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Foreign Policy Defended…Rossello Apologizes, Says Governor Should Too…Comptroller Satisfied, Calderon: "Not Enough"… Martin Wants Vieques Charges Dismissed…Acevedo Vila Reaffirms Commitment To Environment…Graham Vows Status Solution If Elected…Gov’t Seeks Ways To Curb Crime…Governor To Wed Cantero Frau

Mercado Advocates For His Public Policy On Foreign Affairs

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

August 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado defended his policy on foreign affairs claiming that for the first time, Puerto Rico has a clear policy to promote cultural and commercial relationships with other countries.

Mercado said in a press release that the State Department identified commercial and business opportunities for Puerto Rico in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica, and Chile and has signed cooperation agreements with those countries.

He explained that Puerto Rico is a member of 20 international organizations, and under his tenure, the island has applied for another 25 memberships.

"After conducting intensive research, we found that Puerto Rico has been related to 20 organizations. Our administration has enrolled Puerto Rico in eight additional organizations, and we await the answer of another 17," Mercado said.

The secretary of State made his remarks in a public hearing of the Senate Federal & International Affairs Committee, which is investigating the status of an economic study on the island conducted by the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean from the United Nations (Cepal by its Spanish acronym).

Mercado said the report would be released to the public in May 2004, when the organization will hold its 30th meeting.

Mercado summed up his efforts with an achievement report of the agreement between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

He also made clear that Puerto Rico has not asked to participate in any international organization as an independent country, but acknowledged that his department has requested a ‘special participation’ in the Spanish American Summit, which he described as a "meeting in which heads of state and chiefs of staff follow up on 16 cooperation programs between the nations."

Last week, published reports revealed that the U.S. State Department allegedly instructed its diplomats in Latin America to remind governments of the subordinate relationship of Puerto Rico with the United States, after Mercado allegedly asked Nicaragua for its support to participate in the summit to be held in Bolivia next October.

Rossello: I Don’t Have To Ask For Forgiveness Any More Than Calderon

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

August 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Former Gov. Pedro Rossello — who is also seeking the New Progressive Party (NPP) gubernatorial candidacy — said that, while he personally never engaged in government corruption, he had no problem in apologizing to the public for the corrupt actions of his former cabinet members as long as Gov. Sila Calderon does the same on behalf of members of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) who have been convicted or accused of government corruption.

"Everything I did during my administration was correct and legal. Now, I also acknowledge that there were people in my administration, as well as in previous administrations, and in this one as well, who were guilty of corruption and for that I would apologize to the people of Puerto Rico," Rossello said.

"Frankly, I don’t believe any of you would ask forgiveness for something you believe you haven’t done," the former governor told reporters on Monday.

Rossello made his statements during a press conference at his committee headquarters in Hato Rey on Monday to respond to the comments that Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña made in published reports to the effect that Rossello should ask for the people’s forgiveness.

"I think I have been very clear," said Rossello, who also urged the press to ask the comptroller if he would ask forgiveness for the irregularities that have been found in the Privatization Committee that he chaired while he was Rossello’s Treasury secretary during his first term in office.

Last week, the former governor answered the same question by saying that he didn’t have to apologize for something he didn’t do. However, at Monday’s press conference he had no objection to apologizing on behalf of those who also failed him, just as he apologized for the institutionalized government practice of keeping political dossiers on pro-independence supporters during the previous PDP and NPP administrations.

Rossello also used the opportunity to urge members of the press to make the same request to Calderon and other former governors who have had corrupt government officials in their administration.

"If you want to use the same bar, which is what I would expect you would do, you should be asking the governor if she is going to apologize for the corrupt actions that are happening in her administration," Rossello said.

So far 29 cabinet members and government contractors of the past government administration have been convicted of engaging in corruption scheme to defraud the government and to misappropriation of public funds. Among those are former House Speaker Edison Misla Aldarondo and former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo.

Comptroller Satisfied With Rossello’s Apology

August 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – For Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña, the apology that former Gov. Pedro Rossello gave to the public in the name of corrupt government officials of the past administration is enough.

Diaz Saldaña, who had said in published reports that if he were Rossello, he would have asked the people’s forgiveness for what his subordinates did while he was in office, on Tuesday said that Rossello’s apology means the end of discussion.

"I think the way in which he said it was clear. For me there is no need to linger in the matter. Personally, that is enough," Diaz Saldaña said in a radio interview.

