibility of initiating such actions.

Rodriguez pointed out that enforcement of the death penalty had been challenged in the past, but the US Supreme Court upheld the ruling that federal law prevails over Puerto Rican law -- though P.R. law never considered the death penalty sentence possible -- and therefore, federal statutes override those of Puerto Rico.

The government official explained that this principle is valid for all states and territories of the US.

"At this moment... [the topic] can be discussed at the federal agency level... and nothing has been ruled out," she said regarding the possibility of initiating any kind of negotiation.

On Monday Puerto Rico's Federal Court began its first trial in which two Puerto Ricans charged with murder face a death penalty sentence if found guilty.

Hector Acosta Martinez and Joel Rivera Alejandro face capital punishment if found guilty of armed murder of a businessman they kidnapped in 1998.

Justice Chief Declines To Discuss Penalization Of Sodomy

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

June 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

To the dismay of several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and human rights activists, Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez said she wouldn’t discuss the constitutionality of Penal Code Article 103, which penalizes sodomy even among consenting adults.

Rodriguez said that while it is true that other cabinet members express their opinions on controversial issues every day, they don’t have the responsibility of defending the constitutionality of the laws. Should the proposed penal code be approved, Article 103 would become Article 145. However, its content is the same.

"If I express myself on whether it is constitutional, I would be violating the oath that I took to defend the constitutionality of the laws, which is my responsibility," Rodriguez said following the public hearing.

Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Fernando Martin said the secretary’s argument made no sense and that she should have expressed her opinion instead of playing it safe.

"I’ve never heard nonsense like that to avoid her ministerial obligation of expressing the stance of the government of Puerto Rico on a subject of great controversy," said Martin, who supports the elimination of the article.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Eudaldo Baez Galib, however, considered Rodriguez’s argument valid.

Gay rights activists attorney Ada Conde and her son Pedro Julio Serrano also criticized Rodriguez’s decision to take the fifth amendment on the matter, citing that she could have expressed her stance just as she did when she said that Law 54, that protects against domestic violence, should also apply to same-sex couples. In this case, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled that it doesn’t apply and that the law would have to be amended to include same-sex couples.

However, the Justice chief noted the difference in both issues. She said the aforementioned issue had to do with the extent of the law’s applicability, not its constitutionality.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Eudaldo Baez Galib, who has been reluctant to support the elimination of Article 103, said that after Rodriguez’s deposition, there would be several legislative meetings which he hopes will result in a new penal code that will mirror the reality of the Puerto Rican society.

Baez Galib said he hopes that the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of articles penalizing sodomy between consenting adults will aid in solving the controversy. The decision is expected to be issued by the end of June.

Government Faces $140 Million Budget Deficit

June 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Office of Management Budget Director Melba Acosta confirmed that three weeks from the end of fiscal year 2003, the government faces a $140 million budget deficit.

However, she noted the government has funds from savings obtained through refinancing the public debt. Those funds will be transfer in the coming weeks to cover the budget deficit, Acosta said.

The largest deficits were reported in the Education Department and the Health Insurance Administration.

October Exhibition Set In Puerto Rico

By Ira Winderman

June 3, 2003
©Copyright 2003 SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

For the sixth time in its 16 seasons, the Heat has been scheduled for an exhibition game in the Caribbean.

The Heat will play the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 7 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, marking the team's fourth game in the city. The Heat played an exhibition against Denver in Puerto Rico in 1993 and two exhibitions against Atlanta there in 1994.

The Heat also played an exhibition against Washington in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1991 and an exhibition against San Antonio last October in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Charlie Rodriguez: I Will Be The Last Resident Commissioner

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

June 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.


Former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez officially filed his New Progressive Party (NPP) candidacy for resident commissioner on Monday, promising that if elected, he would strive to bring statehood to Puerto Rico.

"I plan to become the last resident commissioner of the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and give way to statehood," Rodriguez said, noting that a plebiscite with the support of the federal government will be his main priority if elected as resident commissioner.

The NPP leader said he also intends to extend the supplementary social security aid for low-income families in Puerto Rico and to promote job creation through federal incentives.

"We all know about traditional social security, but don’t know about supplementary social security because it is a program of social justice for the poor that is sorely needed but has yet to be extended to Puerto Rico," Rodriguez said. He noted that the island doesn’t need to be a state to qualify for the aid, which he estimated at $600 a month per family.

Rodriguez also said he would fight to keep the U.S. military bases of Roosevelt Roads and Fort Buchanan open. He said he intends to salvage the image of the island, which he believes has been subjected to the separatist ways of the governing Popular Democratic Party, which as of August 2, will no longer be guided by Gov. Sila Calderon, but by newly nominated gubernatorial candidate Jose Alfredo Hernandez Mayoral.

"We cannot allow others to see us as ‘neighbors’, like President Bush once called us. Puerto Rico must be seen and appreciated as part of the union," Rodriguez said.

The NPP leader, who supports former Gov. Pedro Rossello over NPP President Carlos Pesquera for the party’s gubernatorial primary, said he believes he would make a winning team with Rossello on the ballot in 2004.

"Let the record speak for itself. The people must decide based on the record," he said when asked about what made him a better candidate than NPP Sen. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer--who is also running for resident commissioner—, former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo, and former Tourism Co. Executive Director Luis Fortuño, who have also been mentioned as possible candidates for the post.

He said his decision to run for resident commissioner won’t change regardless of who contenders may be. However, he praised the aforementioned NPP leaders and said he wished Puerto Rico were a states so that the U.S. Congress could benefit from leaders like them.

