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Governor: Random Shooters Are Unforgivable, Gov’t Overwhelmed By Problem…P.R. Yahoo’s!…House To Investigate UT Delay…Drug Gang After Ivan Calderon's Son…Family Of Soldier Killed In Iraq Plan Scholarship Fund…Judge: ACAA Was Politicized…Ondeo Cancellation Costs Assessed…Perez: Street-Gang Founder To Mayor…Soldiers Celebrate In Iraq…J.Lo Tops ‘03 'Hot List'

Governor: Random Shooters Are Unforgivable

By Manuel Ernesto Rivera of The Associated Press

January 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN - "What I saw is unforgivable," said Gov. Sila Calderon to summarize the sadness she felt when visiting a girl hospitalized at the Rio Piedras Medical Center after sustaining head injuries from a stray bullet during the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Calderon went to the Pediatric Hospital to visit Sahony Lopez, mother of Saymi Lopez, the four month-old baby who is in intensive care.

The governor reproached those whom she called irresponsible for shooting randomly in the air on New Year’s Eve, injuring 22 people and killing a 10-year-old.

"A heavy campaign against stray bullets was conducted, and yet many people ignored it, resulting in the tragic situations we all know. What I’ve just seen is unforgivable," Calderon said during a press conference at the hospital.

The four month-old baby underwent surgery after a bullet went in and out of her head.

The governor said one of the nurses told her that the baby girl is responding well to the medical care.

"We will have to wait, but it is really impressive. There are no words to describe what I have seen," Calderon insisted.

The governor urged all the sectors of the island to unite and reflect on the root of the violence that affects Puerto Rican society. She also urged the media to rethink their violent content.

Calderon said she intends to implement tougher measures to tackle violence and urged the Legislature to vote in favor of three bills regarding the illegal use of firearms, and the imposition of harsher penalties for criminals and drunk drivers.

She also instructed outgoing Police Superintendent Victor Rivera Gonzalez to take a census of the deaths resulting from stray bullets in the past years to establish the areas that are more prone to those incidents so that more resources and security measures can be implemented in those places.

Puerto Rican Authorities Overwhelmed By Problem Of Stray Bullets

January 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004
EFE NEWS SERVICE. All rights reserved. 

San Juan, Jan 3 (EFE) - Festive shots fired into the air by many Puerto Ricans ringing in the New Year have become a growing concern for authorities on the island as the death toll rises.

A child died Saturday of a bullet wound sustained New Year's Day, Puerto Rican Health Department Secretary Johnny Rullan announced.

Ten epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, have been invited into the country to evaluate the situation and offer possible solutions, Rullan said.

On Saturday, 9-year-old Jessica Pacheco Calvente died in the Pediatric Hospital of the San Juan Medical Center. She had been declared brain dead after a stray bullet penetrated her skull.

In the late hours of New Year's Eve and in the early hours of the New Year's Day, 25 people were wounded by gunfire, four children among them, prompting Rullan to declare an "epidemic."

Stray bullets have killed 80 people in Puerto Rico over the past five years.

In addition to investigating the causes of chronic diseases and epidemics, the CDC studies ways in which accidents may be prevented.

Where Are Travelers Going?

Staff and Wire Reports

January 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004
The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved. 

Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom and France were the top international destinations booked by visitors to the Yahoo! travel site in 2003. Top domestic destinations were New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando and Miami.

Looking ahead to the first three months of 2004, Denver joins the list of top U.S. destinations, bumping out New York; and Italy joins the list of top international spots, pushing out Canada.

House To Investigate Delay In Urban Train Construction

January 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The House Socioeconomic Development Committee will investigate the delay in the construction of the Urban Train, government officials said.

The legislative investigation will also go into the performance of operator and construction company Siemens Transit Team and the options available to the state to face the current situation, said House Vice President Ferdinand Perez.

"We cannot continue to allow government-hired companies to not comply with what was established," Perez said in a prepared statement.

The House investigation comes at a time when the Department of Transportation & Public Works (DTPW) evaluates the possibility of ending the contract with the aforementioned German company for not completing the transportation project by Dec. 29.

One day after the deadline, DTPW Secretary Fernando Fagundo announced that the local government had already discussed with the federal government the option of ending the contract and that the agency's legal advisers were evaluating the pros and cons of that alternative.

The public official said the company will have to pay $9 million in penalties and more than $100,000 per each day passed the deadline.

The day before the deadline, Siemens filed a lawsuit in which the company blamed other six contractors for the delay and demanded a compensation of $50 million for additional investment of time, equipment, and personnel.

Drug Gang After Ivan Calderon's Son

Tribune news services

January 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Chicago Tribune. All rights reserved. 

Members of a drug gang in Puerto Rico reportedly had warned former White Sox outfielder Ivan Calderon to turn over his 18-year-old son, who allegedly was involved in the death of one of their members, or be killed himself.

Police have identified several suspects in the Dec. 27th killing but have made no arrests. Calderon, 41, was at the El Trompo bar in the north coast town of Loiza when two gunmen entered and opened fire without warning.

Calderon had a 10-year career with the White Sox, Seattle Mariners, Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox.

