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Rossello Unveils Ceiba Transshipment Port Plan…U.S. Legislators Favor RR ClosureConstitution Celebration AnnouncedStations Ordered To Hand In Vieques Videos…Hernandez Mayoral: NPP Would Win… New Laws To Inject $1.4b Into The Economy…SEC Must Accept Non-Notarized Party Endorsements…Impact Of Army So’s Exit Called Minimal…Rossello May Propose Universal Health Plan

Rossello Unveils Plan To Develop Transshipment Port In Ceiba

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

July 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Former Gov. Pedro Rossello, who is seeking election as governor in the 2004 general elections, unveiled a plan to develop a world transshipment port at the facilities of Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba at an estimated cost of $370 million.

Rossello also lambasted Gov. Sila Calderon’s public policy, which favors the permanence of the naval station, "since the base’ closure is imminent, and keeping it open with minimum operations is a lie for the people of Puerto Rico."

Rossello said Puerto Rico has lost its military value, but now, Puerto Rico needs to focus on economic value which is something the base could bring if developed properly.

According to the statehood leader, the shut down of the base is a problem that worsens the conditions of the eastern region of the island, "a problem that should be transformed into an opportunity for development."

The World Transshipment Port (WTP) would be the first of its kind in the Americas, and the only facility in the United States, of which Puerto Rico is part. Its construction will also maximize the use of La Mona Passage and give the island the opportunity to manage cargo demand for the next 15 years, a figure which will surpass 8 million TEU (the unit measurement for containers).

According to the former governor, the WTP development would create 100,000 jobs in a 10-year span for the eastern region of the island and effectively insert Puerto Rico into the $10 trillion hemispheric economy once the Las Americas Free Trade Agreement begins in 2005.

Rossello made his arguments Tuesday during a press conference in which he unveiled part of his master development plan, "Rossello’s Plan for Puerto Rico."

Rossello said his proposals respond to the needs of the people, "who expect and deserve a high political campaign presenting the concepts, programs, and plans to be implemented in the future."

In a packed press conference at his headquarters in Hato Rey, Rossello explained that Puerto Rico might use the infrastructure facilities located at the 8,000-acre-military base, which would save the government over $1 billion in the construction of similar facilities in other places like Guayanilla.

He now proposes the transformation of Ponce’ Port into a regional one and will propose a renovation and expansion project for Guayanilla’s Port.

During Rossello’s second term, the municipality of Guayanilla—a town located in the south of the island—was the site selected to built the transshipment port. In 2001, when Calderon took office, her administration changed the development plans, renaming the project Las Americas Port.

However, the Calderon administration has not advanced the development of the project.

At present, Rossello said he is working with Congressional leaders to prevent the approval of a bill that proposes the sale of the military facility to the highest bidder, something which is not traditional when the Armed Forces closes a military facility.

According to Rossello, the bill’s wording "responds to the hostile attitude toward the federal government by the Calderon administration and the deterioration of relations" between Puerto Rico and the mainland.

Nonetheless, Rossello will lobby to secure the transfer of the land to the local government through the inclusion of Roosevelt Roads’ closure in the Base Realignment and Closure Act, which will allow the government to have priority over a private interest.

When asked why his administration did not propose the construction of the transshipment port in Ceiba, Rossello explained that the studies conducted by experts during the mid-1990s did not include Roosevelt Roads because it was not an option.

"When we did the studies, we evaluated 15 different sites to develop the transshipment hub, but the base was not a option, and from the available alternatives, we picked the best one," said Rossello.

The leader, who supported his arguments with various maps, charts, and an extensive audiovisual presentation, said his proposal would alleviate the economic crisis of the eastern municipalities, which faces an unemployment rate of 20%.

According to Rossello, the WTP value-added activities, like research & development, assembly, storage, and distribution will strength the island’s economy.

Rossello also mentioned that the WTP is part of a series of infrastructure projects that will boost the economy. He also envisions a tourism master plan for the east and west coasts, a train transportation system for the whole island, and the creation of an international airport in Aguadilla.

U.S. Legislators Favor Roosevelt Roads Closure

July 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – U.S. Congressman Randy Cunningham (R-CA) warned that he will lobby the conference committee studying the Defense Department bill to keep the position authorizing the closing of the U.S. Roosevelt Roads Naval Station as passed in the House but eliminated in the U.S. Senate.

Cunningham added that he will do all he can to halt compensatory funds for the island as a result of the base closing.

U.S. Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) said $50 million to $100 million has been allotted in the past to jurisdictions facing similar closings of military bases, according to published reports.

