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OPIC: Non-Defined Status A "Chronic Problem"…Uruguay & Puerto Rico Sign Trade Pact…Island 3rd In Incarcerations, 4th In Electricity Expense…P.R. Gets Federal Bonus For Increase In Adoptions…Calderon Tells Justice To Seek Higher Bails…Conjunctivitis Cases Grow…Last Vieques Vandal Convicted…Mariners' Martínez Joins Hispanic Greats

OPIC: Non-Defined Status A "Chronic Problem"

September 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) President Peter Watson described the Commonwealth’s efforts to establish economical and commercial agreements with other countries as a "chronic problem."

Watson made his remarks in a letter issued to International Commerce Deputy Secretary Grant Aldonas in which he said the problem is the result of the non-defined political status of the island.

"The effort to misappropriate federal authority over exterior relations in the name of autonomy is a chronic problem that is a consequence of the lack of definition of Puerto Rico’s political status," the letter states.

The letter refers to Puerto Rico’s interest in being part of the America Free Commerce Agreement, among other initiatives.

OPIC is a corporation affiliated with the federal State Department.

Uruguay & Puerto Rico Sign Trade Agreement

September 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle.

SAN JUAN (AP) – With the endorsement of the United States, the governments of Puerto Rico and Uruguay signed an agreement on Monday to promote joint investments and increase commercial and cultural exchange between both countries.

" This is not a treaty; this is an agreement for commercial exchange," said Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle.

U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay, Martin J. Silverstein, who is on the island for the president’s official three-day visit said Uruguay already has similar agreements with the states of North Carolina and Florida.

"Uruguay and the United States share similar values, and this agreement is much like others that already exist between Uruguay and North Carolina and Florida," Silverstein said during a press conference at La Fortaleza with Gov. Sila M. Calderon.

Puerto Rico is looking to push into South American markets under uncertainty of what will happen with the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Due to go into effect in 2005, the 34-nation FTAA is to be world's largest free-trade zone, stretching from Alaska to the tip of South America.

Trade between Uruguay and Puerto Rico is nominal. In 2002, the U.S. territory exported just US$1.9 million dollars in products to Uruguay, mostly in chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electrical machinery and scientific instruments.

Uruguay last year sold US$1.4 million in goods to Puerto Rico, also mostly in chemicals, machinery and food.

Puerto Rico has said it wants to increase trade with the Mercosur economic bloc, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Bolivia and Chile as associate members.

High Inmate Density Population

September 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The International Center for Prison Studies (ICPS) said the Puerto Rico prison system ranks third in population density in the Americas and 21st in the world.

According to published reports, as of August 27, on the island had nearly 50 state prisons with a total of 15,220 inmates, of which 58% are repeat offenders and 70% are drug addicts.

The incarceration rate on the island is 378 per 100,000 residents, based on a 3.8 million population, but if the rate is calculated based only on the adult population it increases to 558 inmates per 100,000 residents.

These rates are only surpassed in the Americas by the United States, which has 703 inmates per 100,000 residents based on a 287.6 million population.

When questioned by the ICPS, inmates proposed more prevention programs.

"I believe the government should use more money to deal with the root of the problem causing the high crime rate in Puerto Rico—which is drugs—and not build more prisons because that is not solving anything," said Luz Feliciano Torres, 46, who has spent seven years in prison but today claims to be rehabilitated.

But the government has conducted studies that indicate a need to build more prisons.

"There is a need to build more prisons for the people that are becoming part of the system," said Corrections Deputy Administrator Gil Rodriguez.

According to the Commonwealth Constitution the government is obliged to provide education and health services to inmates but also not only to rehabilitate them.

Puerto Rico Ranks Fourth In Most Expensive Energy Service

September 15, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – A quarterly study performed by electric system JEA of Jacksonville, Florida, revealed that the cost of electricity in Puerto Rico is the fourth most expensive out of 60 systems in the United States.

According to the study, reviewed in published reports, residential consumers pay 12.4 cents per kilowatt hour.

That number is superseded only by the system in San Diego, California, where the cost is 15.3 cents; Southern California, with 14.7 cents; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with 13.3 cents.

"The main reason by far is the price of fuel," said Hector Alejandro, director of Environmental Protection & Planning at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

Island Gets Federal Bonus For Increase In Adoptions

By The Associated Press

September 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON -- Puerto Rico is being awarded a $66,000 bonus from the federal government for getting more children out of state-supervised foster care and into permanent adoptive homes, officials announced Friday.

All told, twenty-five states and Puerto Rico will receive $14.9 million in bonuses for boosting the number of adoptions from foster care last year.

"Every time a waiting child finds a loving, permanent home, it helps not only the child, but the family and the nation," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

In the states receiving bonuses, a total of 3,703 more children were adopted in 2002 than in 2001, marking each state's highest adoption levels in five years, according to HHS, which administers the program under the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act.

Adoption dropped in some states. All told, nearly 51,000 children nationwide were adopted from foster care last year, about the same as in 2001.

Each qualifying state will get a bonus of $4,000 per child adopted over its previous high during the five-year period. They also may receive a bonus of $2,000 for each additional child with special needs who is adopted.

Calderon Instructs Justice Dept. To Request Highest Bails

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

September 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Gov. Sila Calderon ordered Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez on Friday to instruct the island’s district attorneys to request higher bails for those accused of violent crimes.

"I will talk with the Justice secretary and the attorney general regarding a request these bails that are imposed be increased to make it harder for suspects and defendants to post bail," Calderon said.

