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Soldiers’ Bodies Lay In State…NPP Demands New Minority Senator…Calderon’s Comeback Urged…Fed Hospital Probe Halt Sought…Unions Back PDP Lawmakers, Sanctions Resented…UT Facing More Delays…July 4th Dedicated To Soldiers’ Families…DOD Denies Chemical Contamination…Island Tops DUI Deaths…Areceibo Telescope Gets A Boost

Soldiers’ Bodies Lay In State In Añasco, Bayamon

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – The bodies of the two Puerto Rican soldiers who died in combat zones last month will be viewed in their respective municipalities of Añasco and Bayamon after the military authorities received the bodies here Wednesday with honors.

Gov. Sila Calderon is scheduled to attend the wake of Richard Orengo Ryan, 32, from Toa Alta, who died from enemy fire in the Iraqi city of An Najaf, at the Alvarez Funeral Home in Bayamon Thursday afternoon.

Orengo Ryan was a member of Unit 755 of the Military Police of the National Guard.

Meanwhile, the body of Kelvin Feliciano Gutierrez, 21, who died in Afghanistan in an accident while he was in a military vehicle, is at the Jalvin Funeral Home in Añasco.

Relatives of Feliciano Gutierrez, who was a paratrooper in the Third Battalion of the 504th Brigade of the Airborne Infantry, said he was inclined to military life since he was 17 years old, when he was recruited as a reservist by the U.S. Army.

The soldier’s body will be cremated and the ashes thrown into the sea near the site where Feliciano Gutierrez wanted to buy a house, said Sharon Crespo Cordero, his widow.

Crespo Cordero, who collapsed and lost consciousness after the press conference held Thursday by Feliciano Gutierrez’s family, said her husband wanted to die a hero.

"My husband died a hero; we all feel very proud that he served his country," said Crespo Cordero, who married the soldier last December.

Military authorities said a ceremony will be held at the Jalvin Funeral Home on Friday during which Feliciano Gutierrez will be posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant.

The particular reasons for the death of Feliciano Gutierrez, the eighth soldier from Añasco who has died in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, have not been made completely clear to his family, although Crespo Cordero said she was satisfied with the explanation that the Armed Forces gave her.

The Pentagon has mobilized some 5,400 Puerto Ricans in its recent military campaigns – the greatest mobilization from the island since the Korean War in the 1950s.

There are more than 53,000 Puerto Ricans in the U.S. Armed Forces, and more than half are on active duty, according to the Pentagon.

Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado said some 4,150 soldiers are still mobilized in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Germany, England, the United States, Puerto Rico, Kosovo, and Cuba.

NPP Leaders Demand New Minority Senator

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

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

Following Independent Sen. Sergio Peña Clos' decision to request affiliation with the governing Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Senate New Progressive Party (NPP) Minority Leader Kenneth McClintock filed a letter Thursday requesting Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora to begin the process to select a new NPP senator.

"I am requesting Fas Alzamora to meet with us today or Monday to arrange the details to appoint the new person who will be added to the NPP delegation," said McClintock during a press conference held at his office Thursday with the participation of fellow NPP Sens. Norma Burgos, Lucy Arce, and Pablo Lafontaine.

According to McClintock, the Puerto Rico Constitution states that the Senate must have a minimum of nine minority senators. Therefore, if Peña Clos joins the PDP majority, the NPP would be entitled to select a new member to make up for the loss.

Peña Clos became persona non-grata with the NPP in 2001 when the party nearly had expelled him for his controversial, confrontational attitude with NPP leaders. However, McClintock said that at that time there was no need to request a new NPP senator because as long as Pena Clos remained an independent, the minimum of minority senators required by the Constitution wouldn't be altered. But now that Peña Clos has expressed his desire to join the PDP majority, it is a different story.

By law, the new NPP member would be selected based on the number of votes obtained in the most recent general election, which in this case would be the general elections of 2000. McClintock said that based on the numbers from that electoral event, former NPP Sen. Norma Carranza would be up for the position. The next two in line would be Enrique Melendez and Calvin Tirado, he said.

NPP Secretary General William Rosales said during McClintock's press conference Thursday that NPP President Carlos Pesquera has also sent a letter to the State Elections Commission requesting the senatorial position for the party.

McClintock noted that the NPP’s request is based on the same arguments that the PDP used in May 1996 after Peña Clos decided to join the then governing NPP.

The NPP legislators said they were confident that the process to name the new NPP senator would run smoothly, as there had already been a precedent established and ratified by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court in 1996 to settle the Peña Clos issue.

Meanwhile, McClintock also stressed the importance of appointing a new NPP senator because in his view, not doing so would be cheating the thousands of voters who voted for Peña Clos while he ran under the NPP emblem in 2000.

Lobbying In Favor Of Calderon’s Comeback Returns

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — Popular Democratic Party (PPD) powerful contributors began a campaign to ask Gov. Sila Calderon to reconsider her decision not to run for re-election, Party Secretary Fernando Torres Ramirez confirmed.

