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Romero: Mistake To Call Police 'Heroes' In Cerro Maravilla…Rossello 1ST On NPP Primary BallotFortuño Highlights Medicare Equity Initiatives…NPP Candidates For Resident Commissioner Debate

Romero: Mistake To Call Police 'Heroes' In Cerro Maravilla

By Laura Rivera Melendez of Associated Press

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

SAN JUAN - Former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo acknowledged that it was an error of judgment to have referred to the police officers who executed two independence activists on Cerro Maravilla more than 25 years ago as heroes.

Romero Barcelo said in a radio interview that it "was a premature declaration" and when asked if it were an error of judgment he replied, "Yes."

The two young activists, along with an undercover police officer, took a taxi driver hostage on July 25, 1978, and ordered him to the hill known as Cerro Maravilla, where they planned to set afire a TV tower in protest. But the undercover officer alerted other police, who ambushed and shot Arnaldo Dario Rosado, 24, and Carlos Soto Arrivi, 18.

Courts later convicted 10 officers of perjury and four of second-degree murder in a case which became known as Puerto Rico's Watergate. The four convicted on the murder charge remain incarcerated but could be eligible for parole starting in 2006.

The date of the killings coincided with the 24th anniversary of Puerto Rico's commonwealth relationship with the United States. Then-Gov. Romero delivered a speech days later when he called the police heroes. A journalist, who covered the executions and subsequent Senate hearings throughout the 1980s and early 1990s and has written two books on the scandal, said the remarks were the first Romero had made acknowledging it was a mistake.

"It took him 25 years to say it was an error," said Manny Suarez, a 73-year-old reporter at The San Juan Star.

Romero, speaking to the radio station, blamed the mistake on a press aide, Antonio Quinones Calderon, who Romero said suggested he call the police heroes during the speech.

Quinones denied Romero's version, saying it was Romero who suggested to him that he should make the statement. "It wasn't me who declared them heroes," he said.

[Video of the speech taken by state-run television did not include Romero's reference to the officers as heroes and investigators alleged officials had altered the tape before turning it over to authorities.]

A book released in July around the 25th anniversary of the killings repeats accusations of a cover-up by Romero and federal authorities. Suarez, in his new book "Two Lynchings on Cerro Maravilla," says the pro-statehood governor interfered in investigations for political purposes.

Romero, who recently announced his candidacy for resident commissioner has repeatedly denied the charges. The killings at Cerro Maravilla prompted Senate hearings and exposed a police practice of spying on and assembling dossiers about independence supporters and others that were shared with the FBI. Puerto Rico's Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional in 1989.

Rossello First On Primary Ballot

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

September 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Former Gov. Pedro Rossello got the first position on the New Progressive Party (NPP) primary ballot for governor in a raffle at the State Elections Commission (SEC) on Tuesday.

"I could give you the classical answer, but upon my arrival [at my committee headquarters], each candidate had an explanation for the position they got," said Rossello, provoking laughter among the audience.

Rossello refused to say if obtaining the first position on the ballot could be understood as predicting the results of the Nov. 9 primary.

The former governor, who is challenging NPP President Carlos Pesquera for the party’s gubernatorial candidacy, said people vote for the candidates and not for the number they occupy on the list.

NPP Electoral Commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz and SEC President Aurelio Gracia led the raffle to determine the positions for the 79 primaries the NPP will have on Nov. 9.

In fact, the two conducted the raffle themselves for the gubernatorial candidates. The NPP commissioner smiled when he announced that Rossello got the first position on the ballot.

A few dozen NPP members also attended the event at the SEC and applauded the positions assigned to Rossello and Pesquera.

The race between Rossello and Pesquera has intensified recently with informal polls, such as the one conducted by University of Puerto Rico students, indicating that the gap between the two is narrowing.

Rossello’s campaign director, Juan R. Melecio, and Pesquera’s campaign advisor, Rep. Edwin Mundo, witnessed the raffle and immediately praised their respective leaders.

"The No. 1 position means Rossello was, is, and will be the first one," said Melecio.

Mundo said Pesquera is the best candidate for the NPP and people will endorse him at the primary.

"Two means Pesquera is twice a better candidate for governor than Rossello," Mundo noted.

Mundo, who is also running in the primary for representative at-large, got the second position on his ballot.

Rivera Schatz explained that there are 246 primary candidates looking for a post in 34 municipalities and Senate and House districts or as at-large senators or representatives. He also praised the transparency of the process.

Other candidates who arrived at the SEC for the raffle were Sen. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer and Luis G. Fortuño, who are running for resident commissioner.

Ramirez got the second position on the ballot, while Fortuño came in fourth.

