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Police Arrest 1,069 In Major Drug Raid…P.R. Scientist To Head Arecibo Observatory… Martin Peña Canal Gets $85m In Fed Funds…1,000 Police Officers For Schools Sought…U.S. House OK’s Island Role In RR Development, Speedy Planning Process Urged

Police Arrest 1,069 In Major Anti-Drug Raid

By Leonardo Aldridge of Associated Press

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

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Police have arrested more than 1,000 people in an ongoing major anti-drug operation to dismantle distribution points throughout the island, officials said Thursday.

Officers have seized 40 firearms and more than $27,000 in cash along with large amounts of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and crack during the operation, which began Tuesday and ends Sunday, Superintendent Victor Rivera Gonzalez said.

Police also said they confiscated about 95 vehicles, including 41 stolen vehicles.

Of the 1,069 arrested as of Thursday afternoon, most will be charged with minor offenses such as drug-selling and possession.

However, 13 suspects detained were wanted for killings that took place in cities including east-coast Fajardo, west-coast Mayaguez and Aguadilla and the southern cities of Guayama and Salinas. The date range of when the murders took place was not available.

Among them was Luis Roche, 34, who has been charged in a triple homicide in south-coast Santa Isabel on Feb. 20, 2000, Rivera said.

Accumulated bail was $8.25 million, police said, but it was unclear how many of those detained posted bail or were released without charges being filed.

There have been 583 killings since January in the U.S. territory of 4 million, about two dozen more compared to the same period last year. The numbers reflect a slight increase in a crime wave that saw 774 killings in 2002. Police say about 80 percent of the killings are drug-related.

Police have stepped up anti-drug efforts, including nighttime patrols of high-crime areas with helicopters equipped with high-beam spotlights in an effort to combat drug-related violence and illegal drug sales.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has named Puerto Rico as a major drug-trafficking port in the Caribbean, and estimate 30 percent of South American heroin and cocaine bound for the mainland ends up staying on the island for local consumption.

Puerto Rican Scientist To Head Arecibo Observatory

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — Scientist Sixto Gonzalez was appointed director of the Arecibo Observatory, making him the first Puerto Rican to occupy the post.

"It feels great to be the first Puerto Rican appointed to head the observatory," Gonzalez said in published reports.

Gonzalez, a native of Bayamon, had worked as assistant to the director of Space and Atmospheric Sciences at the Observatory since 2001.

Gonzalez has a Ph.D. from Utah State University.

U.S. House Approves Federal Funds For Martin Peña Canal

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — The U.S. House of Representatives approved Thursday a bill that allocates federal funds for the dredging of the Martin Peña Canal, according to Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila.

The bill, approved by a 412-8 vote, establishes that the federal government will contribute $85 million and the Puerto Rico government the remaining $45 million of the project’s $130 million cost, said Acevedo Vila.

"This is another great victory for the people of Puerto Rico," he said, noting that the day before the U.S. House approved a bill that allows the Puerto Rico government to participate in decisions on the future use of the U.S. Roosevelt Roads Naval Base.

The allocation approved Thursday is part of the Water Resources Development Act, which assigns funds for important water infrastructure projects throughout the United States.

The bill will now move to the Senate for its consideration.

The resident commissioner said the amount approved is $15 million more than what was expected to be included in the legislation and emphasized that this project is expected to create some 2,600 direct and indirect jobs.

Acevedo Vila thanked the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young for the support he gave this legislation, as well as Reps. James Oberstar, John Duncan, and Jerry Costello, who visited the Cantera community and verified that the canal needed to be dredged.

Government To Recruit 1,000 New Police Officers For Schools

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

September 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Acting Gov. Ferdinand Mercado announced Wednesday that the Police Department will recruit 1,000 new police officers to specialize in school protection and surveillance tasks in an effort to stop the incidence of violent acts at the island’s public schools.

Mercado made the announcement at La Fortaleza with Education Secretary Cesar Rey and Police Superintendent Victor Rivera.

Rivera said in 2003, violent incidents at schools have dropped 9% when compared with 2002, but once again, he did not show Police or Education statistics as evidence of the reduction the government claims.

During the past two weeks, there have been more than five incidents at schools in which students and school personnel were injured due to fights among students or gangs.

Mercado explained the recruitment of the new group of police officers will cost the treasury $22 million.

At present, there are 1,897 guards at the 1,539 public schools throughout the island, including some 576 state police officers, 224 school guards, and 721 guards from private companies hired by the Education Department for security purposes.