Calderon: Apology From Rossello Is Not Enough

August 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Former governor Pedro Rossello’S apology to the people of Puerto Rico for those people related to his administration who have been convicted on charges related to corruption is not enough for Gov Sila Calderon.

Calderon said the former governor was tolerant and indifferent regarding the irregularities that occurred during his eight years in office and has to be directly accountable for his lack of action.

"There is no need for an explanation for what others did, there is a need for an explanation of what he did not do as governor and the way in which he behaved during the eight years in which these crimes were taking place," Calderon said during a press conference in Arecibo.

Martin Requests Dismissal Of Charges In Vieques

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

August 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Fernando Martin filed a resolution on Tuesday asking the federal court to dismiss the charges against 12 accused of allegedly destroying federal property during the celebration of the ousting of the U.S. Navy from Vieques.

Martin said his resolution seeks to support another one approved by the municipal legislature of Vieques on Aug. 18, which was endorsed by representatives of the three major parties, and Vieques mayor Damaso Serrano.

"This unanimous and three-party resolution approved by the Vieques municipal assembly cannot remain without receiving support from the people of Puerto Rico because it is an example of persistence and courage, and the least the Legislature can do is to endorse, and support the resolution of the municipal assembly through the resolution [I am proposing]," Martin said.

He added that the accusations against 12 people, who participated in the violent incidents at the entrance of former Camp Garcia on May 1, are part of a reprisal by the United States, after the triumph of the people of Vieques, who claimed for peace. If convicted, the accused might face up to 10 years in prison.

The senator explained that the discussion in the Congress of the sale of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba to the highest bidder is a punishment to the people of Puerto Rico, who claimed their rights on the Vieques’ case.

He noted that the violent incidents in Vieques have to be analyzed within the historical context, and compared the incident with the pulling down of the Berlin wall.

The lawmaker added that the accusations made by the federal district attorney suggest that these people are dangerous, and condemned the local Police Dept. for sharing video evidence with the federal authorities.

"The actions taken by the federal prosecutor, with the abject collaboration of the Puerto Rico Police are part of this revenge. The [local] Police became a key witness for the federal authorities," he added.

Martin expects that the members of New Progressive Party and the Popular Democratic Party will endorse his proposal, since they supported the ousting of the U.S. Navy from Vieques.

Acevedo Vila Reaffirms His Commitment To The Environment

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

August 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila said on Monday that Puerto Rico must engage in a serious planning process to protect the environment, including the review of all environmental laws and the assessment of the island’s resources for their proper development.

"We have to be creative to prevent our forests and rural areas from the takeover of development projects," said Acevedo Vila.

The gubernatorial candidate for the Popular Democratic Party said that the establishment of a clear zoning plan on the island cannot be put off anymore.

"The time has come to identify adequately all the land in Puerto Rico, in order to know how the cities are going to grow in terms of development, and which areas will be protected. This an agenda, which cannot wait any longer, and the time has also come for adequate planning, and everybody, the government agencies, and the private sector will know the rules of the game," Acevedo Vila said.

The resident commissioner made his remarks during the first summit of the National Parks Co. in Isla Verde, an initiative sponsored by the Metropolitan University.

He added that people must prevent the excessive increase of development, and urged the need of reviewing the environmental statutes, and of opening the planning processes to the people, and promoting their active participation.

Acevedo Vila listed the approval of a federal law to protect the Mameyes, La Mina and Icacos rivers in El Yunque National Rain Forest, and the designation of a 10,000-acre area in the same forest, named El Toro, as a natural reserve.

He is also looking forward to the approval of another bill to protect the karst zone in the northern region of Puerto Rico, which according to Acevedo Vila, is the natural filter for nearly 22% of the water consumption of Puerto Rico.

The federal delegate noted that President George W. Bush has already approved the allocation of $1 million under the Forest Legacy Program for the conservation of the 617-square- mile zone, which extends from of Loiza to Aguada.

He also insisted that there is need to explore ecotourism initiatives as alternatives for the conservation of environment, create ecological corridors throughout the island to ensure a balance between nature and urban growth, and noted that the government must expand the island’s inventory of public beaches as another tool for the enjoyment of Puerto Ricans and visitors.

However, Acevedo Vila did not commit himself to supporting known initiatives in favor of the conservation of natural resources like the Northeast Ecological Corridor or Sierra Bermeja in Lajas saying he will need to evaluate more before making a decision on the subject.

