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Lausell: Hispanics Crucial In Presidential Election…Posthumous bronze Star Awarded To Soldier…On 4th: Rossello Pushes Statehood, Wants Land If RR Closes; Calderon Emphasizes Iraqi Role, Minimizes Possible RR Closing; Pesquera Opts For Radio…Prasa Deficit Reduced…Stores Reject Pro-Statehood Paper, Publisher Says…Island’s Teacher Salaries Lowest

Hispanics Play Important Role In Presidential Election

By Ismael Torres of Associated Press

July 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN - Puerto Rican attorney Miguel Lausell underlined the importance of the Hispanic vote in the U.S. presidential race and said that it would be very difficult for any candidate to prevail without the support of the Hispanic minority.

Last week, Lausell was designated to co-direct the national campaign of Democratic presidential pre-candidate Dick Gephart regarding Hispanic community affairs.

Lausell currently presides the Democratic Party National Hispanic Business Council.

"No candidate will be able to prevail in an electoral race without the decisive Hispanic vote," Lausell said upon his arrival in San Juan.

He acknowledged that U.S. President George W. Bush, the virtual Republican presidential candidate, has been aggressively seeking the Hispanic vote, but said he is sure that most Hispanics know of the Democratic Party's historic commitment to the Hispanic community and that in the end, would vote for Gephart.

The presidential elections are set for November 2004.

Posthumous Honor Given To Soldier Killed In Afghanistan

July 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

RINCON (AP) — The family of Puerto Rican soldier Kelvin Feliciano Gutierrez, who died in a military accident in Afghanistan last week, received Friday from the authorities the Bronze Star, one of the highest posthumous awards.

Sharon Crespo Cordero, widow of the soldier from Añasco, attended the ceremony at the Rincon Lighthouse, accompanied by family, friends, Rincon Mayor Carlos Lopez Bonilla, and Añasco Mayor Pablo Crespo.

Also attending the activity were 16 solders who, along with Feliciano Gutierrez, belonged to the Paratrooper Division of the Third Battalion of the 504th Brigade, with headquarters in Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

In the next few days, the ashes of Feliciano Gutierrez, 21, will be scattered in a private ceremony at the coast of Rincon, where the soldier liked to visit to participate in water sports.

Sgt. Osvaldo Ortiz, from Fajardo, told the press that "it was an honor to bring the Bronze Star medal" to the island and be able to give it to the family of the one who was his friend and combat colleague.

He emphasized that the work of Feliciano Gutierrez, who he has known for three years, is extremely dangerous since he took munitions to the front lines of the combat.

"I am sure that I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the effort and work that Kelvin did" the sergeant said. "Each time we would go to the front line, my group depended on him since the risk was very high."

Regarding the incident in which Feliciano Gutierrez lost his life, Ortiz explained that because of security reasons, he cannot provide details.

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 Thursday that she was satisfied with the explanation that the Armed Forces gave her.

Military authorities revealed that Feliciano Gutierrez died in a vehicle accident in Afghanistan but have not offered additional details.

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.

Rossello Pushes Statehood On 4th Of July

July 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
EFE NEWS SERVICE. All rights reserved. 

San Juan - Leaders of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party took the opportunity of a 4th of July celebration here to assert that Puerto Rico's current status as a U.S. commonwealth is an obstacle to the island's economic development.

At the celebration, led by San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, former Gov. Pedro Rossello spoke out for an end to "colonialism" on this Caribbean island, which belonged to Spain until 1898.

Rossello said Puerto Rico's "poor economic development" in the last few years was due to its current status as a U.S. free associated state and said the present system of government was "not atuned to the country's current problems."

"We can no longer continue begging for that to which we are entitled, nor can we live with great limitations because of a deficient democracy," Rossello told a crowd estimated by police at some 8,000.

Rossello proposed a referendum to determine whether residents agree with the island's current status, saying that if the outcome were negative, a clear message would be sent to the U.S. Congress to seek "non-colonial alternatives and present them to the Puerto Rican people in a plebiscite to settle the problem."

Rossello To Ask For Land Transfer If Roosevelt Roads Closes

July 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — If it is confirmed that the Pentagon’s "real intention" is to close the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba, former Gov. Pedro Rossello will ask that the land be transferred to Puerto Rican jurisdiction to develop it.

He also said a plan for the eventual development of the sector has already been drafted.

"If the intention is to really close the base, I, from now, request that the facilities be transferred to the people of Puerto Rico for development, which we are now establishing preliminary plans," Rossello said in a press conference in Hato Rey.

He specified that the port facilities of Roosevelt Roads could become a global transshipment port, like what his past administration devised for the southern region.

"I think it has all the excellent features," he said.

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila denounced Thursday an alleged plan of the Republic leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives to make the closure of the naval base viable in six months.

The possible closure is part of the Navy budget bill, that Congress traditionally approves at the end of the year.

Government Emphasizes Puerto Rican Participation In Iraq

By Istra Pacheco of Associated Press

July 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

Gov. Sila Calderon defended Friday the political and judicial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, alleging that in more than one occasion it has been validated by the Puerto Ricans.

She also denied that in this relationship, Puerto Rico lacks sovereignty.

"The political and judicial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States has been endorsed in numerous occasions by the Puerto Rican people. . .It is a relationship that the people wants and respects," she said while talking to the press and defending the use of public funds and the relevance of commemorating U.S. independence.

The Puerto Rico government invested this year some $120,000 in the commemoration of July 4, in which barely 1,000 people attended, including government officials, Popular Democratic Party donors, tourists, and soldiers and their families.

