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12th Puerto Rican Soldier Dies In War Against Terrorism…Pre-Election Status Referendum Ruled Out…Bail Law Amendments Go To Governor…Prasa Seeks Resolution Of Ondeo Impasse… Soldiers To Be Buried In Bayamon, NJ…Acevedo Vila Maintains Distance From Calderon…Island Gets $34.2m From U.S. Homeland Security…NPP Res. Comm. Primary Candidates Debate

Another Puerto Rican Soldier Dies In Iraq

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – A Puerto Rican soldier died Tuesday morning in Baghdad when an "artefact" exploded near the military truck that he was in, according to military authorities here.

Sgt. Francisco Martinez, 28, from Humacao, is the 12th Puerto Rican soldier to die in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

The spokesman of the U.S. Army in Puerto Rico, Jose Pagan, indicated that Martinez belonged to the Battalion 82 of support for soldiers, a unit of Division 82 of aero transport, with headquarters in Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Martinez’s body will arrive in approximately a week, according to the spokesman.

Martinez belonged to the Army and not the Reserve or the National Guard, Pagan stated.

The death of the soldier is added to two other Puerto Rican deaths when an Army helicopter crashed Sunday after being attacked by missiles in Baghdad.

The Pentagon has activated some 5,400 Puerto Ricans – the greatest activation on the island since the Korean War in the 1950s.

Some 53,000 Puerto Ricans are in the Armed Forces, and more than half are currently active, according to the Pentagon.

Legislative Leaders Dismisses Referendum Before Election

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – In what remains of this four-year term, the people will not be consulted on the mechanism to solve the status issue, according to House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo and Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora.

However, Vizcarrondo did not rule out approving during this term the legislation needed to hold the referendum in the next term, although he clarified that it could only be approved "in agreement and common accord" with the president and gubernatorial candidate of his party, Anibal Acevedo Vila, according to published reports.

"The party’s position is that the referendum be held after the elections," Vizcarrondo said.

The legislative leaders dismissed a bill by Sen. Eudaldo Baez Galib, suggested by the Bar Association, to hold a referendum strictly on the desire to hold a status assembly.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party has strongly criticized the governing Popular Democratic Party for not acting now that it controls the executive and legislative branches to solve the status issue.

Amendments To Bail Law Submitted To Governor

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez sent Gov. Sila Calderon on Tuesday two drafts of bills to invigorate the imposition of bail on persons accused of a crime.

Rodriguez said one of the bills proposes amendments to make electronic supervision obligatory as an additional condition to bail in serious cases such as murders, robbery, rape, kidnapping, serious corporal damage in domestic violence cases, and crimes using a weapon.

The official said in a press release that the other bill stipulates that the personnel of the investigations and arrests unit of the department will have the power to arrest, without judicial order, when a justified motive exists to believe that the accused has violated the conditions imposed by the court for bail.

The drafts also exclude the possibility of paying the fine through a payment of 10% in cash.

Agosto Alicea Goes To France To Resolve Ondeo Situation

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) President Juan Agosto Alicea travelled Monday to France to negotiate with Ondeo’s highest executives a possible restructuration of the contract with the company.

Agosto Alicea said he was forced to travel there after he realized that the executives of Ondeo at Prasa "do not have the power to negotiate."

"Since I saw that this was not moving, I called them in France and told them that I wanted to meet with them before making a decision about the future of Ondeo in Prasa," he explained in published reports.

Ondeo is demanding a restructuration of the contract, arguing that the situation in Prasa is worse than they were told, which is why it is impossible to comply with the agreed stipulations.

The government denies Ondeo’s allegations and is contemplating the possibility of retaking the administration of Prasa.

Agosto Alicea said he will meet with Gerald Mestraller, president of the board of directors of Ondeo; Jack Pietri, president of Ondeo Environmental (the headquarters of Ondeo in Puerto Rico); and Eric Demuenc, president of Ondeo of Puerto Rico.

P.R. Soldiers To Be Buried In Bayamon, New Jersey

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – The bodies of soldiers Frances M. Vega and Joel Perez, who died in Baghdad when a missile downed a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter in Iraq on Sunday, will be buried in Bayamon and New Jersey, respectively, as determined by their families.

The U.S. Army indicated in a press release Tuesday that Vega will be buried in the military cemetery in Bayamon.

It was explained that the process to transfer the bodies of the soldiers usually takes between five and seven days, which is why the exact date of the burials is not known.

The press release also said that Vega was closely linked to the military because she was married to an active soldier and her father was a retired soldier.

"Her husband, as well as her parents, wish to remain outside of the public scrutiny, which is why they will not reveal details of where they live," according to the press release.

Perez was married and had a 2-year-old daughter. His wife and mother live in New Jersey, while his father lives in Rio Grande.

Both will be buried with full military honors, the press release said.

At least 16 soldiers died and 20 were wounded Sunday just south of Fallujah, Iraq. The missile attack on the helicopter, carrying dozens of soldiers on their way home for leave, was the deadliest single strike against U.S. forces since the war began March 20.

Acevedo Vila Maintains Distance From Gov. Calderon

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

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

Following their meeting at La Fortaleza on Monday, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President & Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila acknowledged that Gov. Sila Calderon still has issues with his decision not to support the nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado as Puerto Rico Supreme Court chief justice.

