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Rivera: New Security Plan Reducing Murder Rate… Schering-Plough P.R. Probe Closed…Rocky Shoes Gets Military Contract…White House Invites Arroyo To Mark Hispanic Heritage…Hernandez Colon, Romero Barcelo Oppose Mercado, Calderon Vehemently Defends Him…Gil Exonerated Of Improper Conduct…Berrios Urges Support For Status Assembly

Police Chief: Security Plan Successfully Reduces Murder Rate

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

October 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Police Superintendent Victor Rivera announced Wednesday the initial success of an aggressive plan to increase street safety and fight crime on the island.

Police records show that as of Oct. 1, the number of murders in Puerto Rico compared with the first nine months of 2002 shows an increase of 11; on Sept. 13, when the plan was implemented, there had been 27 more murders this year than last.

Rivera said a comparison of murder statistics between 2002 and 2003 revealed a drop from 20 to 11 in San Juan, from 10 to six in Carolina, and from one to zero in Bayamon. The number of murders in Ponce was the same: minus 21.

"We have been able to reduce the crime rate during this period," Rivera said.

The police chief added that the number of Type 1 felonies also dropped by 790 cases during that same period.

Despite the apparent success of the plan, Rivera said starting Oct. 13 it would undergo some changes to increase its cost-effectiveness. He said the plan cost $983,000 for one month, an amount much too high to pay on a regular basis.

Rivera said the plan, originally intended for the areas of San Juan, Bayamon, Carolina, and Ponce will now be extended throughout the island, but with fewer police officers. This means vacation time and compensatory time will be available once again to police officers; those benefits had been cancelled when the plan was implemented a month ago.

The Police superintendent said 12-hour patrol shifts will be provided by special elite forces from 4 p.m. Friday until 4 a.m. Monday; these are in addition to weekend roadblocks in the 13 police areas of the island and helicopter rounds over high crime rate areas.

Rivera said police cadets will provide patrol services in commercial centers as well as foot patrols in residential areas.

K-9 units will be used to detect firearms at and near pubs and clubs to ensure that those carrying weapons are licensed to do so.

The superintendent said once 1,400 police officers join the force in January and another 1,400 enroll at the academy in November, it will be easier to provide patrol services without paying overtime or forcing agents to work 12-hour shifts. He also said an additional 1,100 vehicles would be available for the police use by November.

Schering-Plough P.R. Probe Closed

October 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. 

NEW YORK, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Schering-Plough Corp. on Wednesday said a federal prosecutor has closed an investigation into manufacturing practices at the drugmaker's plants in Puerto Rico and will not pursue any legal action.

Schering-Plough's manufacturing has been under a cloud since February 2001, when the company revealed quality-control lapses at plants in Puerto Rico and New Jersey.

Deutsche Bank Securities analyst Barbara Ryan said the closed investigation "just lifts uncertainty."

The federal government leveled a $500 million fine against Schering-Plough in connection with the problems.

Rocky Shoes Gets Military Contract

October 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Columbus Dispatch. All rights reserved. 

Nelsonville-based Rocky Shoes & Boots said yesterday that it has entered into a $6.1 million agreement with Belleville Shoe Manufacturing Co. to make boots for the U.S. military. The boots will be made in Puerto Rico, with shipments expected to begin in December and be completed by April.

Bush Invites Arroyo To Mark Hispanic Heritage

By Tim Buckley Deseret Morning News

September 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Deseret News Publishing Co. All rights reserved. 

The Jazz will be without one of its top point guards for part of the team's opening week of training camp. Call it an excused absence. Carlos Arroyo, the only point on the Jazz's camp roster with NBA experience, has been summoned to the White House. There, the native of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, will attend a Thursday reception hosted by President Bush in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Other athletes invited include the NBA's Eduardo Najera of the Dallas Mavericks and Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, Tony Gonzales of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and Major League Baseball stars Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro of the Texas Rangers. Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated annually from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 in the United States, honors the cultural diversity and unique contributions of America's Hispanic community.

The 24-year-old Arroyo will be battling for the starting point guard position. Last season Arroyo averaged 2.9 points and 1.5 assists in 81 games as the Jazz's No. 3 point. Earlier this summer, the former Florida International University point led the Puerto Rican National Team to a berth in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, with a bronze-medal game win over Canada in the FIBA Americas Zone qualifying tournament.

Hernandez Colon Opposes Mercado’s Nomination

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

September 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon said Tuesday that Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado, nominated as chief justice for the Supreme Court, does not have the experience or intellectual background to lead the Supreme Court or to discuss judicial matters with his peers.

Hernandez Colon said the chief justice is required to lead the Supreme Court and to develop a constant dialog with other justices to resolve controversies about civil and constitutional rights and legal interpretations.