Calderon made her statements one day after the two suspects in the killing of 16-year-old Nicole Muñiz were free after posting bail Thursday. Javier Franco Marin was charged with six counts of violations to the weapons law and received bail of $45,000, which he posted. Defendant Juan Omar Rosario Sanchez posted a $28,000 bail, which was imposed for two charges of violations to the weapons law.

The governor explained that in cases including violence, if the bail assigned by the court to the accused is too low, prosecutors should request an increase in the bail to make it difficult, if not impossible, for an offender to be freed on bail and possibly commit more crimes.

However, Calderon refused to propose an amendment to the Constitutional right to bail, which gives the accused the opportunity of presenting it until a trial’s conclusion.

"The right to bail is a right guaranteed by the Commonwealth’s constitution, and while I’m being governor, I would never consult the people on the possibility to derogate that right," Calderon said.

Calderon’s request to Rodriguez and Goyco is part of her administration’s efforts to halt the high incidence of crime on the island.

Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez said her agency has evaluated possible amendments aimed at the Pre-Trial Services Office limiting its ability to bail out someone accused of violent crimes such as murder, kidnapping and rape. Drug-traffic crimes might be also included within the bail restrictions.

Rep. Hector Ferrer already filed two bills to limit the office’s duties, but Rodriguez said she thinks more amendments should be made.

Calderon said her decision does not affect prosecutors’ discretion in terms of handling and processing cases, and Rodriguez noted that even if a prosecutor requests a million-dollar bail, the decision is ultimately made by the judge.

"It is frustrating for all of us, like for many citizens, that after we request the highest bail according to the established parameters [there court grants a lower one], but there is a deference to the judicial branch [we have to respect], because that’s their responsibility. I truly believe we could be more aggressive requesting reconsideration, but the decision is a judicial one," she said.

Rodriguez also noted that in many cases, prosecutors have requested seven-digit bails due to the nature of the case, but offenders have been released conditioned on the minimum bail requirements.

Calderon made her remarks during the graduation of 1,200 new police officers held at Ballaja.

At the event, Calderon praised the decrease in crime and announced the recruitment of 1,000 new police officers for next year, as well as the acquisition of new vehicles and equipment for police officers.

However, neither Calderon nor Police Superintendent Victor Rivera revealed statistics on the alleged decrease in crime, although the press has persistently requested them.

Increase Continues In Conjunctivitis Cases

September 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The Health Department announced Friday that the conjunctivitis outbreak is rapidly spreading throughout the island, and as of Thursday afternoon, 39,861 people have been affected.

In offering the information, Health Secretary Johnny Rullan urged the public to take preventive measures to stop the spread of the illness.

"Although the outbreak has covered the island, the region that has reported the most cases is Bayamon with 7,041 people infected. Arecibo follows with 6,974 cases, Caguas with 6,402, Ponce with 6,012, Aguadilla with 5,422, the San Juan metropolitan area with 5,338, Mayagüez with 2,302, and Fajardo with 370," he said in a press release.

Last Thursday, 30,126 cases had been reported, which represents an increase of 9,735 in one week.

Rullan reminded those infected that they cannot go to work or school until the fifth day of the illness.

Conjunctivitis is an ocular condition through which the conjunctiva swells, and might be caused by a virus, bacteria or other organisms, as well as for chemical or physical allergies.

Common symptoms are pain, itching, or discomfort in the eye. It also produces redness, swollen eyelids, yellowish secretions, excessive tearing, and in the most severe cases, the condition requires treatment with antibiotics.

It is still unknown if the outbreak is viral or bacterial. The Health Department awaits the laboratory results, which will give more information as to which type of conjunctivitis is affecting people.

Guilty Verdict In Vieques Federal Destruction Trial

September 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – A jury found a man from Ponce guilty of four charges of conspiracy and destruction of federal property in Vieques.

After listening to the verdict Thursday, Jose Perez Gonzalez blushed and had tears in his eyes. He was handcuffed and removed from the courtroom by federal bailiffs after U.S. District Court Judge Jose Fuste determined he will remain in jail without bail.

Fuste’s decision is based on Perez Gonzalez’s two prior convictions for trespassing on military land in Vieques.

The sentencing hearing was scheduled for Dec. 11 at 9:30 a.m.

Perez Gonzalez was the only one of the 12 people accused for the violent acts that occurred as the U.S. Navy left Vieques on May 1 who chose to go to trial.

He faces a prison sentence of five to 10 years and up to $250,000 in fines.

Mariners' Martínez Joins Hispanic Greats

September 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

Seattle Mariners designed hitter Edgar Martínez became the newest member of the Hispanic Heritage Hall of Fame in a ceremony Tuesday night before Seattle's game against the Texas Rangers.

Martínez said his career might not have been possible without pioneering Hispanic players such as Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal and others.

''They're the players that pretty much paved the road for us,'' Martínez said. ``I've always tried to become like them. Players like Cepeda, Clemente, José Cruz -- all those players really helped us become what we are today.''

Martínez tipped his hat to the crowd as he ran on a red carpet leading from the Mariners dugout to the pitcher's mound for the ceremony. Cepeda presented him with a framed photo.

The museum, established in San Francisco in 1999, seeks to promote the history and influence of Hispanic players.

Some other Hispanic Hall of Fame members include Cepeda, Clemente, Marichal, Felipe Alou, Luis Aparicio, Rod Carew, Tony Pérez and Luis Tiant.

Martínez was born in New York but grew up in Puerto Rico. Cepeda, also a Puerto Rican, said Martínez is revered on the island.

''Down in Puerto Rico, he is a household name,'' Cepeda said. ``They know him as a baseball player and as a human being. He is a great man.''

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