Sen. Ramirez Says White House Will Offer Puerto Rico Choice Of Independence Or Statehood Defendants Acquitted In Death Penalty Case Senate To Hold Hearings On Constitutional Assembly 6th Soldier To Die In Iraq Buried Florida Solicits Investments Expos Don't Want 2 Home Sites Rodriguez Proposes NPP Res. Comm. Debates
Senator Miriam Ramirez Speaks Out:
July 31, 2003
In a far-ranging interview with the Herald this week, New Progressive Party (NPP) At Large Senator Miriam Ramirez, a candidate for her partys nomination for Puerto Ricos next Resident Commissioner, talked about her legislative priorities should she be elected to the post. Sen. Ramirez was critical of the current incumbent, Anibal Acevedo Vila, and talked in stark terms about the anger towards Puerto Rico of many in Congress, including the Republican Congressional leadership, resulting from the forced departure of the U.S. Navy from its training base on Vieques. In a surprise statement, she said that the White House would soon intervene in Puerto Ricos political status debate with an announcement that would energize the self-determination process in Congress by requiring Puerto Ricans to choose between Statehood and Independence only.
Excerpts of her interview follow:
ON HER QUALIFICATIONS TO BE RESIDENT COMMISSIONER
"I think my major strength is the fact that many of the people who are in leadership positions in the U.S. Congress are people who not only consider me a political ally, but a friend."
"I will be soon doing a press conference, or making public, the amount of legislation that I have introduced (in the Puerto Rican Senate) that goes from lowering taxes for the middle class, to issues affecting mothers, affecting children, affecting single women, affecting the consumer. I have always felt that the consumer needs protection regarding how the credit system works. I think people are getting short-changed by the credit companies, and then they have to go out and pay more money to get money, when they are the ones with less money. So, I have quite a number of (bills) introduced that I will be able to present to the people of Puerto Rico so they will be able to know exactly where I stand in these issues."
"Health is a priority for me. I am really and truly concerned that all the benefits that are allowed U.S. citizens (in the states), regarding health services, extend to our people (in Puerto Rico). Im not waiting to be Resident Commissioner to do that, I have been working closely with Senator John Kyle, who is Chair of the Health Committee on Finance, and other members of the Senate and in the House of Representatives to try and ensure that Puerto Rico gets included fully in any Medicare benefit. Im also interested in bi-lingual education and education generally. For some reason, I think that when you compare elementary schools in several states with (Puerto Rican) public schools, there is a big gap. And we have good teachers and I think we need to look into that and see what thats all about, and ensure that our children and our childrens schools are on par with the schools up here. And of course, I have to admit; I will be pushing for statehood.
ON THE U.S. PUERTO RICO RELATIONSHIP
"Ive been coming up (to Washington) for 20 years and this is the first time I feel that our relationship could really be in a very difficult situation. Vieques and some other events that have occurred on the island have made some people in Washington feel like maybe the people of Puerto Rico arent really interested in being part of the U.S. anymore and having a close relationship. And thats not true. That has been projected totally erroneously. Its a shame because the people of Puerto Rico prize the relationship with the US, they would vote that way if given the opportunity. And the fact that they are being judged based on the actions of a few its really scary."
ON THE NEW PROGRESSIVE PARTY (NPP)
"I have publicly supported Governor Rosselló for the (Governorship) and I seem to find more affiliation with him. On the other hand, Dr. Pesquera met many of my aspirations before Governor Rosselló (announced for Governor) and I think both of them are probably looking out for their own candidacies right now. Even though people speculate and say, so and so is a favorite of governor Rosselló or Pesquera, I can tell you one thing. I know that Pedro Rosselló is not only interested in winning his primary, but also winning his election, and hes letting (NPP candidates for Resident Commissioner) run to get their own votes. So, I feel comfortable with that."
"Its the first time we have a primary in our party (NPP). So this is like a new experience for us, and in the beginning it was sort of challenging to have a primary for the position (of Resident Commissioner) because in Puerto Rico other elements take place, like "whos the Governors candidate?" So that kind of thing has to be played with down there, because this is a new experience. On the other hand, I think I have a lot of support on the island because, in the primary, things are going to be taken into consideration like, How do you feel about statehood? And even though its going to be a heated race, and one of the candidates is going to bring in a lot of money, I think the people of Puerto Rico are going to look beyond that. We (Sen. Ramirez) stand a very good chance of getting elected."