"At the end of our conversation, the governor told me that for her [the Mercado issue] had been very serious to which I reiterated that I had acted according to my conscience," Acevedo Vila said during a press conference at La Fortaleza following the brief meeting.

Upon his arrival at 3:30 p.m. Acevedo Vila had said that for him, the Mercado issue was a closed chapter and that he believed Interim Chief Justice Francisco Rebollo to be a very competent person who is capable of carrying out his duties.

Acevedo Vila limited himself to describing the verbal exchange as cordial and serious, and declined to say if the governor openly expressed her support him for governor in the 2004 general elections.

The PDP president also said they didn't discuss whether Calderon would participate in his campaign.

"What I can say is that the governor reiterated that she will continue to work for the benefit of the people of Puerto Rico and that that would be her contribution to the triumph of the Popular Democratic Party," Acevedo Vila said.

During the press conference, Acevedo Vila reassured the people of Puerto Rico that the PDP remained solid and that his main priorities were to bring a better government and to prevent former Gov. Pedro Rossello--of the New Progressive Party--from regaining the governor's office in 2004.

"No one and nothing will stop me from my resolution to bringing the PDP and Puerto Rico to victory in November of 2004," he said.

The meeting between the two top PDP leaders follows disagreements in which Calderon has either pushed Acevedo Vila aside or the resident commissioner has opposed the governor's decisions.

The first point of friction was when she decided to support Jose Alfredo Hernandez Mayoral--son of former PDP Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon—and not Acevedo Vila to replace her as PDP president and to be its gubernatorial candidate in 2004.

The second impasse occurred when Acevedo Vila opposed the nomination of Mercado as Supreme Court chief justice.

Following widespread opposition and an apparent lack of votes in the Senate, Calderon withdrew the nomination and decided to allow Rebollo to serve as interim chief justice until she was prepared to nominate another candidate for the position.

P.R. Receives $34.2 Million From U.S. Homeland Security

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

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The U.S. Homeland Security Department has provided $34.2 million in federal grants to Puerto Rico for emergency preparedness and anti-terrorism programs, officials said Monday.

The federal grants, recently approved by U.S. Congress, include $25.9 million for terrorism and disaster training, equipment and response planning, Homeland Security spokeswoman Rachael Sunbarger said.

Another $7.7 million was allocated to help law enforcement agencies prevent and deter attacks.

A third grant of $539,000 is earmarked for the U.S. Caribbean territory's Citizens Corps, a program drawn from community-based, neighborhood watch efforts. The funding aims to help residents with community preparedness and family safety plans.

All U.S. states and territories received federal grants under the $2.2 billion program from the agency's Office for Domestic Preparedness.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, another Caribbean territory with a population of 108,000, received $6 million in federal grants under the program, officials said. Puerto Rico's population is 4 million.

NPP Resident Commissioner Primary Candidates Debate

By Proviana Colon Diaz - WOW News Editor

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

A trip to Cuba was reason enough for three of the New Progressive Party primary resident commissioner candidates to question the principles of rookie political contender Luis Fortuño.

Given the United States policy regarding Cuba, Fortuño contenders seemed to agree on criticizing his decision to visit the nearby island on a business venture back in 1997.

This despite the fact that Fortuño’s statements were in regards to a question during an afternoon debate regarding international commerce and the ways in which the island could be protected from the potential threats of Cuba and Venezuela’s free trade policies.

"The way business is being conducted is changing incredibly. Puerto Rico has to change the way it conducts business but Cuba should not be doing trade with Puerto Rico until democratic conditions are established. Still I am sure that will change and we should prepare for that," Fortuño said.

The former Economic Development Secretary’s answer was enough for the other candidates to criticize his 1997 trip to Cuba with several well-known island businessmen.

Although Fortuño argues his experience of over 20 years in which he was worked closely with issues regarding Puerto Rico in Washington D.C. qualifies him, the resident commissioner primary race is his first attempt into politics.

His three opponent- former governor and former resident commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo, former senate president Charlie Rodriguez, and Sen. Miriam Ramirez the Ferrer - all have plenty of experience in politics.

And they all try to capitalize on that fact, arguing that if elected they won’t go to Washington to learn but to deliver.

"The United States is always willing to help its states in interchange commerce ventures. But the issue of Cuba is a matter of principle," Ramirez de Ferrer said.

Rodriguez agreed.

"I would never go to Cuba. I won’t step foot in Cuba until it is democratic," Romero Barcelo said for his part.

Meanwhile, all but Ramirez de Ferrer agreed that the use of federal nutrition funds should not be limited to the purchase of food as they argue there can be other necessities at any given moment.

The former physician said in her years of practice she saw too many people making wrongful use of the funds when there was no limitation for them.

"I cannot not accept that the money be used for anything else that isn’t food," You can’t have a health society if that society doesn’t eat. You can find jobs for them and that is where we should be headed. I don’t change my principles for votes. If that money is for food, then it should be used for food," Ramirez de Ferrer said.

The candidates participated in a debate hosted by the Food Marketing & Distribution Association’s, MIDA by its Spanish acronym.

The nearly 75-minutes long debate, which took place at a Condado hotel, consisted of two turns for the candidates to present themselves and their proposals and two minute turns to answer three questions.

The third and final question was regarding statehood in which all candidates vowed to do all they can to achieve it.

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