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Thousands March Against Crime…Segarra Presents Plan To Develop RR…Acevedo Vila: Withdrawal Of Mercado Nomination A Victory…PIP Demands Plan After 956 Defeat…EPA Fines Education $5.6m For Asbestos In Schools, Dept. To Receive $900m In Fed Funds…Pataki, Schumer Defend Irizarry…Calderon Withdraws Mercado’s Nomination, Might Appoint Garcia Padilla

Thousands March Against Crime

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

October 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Defying the burning sun, thousands of people marched on Sunday on the streets of Hato Rey to protest the increasing criminal activity on the island.

Signs reading "enough", "justice" and "act now" were been displayed by demonstrators who began arriving to the starting point of the march, the Aquaexpress, around 11 a.m. The march didn't start until 1:30 p.m.

Protesters did all they could to defy the burning sun, some used their umbrellas, others wore hats that were being sold by street vendors, and others just decided to pour some water over their heads when the heat was unbearable.

Organizers did provide water to participants at several stations along the projected path.

Many families ordered t-shirts with the photos of a relative that had fallen victim of crime.

Such was the case of Maria Rodriguez, from Caguas, who wore a t-shirt with a photo of her sun Efrain Gomez Rodriguez. The 22-year-old man was killed in August while defending his sister-in-law in the middle of a dispute.

Despite the sadness that fills her heart, Rodriguez decided to attend the march because she feels its time the people be heard.

"Authorities can't ignore us anymore. We are here denouncing that action be taken now to stop crime. Crime is killing our youth," Rodriguez said.

Sunday’s march "United in favor of life" was organized by Nestor Muñiz, whose daughter Nicole, 16, was killed by a stray bullet when she was driving past a public housing project in Guaynabo.

Like Nicole, Carlos Bosseu Soto, 21, of Añasco was killed by a stray bullet in December.

His aunt Wanda Soto attended the march to publicly demand that those responsible for the killing of her nephew be brought to justice. Soto denounced that authorities know who the killer is and have done nothing to arrest him.

"I don’t want an innocent victim to be killed by that criminal. Everybody knows who did it and nothing has been done," Soto said.

The march ended at the parking lot of the Hiram Bithorn Stadium, where Reverend Wilfredo Estrada and San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves conducted a prayer.

Muñiz said he was "extremely satisfied" with the way the march turn out and although he declined to give an estimate of the people who attended the event, some say it surpassed the 12,000 mark.

He then said a solutions committee will begin a consultation process across the island in which the next steps to be taken will be discussed.

Meanwhile five weeks away from the primaries many candidates took the opportunity to attend the march. Such was the case of House Vice-President Ferdinand Perez and Popular Democratic Party Rep. Jorge Colberg Toro. Among those seeking votes on part of the New Progressive Party were Rep. Anibal Vega Borges, Sen. Norma Burgos, and Sen. Kenneth McClintock.

Education Secretary Cesar Rey and Family Department Secretary Yolanda Zayas were also there.

Segarra Presents Plan To Develop Roosevelt Roads

October 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra presented a preliminary plan on Sunday to develop the land on Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba.

The plan, which was developed by C.B. Richard Ellis consulting firm, is divided in five areas: an airport, an area to develop a science park, a tourism port, a residential area, and ecotourism.

Segarra said these areas have been divided according to their characteristics and current and future use.

"This report is the preliminary plan that will be under evaluation. In theory, the possibilities are very good," Segarra said during a joint press conference with Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila.

The resident commissioner said his office personnel would meet with the Department of Defense Economic Adjustment Office to follow up on the plan.

Acevedo Vila: Withdrawal Of Mercado Nomination A Victory

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President Anibal Acevedo Vila said the withdrawal of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado’s nomination as Supreme Court chief justice is a victory for Puerto Rican democracy.

"With the closing of this chapter, Mercado’s withdrawal as chief justice nominee, Puerto Rican democracy triumphs," Acevedo Vila said.

The resident commissioner said uncertainty about the nomination was an example of the growing pains that the island’s democracy is experiencing.

He praised the courage of Sens. Jose Ortiz Daliot, Roberto Prats, Modesto Agosto Alicea, Yasmin Mejias, Margarita Ostolaza, and Juan Cancel Alegria, who maintained their opposition to Mercado’s nomination.

Acevedo Vila ruled out the idea that his opposition to Mercado’s nomination might cause a breach of communication with Gov. Sila Calderon and said leaders have to understand that in a democracy, people have the right to disagree.

He acknowledged that he has not talked to the governor since he announced his opposition to Mercado’s nomination Monday, nor has he spoken with Mercado.