"How is it possible that a person whose professional experience consists of four years as legal adviser to a legislative committee and seven years as district judge can discuss judicial matters with [a] justice?" Hernandez Colon stated.

The former governor listed the professional merits of current Supreme Court Justices Miriam Naveira de Rodon, Francisco Rebollo Lopez, Federico Hernandez Denton, Baltasar Corrada del Rio, and Efrain Rivera Perez, including their vast experience as law clerks, prosecutors, law professors, judges, and attorneys in private practice.

Hernandez Colon, one of the most important Popular Democratic Party (PDP) leaders said Mercado’s, confirmation would mean a dismantling of the Supreme Court and "a traumatic and painful experience for the courts’ magistrates."

He explained that Mercado’s experience as secretary of State and secretary of the House of Representatives doesn’t qualify him for the chief justice post because those duties do not require the candidate to law.

He added that when he appointed Mercado as district judge, was the lowest within the judiciary, but the chief justice must meet higher standards because of the complexities of the Supreme Court.

As a result, he said there are perceptions that Mercado has been nominated for political reasons

He acknowledged that his nominees for Supreme Court justices were PDP members and were linked to politics in one way or another but all had judicial merits.

"To nominate someone who does not have the preparation necessary to lead the Supreme Court, were he would influence through his knowledge and judicial analysis his fellow justices and means leaving the Supreme Court without leadership and the people without confidence in the court’s verdicts, which would be essential to the individual and collective lives of Puerto Ricans," he said.

Hernandez Colon added that Mercado does meet any of the requirements established by the University of Puerto Rico Law School.

He added that confirming Mercado with such minimal experience would degrade the standards for other candidates to the judiciary.

"If the standards for chief justice nominee are reduced to four years of experience as legal adviser and seven years as a district judge, what would be the standards for associate justices, Circuit Court of Appeals judges, and Superior Court judges?" Hernandez Colon said.

Hernandez Colon said there is an abysmal gap between Mercado’s judicial knowledge and other justices.

The former governor made his comments during the second day of public hearings of the Senate Nominations Committee, which is analyzing Mercado’s nomination to the highest judicial post.

Hernandez Colon said Mercado’s recent statements lambasting the opposition on his nomination are not appropriate behavior for a judge.

When senators asked him if Mercado would be a good candidate for Supreme Court associate justice, Hernandez Colon said he would also object to Mercado’s nominatio to the position, though not as vehemently because the chief justice post has the highest standards.

While serving as governor, Hernandez Colon nominated four of the seven chief justices in the Supreme Court over the past 50 years.

He did not recall that any chief justice nomination has cause such an uproar as Mercado before.

Romero: Mercado Isn’t Even Qualified For Associate Justice

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

September 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo said Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado is not qualified to be Supreme Court chief justice.

Moreover, he said Mercado does not even meet the requirements for an associate justice post.

"I’m opposed to the nomination of Mercado as Supreme Court chief justice or as associate justice if that option is considered as a consolation prize," Romero Barcelo said.

The statehood advocate said those considering Mercado for associate justice are acknowledging that Mercado doesn’t fulfill the requirements for any Supreme Court and that his nomination as chief justice was a foolish act.

"The fair judgment, reason, and wisdom that any person who is governor must have leads me to believe that Gov. Sila Calderon would have never nominated [Mercado] to the Supreme Court. I was wrong," Romero Barcelo said.

Romero Barcelo said Mercado lacks professional experience in the practice of law.

The New Progressive Party pre-candidate for resident commissioner added that Mercado’s character disqualifies him for the post and described him as a danger to the Supreme Court because of his political background.

Like Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President Anibal Acevedo Vila and former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon, Romero Barcelo said political activism does not prevent someone from being made a justice, but politics cannot be the road to attain the highest judicial post.

"If you want a ‘popular’ to serve as chief justice, go ahead, but he has to be a good one. He has to serve Puerto Rico and justice," he said.

Romero Barcelo lambasted Mercado’s character saying he is a narcissist, lacks prudence and objectivity, has been negligent in his duties as secretary of State, makes generalizations about other political contenders, and uses offensive language against them.

"When Mercado resigned his post in the judiciary to serve as the secretary general of a political party, he showed that a judicial career was not a priority. He thought the fastest way to get to a seat on the Supreme Court was through political activisms and not serving as a district judge," Romero Barcelo said.

Romero Barcelo recalled that as governor in 1982, he nominated Francisco Rebollo, who was confirmed by the Senate, although the Legislature was ruled by the PDP.

He said Rebollo had the respect of his peers and was a Superior Court judge.

Romero Barcelo also listed Mercado’s failings in the State Department, including the robbery of a gun assigned to the nominee for protection, the robbery of $20,000 from the agency’s vault, employee complaints and lawsuits for alleged political harassment, and a swelling agency budget whose allocation for general expenditures has increased by 50% to $4.8 million.