Rodriguez filed his candidacy at NPP headquarters in Santurce in a room full of supporters. NPP Reps. Albita Rivera and Epi Jiminez, Jr., NPP Sen. Pablo Lafontaine, and NPP Yauco Mayor Abel Nazario were at the ceremony cheering him on.

The 48-year-old NPP leader has been president of the NPP Youth Organization, NPP representative at the House and NPP Senate majority leader before becoming Senate president during the past administration. He has also run for mayor of both Carolina and San Juan.

Southern Command Holds Exercises At Roosevelt Roads

June 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Southern Command Special Operation Forces military units held military practices over the weekend at Roosevelt Roads U.S. Naval Station in Ceiba.

According to published reports, the maneuvers are considerably different from the ones held in Vieques for over 60 years because they are silent and of less intensity.

Lt. Comm. Pete Berardi said the military exercises mostly consisted of parachuting practices in which soldiers jumped to the sea from aboard a C-130 plane flying at 1,200 feet.

Berardi said the exercises will continue this week with night jumps and other drills.

Rossello Officially Begins Primary Campaign

June 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Former Gov. Pedro Rossello started off his primary campaign on Sunday by launching an attack against Popular Democratic Party Gov. Sila Calderon, who has recently announced her decision not to run for reelection.

"Puerto Rico is tired of incompetence and improvisation," Rossello said at a political rally in Ciales, where hundreds of sympathizers followed him on Sunday.

The former governor said that since he left office in 2000, the island has gone back to suffering the symptoms of immobility at all levels.

"And that requires a doctor who can take care of that patient," said Rossello, who is a pediatric surgeon.

On Sunday early afternoon, Rossello arrived in Ciales accompanied by San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini. The crowd went wild when the former governor made his entrance to the theme song of "Rocky."

Rossello said that if elected, he would strive to improve bilingual skills in students. He also talked about guaranteeing healthcare services for all Puerto Ricans.

The former governor said he has returned to the island well aware of the fact that he must regain the people's trust, following the multiple cases of corruption that marred his term in office.

However, he said he was prepared for that challenge and that he would concentrate on presenting his new government proposals.

Jury Being Selected For Puerto Rico's Controversial Capital Punishment Case

June 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

Jury selection started Monday in the first death penalty case to be heard in Puerto Rico under a US decision overriding the US commonwealth's constitutional ban on capital punishment.

The 1998 murder case against alleged gang leaders Acosta Martinez and Rivera Alejandro has been at the center of a dispute between Washington and Puerto Rico, a US commonwealth in the Caribbean.

The case was likely to further fuel anti-US sentiment on the island in the wake of a bitter dispute that recently forced the US Navy to abandon its bombing practice range on the Puerto Rican out-island of Vieques.

Opinion polls have shown that opposition to the death penalty is strong in predominantly Roman Catholic Puerto Rico, where no death penalty has been carried out since 1927.

Legal analysts believe it is unlikely a Puerto Rican jury would sentence anyone to death.

Jury selection is expected to last two weeks, and the trial is likely to take about one month.

Puerto Rico's First Death Penalty Case To Start Monday

By Manuel Ernesto Rivera of The Associated Press

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

SAN JUAN (AP) - A federal court will this week begin murder trial proceedings against two Puerto Ricans who unsuccessfully challenged capital punishment being applied to their case despite the U.S. commonwealth's laws against it.

Civil groups and lawyers have called islanders to protest Monday outside the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico as it begins jury selection for the case. Hector Acosta Martinez and Joel Rivera Alejandro are charged with kidnapping and murdering a retailer in the capital, San Juan, on Feb. 11, 1998.

The case has been held up by successive court rulings on whether federal prosecutors can request the death penalty in cases taking place in the U.S. Caribbean territory, where executions are outlawed.

Judge Salvador Casellas initially said no, arguing in July 2000 that applying the death penalty would violate the Puerto Rico's constitution and the federal statute governing its status as an "associated free state."

The decision was overturned a year later by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, with the judges ruling that as a U.S. territory Puerto Rico is subject to federal law.

The defendants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the appeals court's ruling.

The Puerto Rican Bar Association and the Committee of Citizens against Capital Punishment called on Puerto Ricans to protest outside the federal court in Hato Rey. The organizations also said in a statement they had asked Gov. Sila Calderon and other local legislators to lobby in Washington for exclusion from federal laws on capital punishment.

Federal law allows capital punishment for nearly 60 crimes, including murder, espionage, treason, and certain cases of money laundering and drug trafficking. Puerto Rico became a U.S. commonwealth in 1952. Islanders have U.S. citizenship, but cannot vote for the president and have no vote in Congress. They pay no U.S. income tax, but the commonwealth receives more than $13 billion in federal funds each year.

Nearly 4 million Puerto Ricans live on the island and another 3.4 million on the U.S. mainland.

Thousands Gather In New Haven For Puerto Rican Day

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

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Thousands of people lined city streets and gathered on the New Haven Green Sunday for the Puerto Rican Day Parade and Areyto Festival.

The annual event is two days of Puerto Rican culture, food, music and dancing. Organizers said the festivities drew people from across the state, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts

"I'm proud to be Puerto Rican," said Lillian Colon of New Haven. Asked about the rain that fell during the weekend, she said: "It doesn't really matter to me. I'm not made of paper."

Maritza Cruz of New Haven paid tribute to Puerto Rico and its flag by wearing red, white and blue clothing with stars, including a hat, shirt and a flag she draped over her shoulders.

"Puerto Rico!" Cruz shouted. Describing the day, she said: "It's beautiful. It's nice. I love it."

The event is sponsored by the Association of Puerto Rican and Latin American Culture and Arts.

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