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila asked the House Allocation Committee that an economic aid be given to the area if the base is closed.

Meanwhile, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) predicted that the proposal for the closing of Roosevelt Roads will not be included in this year’s conference committee.

"The Washington Times" reported that Roosevelt Roads’ estimated value is $1.7 billion. The Pentagon would clean the area at a cost of $300 million and would then sell it to private investors.

Government Announces Plans For Constitution Celebration

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

July 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

The Commonwealth will spend nearly $450,000 on the celebration of the Commonwealth Constitution’s 51st anniversary, which is observed July 25 and will be held at the Roberto Clemente Stadium in Carolina.

The government will dedicate the event to the residents of the 686 special communities of the island, a self-initiative program created by Gov. Sila Calderon.

"The governor wants to dedicate this celebration to the people who live in the special communities, those sites of extreme poverty that still persist in the country, despite the progress that most of the population enjoys," said Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado.

Mercado, accompanied by Carolina Mayor Jose Aponte de la Torre, unveiled Tuesday the plans for the event at which Calderon will be the main speaker.

Mercado explained that the municipality has made all necessary arrangements to deal with the number of people they expect, including medical facilities, parking, and transportation from the parking areas to the stadium, but refused to make projections in terms of the number of people who will attend the event. The stadium has a capacity of 14,000.

The government official added that the Commonwealth Constitution has been a model for other countries, that it still has opportunities to grow as a legal document, and that all Puerto Ricans, regardless of their political beliefs, should celebrate and observe the holiday.

New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey was invited to the official event. Recently, Calderon began an advertising campaign in that state to encourage Puerto Ricans to register to vote.

Contrary to similar celebration during former Gov. Pedro Rossello’s administration, Mercado said the event will be completely paid for with public funds. The Legislature assigned the State Department $500,000 for the celebrations of the U.S. Independence Day and the Commonwealth Constitution.

The ceremonies for July 4 cost nearly $180,000, and according to Mercado, the Constitution’s celebration expenses exceed the budget by nearly $50,000. The excess amount will be funded with other resources of the State Department.

An artistic presentation with local musicians Gilberto Santa Rosa and LimiT21, among others, has been scheduled for the event’s finale.

Judge Orders TV Channels To Hand In Videos On Vieques

By WOW News staff and wire reports

July 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

U.S. District Court Judge Jose Fuste ordered the island’s three private television stations to hand in videos recorded during the riots of May 1 on the island municipality of Vieques.

The order fails to specify when the videos are to be surrendered but specifies that Telemundo, Televicentro, and Univision must hand in videos recorded during the evening of April 30 and the early morning hours of May 1.

It was then that hundreds of people gathered in front of the main entrance of what used to be the U.S. Navy’s Camp Garcia and at 12:01 a.m. May 1, when the lands were officially transferred to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, tore down the fence, destroyed the main gate, and set a vessel and several vehicles at the site on fire.

With the cooperation of local police authorities, who on the night of the event failed to controlled the mob, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office filed charges against 11 people for conspiracy and destruction of federal property. If convicted, each faces a prison sentence from five to 20 years.

This is the second time in less than a year that TV stations were ordered to hand in video material.

The first time, the state court ordered the stations to hand in all material related to the violent incident June 20, 2002, at the Women Advocate’s Office. That day, dozens of New Progressive Party (NPP) members, led by President Carlos Pesquera, broke into the office in order to place an American flag alongside a Puerto Rican one. Four NPP leaders, including Pesquera, are scheduled to face trial for rioting.

The stations’ decision to hand in material, without going to the Supreme Court in an attempt to avoid doing so, appears to have set a precedent for the courts to continue ordering stations to hand in their material.

Henandez Mayoral: NPP Would Win Today

July 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Gov. Sila Calderon refused to comment on former Popular Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate Jose Alfredo Hernandez Mayoral’s statements regarding a victory for New Progressive Party (NPP) pre-gubernatorial candidate former Gov. Pedro Rossello if the elections were to be held today.

Hernandez Mayoral said in a recent television interview that in his opinion, Rossello would defeat his PDP replacement, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila.

"I won’t go into any controversy with Hernandez Mayoral," the governor said in a short press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Calderon said the PDP will have a strong candidate for the Bayamon mayoral post.

"Everything will be solved before the deadline," Calderon said.

New Laws To Inject $1.4b Into The Economy

July 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Gov. Sila Calderon signed into law a $100 monthly increase for public employees and six tax-relief measures to benefit middle class families.

Calderon said the laws will inject $1.4 billion into the economy in the next five years.