He also said that even if he disagrees with the governor’s view again, those disagreements are part of the process.

"This has been a great lesson for all of our leaders. The new leader, those that the people demand, must be founded on a constant dialogue with the people in both directions. The governor has to accomplish his duty and listen to the people," he said.

He noted that it is very common in the United States for presidents’ nominees to be rejected and said we still need to learn to accept that reality, which is part of democracy.

Acevedo Vila said Calderon deserves time and space to analyze things, so when she’s ready to make an announcement she will do so. Acevedo Vila said he is ready to assume his role when that happens.

He added that he will continue his agenda in Washington D.C. and that he is willing to continue to work with Calderon to advance the island’s agenda and the government’s programs.

He also said the PDP is strong despite the disagreements on Mercado’s nomination and that the party will prevail in the 2004 general elections.

PIP Demands Urgent Plan After Defeat Of 956

October 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — After the defeat in Congress of the amendment to U.S. Internal Revenue Code Section 956, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) demanded Thursday that the government urgently present an alternate plan for the manufacturing sector.

PIP resident commissioner candidate Edwin Irizarry Mora said his party presented a bill before the Legislature to create a "more favorable industrial environment for the business sector" and avoid the loss of some 30,000 jobs.

"The PIP has insisted to Gov. Sila Calderon and Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila that the first step we have to take in the direction of reactivating manufacturing is to substantially amend the Industrials Incentive Law of Puerto Rico," Irizarry said in a press release.

According to the PIP leader, the amendments could temper the law "with the reality that most of the U.S. manufacturing companies that operate on the island would become foreign corporations controlled under Section 901."

Irizarry also said the legislative measure presented by the PIP in the Senate "has remained in the dreams of the just" under the present Popular Democratic Party administration as well as during the incumbency of former New Progressive Party Gov. Pedro Rossello.

The resident commissioner candidate noted that the "remaining benefits" of Section 936 and 30-A will soon end.

"Will we lose 30,000 additional jobs in the immediate future — which happened in the past 10 years — or are we going to make decisions on economic policy that put our economy at the level it deserves?" Irizarry said.

EPA Fines Education $5.6 Million For Asbestos In Schools

October 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an administrative complaint against the Puerto Rico government, saying education officials have not done enough to eliminate asbestos at five public schools throughout the island.

The 23-page EPA complaint filed in Washington includes $5.6 million in penalties, which must be used to properly remove asbestos from the schools, according to published reports. The penalties fall under the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986.

EPA officials found asbestos in ceiling and wall materials as well as improper removal of asbestos during inspections of the schools, the newspaper reported, citing the complaint.

A teacher and a student at a high school in south-coast Ponce removed 2,000 square feet of vinyl floor tiles that contained asbestos, the EPA said.

Among the most serious violations occurred at an elementary school in central Aibonito, where EPA inspectors said they found dust throughout the building from improper removal of asbestos. Part of the cleanup took place while children were in the classroom, officials said.

Education officials were unavailable for comment, but have recently said they were working to remove asbestos. Officials told the EPA that about 700 schools have materials which contain asbestos, but the federal agency decided to single out five of the schools.

A telephone call placed to the EPA's headquarters in Washington D.C. was not immediately returned.

Asbestos is a known environmental carcinogen that the EPA has determined is a hazardous air pollutant. Individuals exposed to asbestos fibers can contract such illnesses as lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer found in the lining of the chest, abdominal cavity or around the heart.

Education To Receive Funds From Federal Government

October 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The local Education Department will receive 100% of federal funds unconditionally, a change from the policy of the past several years, said Education Secretary Cesar Rey and U.S. Education financial advisor Jack Martin.

"The Education Department has taken great steps. . .I think the Puerto Rico government, particularly this administration, is doing a great job," said Martin, who traveled to the island as a representative of U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige.

The federal government will grant around $900 million each year for Education programs, according to published reports.

However, to prevent another fraud scheme like the one committed by former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo, Rey said he would create an Internal Audit & Finance Executive Commission.

The commission would include representatives of public service agencies and supervise the Internal Audits Office. It would also make referrals to the authorities and be on the lookout for irregularities.

Members would be appointed for terms of more than four years to give them a certain degree of independence.

Rey also committed himself to hiring 35 auditors in the next six months to increase the total to 70.

Pataki, Schumer Defend Irizarry


October 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

Gov. George E. Pataki stood behind his choice for a federal judgeship yesterday, a day after her nomination came under harsh attack at a Senate hearing in Washington.

The governor expressed his unequivocal support for the nominee, Dora Irizarry, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully last year for New York attorney general.