The request comes because of uncertainty among party members about the candidacy of Jose Alfredo Hernandez Mayoral, who has conditioned his political future on an improvement in his son’s health.

The group of contributors believes that if Hernandez Mayoral declines to run, then Calderon should reconsider her decision and run for re-election in 2004.

Hernandez Mayoral’s had scheduled return to the island from Boston where his son underwent surgery has been delayed as further studies are needed.

Government Requests Halt To Psychiatric Hospital Probe

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Puerto Rico Government asked the Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the federal investigation into conditions at the Psychiatric Hospital because it alleged that the federal monitor did not conduct the investigation under the due process of law.

The government alleges that monitor David Helfeld, named by U.S. District Court Judge Hector Laffitte, interviewed officials without allowing the them to be accompanied by a lawyer and filed a negative report about his findings at the hospital without giving hospital officials an opportunity to refute them.

Helfeld had said in his report that the government obstructed his investigation by demanding the presence of lawyers in the interviews.

"The government requests the appellate court. . .to order the federal monitor’s investigation to adjust to the requirements of due process to be notified and the opportunity of being heard in this stage," the petition reads, according to published reports.

The government also accused Helfeld of trying "to redefine public policy on mental health."

Union Leaders Take Action In Favor Of Sanctioned Legislators

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — Puerto Rican Workers Union President Roberto Pagan said he and other workers union have organized actions in support of the three representatives sanctioned for voting against the Judicial Reform bill because the unionization of judicial employees was not included.

One of the first actions will be to request a meeting with the leaders of the House and Senate. They will also accompany Severo Colberg Toro, one of the legislators sanctioned, when he files his Senate candidacy Thursday.

Among the leaders who support the legislators are the representatives of the Teachers Federation, Central Workers Federation, United Public Employees, United Auto Workers, Alliance of the International Union of Service Employees, and Workers Federation, which group dozens of unions.

"This situation represents an insult against the legislators, against the unions, and the principle of unionization," Pagan said in published reports.

Reps. Luis Raul Torres, Severo Colberg Toro and Jorge Colberg Toro were dismissed from the committees they lead for not supporting the Judicial Reform. Their negative votes resulted in the bill’s defeat.

Sanctions Against Three PDP Representatives Cause Resentment

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

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

House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo may have been exerting his powers as leader of the lower legislative chamber, but his demotion of three Popular Democratic Party (PDP) representatives has caused resentment and instability among 20 employees who may lose their jobs as a result of Vizcarrondo’s iron fist.

As of 5:30 p.m., WOW News was informed by Rep. Severo Colberg Toro, one of the parties involved in the conflict, that a meeting with Vizcarrondo would be held late in the evening to discuss the situation further.

Unless Vizcarrondo decides otherwise, effective July 15, PDP Reps. Luis Raul Torres and brothers Severo Colberg Toro and Jorge Colberg Toro would be removed from the chairmanships and vice presidencies of the House committees that they now occupy. Their office budgets will also be reduced from $35,000 to $20,000, which is $5,000 below the minimum budget for representatives of the PDP majority.

Jorge Colberg Toro said this reduction will force the three legislators to cut an estimated total of 20 jobs.

On Tuesday, the House speaker took punitive action against Torres and the Colberg Toro brothers after they voted against the Judicial Reform bill that, among other things, would increase the number of appellate court judges in Puerto Rico. Vizcarrondo said they had gone against the agreement within the PDP caucus and caused the failure of the reform bill.

WOW News sources said Vizcarrondo’s excessive display of power might have been triggered by his interest in being nominated as one of the new appellate court judges.

Torres and Jorge Colberg Toro put the blame on Vizcarrondo for not granting them additional time to review the bill, as they had proposed, to include the unionization rights for judicial employees.

Torres added that he couldn’t understand why the Calderon administration and the PDP caucus were in such a hurry to pass the bill.

"I don’t see the gravity of the issue. We only asked for space. What difference would it have made to approve the bill in August, during an extraordinary session? Is the judicial system going to stop working? I don’t understand the urgency," Torres said.

While Torres said he didn’t hold a grudge against Vizcarrondo, he did express disappointment in his colleagues for being so eagerly available to replace him.

"I think they should have refused to take the positions until after discussing the issue with all the parties involved. But I guess they won’t understand how I feel until they go through a similar situation," Torres said.

Jorge Colberg Toro, on the other hand, directed his complaint straight at Vizcarrondo, whom he accused of being abusive and unfair.

"He has let down the people of Puerto Rico. This action is going to cost him the presidency of the House in 2005," he said, adding that such sanctions are to be taken against corrupt politicians, not against legislators exerting their constitutional right to express their opinions, even if they are contrary to that of their colleagues.

Meanwhile, PDP Rep. Hector Ferrer, who has been selected by Vizcarrondo to chair the House Federal & International Affairs Committee, said he preferred not to comment on the statements of his co-workers. However, he said he believed there is still time to discuss the situation and reach a solution that satisfies all the parties involved.

"I would abide by any decision of the House speaker in the eventuality that such a meeting should take place," Ferre said.