"(Primaries are) part of the education we have to give our people in Puerto Rico. And I think the statehood party (NPP) has almost an obligation to do that. Its to show people democracy and have people vote according to their own criteria. I always give as an example that the U.S. has primaries for president, which is the highest position in the country and the world, and they have primaries almost all the way up to the convention so were just going to have to learn how to do this and accept this as part of life in Puerto Rico from now on. Im hoping this will open the door to really getting the best people elected for the jobs."
ON THE POPULAR DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PDP)
"(The) general opinion back home, even among members of (Governor Sila Calderons) party (PDP) is that hers has been one of the worst administrations weve ever had. In the legislature, I have seen how programs that are in place - like the health reform program - that 300 thousand people were cut off because of lack of funding for this program. But at the same time, you see half a million here and half a million dollars there assigned by the executive through the legislature to do events - just silly events - like the anniversary of Commonwealth and things like that. So Im distressed to see how this administration has let the island go down in the economy. Basically almost all public works were paralyzed. They cut off almost all contracts to everyone to start them all over again. Some of those things are almost irreparable. Theyre in really bad shape. They stopped construction on roads that were half way done."
"Anibal Acevedo Vila has spent more time in Puerto Rico than he has in Washington. It was very embarrassing when former President Clinton went (to Puerto Rico) just a few months ago for a visit. Anibal Acevedo Vila was there and when he was introduced Clinton said, Oh, is this the non-resident commissioner? insinuating that hes not around (Washington). I have talked to Members (of the House of Representatives), whose offices are just a couple of doors away from that of Acevedo Vilas, and they dont know who he is. I dont remember ever - and Ive been coming up here for years - that I saw anything like this. Even, for example, as the Medicare prescription bill was being discussed in the Senate and it came out that Puerto Rico had not been included, I immediately ran up (to Washington) and talked to my friends to make sure Puerto Rico was included - eventually it was- but Anibal Acevedo Vila was down in Puerto Rico trying to figure out what (office) he was going to run for. It was kind of pitiful to see this man in Puerto Rico tying to decide, maybe he should run for the Senate, maybe for the House, maybe for Mayor (of San Juan). He eventually said he was going to run for the (Puerto Rico) House and he made a speech saying thats what he always liked and loved that position, and whatever. Two weeks later, the person that the Governor (Calderon) had left there to run for Governor for her party (PDP) resigned and so Anibal Acevedo Vila is now the candidate (for Governor).
"I think people are very disappointed with this administration (PDP) and what they have promised; the reckless spending of money from the peoples pockets, the lack of works seen in their promises. Gov. Sila Calderon has said that shes moving on. She seems to be disinterested in the island. Shes got herself a friend now I would dare say hes a boyfriend or something. I think shes not really into it anymore and I think we look like we dont have a government. It looks like anarchy down there."
ON POLITICAL STATUS
"I have been talking to Governor Rosselló regarding his plans. Hes been talking about asking the people of Puerto Rico in a referendum if (they) agree that the United States has to select a solution for Puerto Rico that is de-colonizing. I think that its a good (plan) and I support his idea to do this. I plan to dialogue further on this issue with Governor Rosselló because I think the environment right now is appropriate for us to get Congress to help us make a decision between either sovereignty and non-sovereignty. We either become part of the United States, with sovereignty as a state, or were out of the states. I dont think theres really an interest in Washington to keep us as a territory. I think we have to bank on that. Maybe the United States (will) tell the people of Puerto Rico youre either with us or youre not with us.
"The (George W,) Bush administration inherited a (self-determination) plan by the Clinton administration, with a task force and money assigned to it, to move this issue forward. However, I believe that (the White House) is making (its) own plan and I can tell you - right now as we talk that very shortly were going to hear the White House express itself on this issue. Its nothing that should come as surprise; theyve been working on it for quite a while and hopefully within the next couple of months - at the most - youre going to hear the White House make a statement on this and its going to require that Puerto Ricans make a choice, and I think the choices are going to be defined as statehood and independence."
Editors Note: The Herald will publish interviews with announced candidates for the 2004 elections as they become available. Next week, it will report on the remarks of another candidate for the NPP nomination for Resident Commissioner, the former President of the Puerto Rico Senate, Charlie Rodriguez.
Jury Finds Two Men Innocent In Death Penalty Case
July 31, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) - A federal jury on Thursday acquitted two men of kidnapping and murdering a grocer in the first death penalty case to reach Puerto Rico in more than 75 years.
