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Calderon Assumes Responsibility For Mercado Case, Orders Investigation …Operation Xmas Basket Strikes Army Camps…Bus Authority Gets $22.8m Fed Grant…Navy property Inventory Due By Dec. 31…‘Orange Alert’Security Measures Announced…

Governor Assumes Responsibility For Mercado Case; Insists On Investigation

By WOW Staff

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

Declining to judge the behavior of all those who favored or opposed her nomination of former Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado to the Supreme Court, Gov. Sila Calderon assumed responsibility for the matter and said the 1975 case involving Mercado should be reinvestigated.

"I think it is important this be cleared and...I want to honestly, clearly, and rightly assume my responsibility [for the nomination]," Calderon said.

The governor’s statements were made following a press conference to announce a $15 million investment to build a fine arts school.

"I have a responsibility as governor, and I am assuming it. This case has raised a lot of doubt, and...just as in any other case, I have asked it to be fully investigated. I have asked the Justice Department and the police to uncover the truth," Calderon said.

Although public opinion is against those now known to have had details of the alleged incident, Calderon declined to say they failed in their duty.

Calderon added that based on the evidence and the fact that the alleged witness declined to issue a sworn statement, she believes the Senate acted appropriately.

She noted, however, that the members of the Senate could have been "a little more rigorous."

"I don’t think you get anything by judging the character of those who acted one way or another; what is important is to assume responsibility, and I am doing so here," Calderon said.

Calderon fervently defended the Police Department and its chief, Victor Rivera, even though a report on the incident didn’t turn up until details were made public by the media.

"I have no doubt, absolutely none, about the Police superintendent, that he is a correct man, that what happened was correct, and that there was no report under Ferdinand Mercado’s name," Calderon said

Mercado resigned one day after his name was linked to an automobile accident 18 years ago in which a friend of his died. His former wife told a local journalist and a television broadcast journalist that Mercado confessed to her that he had been driving the car and fled the scene after the crash.

In a police report of the accident, Mercado is referred to as "the accused who declined to join a police lineup." Police were forced to do a photo lineup, but neither of the two witnesses to the crash identified Mercado as the person they saw fleeing the scene.

Although his resignation was to have been effective Dec. 31, Calderon said he had lost her trust and replaced him immediately.

Calderon Orders Justice Department To Investigate Mercado

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

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

Following the scandal surrounding the resignation of Ferdinand Mercado to the post of Secretary of State, Gov. Sila Calderon has urged the Justice Department to investigate everything regarding the 1975 fatal car accident in which Mercado was involved and that claimed the life of friend and co-worker Jose Sosa Castro.

"Due to the public interest of this matter and my interest that it be clarified, I will appreciate the highest rigorousness in this issue and your prompt response," the governor said in her letter to Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez.

On Friday Mercado resigned his post after he was linked to a traffic accident in which a friend of his died 18 years ago. Mercado reportedly fled the scene and refused to participate in a line-up.

Following his resignation, the governor withdrew Mercado’s nomination to associate justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court and appointed Appellate Judge Liana Fiol Matta in his stead.

It was the third time that Mercado has been nominated for a position at the Supreme Court. In October, Calderon was forced to withdraw Mercado's nomination to chief justice after widespread opposition even from members of her own Popular Democratic (PDP) such as resident commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila. Then she had to withdraw Mercado's nomination to associate justice because there no vacancy had been created for that position.

Rodriguez declined to specify if the evaluation would include investigating whether government officials participated in a cover up to have Mercado sworn in as secretary of State and eventually to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

"We will evaluate this whole situation, the gaps and concerns that have surfaced to the public," Rodriguez limited herself to say.

The Justice chief also declined to judge Mercado’s character and said the situation has affected all government officials.

"I am distressed by the situation that we have been going through these last few days," Rodriguez said.

She added that she has asked Attorney General Pedro Goyco Amador and San Juan district prosecutor Jose Capo to conduct the investigation.

For his part, Goyco Amador acknowledged that the statute of limitations for the felony of fleeing the scene of an accident in 1975 was of one year and three years for involuntary manslaughter.

Operation Xmas Basket Strikes US Army Camps

December 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Kuwait Times. All rights reserved. 

The Financial Times Limited. Asia Africa Intelligence Wire.

KUWAIT: You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I'm telling you why...the "Operation Christmas Basket" is visiting the camps... Just a few days before Christmas, more than 30,000 bags of gifts were distributed in American military camps in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan by a group headed by Sheila and Lionel Gittens, founding chairpersons of 'Operation Thanksgiving Christmas Basket'. Christmas gifts were solicited from various government and private companies in Kuwait.