"This represents $1.4 billion in income for the Puerto Rican economy," Calderon said in a press conference.

According to Calderon, the tax relief will amount to $700 million in the next two years and benefit nearly 90,000 middle class homes.

The salary increase, Christmas bonus, and medical health contribution plan will amount to $745 million, the governor said.

SEC Must Accept Non-Notarized Endorsements For Parties

By Manuel Ernesto Rivera of Associated Press

July 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Dominguez agreed Monday that the requirement of 100,000 notarized endorsements from voters to register a political organization at the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission (SEC) in order to participate in an electoral event is unconstitutional.

At the same time, Dominguez ordered the SEC to accept endorsement without notarization to register a new party, and to assign a bona fide citizen certified by the SEC to do so.

The judge also instructed the SEC that the certified citizen, who will accomplish that task, will ask the endorsers for identification like the electoral card, driver’s license, passport or any photo identification valid for the state.

The dispute was initiated by the group Cleanliness Citizens, which invoked a decision issued by federal judge Hector Laffitte in a similar case filed by the Civil Action Party (PAC, by its Spanish acronym), headed by former Health secretary, Enrique Vazquez Quintana.

Last March, Laffitte stated as unconstitutional Electoral Law articles 3.001 and 3.002, which establish that endorsements for registering a new party must be notarized.

In his 30-page decision, Dominguez determined that the local statute violates the first and fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees free speech, and free association to citizens.

The judge recalled that during the past three decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has favored, over other interests, constitutional rights to create and form new political parties.

To register a new political party, the SEC requires 100,607 notarized endorsements, which the political organizations consider expensive.

Cleanliness Citizens alleged that the number of endorsements is extremely high for the total number of notaries (7,393) in Puerto Rico.

They also said notaries charge $20 for each endorsement, which would mean that a political organization might need $1.5 million to comply with the SEC requirement.

Dominguez agreed with Laffitte that those "expenses are extremely high and irrational for an individual who seeks to exercise his constitutional rights."

The judge said that during the interdict filed by the organization, the defendant did not present any evidence to contravene the testimonies given by public notaries, who took the stand on behalf of the organization.

PAC will continue with another legal action at the federal Court of Appeals seeking the total elimination of the requirement.

Boston Circuit of Appeals will hold a hearing on the case July 28, after the SEC filed an appeal to Laffitte’s decision, which determined that the Commonwealth violated the constitutional rights of Jose Emilio Perez, a member of the PAC.

Buchanan Official: Impact Of Army South’s Exit Minimal

July 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The commander of Fort Buchanan, Col. Edward C. Short, said Monday that the transfer of Army South to Texas will not have a significant impact among the civilian employees of the military facility.

"Most of the employees who are moving to the continent are the ones who arrived from Panama or the ones whom Army South contracted here for its operations," the military official said. "Therefore, the structure of jobs that Buchanan has traditionally maintained remains basically unaltered."

Buchanan currently employs 401 civilians and about a hundred military officials, a press release said.

Short also said this facility is authorized to maintain up to 511 positions for civilians and military officials, "which actually represents an increase over the 355 civilian and military positions that were authorized before Army South was established on the base."

The official added that Fort Buchanan’s mission also "changes little with the departure of Army South" to Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

He specified that Buchanan continues to be the mobilization station of some 15,000 troops of the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard and Reserve and an administrative support and logistics center for all the activities of the Army.

Rossello Wants To Propose Universal Health Plan

July 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Former Gov. Pedro Rossello said he might include in his government platform a proposal that the Health Reform be considered a "statutory right for all Puerto Ricans" without considering income, according to published reports.

According to Rossello, the government could assume the cost of giving health insurance to Puerto Rico’s 3.8 million residents if it negotiates directly with private insurance companies and pays them the cost of the premiums.

"Since this would be a right of the people, the insurance companies would automatically have a volume that they didn’t have before. And that’s where the government can save money. In negotiating directly with the insurance companies, the volume would help lower the price of the premiums," he said.

The proposal also establishes that employers who pay their employees’ health insurance could be given a tax credit for the total, or part of the total, they pay the insurance companies.

"I know there are many whose first reaction is that it can’t be done. But I believe it can be done. And not only can it be done, but it can be done as well as improving the services and at a lower cost for the public treasury," he said.

In recent months, Health Secretary Johnny Rullan said the proposal would cost $300 million a month under the present system in Puerto Rico, while former Health Secretary Carmen Feliciano said in court that the Health Reform, implemented by Rossello, had not worked.

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