After days of deliberations, the jury found Hector Acosta Martinez and Joel Rivera Alejandro innocent in the killing and kidnapping of grocer Jorge Hernandez Diaz five years ago.
"It's a lesson in the sense that you have to respect the laws of a people and the constitution of a people," said Hector Deliz, the attorney for Acosta Martinez. "When it's said that Puerto Rico doesn't want the death penalty, the jury demonstrated that."
Prosecutors asked for the death penalty, which drew criticism on this U.S. territory where capital punishment was outlawed in 1929.
The men were charged with first-degree murder and extortion, and accused of kidnapping Hernandez Diaz the night of Feb. 11, 1998 and demanding a $1 million ransom from his family.
When his family alerted police, prosecutors alleged the men killed him, hacked off his body parts and dumped them by the side of the road.
The case was the first of 59 cases in Puerto Rico in which federal prosecutors have invoked the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act, which broadened the range of crimes punishable by death.
Senate To Have Hearings On Constitutional Assembly
By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News
July 31, 2003
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold public hearings on the creation of a constitutional assembly to solve the status of the island, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Committee Chairman Eudaldo Baez Galib said Thursday.
The senator said his committee and the House Government Committee will hold joint hearings on the issue that proposes a referendum to hold a constitutional assembly on status. Hearings might begin Aug. 17.
A joint resolution on the matter was submitted by Baez Galib, Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Fernando Martin, and New Progressive Party Sen. Orlando Parga on May 8, after the Bar Associations Status Committee recommended it.
Baez Galib believes in the constitutional assembly to discuss the status issue as procedures conducted in the past failed to have any results.
"There have been plebiscites, status committees, and two congressional initiatives, the Young Bill and Bennett Johnstons efforts, and nothing was achieved. What is left? The constitutional assembly was experimented in Puerto Rico before," added Baez Galib, referring to the Commonwealth Constitution.
Last year, Baez Galib, through the Judiciary Committee he heads, conducted an investigation into the constitutional assembly as a way to resolve the islands status.
"The constitutional assembly is not new. It comes from Eugenio Maria de Hostos, and then, from Pedro Albizu; I assume it caused doubts, since it came from Albizu (who was the founder of the Nationalist Party). But later, the Bar Association discussed the subject for many years, and I thought that if we conduct a study on the matter, we could bring the possibilities to the people," said Baez Galib.
The initiative has been questioned recently by New Progressive Party President Carlos Pesquera and former Gov. Pedro Rossello.
Nonetheless, the proposal made by the Bar Association was endorsed by statehooders Luis G. Fortuño, Rep. Anibal Vega Borges, and Carlos E. Diaz Olivo, who are members of the 14-member status committee. The workgroup has been working together for more than a year. Other committee members, known by their political beliefs, are Antonio Fernos, Luis Vega Ramos, Juan Mari Bras, Samuel Ramirez Torres, and Ariel Calero Perez.
The resolution proposes holding a yes or no referendum, in which Puerto Ricans will decide if they should constitute into an assembly to discuss the islands status and seek a solution.
He expects to hold the plebiscite before the general elections in November 2004, and the assembly, if approved by the people, would be convened in 2005.
According to the lawmaker, the hearing process will give the opportunity to all sectors to discuss the method by which the members of the assembly would be selected, the time frame to do the analysis, as well as other aspects.
The Commonwealth legislator and also chairman of the Democrat Party on the island insisted that the assembly will work on the status issue to provide alternatives, which could go from one to three political options, or even more formulas.
"Maybe the analysis of the (constitutional assembly) members will suggest that we take legal action or the assembly might say there is nothing to be done," said Baez Galib.
Earlier this week, Rossello proposed a referendum to solve the islands status asking the U.S. Congress to provide an electoral method to do so. He also said he will contest current federal laws regarding the discrepancies of rights between the Puerto Ricans residing on the island and those who live in the 50 states.
However, Baez Galib acknowledged that partisanship would affect the dialog, and he called on political leaders to discuss the status issue without personal attacks.
He added that Puerto Rico is on a dead end street and political leaders have the responsibility of conducting a high-level discussion on the status to inform the people correctly.
When asked about the possibility that Gov. Sila Calderon might not endorse the initiative because she has said that status is not a priority in her administration, Baez Galib recalled that the PDP government program establishes the status issue as part of the working agenda during this term.
Baez Galib agreed with Rossello that there is a consensus to solve the status of the island and invited him to participate in the public hearing process, as well as other political leaders, to participate in the discussion.
