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Flood Relief Aid Upped By $20m…"Churumba" Cordero Bid Farewell…PIP: On Status, Santiago Was PDP's Bravest, NPP Hails His Legacy…Ponce Mayor Dies, Governor Offers Condolences… Rivera Negotiating San Juan Bout…Cartagena Appointed New Police Chief…Rossello Plans Statehood Vote

Local Government Increases Flood Relief Aid To $20 Million

January 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Gov. Sila Calderon signed an executive order to increase to $20 million the funds allocated to relief the damage caused by the heavy rain of November, government officials announced Saturday.

The central government had originally allocated $7 million to help the people affected by the rain that claimed two lives and cause more than $40 million in damage.

"As part of the aid that has been provided, the Office of Management & Budget has identified a need of an additional $13 million," Calderon said in a prepared statement.

According to the governor, the funds will be used to repair public infrastructure, to conduct cleanup efforts, as well as for other petitions for help.

The $20 million will come from the Government Emergency Fund, said Calderon, who signed the executive order on Jan. 11.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also released funds to meet the needs of affected individuals in 19 municipalities and of damaged infrastructure in 18 towns.

Thousands Bid "Churumba" Farewell At His Beloved City Of Ponce

By Luis R. Varela of Associated Press

January 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

PONCE (AP) — Applauding and cheering thousands of people paid their respects on Sunday to deceased Ponce Mayor Rafael "Churumba" Cordero Santiago during the day-long wake held at the Juan "Pachin" Vicens coliseum.

Over a dozen police motorcycles escorted the funeral procession that arrived at the coliseum by mid morning.

Heading the procession were Cordero Santiago’s widow, attorney Madeline Velasco, her daughters, former governor Rafael Hernandez Colon and Ponce Deputy Mayor Delis Castillo.

As the casket was a carried into the coliseum thousands of people in a voluntary act paid their respects by giving a standing ovation. Others yelled "Churumba lives forever."

The open casket bore the Ponce and Puerto Rican flags.

Churumba daughters Solange Marie, Mara Bianca, her husband Fernando Arevalo, and the mayor’s siblings Mickey, Chin, Tita and Mary stood next to the casket .

Cordero Santiago, 61, died Saturday at the Rio Piedras Medical Center after suffering three massive aneurisms.

A giant lion, Ponce’s symbol, was placed in the middle of the coliseum, and some people carried signs reading "Cordero was a humble and brave lion."

In the bleachers some people waved the flags of Puerto Rico and Ponce while the coliseum’s electronic score table read "May the great lion rest in peace,"

"He died for his people and he is here for his people," his widow said.

Velasco, who is being mentioned as Cordero’s possible replacement, noted that the promises made by her husband would be fulfill.

Velasco concluded her brief statement with a phrase beloved to the proud residents of Ponce "Ponce is Ponce and the rest is parking" at which time thousands of people applauded her.

Many people attended the wake wearing black and red, the official colors of Ponce.

The wake at the coliseum will last until midnight.

On Monday, Cordero's remains will be exposed at the Ponce City Hall starting at 8:30 a.m.

At 11 a.m. there will be a religious service at the Ponce Cathedral. Bishop Lazaro Felix will conduct the ceremony and the burial will be held at La Piedad Cemetery, where the remains of Cordero's parents are buried.

Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon and his brother Cesar, a dear friend of Cordero, will conduct the funeral procession.

PIP: When It Came To Status, Santiago Was PDP's Bravest

January 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The leadership of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) regretted the death of Ponce Mayor Rafael 'Churumba' Cordero, whom they described as a lone voice within the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) that called for sovereignty.

PIP President Ruben Berrios said that, from a political point of view, Ponce loses a mayor and a great Ponceño.

"But Puerto Rico loses someone who many times stood alone within his own party to claim for sovereignty," the PIP president said.

Berrios added that he had the opportunity to know Cordero closely when they were both arrested at the federal prison for trespassing over U.S. Navy land in Vieques to protest military presence.

"In jail I got to know a sensible, brave, and caring Rafael Cordero. From that moment on I considered him my friend. Therefore, today I feel that I've lost a friend," Berrios said.

PIP Sen. Fernando Martin also praised Cordero and expressed his sadness upon learning of the mayor's death.

"I am profoundly saddened by this unexpected and premature death of a valuable Puerto Rican," Martin said.

"In a party such as the PDP, which has been characterized for its shyness and ambiguity regarding the political status issue, Churumba Cordero was the one who denounced the colonial character of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico most bravery and perseverance," Martin added in an interview with The Associated Press.

NPP Legislators Highlight Churumba's Legacy

January 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The New Progressive Party (NPP) House and Senate minority leaders underscored the legacy of the late Ponce Mayor Rafael 'Churumba' Cordero, who remained in office for nearly 16 years.

Cordero Santiago died at the Rio Piedras Medical Center on Sunday at the age of 61 after suffering a brain hemorrhage on Friday.

NPP Senate Minority Leader Kenneth McClintock said the mayor's leadership went beyond the limits of Ponce to reach the entire island.

