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Mercado Represents Island At Latin American Summit…More Than 600 Reservists Called Up To Iraq …Acevedo Vila Seeks Permission To Visit Troops…Rossello Takes Credit For Cessation Of Bombings In Vieques…Unemployment On Island Declines…Burgos, Hernandez Mayoral, Gonzalez Lead At-Large Races…Rossello, Fortuño, Bhatia Win Primaries

Island Represented In Latin American Summit In Bolivia

November 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado left Wednesday for Bolivia to represent Puerto Rico in the 13th Latin American Summit of Chiefs of State and Government, to be held Nov. 13 through 15.

Mercado, who is responsible for the island’s foreign relations, indicated in a press release that during the summit he will seek to give continuity to the various cooperative agreements in which Puerto Rico participates, advance the efforts to join new programs, and follow up on work agendas established with Latin American nations.

"Our participation in the Latin American Summit is a unique and practical opportunity to advance our commercial and cultural agenda with our Latin American brothers. Let’s remember that this is an event at which we can find, in the same place, the political and economic leaders of 21 Latin American nations," he said.

He also said the Latin American Summit is not an international organization but a series of annual meetings on areas of cooperation that does not affect the political relationship of Puerto Rico with the United States.

"In no way does this threaten, interfere, or contradict with our constitutional or legal relationship with the United States," Mercado said of the meeting.

This is the third year in a row Puerto Rico has participated in the event; Mercado attended the summit in Peru in 2001 and Gov. Calderon the summit in the Dominican Republic in 2002.

Although the U.S. State Department has not confirmed the existence of guidelines for independent participation of Puerto Rico in international organizations, it has suggested that the local government take its own initiative in dealing with sovereign nations.

More Than 600 Reservists Called Up To Iraq

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

November 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Puerto Rico National Guard Brig. Gen. Francisco Marquez said he has yet to hear of Puerto Rican soldiers who are planning to go AWOL in Iraq, but he warned that those who are considered deserters might be subject to capital punishment.

"A soldier is a soldier. A soldier’s basic mission is to protect the nation. If a person joins the military only to receive benefits without ever considering the possibility of being mobilized, I really don’t know what they were thinking," Marquez said.

Marquez denied that the federal government is activating more soldiers from Puerto Rico than from any other U.S. jurisdiction and that soldiers are being denied passes to visit their families because they are Puerto Rican.

While he didn’t have numbers on hand, Marquez said it is logical to see large groups of Puerto Ricans sent out to Iraq because Puerto Rico’s population of almost four million is comparable to that of many states on the U.S. mainland.

The brigadier made his statements before the beginning of the Veterans Day commemorative event in Caguas.

He said that 6,000 soldiers from the National Guard and the Army Reserve have been activated for the Iraq conflict.

Marquez announced that from Dec. 7 to Dec. 10, another 600 reservists will be activated along with 75 National Guard soldiers from the police and firefighters units.

Resident Commissioner Seeks Permission To Visit Troops

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

November 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Growing concern regarding the outcome of the war in Iraq has driven Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila to request a pass to visit with and express his support of Puerto Rican soldiers stationed in that Middle Eastern country.

Acevedo Vila said he has filed his petition at the office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, but that passes have been limited because of the tense situation in Iraq.

"I am on the list. Should conditions improve in the near future, they would consider my petition," Acevedo Vila said following a Veterans Day ceremony in Caguas on Tuesday.

The resident commissioner also took the opportunity to express concern about the conflict in Iraq and to say he has noticed a similar feeling of uncertainty on the U.S. mainland.

"This war has taken a very dangerous turn, and I pray that God illuminates President Bush because I’m beginning to feel there is a lack of a clear plan for a happy ending in this conflict," Acevedo Vila said.

The Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate noted, however, that this isn’t to say all U.S. mainland residents are against the war in Iraq. "Everyone supports the U.S. troops; everyone is against terrorism, but they are beginning to feel there isn’t a definite plan," he said.

In his speech during the commemorative event, Acevedo Vila also acknowledged the need for a new Veterans Hospital in Puerto Rico but said his efforts to obtain a $400 million allocation for the construction of the new healthcare facility might take years to bear fruit.

"I already met with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi four months ago. Everybody acknowledged the need for a hospital. The problem is the lack of funds for its construction," Acevedo Vila said.

The resident commissioner added that he hopes to obtain a minor allocation to improve the existing hospital.

"I feel optimistic about receiving a ‘yes’ [from the U.S. Congress] within the next few months to inject between $25 million and $30 million into the Veterans Hospital," Acevedo Vila said.