It was ten in the morning yesterday when 'Operation Christmas Basket' arrived at Camp Victory, north of Kuwait City, to distribute around 12,000 bags of Christmas presents to five military camps in Kuwait. "These gifts are really intended for our soldiers who are bravely spending Christmas away from their families. From Camp Victory, we'll go to Camp Virginia, Camp Udairi, Doha and Arifjan to distribute these gifts to our soldiers," Sheila said.

"Gift-giving is a small token of home. We want them to feel the spirit of Christmas, not only Americans but the rest of the Coalition troops as well," Shiela said.

"I'll see what's inside, but this is great! I love to receive presents. But this Christmas, I really wanted to be with my family, said Carlos Rodrigues, a military volunteer from Puerto Rico. He said he really missed her two kids and wife. "This is gonna be my first Christmas away from home," he added.

Metropolitan Bus Authority To Receive $28.4 Million

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Adaline Torres, the president of the Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA by its Spanish acronym), announced on Monday the allocation of $28.4 million in federal and local funds to improve public transportation on the island.

Of those funds, $5.6 million will come from the local government. The money will be used to acquire buses, and improve bus stops and centers.

The government also intends to rehabilitate bus terminals, purchase equipment, to give maintenance to the units, and update the agency’s communication system.

"This is an achievement of this management that for the first time in more than a decade has obtained funds from the Federal Transportation Administration for the purchase of buses," Torres said in a prepared statement.

She said that up until now Puerto Rico hadn’t qualified for this money because it didn’t comply with the regulation that requires the government to have 80% of the bus fleet available for service.

Torres said the agency will spend $10.7 million in the acquisition of 30 buses to replace other units or to expand their routes.

U.S. Navy Must Submit Property Inventory By Dec. 31

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – The U.S. Navy must provide the local government with an inventory of the property at the Roosevelt Roads naval base by year’s end.

In January, federal agencies who are interested in one of the facilities of the base should submit a transfer request, said Milton Segarra, who is the secretary of Economic Development & Commerce.

Segarra—who also presides over the Authority for the Local Re-development of Roosevelt Roads, met with Ceiba residents on Monday to present the work plan for the upcoming months.

"We are continuing the dialogue with the Ceiba community because we want them to know first hand how the work plan is being developed," Segarra said.

Ceiba Mayor Gerardo Cruz said the people can be sure that they are being well represented.

The authority is the entity responsible of implementing a plan to develop the military facility and it is currently looking for examples of other bases that are in the process of being shut down.

"We have found that 75% of them develop commercial and industrial parks, 60% develop educational institutions, and 40% develop public airports," Segarra said.

He added that recreational areas are developed in 30% of those bases and 20% develop healthcare related activities.

Government Announces Security Measures For ‘Orange Alert’

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

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

The increase of the terror-attack alert to orange—the second-highest level—has forced the local government to mobilize the police and the Puerto Rico National Guard to strengthen its protection of symbolic landmarks, airports, docks, and government agencies, announced Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez on Monday.

Rodriguez said the local government implemented tighter security measures soon after U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge contacted her on Sunday.

The Justice chief said although the orange alert mostly concerns government facilities, she urged citizens to report any suspicious activity to the local police at 787-343-2020.

Despite the alert, Rodriguez reassured the public that the government was doing everything possible to ensure that it would be ready to respond to any emergency.

"We must continue with our daily lives, especially during the holiday season," Rodriguez said.

She added that the local government has invested almost $7 million in equipment for communication, personal protection, and decontamination. The Department of Homeland Security has allocated nearly $28 million to Puerto Rico in 2003.

Police Superintendent Victor Rivera Gonzalez said that because of the department’s current crime-fighting campaign, he has ordered only 65 agents to provide additional security in areas such as synagogues, mosques, airports, and other landmarks such as La Fortaleza.

National Guard Adjutant Gen. Francisco Marquez said the initial number of soldiers for this alert would be 150.

Meanwhile, Miguel Soto Lacourt, the executive director of the Ports Authority, urged people who intend to make domestic trips to arrive at Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport at least two-and-a-half hours before departure time. Those taking international flights should be there at least three hours early.

Soto Lacourt told reporters that officers would be checking cars dropping off and picking up passengers. He said every vehicle left unattended would be towed away, with the driver potentially being fined $50 plus towing expenses.

The ports authority chief urged passengers to travel light, to wear rubber-soled shoes, not to wear jewelry, and to keep their luggage and packages with them at all times.

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