He agreed with Hernandez Colon that confirming Mercado as chief justice would demoralize the judiciary.

Romero Barcelo said the Bar Association should have commented on Mercado’s qualifications, although the Bar should not be empowered to do so by a law, but through a self-initiative process.

He also told the press that Mercado participated in the judicial reform committee, through which he attempted to accommodate the chief justice’s prerogatives because he expected to occupy the post.

He urged senators to be guided by their consciences, and if they don’t, they would be acting against the people and the Constitution.

He noted that evaluation and confirmation process serve to correct "any judgment error made by the governor in exercising her nomination prerogatives."

Calderon Vehemently Defends Mercado

By Proviana Colon Diaz - editor of WOW News

September 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

In a televised public speech, Gov. Sila Calderon described the opposition against the nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado for Puerto Rico Supreme Court chief justice as "a mean and concentrated campaign to publicly assassin the character of a good Puerto Rican."

"I have no doubt that the arguments issued against his designation lack base, beyond purely political, personal, intellectual arrogance, or other preferences that people might have for the post," Calderon said.

Calderon, who returned from her European honeymoon one week earlier than scheduled, to defend Mercado’s nomination and who personally called members of the Senate Nominations Committee on Tuesday, criticized those who did the same.

Describing such pressure as "degrading," Calderon said the senators in the committee have been the subject of numerous threatening calls and e-mails saying that their re-election is subject to the non-confirmation of Mercado.

In an obvious remark to Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila, Calderon said she disagrees with the assumption that Mercado’s confirmation is not the key to anyone’s victory in the 2004 general elections.

"It is an orchestrated campaign that has gotten to the point of saying or insinuating, that unless the position of a gubernatorial candidate against the confirmation is endorsed, he could not prevail in the 2004 general elections. I don’t agree with that assertion," Calderon said.

On the contrary, the governor argued that Mercado’s confirmation should not be a political process.

"This should not be a tug of war or a power fight, as it has been called in some media, between my party’s gubernatorial candidate and me," Calderon said.

She said the process should be one in which the decision is free of arrogance and political considerations.

The governor reminded everyone the she is exercising her constitutional duty and that the people should trust her because she is nominating someone who has all the qualities to fulfill the responsibilities of Supreme Court chief justice.

In addition, she highlighted Mercado’s personal and professional character.

"Like many Puerto Ricans attorney Ferdinand Mercado has gotten where he is on his own effort. He is a man of the people, that understand the people, that knows justice, and has it at heart," Calderon said.

Calderon’s public defense of her nominee is issued one day prior to Mercado’s scheduled appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will defend himself from those who have spoken against him before the committee.

Mercado needs 15 votes for his nomination to reach the floor. At present, there are still five senators against him and six undecided.

The 11-minute special message, costing $98,000 in public funds, was broadcasted through several radio and TV stations on Tuesday evening.

This is not the first time that the governor makes use of public funds to defend via a special message a decision of hers that has received strong opposition.

She did so before with the clean money act, in which her bill to publicly finance political campaign received strong opposition.

Gil Exonerated On Charges Of Improper Conduct

September 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The U.S. Justice Department exonerated former interim U.S. District Attorney Guillermo Gil on charges of violating the profession’s ethical code.

The Professional Responsibility Office of the U.S. Justice Department determined that Gil did not engage in suspicious or improper conduct when requesting the files on the 10 people accused of conspiracy, money laundering, and extortion related to the $4.2 million fraud scheme in the Education Department.

The agency also said the request to dismiss the charges did not mediate political motivations that impeded the detriment of a party, in this case the New Progressive Party, according to published reports.

The report, written by U.S. Justice Department attorney H. Marhall Jarrett, does not elaborate on the findings that brought him to these conclusions.

U.S. District Attorney Humberto Garcia said the opinion of the Professional Responsibility Office "confirms what we have always said, that we did the right thing for the right reasons, despite intense criticism."

Last October, while former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo, the prosecution’s main witness, testified in the trial against Maria Teresa Perez Huertas, Norman T. Olson, and Roberto Bonano, Gil surprisingly asked to dismiss the charges because his witness had lied.

The others accused pending trial were also exonerated: Jesus Emilio Rivera Class, Eduardo Fuertes Pasarell, Jose E. Santos Rodriguez, Victor J. Alvarez Ramos, Fidel Alonso Valls, Richard D'Costa Ofrey, and Victoria Vargas Esquilin.

Berrios Urges Public To Support Call For Status Assembly

September 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

MAYAGÜEZ (AP) – Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) gubernatorial candidate Ruben Berrios urged Puerto Ricans to join him in the effort to demand a status assembly be convened before the general elections of 2004.

Berrios invited several sectors of the island to join him as they had to oppose the nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado to head the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

The pro-independence leader criticized Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila for allegedly not wanting to give power to a status assembly to resolve the island’s status.

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