Family Of Fort Bragg Soldier Killed In Iraq Plan Scholarship Fund

Associated Press Writer

January 3, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The parents of a North Carolina-based soldier killed in Iraq said Saturday that they plan to start a scholarship fund for Puerto Rican students in his name at the Texas university he attended.

Army Capt. Ernesto M. Blanco, 28, was killed last Sunday when an explosive device struck the vehicle in which he was riding.

His father, Jose Blanco, said by telephone from San Antonio, Texas, that he will donate a substantial sum, which he didn't specify, to Texas A&M University to set up the fund and then hopes to draw additional donations from businesses.

"It's to honor his memory, Blanco said. "He was an exceptional son and I always supported him in what he wanted."

The soldier was the 12th of Puerto Rican descent to be killed in Iraq. Before joining the Army he served in the Reserve Officer Training Corps while studying animal science at the university in College Station, Texas.

He was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and his father said Blanco then moved to Puerto Rico with the family when he was 1. He remained until he was 15, when he moved with his family to Texas.

Blanco's father said his son returned to the U.S. territory to visit relatives but that he had closer ties to Texas, where he spent most of his time since leaving the Caribbean island.

Blanco joined the Army in April 1999 and became part of the 82nd Airborne Division in March 2001. He won a Bronze Star and his Combat Infantryman Badge while deployed to Afghanistan last year.

Blanco, who left for Iraq in September, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment based at Fort Bragg, N.C. He was the leader for the support and transportation platoon, which is responsible for supplying and transporting the battalion's soldiers.

Blanco was engaged to Michelle Sorrell and the two had planned a wedding in June.

His burial was expected in the coming week in San Antonio.

Judge: ACAA Was Highly Politicized By Past Administration

January 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Superior Court Judge Eliadis Orsini Zayas concluded that the Administration of Compensation for Automobil Accidents (ACAA by its Spanish acronym) became a highly politicized agency by practicing political discrimination during the administration of Gov. Pedro Rossello.

Orsini Zayas ordered the agency to reinstate three employees and to pay their salaries retroactively, as well as other penalties, published reports said.

The three employees filed a lawsuit against ACAA for incidents that took place from 1993 to 2000. They had been demoted, denied merits, and discriminated against to favor New Progressive Party members.

One of the cases concerned the vice president of the San Juan municipal assembly, Elba Valles, who was made responsible for discriminating against Modesto Rosado, whom she once described as not only being black but a Popular Democratic Party member.

Consequences Of Cancellation Of Ondeo Contract Viewed

January 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – With the year-end, the negotiations of the contract – specifically with the economic area of Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority and Ondeo – also concluded, the agreements however could cost millions to the government of Puerto Rico, Prasa President Juan Agosto Alicea said.

The negotiations ended December 31 and the final agreement could be signed as soon as January 15, published reports said.

Between January and March 31 the administration of Prasa will revert to the government but the day to day operation will continue to be handled by Ondeo.

From March 31 to June 30 Prasa’s executive director assumes responsibility of the operations, which completes a six-month transition period and prevents service from being affected.

Despite the cost of canceling the contract, Agosto Alicea said he was satisfied with the fact that it would be much less than the $93 million being demanded by Ondeo in order to continue operating Prasa.

Meanwhile he said members of Prasa’s Board of Directors are already interviewing candidates for the two executive presidencies that will surface once the agency elects a new operating structure.

Ondeo was a awarded an annual $360 million for 10 years contract in exchange for completing an ambitious improvement plan that would help reduce broken water pipes from 50 to 20%.

However, 18 months after the contract was signed Ondeo said it needed to renegotiate arguing the government gave wrong or incomplete information regarding the conditions of the system. Ondeo’s demands ended with the cancellation of the contract.

Hartford's Perez: Street-Gang Founder To Strong Mayor

By Matt Apuzzo of Associated Press

January 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

HARTFORD, Connecticut (AP) - Eddie Perez was not a typical gang leader. He was scrawny, read books and went to school. A Puerto Rican boy growing up in Hartford's mostly black North End, he founded the Ghetto Brothers in the early 1970s. And though he was younger than the rest of his crew, they followed him.

In those days, he was known on the street as "The Professor." These days, he is Mayor Perez.

After two years as a City Hall figurehead, a charter revision that took effect Thursday gave Perez, 47, sweeping new authority to run one of the oldest cities in America.

Raised by a single mother on welfare, Perez is now the most powerful mayor in Hartford history. He will be officially sworn in Monday for a second term.

Perez says he will orchestrate a Hartford renaissance. His new authority comes at a difficult time: Taxes, crime and unemployment are up; revenue, home ownership and the city's population are down.

But Perez is confident. He's lived the city's problems. He ran with a gang, lived in poverty and moved between burnt-out apartments.

"It's one of the best assets he has," said Hernan LaFontaine, a former school superintendent and Perez ally who is about to become City Council president. "You're in survival mode when you're a young person growing up like that. You're always on the lookout. How can you keep moving? How can you get ahead? He's got regular street smarts."

