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Calderon Signs $23b Budget Bill, Regrets Judicial Reform Defeat, Vizcarrondo Punishes Opponents…Activists Protest Nuclear Shipment Thru Caribbean… Alomar Traded To White Sox…EPA: Toxic Releases Declining…Police Won’t Discriminate Against Gays…Trias Monge Remembered…Vieques Cancer Study Incomplete…Soldier Dies in Afghanistan…Burgos Seeks Reelection

Calderon Signs Budget Bill, Laments Judicial Reform Bill

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

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

Gov. Sila Calderon signed Tuesday the government’s operating budget for fiscal year 2004 and expressed disappointment that the House rejected her Judicial Reform bill.

Calderon said the approved budget gives government agencies $5 billion for operations; the island’s complete budget amounts to $23.3 billion.

During the past months, the Commonwealth’s budget was a subject of controversy when over 75,000 public employees demanded that Calderon fulfill a $150 monthly salary raise she had promised.

On another issue, Calderon expressed disappointment that the Legislative Assembly ended its session Monday without approving the Judicial Reform bill submitted by her administration.

The proposed bill, which would have conferred more powers to the chief justice and have increased the number of appellate judges, among other aspects, was defeated in the House of Representatives.

Reps. Severo Colberg Toro, his brother Jorge, and Luis Raul Torres voted against the measure after Chief Justice Jose Andreu Garcia said last week that he won’t recognize the syndication law for public employees working at the judiciary.

"The Judicial Reform bill is a measure of social justice for the people, and I expect the commitment we made to the people will be accomplished," said Calderon.

Calderon said she’s not sure if she will convene an extraordinary session of the Legislature as a way to approve the measure.

Legislators Who Voted Against Judicial Reform Punished

By Leonardo Aldridge of Associated Press

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

House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo on Tuesday said he will remove three fellow legislators who refused to vote in favor of Gov. Sila Calderon’s administrative bill for judicial reform from their position as chairmen of several house committees.

The punishment, effective July 15, applies to Luis Raul Torres and brothers Jorge and Severo Colberg Toro who on Monday night refused to vote in favor of the reform.

"There is a decision that has been made and that is to replace the fellow legislators who yesterday (Monday) refused to vote, and broke an agreement that had been reached by the majority caucus," Vizcarrondo said.

"They won’t be presiding on the committees, and I am appointing new chairmen," Vizcarrondo said.

For his part Jorge Colberg Toro reacted with surprise to Vizcarrondo’s decision but said he will continue to vote against the judicial reform bill as drafted because "it is incomplete."

He added that the judicial reform bill fails to give the employees of the judicial branch the right to unionize.

"The Popular Democratic Party was founded for the workers and not for the leaders," Colberg Toro said.

"If the attitude is of threats and sanctions, that can’t be. Every legislator has the right to exercise his own criteria and issue his vote," Colberg Toro said.

Severo Colberg Toro and Torres could not be reached for comment.

Jorge Colberg Toro is the chairman of the Public Integrity Committee, while his brother Severo is the Chairman of the Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee as well as the Federal and International Affairs Committee.

Torres, for his part heads the Special Committee on Legislative Reform and San Juan Development Committee.

Vizcarrondo appointed House Vice President Ferdinand Perez to the San Juan Development Committee, Charlie Hernandez to Public Integrity and Ramon Dasta to Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Alternate majority leader Hector Ferrer will be in charge of the Federal and International Affairs Committee.

Judicial Reform Defeated In House

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — The House of Representatives was not able to approve Tuesday morning the Judicial Reform bill.

The bill, which extends the positions of appellate judges and gives greater power to the chief judge in the operation of the judicial branch, received 26 votes in favor and 19 against, according to the House Press Office.

A minimum of 27 votes was needed for its approval.

Before the vote, Reps. Severo and Jorge Colberg Toro asked the legislative majority to abstain from voting for the bill because the Senate decided not to consider it in this session.

The Colberg Toro brothers had voted in favor of the Judicial Reform in the House’s first vote, before passing it to the Senate, where it was amended.

