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U.S. Will Close RR In 6 Months…Feds Set 2nd Death-Penalty Case…Viequenses Lobby D.C. For Clean-Up… Acevedo Vila Commits To Decentralized Govt…American Eagle Flying To Vieques…"Grito de Lares" Praised As Birth Of Nationalism…Mercado Defends His Nomination, So Does Gov’t…Rossello Proposes Puerto Rico Train

Roosevelt Roads To Close In Six Months

September 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — President George W. Bush will sign into law sometime this week the bill that calls for the closing of operations at the U.S. Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in six months, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila said Tuesday.

The bill will be sent to the president for his signature following a Congressional Conference by the U.S. Committee for Assignments for Military Facilities, which approved the language for the closing of the naval station, the largest owned by the United States outside the continental U.S.A.

"This is an extraordinary victory for the people of Puerto Rico," Acevedo Vila said Tuesday afternoon during a telephone conference from Washington.

Acevedo Vila said he will seek projects aimed at developing tourism in the zone once the use of the lands is decided.

Twenty other military bases in the United States are scheduled to shut down before 2005, Acevedo Vila said.

Federal Court To Hear Death-Penalty Case

September 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico authorized the prosecution to seek the death penalty in the case of a defendant charged with killing an FBI informant.

This is the second case this year in which the U.S. District Attorney’s Office has sought the death penalty, a punishment banned in Puerto Rico since 1929 and prohibited by the Commonwealth Constitution in 1952.

David Gomez Olmeda, known as "Bebe," is charged with murdering Antonio Velez on March 4 in Guaynabo’s Cata Gallo sector, according to published reports.

Two other defendants, Angel Forteza and Miguel Forteza, have already pleaded guilty to the crime.

In the first death-penalty case in Puerto Rico, the jury issued a not guilty verdict, acquitting the two men charged with killing and dismembering a kidnapped businessman from Trujillo Alto.

Viequenses Lobby In Washington For Decontamination

September 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Vieques residents began lobbying in Washington D.C. in favor of decontamination of the land that the U.S. Navy used for military practices for over six decades.

A group of at least six residents of Vieques will make their claims this week before the U.S. Congress Hispanic Caucus.

"The government is not taking care of us, the Vieques residents who have suffered so much," said Fela Garcia, spokeswoman for the Rescue and Development Committee for Vieques, in published reports.

U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, the Hispanic with upper rank in the Armed Forces Committee, said it is important for Vieques residents to keep pressuring in Washington.

The Navy used the land of Vieques for over 60 years to hold military practices. Last May, however, the Navy closed the municipality’s target range following a three-year intensive campaign in favor of its ousting.

Acevedo Vila Commits To Decentralize Government

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

September 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Resident commissioner and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate, Anibal Acevedo Vila, committed Monday to decentralize the executive branch, to confer more powers to municipal governments, and not to sell any public property or operation if elected governor in the 2004 general elections.

Moreover, he acknowledged that the administration of Gov. Sila M. Calderon did not comply with the party’s proposal to decentralize government, since the vision to simplify government activity begins with him.

"I see this as a generational assignment. For any unspecified reason, present generations have had to invest their efforts managing the government structure we have, and my generation will have to inherit the coming ones with a smaller, simpler, and more agile government," he said.

In order to provide better services to people, Acevedo Vila plans to confer more powers to department regional offices, and might move certain operations, like the Department of Natural & Environment Resources to those places where the department’s main duties or activities are conducted.

"Central government will be in charge of public policy, supervision and overseeing of public funds, but government action will be seen at the regional offices, where decisions are going to be made in a rapid and efficient manner," Acevedo Vila said at a press conference.

As a result, central government would be focused on main responsibilities like the Health Reform and the Special Communities Program.

He proposed to set specific standards on government performance, and to confer productivity bonuses to those who accomplish those standards.

Acevedo Vila also committed to reduce government expenses, and to not create new government agencies, except to merge existing ones. He also said he would analyze the umbrella departments to assess their effectiveness.

Acevedo Vila plans to recruit the members of his government platform committee during the coming weeks.

American Eagle Flying To Vieques Starting Dec. 15

September 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines, plans to fly from San Juan to Vieques, said the airline’s sales & marketing director, Pedro Fabregas.

Following two years of delays, the airline said it could begin flying to Vieques as soon as Dec. 15.

The route, however, is pending Federal Aviation Administration certification of the Antonio Rivera Airport in Vieques.

Fabregas noted that the Tourism Co. is doing all it can for the airline to begin flying to Vieques.

"The Tourism Co. has been giving incredible support to American Eagle; the Wyndham Hotels, which has a hotel there; and the people of Vieques for the route to open within the next 60 days," Fabregas said in published reports.

"Grito de Lares" Praised As Birth Of Nationalism

September 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — "El Grito de Lares," a failed revolutionary attempt against Spain made 135 years ago, was proclaimed on Monday by the Commonwealth as "the genesis of the Puerto Rican nationality."

The revolutionary act of 1868, which is celebrated on September 23, was an armed act by several sectors seeking independence from Spain.

Secretary of State and Interim Gov. Ferdinand Mercado described the historic event as the "most glorious heroic act in the history of our peaceful people."