Perez's family left Corozal, Puerto Rico, and arrived in Hartford in 1969. He was 12, the second-oldest of nine children. They lived in the North End, arriving on the heels of three years of fiery race riots.

His mother could afford only the worst apartments in the worst neighborhoods, Perez said. He remembers stepping over an overdose victim while playing in an abandoned lot.

"It wasn't uncommon for us to have to move in the middle of winter because of a mechanical failure to the heating system where we were living," he said.

He attended five different elementary schools and moved a dozen times during high school. He negotiated rents and applied for social services on his mother's behalf.

A year or two after arriving in Hartford, Perez formed the Ghetto Brothers with his brother and two friends. They wore bright yellow and purple jackets and staked the North End as their turf.

"Most of my peers, a lot of my eighth-grade class, died of gang violence, drug overdoses," he said. "Between 18 and 26, I went to a lot of funerals.

"Still when I lecture at prisons, I see old friends. Ninety percent of the people I grew up with didn't succeed."

The gang wars of Hartford were years away when Perez left the Ghetto Brothers in 1976. But the foundation was there. His friend and successor, Benny Gonzalez, would make the gang one of the most feared in Hartford.

Meanwhile, Perez spent his free time playing basketball at a local church and got involved with its youth group. He started a civic group in his neighborhood. Working out of a broken stall in a self-serve car wash, he organized tenants and annoyed landlords.

He pestered one insurance company into making a $20,000 donation, then leveraged that to get matching money from another. He earned a reputation as a strong community organizer.

"At 21 years old, I could produce 400 people like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

As Perez was preparing to begin night classes at Trinity College, the Ghetto Brothers were fighting a drug-fueled war with the Savage Nomads in the South End. In 1984, Gonzalez was executed in a vacant lot.

The gang war ended when the Ghetto Brothers and Savage Nomads merged. The resulting gang, Los Solidos, remains active in the New England drug trade.

Seeking to improve community relations, Trinity hired Perez as city liaison. He did not have a degree, but spent years negotiating with community members on behalf of the college.

The buzz about Eddie Perez becoming mayor begin in 1995, when Trinity put him in charge of the $175 million Learning Corridor, an effort to build new schools and businesses on 15 desolate city acres.

He went door-to-door, persuading owners to sell their land and convincing business leaders to invest. He pitched the development to skeptical school districts.

"I poured concrete on land I didn't own for the foundation of the school," Perez confesses. "Is that winging it? I call it a calculated risk. I knew if I didn't pour then, I'd lose $1 million in construction delays. I had a handshake agreement on the land."

It worked out, and so did the Learning Corridor. When then-Mayor Mike Peters decided not to run for re-election, Perez ran and won.

He took office in 2001 as the first Hispanic mayor of a city in which Hispanics outnumber whites and blacks.

Though technically powerless under the city's charter, Perez upended Hartford politics. When City Council Democrats challenged him, he aligned himself with a Republican and a Green Party member and took control of the council.

He ran the school superintendent out of town, even though he had no authority to fire him. He laid off 220 city workers and raised taxes to close a $48 million budget deficit, even though he was not the budget chief.

With murders and drug violence on the rise, he pushed out the city's police chief and pledged a national search to find a hand-picked replacement.

His critics called him dictatorial.

"He told me, `You're either with me or you're not. And if you're not, you're out,"' said Marilyn Rossetti, a former councilwoman who found herself in a Democratic minority after crossing Perez.

But, she adds: "In some ways, what a job. Who the hell would want it?"

Perez said he knows what he has gotten himself into. He has staked his political future on Hartford's success. He predicts the city will soon make national headlines.

"Of course, you've got to put up or shut up now. No doubt about it," said LaFontaine. "He definitely knows it."

Puerto Rican Soldiers Celebrate In Iraq

January 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – After being on service for more than 11 months in Iraq, few might think that Battalion 394 of Aguada has reason to celebrate, however they managed to have a new years eve with a Puerto Rican flavor.

Lt Col Hector Lopez said they managed to have a Puerto Rican dinner with a local dessert.

"The hostile environment in which we are immersed prevented us from having a full celebration, we can’t sing because they can shoot us, and definitely not being with our relatives and in our homes does not give us many reasons to celebrate. Therefore we concentrate on being thankful to God for being alive, for the opportunity of being together and have the certainty that we will soon be back home," Lopez said in a telephone conversation.

Battalion 394 is in charge of the most important logistic base in Iraq and daily provides 50,000 gallons of gas, to more than 2,000 trucks and helicopters. It produces more that 100,000 gallons of water and has 456 members.

"We miss our families and loved ones but we also know that spending Christmas here will help us appreciate and cherish future holidays that we spend with them," Lopez said.

J.Lo Tops 'Hot List' For 2003, Ben's No. 4

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

LOS ANGELES - With her almost wedding and her movie bomb "Gigli," it's probably no surprise that Jennifer Lopez tops Entertainment Tonight's "Hot List" for 2003.

It's comprised of celebrities who received the most mentions on the show over the past year.

Last year's No. 1, Jennifer Aniston, fell to second place.

Michael Jackson ranked third, followed by J.Lo's other half, Ben Affleck.

Rounding out the top five is Nicole Kidman.

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