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Government Retakes Prasa…Police To Have Interim Superintendent…Tourism Officials Expect Good Season… New Education Security Measures Announced…Santini: Rossello’s Leadership Unquestioned, NPP Can’t Be Punished For The Member’s Acts…Acevedo Vila Asked To Resign As Res. Comm

Puerto Rico's Government Cancels Contract With Paris-Based Company Managing Island's Troubled Water Utility


January 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Puerto Rico's government canceled a 10-year contract with Ondeo Services to manage the island's troubled water utility because the Paris-based company was demanding additional payments, officials said Tuesday.

Ondeo and subsidiary United Water de Ondeo -- headquartered in Harrington Park, New Jersey -- were awarded a yearly $400 million contract to manage the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority in April 2002.

But the company cited $93 million in losses in the first 18 months of providing services and demanded payment from the government. The company said that the Puerto Rican government did not provide a complete picture of the deteriorated conditions of the aqueduct and sewer system.

The U.S. Caribbean territory's government refused to pay the extra money and Ondeo threatened to reduce services to make up for the losses.

"At this time, the best decision for the people of Puerto Rico is for the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority to take over the system to assure the continuity and quality of service," said Juan Agosto Alicea, the water authority's director.

The Aqueduct and Sewer Authority will take over partial control of the utility on April 1 with technical assistance from Ondeo and the government agency will assume full control on June 30.

Before Ondeo's contract, the utility and outside water experts estimated the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority lost up to 50 percent of its water from illegal siphoning, water leaks and incorrect billing estimates.

The government says Ondeo owes it $3.4 million. The contract will be officially dissolved on Thursday, officials said.

Police To Have Interim Superintendent

January 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Even if Gov. Sila Calderon were to appoint a new chief of police before Friday, Col. Hector Laureano will remain as the interim superintendent until the Legislature evaluates and approves a nominee to the post, outgoing Chief of Police Victor Rivera said.

Rivera Gonzalez made the statements following a constitutional cabinet meeting with the governor at La Fortaleza, where work done in 2003 and pending for 2004 was reviewed.

He again declined to favor any of the candidates being mentioned to replace him, but praised Laureano’s performance as the second in command in the Police Department.

Tourism Officials Expect Good Season For The Caribbean

January 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--Caribbean tourism showed signs of recovery last year with increased tourist arrivals to the region, officials said Tuesday.

The news was good for the Caribbean which saw arrivals drop about 15% in the months following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, causing major losses for the tourism industry.

The Caribbean Hotel Association, holding a convention in this U.S. territory, reported an average 6% growth in arrivals to the region from the U.S. and Canada in the first half of 2003 compared with the same period in 2002.

Cuba and the Dominican Republic reported increases of up to 15% in arrivals, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

The Caribbean will be quick to recover from the post-Sept. 11 slump because of the region's proximity to major markets in North America, said Alec Sanguinetti of the Caribbean Hotel Association.

"This year is going to be the closest thing to a normal season that we've seen in the past two years," said John Issa, executive of SuperClubs, a Jamaican hotel chain. "The unfortunate world tensions will assist destinations closer to the market and the Caribbean will benefit."

The euro's and British pound's strength against the U.S. dollar also benefits the Caribbean because U.S. and Canadian travelers will be reluctant to give up their currency advantage and are more likely to travel to the Caribbean.

Rey Announces New Security Measures

January 13, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The Education Department will establish 10 student assistance centers to prevent violent events. In the past semester, there were a number of such incidences, including the killing of a teacher by a student in Quebradillas, Education Secretary Cesar Rey said.

The centers will be set up throughout the island’s educational regions and each will have four psychologists, who begin Jan. 31.

The psychologists will attend to the needs of students identified as high-risk by social workers and teachers, Rey said.

"As part of this strategy, we have identified 104 high-risk schools," Rey said.

Of these 104, 21 are elementary, 36 are junior high, and 47 are high schools.

Schools were identified as high-risk if they had three or more violent incidents reported during the past three years or are near communities identified as high-risk.

Rossello’s Leadership Should Not Be Questioned

January 12, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Whether or no New Progressive Party Rep. Oscar Ramos quits his post is not an issue for which NPP President Pedro Rossello’s leadership should be questioned.

At least that was the opinion of San Juan Mayor and Party Vice-President Jorge Santini who said Rossello has only recommended Ramos to quit.

"We can’t assume that this is a threat to his leadership. Oscar Ramos has rights and is protected by law just as any citizen is, wheather he is a politician or not and if he wants to quit or not that is up to him," Santini said.

"Rossello recommends, suggests, or requests, but whether he (Ramos) does it or not, does not mean that his leadership is damaged," Santini said.

Ramos has declined to accept Rossello’s advice for him to quit and dedicate himself fully to his legal defense.

The legislator faces trial in state court for soliciting and receiving bribes in the amount of $60,000 from convicted developer Jose Ventura Asilis.

The legislator also faces an investigation by the House Ethic Committee for allegedly accepting an $8,000 illegal donation from the same developer.

NPP Can’t Be Punished For Member’s Acts

By Manuel Ernesto Rivera of Associated Press

January 12, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini said Monday that the New Progressive Party couldn’t be held accountable for the guilty pleas entered by some of its members.

The NPP vice president noted however that he is unaware of any plea agreements being discussed by the former party president Carlos Pesquera and by Rep. Edwin Mundo who are said to be negotiating plea agreements in order to avoid going to trial on the charge of riot for their participation in the violent event that occurred at the Women Advocate Office on June 20, 2002.

Still he affirmed that even if Pesquera and Mundo plead guilty to the acts for which they are being charged the NPP as an institution can’t be blamed for it.

"I wasn’t there, but I have seen everything that has been shown by the media and it seems to me that there is no evidence of any violation of the law," Santini said.

He added that none of the four NPP members charged with riot for breaking into the Women Advocate Office to place an American Flag alongside a Puerto Rican one should have been charged, processed or taken to court.

"This island has seen much more violent protest and no one has been charged because it has been interpreted as a right to freedom of speech," Santini said.

The attorney noted that even if Pesquera and Mundo enter an agreement with the prosecution, the case of fellow defendants former representative Leo Diaz and electoral commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz should not be affected.

"If there is objectivity and the true will for justice to shine then charges against the four should be dropped," Santini said.

Mundo, declined to be negotiating with the prosecution pleading guilty to damaging public property in exchange for the count of riot being dropped.

"Those are rumors, no one has approached me. No one has spoken to me about that," Mundo said adding that he is unaware of any negotiation being carried out by Pesquera.

The trial against the four is scheduled to begin on Wednesday.

Acevedo Vila Asked To Resign As Resident Commissioner

January 12, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

PONCE (AP) – Senator Francisco Zayas Seijo joined the claim of various leaders of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in asking gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila to resign as Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner in order to concentrate his efforts on the forthcoming election campaign.

Zayas Seijo said that Acevedo Vila will resign when the right time comes, not on an immediate basis as Ponce Mayor, Rafael "Churumba" Cordero, has suggested.

Still, Zayas Seijo predicted that Acevedo Vila will win the election over his contender, NPP’s candidate Pedro Rossello.

"Rosselló didn’t know what 40 of his people were doing and they are now in jail, so he’s an ignorant person who does not deserve to become Governor again", said Zayas, referring to over 20 people from the past government who were accused of corruption.

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