His comments followed complaints from multiple veterans organizations in Puerto Rico that have denounced the poor conditions of the hospital and the alleged passivity of the government in addressing the issue.

Acevedo Vila noted Tuesday that the problems with healthcare services for veterans are in all U.S. jurisdictions.

Rossello Takes Credit For Cessation Of Bombings In Vieques

November 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — New Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello said Tuesday that the work of his administration ended U.S. Navy bombings in Vieques.

He said the intervention of the present Popular Democratic Party administration hindered the agreement between the federal and Puerto Rican governments on ending the bombings.

"What is important is that what [agreement] regards to Vieques was established during our administration, which was the best agreement achieved at any time," Rossello said during an impromptu press conference in San Juan after an activity to commemorate Veterans Day.

"Because of the intervention of the current administration, many benefits for Vieques and Puerto Rico were lost, and. . .not one day was advanced from what was designed since January 2000," the former governor said.

For almost six decades, the Navy used Vieques as a setting for military exercises, some with live munitions. But after an errant bomb killed a civilian guard in April 1999, a wave of protests throughout Puerto Rico made it difficult for the Navy to continue the maneuvers.

Then-Gov. Rossello initially was firmly opposed to the continuation of bombings on Vieques, but he later came to an agreement with then-President Bill Clinton to let them go on for a certain period.

The Navy left Vieques in May, and the lands were transferred to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Acevedo Vila Proposes An ‘Ideal School’

November 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila identified excessive bureaucracy in the Education Department, a lack of funds, and school dropouts as the main problems of the island’s public school system.

Acevedo Vila presented to a group of students a plan named "Your Ideal School," which will be the starting point for the educational proposals of his campaign for the 2004 general election.

"If we don’t make education our true priority, we will never achieve a decrease in unemployment and crime. The children and the schools are our future," he said in his presentation in Isla Verde.

Acevedo Vila, also the resident commissioner, said he would decentralize the Education Department.

"I am going to give Puerto Rico a new Education Department that will give greater powers to the regions, the districts, and the schools. We will create innovative models of administration incorporating the municipalities, the universities, and the private sector, and we will declare war on school dropouts," he said.

Acevedo Vila’s ideal school has a new design and building, better salaries for teachers, greater security, bilingual education, technology, and more services for special education students.

Labor Department: Unemployment On Island Decreases

November 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Labor Department announced Tuesday that Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate in October was 11.7%, a decrease of 0.5 percentage points over the previous month’s 12.2%.

Labor Secretary Frank Zorrilla said the information comes from the most recent survey of homes conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"This employment figure is the highest registered in Puerto Rico’s history for the month of October," he said in a press release.

According to the official, there were 166,000 people unemployed in September 2003, and the number decreased to 161,000 in October, which represents a reduction of 5,000.

He also said the unemployment rate decreased 0.3 percentage points from October 2002 to October 2003.

"These figures for October 2003 back our assertion that the unemployment rate has maintained a tendency to decrease. For us, these indicators are flattering since they show the Puerto Rican economy is in full recovery," the secretary said.

According to the survey, there were 1.22 million people employed in October, up from 1.20 million in September and from 1.19 million in October 2002.

Burgos And Gonzalez Lead At-Large NPP Race

By Aixa Vazquez/Special for WOW News

November 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

For the third time, New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Norma Burgos led the at-large Senate candidates as a vote-getter.

Burgos, criticized by party colleagues for her dissident positions on issues such as Vieques, occupied the top position in the at-large NPP Senate primary.

"This shows once again the support that for the third time ratifies the statehood party, which says my positions are in accordance with what they want and expect from an NPP leader defending their ideals," said Burgos while celebrating her victory at the NPP headquarters in Santurce.

Burgos was the NPP at-large Senate candidate with the most votes in the 1999 primary and the 2000 general election.

During the past two years, Burgos has been very active in demanding the exit of the U.S. Navy from Vieques, for which she has served jail time. Her actions were condemned by members of her party who predicted that she would be punished by the votes of the statehooders in the primary. However, the numbers demonstrated the contrary.

"With this demonstration, I hope that theory ends. I have never done anything that is far from what a statehood leader should do," the senator said.

She said she trusted the process so much that she did not designate observers in the voting schools of her party.