Tito Kayak Stages Protest Against Boat Pacific Swan

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — Environmentalist Alberto De Jesus, known as Tito Kayak, staged another protest Tuesday morning when he placed a sign reading "No to Plutonium" on top of a 150-foot-high scaffold near Plaza Las Americas.

De Jesus is protesting the passage of the boat Pacific Swan carrying plutonium near the Mona Canal.

Minutes before beginning his protest, De Jesus urged Gov. Sila Calderon to exercise her executive authority and prohibit the passage of the boat as a way of defending the island’s national resources.

De Jesus and fellow activists also planned to place Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic flags on the scaffold.

"Today we begin a round of protests against the Pacific Swan. This boat contains radioactive material and will pass near our island. The government has to take a firm position against everything that endangers our lives, our health, and our environment," De Jesus said in a written statement.

According to De Jesus, the Pacific Swan is transporting six containers of uranium and plutonium mixed with nuclear fuel. The boat left the Cherbourg Port in France on June 4 and is scheduled to arrive at its final destination of Tokyo, Japan by the end of July.

De Jesus and his followers alleged that in case of an accident, the escape of toxic material will be prejudicial to the zone.

Mets Trade Roberto Alomar To White Sox

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

NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Mets traded second baseman Roberto Alomar to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday for three prospects.

New York received minor league pitchers Royce Ring and Edwin Amointe and infielder Andrew Salvo.

The deal ended Alomar's disappointing 1 1/2 years with New York and was the first trade by Mets interim general manager Jim Duquette.

EPA: Toxic Releases In Puerto Rico Decreasing

By Jose L. Carmona of Caribbean Business

June 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All rights reserved. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued its annual report detailing the most recent data available on the amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment of Puerto Rico by industrial and other facilities.

The report shows that levels of toxins released in Puerto Rico generally decreased between 2000 and 2001.

The data in today’s report is for releases that took place in 2001. New this year is information on estimated lead emissions to the environment. Facilities such as military ranges (including Vieques) now report their lead releases. In addition, the thresholds for reporting a number of toxic chemicals were reduced.

"Informing the public with basic information about toxic chemicals in their communities is among the most effective, common-sense steps to protect the health of families and children from the threats posed by pollution," EPA Regional Administrator Jane Kenny said. "That is why EPA has consistently expanded the type and amount of information available to the public under the Right-to-Know program."

Despite the fact that facilities are now responsible for reporting more substances such as lead, the overall reported toxic releases in Puerto Rico of the more than 600 chemicals and chemical categories currently tracked from a number of industries by TRI were down from approximately 17.6 million pounds in 2000 to 14.6 million pounds in 2001.

The public can access specific on-line TRI information related to their community by visiting:

Police Won’t Discriminate Against Gays

June 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

MAYAGUEZ (AP) — Police Superintendent Victor Rivera Gonzalez said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on consensual sodomy opens the door for gay people to enter the police force.

Rivera added that the Police Department has never discriminated against anyone, "including pro-independence people who want to be part of the force."

Following the latest achievements of the gay community in Puerto Rico, Rivera Gonzalez said the police academy will focus on creating awareness among cadets regarding the principles of tolerance and sensitivity to this issue.

"In that sense, I won’t tolerate any kind of prejudice," Rivera said

He noted, however, that everyone who applies to enter the department must come with an attitude of respect.

Leaders Praised The "Judicial Architect Of The Commonwealth"

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

June 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

In a simple interment ceremony, Puerto Rican leaders and personalities met on Monday at the Porta Coelli Cemetery in Bayamon to honor former Judge Jose Trias Monge and praise his commitment to justice and Puerto Rico.

Former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon, who described Trias Monge as the "judicial architect of the Commonwealth," pinpointed the contributions of the passed jurist, graduated from Yale and Harvard. Trias Monge passed away last week at the age of 83.

"Today, we leave in this graveyard one of the most prominent figures of Puerto Rico during the 20th century," said Hernandez Colon.

The former governor said Trias Monge contributed tremendously to the law, especially through his ideas on civil and constitutional law, and said he was the person with the most knowledge about the Commonwealth.