Every year hundreds of people, mostly pro-independence supporters, remember the revolutionary act during a ceremony at Lares town square.

But Mercado, a native of Lares, argued that it is time that Puerto Ricans recognize the importance of such an historic event.

Mercado Defends His Nomination

September 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The nominee for chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, Ferdinand Mercado, said he is surprised by the strong criticism that his nomination has received.

But he ruled out the possibility of asking Gov. Sila Calderon to withdraw the nomination.

"I didn’t imagine I would receive such opposition," Mercado said Monday.

In addition, he criticized Popular Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila for separating himself from the current administration’s position and opposing his nomination.

Miranda Advocates For Mercado’s Nomination

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

September 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

In an effort to counteract increasing opposition toward the nomination of Ferdinand Mercado for the Supreme Court, Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda discounted Monday recent criticism against the nominee.

Miranda praised Mercado’s performance throughout his endeavors in public service, and described recent statements reported by the media as political ones.

"None of the people who are opposed to Mercado’s nomination have been able to present a valid argument explaining why Ferdinand Mercado cannot be the Supreme Court Chief Justice," Miranda said.

The Chief of Staff said Gov. Sila M. Calderon–who is on a three-week honeymoon in Italy and France–knows about the controversy that has been aroused in Puerto Rico after she nominated Mercado to the chief justice post.

Miranda, however, added his remarks were a personal statement, and not motivated by a third party.

"This nomination accomplishes all criteria needed and [Mercado] has the merits to be confirmed by the Senate," he said.

Miranda praised the administrative and judicial experience of Mercado, but when he was asked why Mercado’s nomination was not submitted to the Bar Association for their analysis, he said Calderon’s administration has considered the Bar’s recommendations more than any past government administration, and that in the case of nominees to the Supreme Court, the executive branch does not need to consult the Bar.

"The nomination of a candidate to the Supreme Court has never been under the analysis of the traditional [Bar’s] evaluation committee, like the ones for superior judges. They (the Bar Association) will have the opportunity to make their arguments during the legislative hearings," Miranda said.

Although he said Gov. Calderon analyzed the nomination very carefully, Miranda did not reveal which other candidates were considered before nominating Mercado, and said it wouldn’t be productive to list such names because they were not selected.

He said there have been other politicians who have been appointed judges, and noted that nearly 27 judges in the U.S. were politicians before assuming a judicial role.

"Ferdinand [Mercado] has an unquestionable administrative ability. He has proven that ability on many experiences as secretary of the House of Representatives, secretary of state, acting governor and administrative judge," he said.

Politicians, and various social leaders, including lawyers, have publicly opposed Mercado’s nomination.

They have said Mercado does not have the necessary judicial experience to lead that government branch, and that the current secretary of state is actively identified with the ruling party. They have proposed jurists Liana Fiol Matta and Associate Supreme Court Justice Federico Hernandez Denton, as well as Secretary of Justice Anabelle Rodriguez, as possible candidates.

Rossello Proposes Island-Wide Train

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

September 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

New Progressive Party (NPP) pre-gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello announced on Monday that should he become governor again in 2004, he would start the development of the Urban Train into what he called Puerto Rico Train.

The former governor said the estimated cost of the project is approximately $2.7 billion. He said that while no approach has been made to U.S. Congress, Puerto Rico has a good chance of competing for federal funds to develop the train, just as it successfully competed to develop the Urban Train.

"We are looking at Puerto Rico as a whole, not subdivided in multiple jurisdictions, but as a great island-city," Rossello said during a press conference at his committee headquarters in Hato Rey Monday.

Rossello acknowledged the plan would be long term. However, he underlined the fact that the Urban Train had been planned for decades by several administrations and that it finally came to be during his term in office. He said that if 75% of the Urban Train was completed during his last term in office, he was certain that this project can be developed. Rossello was in office from 1993 to 2001.

The Puerto Rico Train would consist of a dual transportation of cargo and passengers and would connect all docks and airports of the island. The project would also include the development of more and improved road infrastructure to facilitate a multi-modal transportation system accessible from every point of the island.

The plan also includes the development of the Rafael Hernandez Airport of Aguadilla into an international airport, like the Luis Muñoz Marin Airport in San Juan.

"Yes, this is an ambitious project, but it is also one of vision for the future, of progress, and a very viable one. This railway system will boost economic development projects… reducing transportation costs, while making us more competitive in the world market," Rossello said.

Rossello said the Puerto Rico Train would be divided into two main lines: one in the north and one in the south. These, in turn, would be divided into east and west and would be connected to a system of key highways to cover the entire island.

The former governor acknowledged the dependency that island residents have developed for their cars. He said however, that in his experience while living in Virginia for the past two-and a half years, an efficient multi-modal transportation system such as this one greatly simplified his commuting and said he was convinced that a similar plan must be developed in Puerto Rico now before traffic becomes impossible to bear.

According to the data provided during the press conference, 75% of the island population is urban. There are 1,150 people per square mile and 175 vehicles per kilometer.

In addition, Rossello said 120,000 new cars are sold every year in Puerto Rico, while only 20,000 are taken out of circulation. He said such rates shorten the lifespan of road infrastructure and invariably aggravate traffic, which is why the Puerto Rico Train is, in his opinion, the answer to drivers’ prayers.

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