The speeches of the governor, Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado, and National Guard Adj. Gen. Francisco Marquez stressed the participation and the courage of the Puerto Ricans in the U.S. war against Iraq.

"It is a historic date that we celebrate each year with solemnity. But this year it has a special significance. We are here with pride and gratitude for ours who participated in the military conflict in Iraq," Calderon said in her official message at the Cuartel de Ballaja in Old San Juan.

For Calderon, the Puerto Rican soldiers who participated in the most recent military conflict courageously kept their sacred commitment to defend the principles and values that join Puerto Rico with the United States.

The governor also emphasized the "maximum sacrifice" of the seven Puerto Rican soldiers who lost their lives in the U.S. fight against terrorism.

In memory of these, she asked for a minute of silence while a solitary trumpet player played the melancholy funeral military march, which resounded on the walls of the Cuartel de Ballaja and brought tears to some of the attendees.

"All are heroes. All are an example of courage and dedication. With all of them, and also with their families, we have an eternal debt of gratitude. They will live forever in our hearts and in the memory of a grateful people," she added.

The seven who died in action are Antonio J. Sledd Figueroa, Roberto Marcus Rodriguez, Orlando Morales Rivera, Andrew Julian Aviles, Gil Mercado Roman, Richard P. Orengo, and Kelvin Feliciano Gutierrez.

As the activity ended, the governor could not argue over the little participation of legislators, mayors, and agency chiefs at the activity. Among the main absentees were the leaders of the Legislative Assembly.

"The cabinet was almost complete there. . .I don’t know the reason [for the absences], there are many on vacation. . .but all were invited," she said.

Governor Minimizes Possible Closing Of Roosevelt Roads

July 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Gov. Sila Calderon minimized Friday the proposal that a group of Republicans made in the U.S. House of Representatives that would result in the complete closure of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba.

The governor said the closure is not negative for the island since a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Institute Technology, one of the most important universities in the United States, proved that this action would open doors for a strong economic development in the facility and its neighboring areas.

Calderon said she hopes the local government will have the greatest part of the base’s area, which is the base with the most land outside the continental United States.

"The development potential [that the base has] for the Puerto Rico economy is enormous," the governor said in a press conference after the official activity to commemorate U.S. independence.

The governor said that according to the study, each time a military base has closed, the progress registered in its surroundings is greater than when the base was working.

Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado succinctly said he has not received neither official nor unofficial notification from military authorities about Congress’ possible intentions.

The possible closure is part of the Navy budget bill, that Congress traditionally approves at the end of the year.

Pesquera Dismisses July 4 Activity, Opts For Radio Speech

July 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera dismissed an official municipality of San Juan activity to commemorate U.S. independence and opted for a radio speech in which he criticized the present administration.

In a deliberate tone and with music allusive to U.S. independence in the background, Pesquera censured in his 15-minute speech Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration because he said it has been " disrespectful [and] has wanted to show that the Puerto Ricans don’t want to maintain the bonds that join us with the United States."

Rep. Edwin Mundo, coordinator of Pesquera’s campaign, indicated that the NPP president did not attend the celebration of the municipality of San Juan at the Roberto Clemente Sports Complex, where there was an empty chair for him, because he wanted "to avoid a controversy" with San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, who gave him a cold public invitation to the activity.

Prasa Operational Deficit Reduction Announced

July 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) President Juan Agosto Alicea announced Friday that the operational deficit of the public corporation decreased by $100 million during the past year.

In making the announcement, Agosto Alicea indicated that the deficit of fiscal year 2002 totaled $349 million, while the fiscal year that just concluded had a deficit of $249 million.

"One of the main objectives of the contract with Ondeo of Puerto Rico (Prasa’s private operator) is to eliminate the deficit before the fifth year," he reminded in a press release.

However, Agosto Alicea recognized that a year after the signing of the contract with Ondeo, there are areas that still need to be improved.

"This year has been productive, but the problems of more than two decades can’t be resolved instantaneously. A long-term plan is needed with gradual implementation with responsibility and efficiency, considering the available resources," he added.

Pro-Statehood Paper Rejected By Island Stores, Publisher Says

July 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
. All rights reserved. 

Compiled from wire reports

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Three months after starting a newspaper that advocates U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico, the publisher says he is struggling to find space on some island newsstands. Publisher Guillermo Camacho, a stockbroker who also edits Tic-Tac without any staff, said three store chains had refused to stock the 16-page political tabloid. He suspected the stores were motivated in part by distaste for his political slant. Walgreens and the supermarket chain Amigo told him his paper, which appears twice a month and sells for $1, would not bring in enough revenue, he said. The local licensee of 7-Eleven also refused, citing company policy not to sell overtly political publications.

Survey: Island’s Average Teacher Salary Lowest In Nation

July 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON (AP) - The average teacher salary hit almost $44,400 last year, according to a survey by the American Federation of Teachers.

That salary reflected a 2.7 percent increase over the previous year. New teachers were paid an average starting salary of $30,719, up 3.2 percent.

The figures were for the 2001-02 school year, the most recent available.

The better salaries for the first-time teachers and a slow job market in fields outside teaching helped shrink a national teacher shortage, the survey reports. But overall, state financial woes have slowed pay raises in education.

"We can't afford to ignore and lose experienced teachers, whose salaries are not showing much improvement," said AFT President Sandra Feldman.

Significant teacher shortages remain in such fields as math, physics, biology and Spanish, the survey said.

California had the highest average teacher salary at $54,348. Others at the top were Michigan ($52,497), Connecticut ($52,376), Rhode Island ($51,619) and New York ($51,020).

Among the states, South Dakota had the lowest average salary at $31,383. Puerto Rico came in at $25,430.

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