"At this time, I don’t believe it is my role to enter in the merits of specific facts, they (making reference to the audience at the summit) also asked me about Sierra Bermeja, but I promise that as a public policy, I am committed to identify some areas and to give the maximum environmental and ecological protection," Acevedo Vila said.

The summit seeks to promote the discussion of the protection of the environment, and the proper conservation of the ‘green infrastructure,’ a term used by ecologists in reference to the natural resources, which are already protected.

National Parks executive director Ramon Luis Nieves explained that the conservation of the natural infrastructure is essential for quality of life and the progress of society, and added that the summit is also a continued education opportunity for professionals related to the architecture, planning and environment management fields.

Experts from the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and architect Luiz Hayakawa, chairman of the Investigation and Urban Planning Institute in Curitiba—a world-class environment and conservation project in Brazil—are expected to address the participants during the two-day agenda.

Graham Promises Solution To PR Status If Elected

August 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - In a whirlwind fund-raising swing in Puerto Rico, a U.S. presidential hopeful said Monday that if elected he would try to resolve the issue of the island's relationship to the United States as quickly as possible.

Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, told reporters that Puerto Ricans must decide what status they want via a referendum.

"The decision of the future of Puerto Rico should be made directly by Puerto Ricans," he said at the campaign headquarters of former Gov. Pedro Rossello, who is running again in the 2004 gubernatorial election as a member of the opposition New Progressive Party.

Graham said he supports Rossello's view, which is to hold a federally-mandated referendum on Puerto Rico's future, meaning the federal government would be legally bound by the results. The U.S. Congress has denied the option in the past. In nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998, the statehood option lost to the commonwealth.

Rossello also has pledged to challenge the island's territorial status in the courts if elected. He said it was too early in the presidential campaign to endorse any of the candidates.

The issue of status has split islanders into three factions. Voters are almost evenly divided between the governing Popular Democratic Party, which supports the status quo but wants more autonomy, and the New Progressive Party, which hopes to make Puerto Rico the 51st state of the union. A tiny independence movement wins about 4 percent of votes.

Five years ago, the U.S. House approved, by a one-vote margin, legislation giving federal endorsement to a "decolonization" referendum every 10 years -- with the same three-way choice -- until Puerto Ricans choose either statehood or independence. The bill would then broadly commit Congress to abide by the electorate's choice.

That legislation stalled in the Senate.

While the Spanish-speaking territory of 4 million people is largely autonomous it must defer to the United States on foreign and military affairs. Islanders have been U.S. citizens since 1917 and contribute thousands of troops to the U.S. armed forces, but they cannot vote for the U.S. president and have no vote in Congress. Yet Puerto Ricans who move to the mainland can vote for the president.

The island sends its own team to the Olympics and beauty queens to international pageants, but they travel with U.S. passports.

The federal government contributes some $14 billion to the island's economy each year though Puerto Ricans do not pay federal taxes.

Local Government Tries To Find Way To Curb Crime Rate

August 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – While acknowledging the complexity of the matter, on Monday government officials called on entities and leaders of several sectors of the island to join the interagency efforts to fight crime in Puerto Rico.

Gov. Sila Calderon made the announcement during a press conference with several agency chiefs, including Education Secretary Cesar Rey Hernandez and Police Superintendent Victor Rivera Gonzalez.

Rivera Gonzalez said that although the rate of violent crimes has dropped, the number of reported murders has surpassed that of the same period last year by 19 cases.

He said the government expects the murder rate on the island to stay below that registered in 1989 and 1998, when it surpassed the 800 mark.

Governor Announces Engagement To Cantero Frau

August 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Gov. Sila Calderon will marry a former Cabinet official of her government next month making it the fourth time she walks down the aisle, she said Sunday, ending months of speculation.

Calderon will wed former Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Ramon Cantero Frau on Sept. 10 at the governor's mansion, she told reporters. Calderon has two daughters and a son from her second marriage.

Cantero Frau held the post from 2001-2002 and now runs his own business. The governor, who initially said she would run for re-election in 2004, withdrew in May without providing a reason.

She was elected to a first term in 2000 as a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports the status quo but wants more autonomy for the commonwealth.

Calderon, who is the island's first female governor, and Cantero Frau had been seen in public over the past several months, but they had never acknowledged the extent of their relationship.

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