"Today Churumba has ceased to be of the Popular Democratic Party to become a historical figure for all Puerto Ricans," McClintock said.

NPP House Minority Leader Anibal Vega Borges said the death of Cordero means an irreparable loss of a great Puerto Rican who dedicated his energy and enthusiasm to the progress and well being of his beloved Ponce.

"In the political arena, he was always a tireless, respectful, courteous, and generous fighter," Vega Borges said in a prepared statement.

Ponce Mayor Dies After Massive Cerebral Hemorrhage

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

January 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Following the shocking news of his death, a group of doctors that included Health Secretary Johnny Rullan announced that the man known as Ponce Mayor Rafael "Churumba" Cordero was declared brain dead around 9 a.m. Saturday after suffering three massive aneurisms. He was 61.

Cordero, who according to health physicians, was believed to be in good condition before his demise, was surprised by a fatal brain hemorrhage Friday afternoon in Ponce.

He was transferred by helicopter to the Rio Piedras Medical Center, where he was intervened to relieve the pressure inside the skull, but the brain tissue had already sustained severe damage.

"Unfortunately, by the time had arrived here, he was in a very deteriorated state," Rullan said during a press conference at the Rio Piedras Medical Center on Saturday morning.

"We have no evidence of a risk factor [that might have made the mayor prone to suffering an aneurysm]. We cannot speculate in this particular case," said Rullan who added that these cases are very common.

The Health chief added that the high blood pressure is the main culprit in neurovascular diseases that also brain hemorrhages and are considered to be the third cause of death in Puerto Rico.

During the press conference, physicians said about 8,000 neurovascular cases are reported on the island each year. Four hundred aneurysm cases are reported every year in Puerto Rico and about half are fatal, doctors said.

Rullan added that Cordero's organs were being kept healthy so they can be donated.

After the organs are removed, the mayor's body would be handed over to his relatives for funeral arrangements.

Cordero, whose wife Madeline Velazco likened him to the emblematic lion of Ponce, is expected to be buried in the municipality which he lead for almost 16 years.

The deceased mayor is also survived by his 28 year-old twin daughters Solange Marie and Maria Bianca.

'Churumba': More Than A Mayor, A Synonym For Ponce

By Luis Varela of The Associated Press

January 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

Rafael Cordero, more than a successful mayor and a shrewd politician, was a synonym for Ponce.

"Churumba," as he was known by all, died at age 61 on Saturday at the Rio Piedras Medical Center after falling into a coma caused by a brain hemorrhage on Friday.

Cordero Santiago, the most charismatic mayor in the recent history of Ponce, had been mayor since 1988. His time in City Hall has been filled with anecdotes, controversy, victories, and setbacks.

Born Oct. 24, 1942 in the sector of La Playa, Cordero remained proud of his humble beginnings throughout his life.

From 1960 until 1964 he studied at the Catholic University, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in Arts, majoring in Political Science, Economy, and Social Science.

From 1969 until 1972 he was special aide to then Senate President Rafael Hernandez Colon, who later became governor.

In 1985 he was appointed director of the Labor Rights Administration.

With Hernandez Colon's support, Cordero won the 1988 mayoral election.

For some, great part of Cordero's success in politics had to do with his willingness to challenge the central government and criticize officials regardless of their partisan affiliation for the sake of Ponce.

One of his major triumphs was when the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled that former Gov. Pedro Rossello had illegally halted the Ponce en Marcha plan that had been designed by Hernandez Colon to improve the municipal infrastructure.

When the administration of Gov. Sila Calderon failed to resume the plan, he lambasted the central government and threatened to go back to court.

Another one of his victories was the change of location of the Port of the Americas construction site from Guayanilla to Ponce.

In the political arena, he was one of the few PDP leaders to acknowledge that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was really a colonial status. He also believed Puerto Rico should become a sovereign state associated with the United States of America.

The Ponce mayor was also a great basketball fan and even directed the festivities whenever the Leones of Ponce would win a championship.

Governor Gives Condolences To The Cordero Family

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

January 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Following the news of Ponce Mayor Rafael "Churumba" Cordero's death, Gov. Sila Calderon showed up at the Rio Piedras Medical Center early Saturday afternoon to express her condolences to the mayor's family.

"Puerto Rico has lost a warrior of good and noble causes of this country," said the governor, who was accompanied by her husband, former Economic & Commerce Development Secretary Ramon Cantero Frau.

During a short press conference, the governor reminisced about the time she had shared with Cordero, whom, despite many differences of opinion, she held in high esteem.

While he was alive, the Ponce mayor was known for criticizing Calderon's administration even though they were both members of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP).

Still, on Saturday the governor only had words of praise for the late mayor and during her brief speech to the press, underscored Cordero's virtues as a man and as a politician.

"Churumba Cordero always stood up for the rights of Puerto Ricans and also defended, not only with his strength but with his heart, our Puerto Rican identity, values, and culture. His legacy is in the work he did for his people, which will live forever in the hearts of all Puerto Ricans," Calderon said.

The governor also used the opportunity to support the proposal PDP gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila made an earlier to name the Port of the Americas after the late Ponce mayor.