Placing very close to Burgos was Rep. Jorge De Castro Font, who joined the party a year ago. With 97% of the electoral units reporting, Burgos had received 14% of the vote, and De Castro Font received 13%. NPP Senate Majority Leader Kenneth McClintock occupied third place with 12%. The list is completed with Orlando Parga Jr. with 8.79%, Lucy Arce with 7.75%, and newcomer Jose Garriga Pico with 6%.

Meanwhile, the at-large representative candidates were also led by a woman. Young legislator Jennifer Gonzalez lead with 12% of the vote. Jose Aponte occupied second place with 11%, and incumbent Iris Miriam Ruiz was close behind with 10%. Former legislator Lourdes Ramos was in fourth place with 8.5%. Rep. Jose Chico came in fifth with 7.7%, while newcomer Rolando Crespo was in sixth with 7.5%.

Surprisingly, Rep. Edwin Mundo, campaign director of Carlos Pesquera, remained in seventh place and might not make it to next November’s elections because in both races, only the top six vote-getters win a place on the 2004 ballot.

Hernandez Mayoral Leads At-Large PDP Senate Race

By Proviana Colon Diaz — WOW News Editor

November 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Former Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon’s younger son, Juan Eugenio "El Tigre" Hernandez Mayoral finished first in the race for a spot on the November 2004 at-large Senate ballot.

With 99.6% of electoral units reporting on Monday evening, Hernandez Mayoral had received 16.6% of the votes.

And in what could be described as a generational transition in the ongoing struggle for power within the PDP, Sila Mari Gonzalez, daughter of Gov. Sila Calderon, came in second with 16.5%.

As the numbers came in, the margin and placement of the two fluctuated, but the son of the former governor and the daughter of the current governor continually occupied the first two of the six spots chosen by PDP voters.

Hernandez Mayoral and Gonzalez were followed in third place by Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora, who got 14.5% of the votes.

Senate Vice President Velda Gonzalez came in fourth with 12% and fellow Senator Edualdo Baez Galib came in fifth with 11.5%. First-time aspirant to the Senate Rep. Severo Colberg Toro completed the list with 10%.

Failing to make the cut were - despite his well-known name from the world of sports-newcomer Armandito Torres, former legislator Alfredo Valentin Freddy, and veteran lawmaker Sergio Pena Clos, who consistently ranked at the bottom of the list in pre-election polls.

Rossello And Fortuño Celebrate Victory

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

November 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

All disputes that surfaced during the heat of the primary campaign seemed to be forgotten by former Gov. Pedro Rossello and Republican Party National Committeeman Luis Fortuño as they both took the stage to celebrate their victory in Sunday's primaries for New Progressive Party (NPP) gubernatorial candidate and resident commissioner, respectively.

In his acceptance speech, Rossello invited opponent NPP President Carlos Pesquera to join him in his quest to defeat Popular Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila and to achieve statehood for Puerto Rico.

"I know that tonight there are feelings of happiness, triumph, and brotherhood among progresistas, but must of all I feel grateful to you, and I want to extend that gratitude to a worthy opponent, Carlos Pesquera," Rossello said.

Despite the booing and several cries for Pesquera to leave the party, the majority of the crowd applauded Rossello for praising his contender.

"As soon as I can, I will talk with Carlos. . . I will offer my brotherly hand to him whenever and wherever he wants because I know that he shares my wish to put an end to this administration that has done so much damage to Puerto Rico," Rossello stated.

The now official NPP gubernatorial candidate arrived a few minutes past 7 p.m. However, it took him approximately 40 minutes to reach the stage under a pouring rain to address an ecstatic audience who chanted "Rossello be calm, the people are with you." Rossello responded that "as always, when the people talk, I obey."

Rossello also thanked resident commissioner pre-candidates former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo, Sen. Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer, and former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez for their support and invited them to work with him and Fortuño to defeat the PDP in the general election of 2004.

Fortuño also had words for his opponents and expressed his willingness to work with them with no hard feelings.

"I extended my hand to the three of them because we need them all," said Fortuño when asked how he felt about his contenders.

Since the beginning of the race, Fortuño has been the target of his opponents, especially Romero Barcelo and Rodriguez. Both of them took turns criticizing him for being inexperienced and for having the support of Republican Congress members who allegedly are anti-Puerto Rican and anti-statehood.

Romero Barcelo was the only resident commissioner pre-candidate who didn't show up at the committee headquarters.

Daughter NPP Rep. Melinda Romero, who was at the rally since early in the afternoon, spoke on his behalf and told reporters that she was sure her father's defeat wouldn't deter him from his ideal for statehood.