"The recruitment of these new police officers will allow the 576 state police officers currently serving at public schools to be transferred to surveillance efforts in public places and communities," Mercado said.

In the next academic year (2004-05), schools will have a total force of some 2,300 school police officers.

New police recruits will be enrolled in two separate academies and will be trained for a seven-month period at the Criminal Justice College, Rivera said.

In addition to performing surveillance tasks in schools, the officers will have to develop activities on violence prevention and will be trained to serve as mediators since many violent incidents that occur at schools could be avoided through a negotiation process with students or school authorities.

U.S. House OK’s RR Closure, Island Role In Development

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

SAN JUAN (AP) — The U.S. House of Representatives approved Wednesday, by a 407-15 vote, the allocations bill for the Defense Department for 2004, which stipulates the closure of the U.S. Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba.

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila announced that the section on the Roosevelt Roads closure contains language that allows the Puerto Rico government to participate in decisions on the future use of the base.

Acevedo Vila, who is the Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate, proclaimed the approved bill as a victory.

The Associated Press could not immediately confirm the language on the Roosevelt Roads closure.

"We achieved that the base closure will be guided by the procedure established by law for the closing of military facilities, but in a much shorter time span and with the guarantee that the Puerto Rico government will have fundamental participation in the future use of this land," Acevedo Vila said in a press release.

The official alleged that the local government will have access to 40% of the profit generated from the sale of the land.

The bill will now have to be approved by the Senate and then be signed by President George W. Bush. If ratified by Bush, the base will close in six months, according to Acevedo Vila.

Government Urged To Speed Planning Process On Ceiba Base

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

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

Sen. Juan Cancel Alegria and Ceiba Mayor Gerardo Cruz urged the Puerto Rico government to speed up the analysis and planning process to develop the land at the U.S. Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba, after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that calls for the shutdown of the military facilities in a six-month period.

"Although it’s true that military operations are going to be shut down [at Roosevelt Roads], the Puerto Rico government now has the opportunity to identify the land and its use," Cancel Alegria said.

In addition, the local government could receive 40% of the revenue generated by the sale of the land.

Some land must be transferred for conservation purposes, since 45% of the total land is wetlands.

"Ceiba will become the economic engine of the east," Cancel Alegria stated.

The senator said it is not yet known which or how much land will be transferred to the Puerto Rico government, but noted that it could receive nearly 50% of the total complex, including the maritime and airport infrastructure, desalinization plant, water-treatment plant, recreational facilities, medical facilities, school facilities, and housing units located throughout the 7,886-acre property.

He also said he will push to see that a special committee appointed by Gov. Sila Calderon becomes the new Authority for the Management of Roosevelt Roads, a bill currently under analysis in the local House of Representatives.

Ceiba Mayor Gerardo Cruz said he talked to Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra to see how soon the local government can assume the management and operations of the base’s airport and piers since he knows those facilities will be shut down in a 30- to 60-day period.

"If the base closes in six months, we cannot have waited that period of time to work with the piers or the airport because they cannot be left that long without the proper maintenance," Cruz said.

He also proposed that the maritime routes from Fajardo to Vieques and Culebra be moved to Ceiba, since that is the shortest route between the islands.

According to Cruz, a trip from Ceiba to Vieques takes 26 minutes.

Cruz also envisions an ecological tourism project in the area to be named "Guayacan National Park," supported by the U.S. National Forest Service, which could generate 80 jobs in the area at an initial investment of $5 million.

On the other hand, Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda praised the efforts of Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila

"[The approval of this language] has been an important step for Puerto Rico because we can recoup part of the land, and that land that won’t be recouped by the government . . .could be used for tourism purposes," Miranda stated.

Miranda said the government will unveil a preliminary development plan for the base next week and noted that the government intends to transform the area into a tourism district, combining tourism attractions and hotel complexes from Rio Grande to Naguabo.

On Monday evening, a Congressional conference committee agreed to include Roosevelt Roads under the provisions of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act (BRAC), which establish a structured process to downsize and close military installations.

The language also instructs the Navy to ensure the base’s environmental cleanup, including a former training facility named Piñero Island, as well as to assist civilian employees with relocation and outplacement.

Although BRAC provides economic resources to state governments to overcome the adverse economic impact of a base closure, the current wording does not allocate federal funds to help the island manage the military facilities once they close or grants to counteract the loss of jobs in the region.

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