"I think it is a magnificent proposal and it is very well received," Calderon added.

Acevedo Vila said he had been at the Rio Piedras Medical Center since early morning in solidarity with the mayor's family and that he had been with them even when Cordero was given the last rites.

"I told [mayor's widow] Madeline [Velazco] to rest assured that the ideals Churumba had live for would continue to live stronger in the people of Puerto Rico," Acevedo Vila said.

He also described the late mayor as a man of strong believes who knew how to drive his message across with dignity.

"We've all had our differences with Churumba, but never on a personal level. He was the strongest ally you could ever have," Acevedo Vila said.

Cordero died of a massive brain hemorrhage Saturday morning after being in a coma since Friday afternoon. He was 61.

Jose Rivera Negotiating March Bout In San Juan

Bud Barth

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

January 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

The handlers of Worcester's Jose Antonio Rivera are in "final negotiations" for a pay-per-view fight that would pit the WBA welterweight champion against recently unseated unified champion Ricardo Mayorga of Nicaragua March 20 in Puerto Rico.

Headlining the show is a heavyweight showdown between Chelsea's John Ruiz (39-5-1, 27 KOs), the so-called WBA "interim" champion, and Puerto Rico's Fres Oquendo (24-2, 15 KOs).

It has been rumored Felix Trinidad, the retired great who was champion in three weight divisions, might make a comeback on the card. Other bouts are being negotiated.

Tony Cardinale of Boston, the lawyer for both Rivera and Ruiz, said last night Mayorga's signature is all that's needed. The Rivera camp has already agreed to the terms, which would include a six- figure payday for the Worcester fighter, by far his largest ever, Cardinale said.

Mayorga (26-4-1, 23 KOs) and Rivera (37-3-1, 24 KOs) are both promoted by Don King, as are Ruiz and Oquendo.

Rivera and Ruiz are both Puerto Rican, although neither has fought there. Both were born in this country (Rivera in Philadelphia, Ruiz in Methuen) and are staunchly proud of their Puerto Rican heritage. Rivera has family there, and has always said he dreamed about defending his title there, as well as in Worcester.

Calderon Appoints Cartagena As New Chief Of Police

By WOW Staff and wire reports

January 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Gov. Sila Calderon appointed Fire Department Chief Agustin Cartagena as the island’s new Police Superintendent on Friday.

"Today Agustin Cartagena has been entrusted with a mission to firmly and with total determination face drug trafficking, the illegal trade of weapons and violence in our country," Calderon said during a press conference on Friday.

Cartagena is her fourth chief of police in four years.

A veteran of the police department Cartagena has occupied several commanding posts in the police including San Juan area police commander during Gov. Pedro Rossello’s administration.

Deputy Fire Department Chief German Ocasio will replace Cartagena.

"The nomination of Ocasio will give continuity to all of Cartagena’s work because they have both been working at the Fire Department," Calderon said.

Meanwhile Calderon acknowledged that several names had been mentioned for the post of chief of police but she chose Cartagena for his experience and performance in the Police Department.

"I have no doubt that he will have the votes needed for his confirmation," Calderon said adding that she has already spoken to Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora.

Col. Hector Laureano, current deputy chief of police, will remain as interim chief of police until Cartagena is confirmed by the Senate.

Cartagena said he has several ideas to reduce murders on the island, that already reach 40 so far this year.

Calderon refused to comment on the other people who were mentioned concerning to occupy the post.

About the controversial designation of Col. Jorge Collazo who was mentioned as a possible candidate, Calderon said he is qualified to fill any position.

Collazo’s possible nomination was criticized by pro-independence leaders because he has acknowledged that he worked in the police department’s intelligence division which kept dossiers on people based only on their political beliefs.

Rossello Plans Statehood Vote

January 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004
Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--Former Gov. Pedro Rossello said if he is re-elected this year he will seek a new vote on whether Puerto Rico should become a full-fledged U.S. state.

Rossello, who was the U.S. territory's governor from 1993 through 2000, presided over two referendums in which Puerto Ricans narrowly rejected statehood.

He said in an interview Thursday night that if elected in November he would call a referendum in which islanders would choose whether to ask the U.S. Congress to define "constitutionally valid options."

He said that would exclude "options that are territorial or colonial" - a category that his pro-statehood New Progressive Party says includes the current status as a U.S. commonwealth.

"I am very confident that the vote would be a large majority because there is a consensus in Puerto Rico that the options that we should entertain should not be colonial or territorial," Rossello told The Associated Press.

When Congress defines options, he said, another vote would be held for Puerto Ricans to choose their status.

The Caribbean island has been a U.S. territory since 1898, when it was seized from Spain.

U.S. President George W. Bush recently named a 16-member panel to re-evaluate Puerto Rico's status, under which islanders pay no U.S. income taxes but receive $14 billion yearly in federal funds.

Rossello is running against Anibal Acevedo Vila, the nonvoting delegate to Congress from the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party, and Ruben Berrios, leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.

Gov. Sila Calderon, a commonwealth supporter, has decided not to run again.

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