"He will be in the front line of the battle for Puerto Rico to become a state," Melinda said.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez was all smiles and didn't show disappointment despite his loss.

"I am very enthusiastic and happy with what has happened in terms of the turnout. I thank those who voted for me, and I will honor those who didn't vote for me. I will honor all voters with my dedication and my work to achieve the NPP triumph in 2004," said Rodriguez upon his arrival to the stage, accompanied by his wife and daughters.

Earlier in the evening, Ramirez de Ferrer was the first to congratulate Fortuño and Rossello and to express her disposition to let bygones be bygones.

"Some battles I win; others I don't, but you know I've been fighting for 20 years and will continue to fight to achieve statehood for Puerto Rico," said Ramirez de Ferrer, noting that she will accept the people's will and that she will not be defeated by the primary results.

Tiody De Jesus, widow of recently deceased former Gov. Luis A. Ferre was also present next to Rossello and used the opportunity to urge the NPP members to fulfill Ferre's dream of statehood. She said she was there on his behalf because it had been one of Ferre's dying wish to be there and remind them that they must finish what he started when he founded the party in 1967.

Following Rossello's speech, the now official NPP gubernatorial candidate and resident commissioner candidate started dancing in front of a cheering crowd. Rossello, urged by the public, played the congas with merengue group Mayombe. Meanwhile, people went on partying outside the committee headquarters, seemingly unbothered by a constant drizzle.

Candidates for Governor - NPP


*Pedro Rosselló: 427,743 votes (75.99%)

*Carlos Pesquera: 131,884 votes (23.43%)

*Otros: 3,256 votes (0.58%)

Units reported: 1743 of 1791

Candidates for Resident Commissioner in Washington - NPP


*Luis Fortuño: 343,982 votes (61.28%)

*Carlos Romero Barceló: 144,693 votes (25.78%)

*Charlie Rodríguez: 35,307 votes (6.29%)

*Myriam Ramírez: 23,892 votes (4.26%)

*Other candidates: 13,469 votes (2.39%)

Units reported: 1743 of 1791

Bhatia Wins PDP San Juan Primary

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

November 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Vowing to give the people of San Juan a "real administration," former Sen. Eduardo Bhatia thanked the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) voters of San Juan for his election and asked his defeated contender, Sen. Roberto Vigoreaux, to join him in his campaign to win the capital in 2004.

Just one hour after Vigoreaux had accepted his defeat, he and his family joined Bhatia for his acceptance speech at his Hato Rey headquarters.

Minutes later, Gov. Sila Calderon and her daughter, who won an at-large Senate candidacy joined Bhatia.

Bhatia, accompanied by District Sens. Margarita Oztolaza and Jose Ortiz Daliot, vowed to act as a no nonsense mayor, in direct reference to New Progressive Party Mayor Jorge Santini.

"I will not be the mayor of a golf-camp; I won’t act with that nonsense. I will be a mayor for the people of San Juan," Bhatia said.

Just three hours after voting centers had closed and with less than 10% of the electoral units counted, Vigoreaux accepted his defeat in the San Juan mayor primary race.

With only 10 out of 180 voting units counted by the State Elections Commission, Vigoreaux addressed the media at his campaign headquarters and said his voting college officials had informed him that the tendency was official and Bhatia had won the election.

Accompanied by his wife and children and with his characteristic nonchalant way of answering the media, Vigoreaux said he will finish his term in office, wait for the PDP to win the general election of 2004, and request that he be given back the chance to announce the lotto’s winning numbers in the island’s public broadcasting corporation.

"Well, now I will wait for [PDP gubernatorial candidate] Anibal Acevedo Vila to win the elections so that he can appoint me again to sing the Pega 3 winning numbers," Vigoreaux said.

Vigoreaux, who throughout the campaign declined to criticize his contender or Santini, had only words of praise for Bhatia.

"He is an excellent candidate for the mayor of San Juan, and there will be a union between all the people who voted for me and voted for him so that we can recover the capital in 2004," Vigoreaux said.

Bhatia, in return, also praised Vigoreaux.

"I want you all to receive with a warm welcome a man who has been a clean contender and who I know will join me in my efforts to win back the capitol for the PDP," Bhatia said, as the crowd applauded Vigoreaux.

Candidates for Mayor- PDP


San Juan

*Eduardo Bhatia: 21,157 votes (74.51%)

*Roberto Vigoreaux: 6,991 votes (24.62%)   

*Other candidates: 245 votes (0.87%)

Units reported: 179 of 180

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