The American Bar Association rated Ms. Irizarry unqualified for the bench. Of the 200 people President Bush nominated to the federal bench, she is one of only three who were rated unqualified, a bar association official said.

Governor Pataki said yesterday that she was an "outstanding" candidate, and noted that Ms. Irizarry, a native of Puerto Rico who became the first Hispanic woman to serve on New York's Court of Claims, was supported by several groups. She has served on city and state courts.

"I'm just extremely confident that she will soar through the Senate," Mr. Pataki, a Republican, said at a news conference in Lower Manhattan. "She is an experienced judge, she is a brilliant lawyer, she is a symbol of the tremendous success of new immigrants to New York and to America, and she will be a great judge for the people of America."

Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat who agreed to support Ms. Irizarry's nomination last spring after he led the opposition to another Bush nominee, Miguel Estrada, said that he had found her "very, very capable."

"She was better than a lot of people we've approved here in the Senate," he said.

Calderon Withdraws Mercado’s Nomination

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

October 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Two weeks of internal disputes among the members of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and overwhelming opposition from all political sectors drove Gov. Sila Calderon to withdraw the nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado as chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court on Friday.

At La Fortaleza, a visibly upset governor addressed the media for the first time since her early return to the island from her honeymoon, and told reporters that because Mercado was short one vote for confirmation, she would withdraw the nomination.

However, she insisted Mercado was the best candidate for the position and that she has withdrawn his nomination to save him and his family additional grief.

"Under these circumstances, it is impossible for me to prolong the public uneasiness and the suffering that has been inflicted on this family," the governor said.

The governor acknowledged her responsibility in the mistaken step of withdrawing Mercado’s nomination as chief justice and nominating him as associate justice. However, she said she based her decision on the expert advice of Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora and PDP Sens. Eudaldo Baez Galib, Jose Luis Dalmau, and Bruno Ramos.

"They told me the decision represented the recommendation of all [PDP] senators. I was the one who filed the nomination, and the responsibility is mine," the governor said.

Mercado’s image took a massive blow after members of the opposition parties threatened to challenge the new nomination because it was unconstitutional; the governor cannot nominate someone as associate justice without a vacancy in the ranks of associate justices. A member of the Supreme Court would first have to be nominated and confirmed as chief justice before the governor could nominate someone as associate justice.

The mistake raised widespread concern that Mercado may in fact not be qualified for the position, because a judge well versed in the Commonwealth Constitution would have known that such nomination couldn’t be made at this time.

Calderon didn’t directly acknowledge the veracity of the rumors that she had exerted pressure on the six PDP senators who were against Mercado’s nomination. The senators were Margarita Ostolaza, Modesto Agosto Alicea, Roberto Prats, Jose Ortiz Daliot, Yasmin Mejias, and Juan Cancel Alegria.

"I, as governor, have used my faculties to persuade and seek votes for the person who I insist is totally qualified for the position," said Calderon, who this week used public funds to defend Mercado in a televised message.

The governor accused the senators of using Mercado’s nomination to gain support in the November primary.

"Some senators who are close to a primary succumbed to political pressure. The rest of the majority were firm in their support of a decent and highly qualified man. My respect to them," Calderon said.

The governor denied the rumors that Mercado might resign as secretary of state, and was emphatic in pointing out that she has yet to think of another candidate for chief justice.

Meanwhile, Calderon said Supreme Court Associate Justice Francisco Rebollo Lopez would continue as acting chief justice, a position he has held since Chief Justice Jose Andreu Garcia retired in September. Rebollo Lopez is the justice with the most seniority at the Supreme Court.

"I have concluded that it is convenient for Rebollo Lopez to remain at the head of the court for as long as it is needed," Calderon said.

Meanwhile, Mercado said in a prepared statement that his commitment to the people of Puerto Rico remains intact regardless of the controversy and thanked the governor for her support.

"You can be sure that I will put all my effort to continue giving my best," Mercado said.

Calderon Might Nominate Garcia Padilla

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

October 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Following a long string of errors and faced with the fact that her initial candidate for Supreme Court chief justice would not be confirmed by the Senate, Gov. Sila Calderon withdrew Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado’s nomination as chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

Although WOW News sources confirmed that she would nominate University of Puerto Rico President Antonio Garcia Padilla as chief justice, the governor decided not to make any appointments Friday. Associate Justice Francisco Rebollo will continue as interim chief justice.

Garcia Padilla’s name had surfaced as one of the possible candidates to replace former Chief Justice Jose Andreu Garcia, but Calderon, contrary to what many expected, decided to nominate Mercado.

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