Puerto Rico Buries Sixth Soldier To Die In Iraq
By Leonardo Aldridge of Associated Press
July 31, 2003
BAYAMON - Puerto Ricans buried another soldier who died in Iraq, honoring him with a 21-gun salute and Taps on Thursday at the island's national cemetery.
Army Sgt. Juan Manuel Serrano was changing a tire on a military Humvee July 24 west of Baghdad when the vehicle fell, striking his head and killing him, officials said.
Serrano, a 31-year-old native of San Juan who had been posted in Friedberg, Germany, was the sixth soldier from the island to die in the war on Iraq.
His father, who has the same name and Army rank, didn't regret his son's decision to join the U.S. military.
"It was a good decision by him and all the other young people who put on this uniform," the elder Serrano told reporters at the Puerto Rico National Cemetery in Bayamon.
However, Serrano's mother has questioned the war. Marta Concepcion said Saturday she doubted anything positive was coming out of the war, "only deaths," and wished the war would end soon.
At Serrano's burial, Concepcion was overcome with grief and did not speak.
Meanwhile, two more soldiers were killed Thursday in Iraq, one in a mine explosion and another in a small arms attack. The deaths brought to 51 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action since President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. So far, 166 American forces have been killed in the Iraq war, 19 more than in the 1991 Gulf War.
Bush has come under increasing pressure to end the war as the number of deaths among troops increases.
Serrano's widow said that despite her husband's death, she would allow their two sons - ages 3 and 8 months - to decide whether they want to follow in their father's footsteps and join the military.
Some 53,000 Puerto Ricans are in the U.S. military, more than half on active duty. There are more than 4,100 Puerto Rican soldiers deployed in the Middle East - the largest deployment from the island since the Korean War.
Additionally, one Puerto Rican soldier was killed this year in Kuwait, and two in Afghanistan.
Local Retailers Encouraged To Invest In Florida
July 31, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) The state Legislature of Florida began a process to promote Puerto Rican retailers to expand their business opportunities in the state.
The initiative was taken by the first Puerto Rican voted into the Florida Legislature, John Quiñones, who visited the island accompanied by a delegation of Puerto Rican businessmen and leaders who reside in Florida, according to published reports.
The first meeting was with real estate agents in San Juan, who were orientated by Quiñones about the legal mechanisms and opportunities in Central Florida.
Quiñones will also have meetings with the leaders of the Legislature, local business groups, and government officials in the area of economic development.
Census data estimate that in 1990, there were some 140,000 Hispanics in Florida. In 2000, this total had increased to over 200,000, in part because of the new wave of Puerto Ricans who have moved to the region, officials said.
Expos Don't Want Two Home Sites
-- From News Services
July 31, 2003
Expos players and their union are unlikely to approve having the team play home games in different sites next year.
The team met yesterday with the No. 2 official of the players' association, which negotiated the agreement that allowed 22 of the Expos' home games to be moved this season from Montreal to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"We want to play 81 games in one city," said C Brian Schneider, the Expos' player representative. "That's what the players want, and I think everyone's expressed that pretty much."
Baseball owners still haven't determined where the team will play next season, and Puerto Rico also has offered to host the team for all 81 games in 2004.
"There's virtually nothing that Major League Baseball could do, in my estimation, that would make the players agree once again to split up the season the way they did," said Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official. "The players feel very strongly that the way that they were fit into the schedule substantially affected their competitive integrity."
The Expos have averaged 14,248 through their first 16 games in San Juan, and 11,058 through 37 games in Montreal.
NPP Resident Commissioner Candidacy Debates Proposed
July 30, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) Former legislator Charlie Rodriguez proposed Wednesday that the candidates for the New Progressive Party (NPP)s nomination for resident commissioner participate in eight regional debates.
Rodriguez, who is running for this candidacy, indicated that the debates would help the people know the vision and the programs of the four candidates.
"I understand that the people have the right to get to know its candidates, their government programs, and the tools they have to achieve them," he said in a press release.
The former legislator also hopes that some of the debates could be televised. To that effect, he sent letters to the managers of the three commercial television chains and the private cable TV systems, as well as to the president of the Puerto Rico Corp. of Public Diffusion.
"The candidates for the nomination of resident commissioner should give an example of civic-mindedness and democracy by participating in the regional debates, which would give our people the opportunity to know our programs and visions," Rodriguez said.
He also said the eight debates, one in each senatorial district, "are fundamentally important to promote massive participation of voters in the primaries."