Trias Monge was a member of the 1952 Constitutional Assembly, which created the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. He later served as Secretary of Justice, and was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1974-1985.

"He (Trias Monge) gave shape to the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States from a legal perspective, and he made it possible that people all over the world have recognized Puerto Rico as a model. Puerto Rico progressed faster than any other country in humankind’s history," said Hernandez Colon, who added that Taiwan and Singapore adopted the commonwealth formula.

However, Hernandez Colon acknowledged that Trias Monge knew the Commonwealth was an imperfect formula, and he and Puerto Ricans suffer from the "Sisyphus syndrome," recalling that–like Sisyphus, who was condemned by the Greek gods to roll a rock toward the top of a hill to only find out that the rock would roll back because of its weight–Trias Monge tried many times to solve the Commonwealth’s weaknesses without major success.

The Commonwealth leader mentioned the efforts in which Trias Monge participated to solve the status of the island; in the 1960’s with U.S. President John F. Kennedy, which resulted in the 1967 status plebiscite; the 1973 ad-hoc committee; an initiative during Hernandez Colon’s administration in 1989 with now-deceased Jose Berrocal; and the Young project.

Gov. Sila M. Calderon, on the other hand, described Trias Monge as a "giant son of Puerto Rico", and said his work will endure for the next generations.

Other public figures attended the burial, including Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Jose Andreu Garcia, Chairman of the University of Puerto Rico, Antonio Garcia Padilla, Francisco Zayas Seijo, Eduardo Bathia, and Ronaldo Jarabo.

Garcia Padilla, who thanked the public on behalf of the judge’s widow, Viola de Trias Monge, and his son and daugther, said the former essayist left a legacy of commitment and respect for Puerto Rico that future generations need to adopt.

Study On Vieques Cancer Rate Yet To Be Completed

June 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Health Department has yet to complete a study on the cancer rate in Vieques despite of official statistics that show a 27% higher cancer rate in residents of the municipality when compared to the rest of Puerto Rico.

Cancer registry director Nayda Figueroa resigned to her post citing personal reasons and acknowledged that the registry is not up to date.

Epidemiologist Rafael Rivera Castaño said that in light of the current scenario the residents of Vieques are studying the possibility of raising private funds to conduct their own study and find out why the cancer rate is higher in Vieques.

U.S. Soldier Dies in Afghanistan

June 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - U.S. Army officials said Spc. Kelvin Feliciano Gutierrez, 21, died Saturday when his vehicle flipped over in the southeastern part of the country.

Feliciano enlisted at 18. He was assigned as a truck driver to the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The soldier was born in Mayagüez and grew up in nearby Añasco, where relatives said he would be buried.

An investigation was under way to determine the cause of the accident, which occurred near a U.S. base in Orgun in Paktika province, officials said.

Three Puerto Ricans also have been killed in the war in Iraq.

The military had deployed more than 5,400 Puerto Ricans in its recent campaigns abroad - the largest deployment from the territory of 4 million since the Korean War.

There are more than 53,000 Puerto Ricans in the U.S. armed forces, almost half of whom are on active duty, according to the Pentagon.

NPP Sen. Norma Burgos Seeks Reelection

June 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Norma Burgos filed her candidacy for an at-large position at the Senate on Sunday accompanied by important party leaders.

While standing next to NPP Vice President Ramon Luis Rivera and NPP House minority leader Anibal Vega Borges, Burgos said she has had people encouraging her to run for governor or for San Juan, Vieques, Ponce or Caguas mayor.

"I want to bring an example of generosity, understanding, of open dialogue, and institutional peace. I have decided to run again for senator at-large," Burgos said during a press conference at the NPP headquarters in Santurce.

During her speech, she acknowledged the crisis that resulted from the corruption scandals within the NPP.

"I have lived the agony of my party after knowing of a few people who betrayed the faith of a million voters," said Burgos, adding that the governing Popular Democratic Party is not without its share of corruption scandals.

Although the legislator didn't reveal who she prefers for NPP gubernatorial candidate, she described former Gov. Pedro Rossello as a tireless leader. Rossello will face NPP President Carlos Pesquera in a gubernatorial primary in November.

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