Jorge Colberg Toro would be replaced by PDP Rep. Charlie Hernandez at the Public Integrity Committee, while his brother Severo would be replaced by PDP Rep. Ramon Dasta at the Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee and by PDP Rep. Hector Ferrer at the Federal and International Affairs Committee.

Puerto Rico's Urban Train Facing More Delays, Company Says


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

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - With only half of its train stations completed, the new commuter rail system in Puerto Rico's capital will not open as scheduled in two months, the main construction company said Wednesday.

"If the train opened on Sept. 29 as scheduled, it would only be up and running 50 percent," said Jeff Puma, spokesman for Siemens AG of Munich, Germany.

Siemens could not provide a new time frame for a full-scale opening, Puma said by telephone from the company's division in Sacramento, California. The territory's transportation department did not immediately return calls for comment.

Presenting the most construction snags are the stations at Hato Rey, Roosevelt, Domenech, Pinero and Torrimar, the government has said.

The project, which was supposed to be done in 2001, has been delayed by escalating costs and difficulties in coordinating between the many building companies involved, officials have said.

The price tag has nearly doubled from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion, with the U.S. government paying 40 percent.

Government Dedicates July 4 Activities To Soldiers’ Families

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Puerto Rico government announced Wednesday that it will dedicate the acts commemorating U.S. independence to the families of soldiers mobilized in the global war against terrorism, announced Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado.

He indicated that the government will celebrate the official commemoration of July 4 this year at the Antiguo Cuartel Ballaja starting at 9:30 a.m., and the main message will be delivered by National Guard Adj. Gen. Francisco Marquez.

Mercado noted that 3,449 National Guard soldiers and 700 Reserve soldiers (4,149 in total) are still mobilized in countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Germany, Italy, England, the United States, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Kosovo.

"Although they know the risk the soldiers are exposed to in war, their family members always maintain the hope of a happy return, even though, sadly, sometimes it’s not that happy," Mercado said in a press conference, where he gave details about the activity.

He said July 4 will be a day for family members of the soldiers to be distracted, to share their concerns with people who have the same problems, and to take their children to participate in recreational activities such as handicraft workshops and story readings.

Pentagon Closes Investigation On Chemical Experiments

July 2, 2003
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ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Pentagon has concluded all investigations related to U.S. Armed Forces training conducted during the Cold War, in which over 5,800 military officers were exposed to biochemical agents.

Members of Congress and various veteran’s organizations criticized the end of the investigations, claiming they were incomplete, according to published reports.

The Pentagon confirmed that 134 experiments were scheduled under projects SHAD and 112, but only 50 of them were conducted and verified. The experiments did not include the spreading of gases over the island of Vieques, which the Department of Defense acknowledged had been done on two occasions.

In 1969, military forces spread trioctyl phosphate at the Blue Beach in Vieques. The chemical causes eye and skin irritation and has been proven to cause cancer in animals.

The Pentagon acknowledged that in the case of Vieques, the wind might have spread the substance over the civil population residential zone, but denied that it has caused damage to the people’s health.

Puerto Rico: First Place In Alcohol Deaths On Roads

By Manuel Ernesto Rivera of Associated Press

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

Of all U.S. jurisdictions in Region II of the National Administration for Road Security, Puerto Rico has the highest average of alcohol deaths on the roads, Transit Security Commission Executive Director Evan Gonzalez Baker said Wednesday.

Gonzalez Baker announced the start of a campaign under the slogan "Avoid the bitter drink, that the movie of your life does not end that way," directed at persuading drunk drivers not to drink and drive.

The official said in a press conference that his agency’s statistics show that between 1998 and 2002, 539 people died in traffic accidents in Puerto Rico, 49% of them in crashes related to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Gonzalez Baker said 51% of the traffic deaths in 2001 here were related to the consumption of alcohol and drunk driving.

In New York, the figure for that same year was 31%, while in New Jersey, the figure was 40%. The average for the whole United States was 41%.

The local Transit Law stipulates that it is a crime to drive a vehicle with more than .08% of alcohol in the blood.

As for the educational campaign, which is aimed at drivers between the ages of 15 and 35, Gonzalez Baker indicated that it will emphasize the legal and personal problems that a driver could have if stopped by the police while driving drunk or under the influence of controlled substances.

If detained by the police in these conditions, drivers could receive a minimum jail sentence of three years, a $5,000 fine, and lose their driver’s license for five years. If a death is caused, they could also be criminally prosecuted for homicide.

Areceibo Telescope Gets A Boost

July 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
. All rights reserved. 

Compiled From Wire Reports

ARECIBO, Puerto Rico -- The world's most sensitive listening device is about to hear more from the universe. The radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory, powerful enough to hear a phone conversation on Venus or planets forming several billion light years away, is being upgraded with six more radio receivers to expand the area of space it can explore at any time, scientists said Monday. Once the $1 million upgrade, nicknamed the "ALFA Project," is completed next year, the observatory's staff of 15 scientists will take on the arduous task of mapping the night sky for future generations. No map has been made until now because the scale was too big, said observatory director Daniel Altschuler.

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