Former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo and former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez, also candidates for resident commissioner, got the first and third positions, respectively.

Both said people won’t focus on the number they occupy, but in what the candidate represents.

Sens. Kenneth McClintock, Norma Burgos, and Orlando Parga got the second, fifth, and 13th positions on the at-large senator ballot.

Reps. Jose Aponte, Jose Chico, and Iris Miriam Ruiz will occupy the first, sixth, and 12th positions on the at-large representative ballot.

There are 16 candidates for at-large positions in the Senate; the first six will qualify to run in the 2004 general elections.

NPP members will have to choose among 15 candidates for at-large representatives.

Fortuño Showcases Efforts On Medicare Reimbursement

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

September 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

New Progressive Party candidate for resident commissioner Luis Fortuño showcased Wednesday his efforts to gain Congressional approval of the 75% Medicare reimbursement for hospitals in Puerto Rico.

Fortuño showed the press a letter sent by Congressman William Thomas, chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee, in which Thomas praised Fortuño’s efforts.

"Your support for Puerto Rican hospitals was instructive and helpful to making sure that seniors in Puerto Rico continue to receive high-quality health care. I especially appreciate having the benefit of your views as the conference committee made the decision to strengthen the provisions for Puerto Rico," Thomas said.

Fortuño explained that on Sept. 9, while the Ways & Means Committee members were in conference to discuss the inclusion of Puerto Rico into Medicare’s new reimbursement formula, he was there lobbying for the cause.

He added that his efforts on the extension of Medicare benefits to the island dated back several months and noted that the Republican Party chairman in Puerto Rico, Luis A. Ferre; national committeewoman Zoraida Fonalledas; metro area mayors; and the Hospitals Association also lobbied in favor of the bill’s approval.

Although Puerto Ricans pay the same fees residents in the 50 states pay for Medicare services, local hospitals only receive a 50% reimbursement of the total costs of medical services. Through the new bill, hospitals will receive a 75% reimbursement.

"The truth is that on Tuesday [Sept. 9] when the committee was discussing this, the resident commissioner [Anibal Acevedo Vila] was not there," Fortuño said.

Fortuño made his remarks during a press conference at his committee headquarters in Hato Rey, in which he unveiled his top five priorities to ensure better medical services for Puerto Ricans.

If elected resident commissioner, Fortuño will lobby to increase Medicare and Medicaid funds to the island, will push to increase Medicare reimbursement for hospitals to 100%, and will seek better medical services for the 225,000 veterans residing on the island.

He will also propose initiatives to improve the working conditions of nurses, who are leaving the island looking for better job opportunities, and will support legislation to promote the education, recruitment, and hiring of nurses.

He explained that Congress is currently evaluating Bill 1436, which proposes new incentives for nurses, and Acevedo Vila has not even sponsored the measure.

"Someone is needed with clear relationships with Congressional leadership to achieve success and more benefits for the elderly, single mothers and their kids, and for the people in general," Fortuño said.

NPP Candidates For Resident Commissioner Debate

By Istra Pacheco of Associated Press

September 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

The New Progressive Party (NPP) candidates for resident commissioner faced each other Wednesday morning for the first time in a televised debate, in which their promises to work for veterans, health, and the creation of jobs coincided.

Sen. Miriam Ramirez, former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo, former Republican National Committeeman Luis Fortuño, and former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez also separately promised to focus on achieving statehood for the island. Rodriguez was the only one who talked about promoting a referendum for the people with Congress’ support.

Veiled attacks among the candidates were not lacking as they stressed their positive points and the reasons voters should choose them.

Rodriguez proclaimed himself as the candidate "of the humble and working class," a clear attack on Fortuño, who has been accompanied during his campaign by important businessmen during his campaign who are contributing to his candidacy.

Fortuño said he wasn’t "a career politician," in reference to Rodriguez and Romero Barcelo, who have occupied elective positions for several consecutive terms and indicated that the resident commissioner post requires a person "who has relations with the leadership of today’s Congress."

Romero Barcelo ignored that statement and presented his experience of being resident commissioner for eight years as his best letter of recommendation and as a guarantee that he is trusted in Washington and can open doors in Congress with influential incumbents in Congress.

The veteran politician took the opportunity to list his achievements as the federal minimum wage applied on the island and Title I funds, among other economic contributions, and he said he can repeat the success.

Ramirez, the only woman in the group, emphasized that she does not need the post because she will work as she has "for the past 20 years" to continue negotiating benefits for Puerto Rico whether she wins or loses the election.

Among those, she mentioned her efforts for the permanent establishment of military bases on the island, although in many cases she has not been successful.

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