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Rossello Promises To Repeal New Penal Code…Governor Signs School Security Force Law…RUM Anti Militarism Group Reactivated…BVI Tourism Office Opens…Old San Juan Ups Cultural Offerings…Military Base Closure Report 1 Year Off…Solid Waste #1 Environmental Problem…PDP Defends New Penal Code, Cop’s Views Unsolicited…Lajas Aerostat Raised Again

Rossello Promises To Repeal New Penal Code

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

May 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

New Progressive Party (NPP) gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello announced on Tuesday that he would seek the repeal of the new penal code approved by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Legislative Assembly last week.

Rossello made the announcement following the NPP directorate meeting where a resolution was approved to that effect.

Rossello said the PDP has lied to the people of Puerto Rico by alleging that the new penal code replaces the current sentence reduction system with fixed penalties to ensure that offenders actually sever longer prison sentences.

"Our main purpose should be to protect the citizens. Too few are causing a lot of suffering to a many people," said Rossello, who added that less than 1% of the Puerto Rico population are felons.

He presented a list of all felonies and their sentences and compared it to the new penal code. According to Rossello, new code proposes a fixed sentence of eight to 15 to second degree. Under the current code, the maximum sentence is 30 years, which in reality would be 17 years.

Contrary to what PDP House Judiciary Committee Chairman Charlie Rodriguez said last week, NPP House minority leader Anibal Vega Borges read a portion of the new code that states the new code could apply to convicted criminals if it is favorable to them.

"I am not making it up. This is what they have written in the new penal code that they approved," the NPP representative said.

Vega Borges denied allegations that the NPP refused to participate in the new penal code’s discussion prior to its approval. Vega Borges explained that the NPP wanted to discuss the new code, article by article, but the PDP ruled that possibility out by claiming that the Senate had already held public hearings.

"The Senate only discussed the issue of sodomy. The PDP was afraid of opening the code for discussion at the House," Vega Borges stated.

Rossello said he is committed to 1, 2,3. Nonetheless, he added that he would be open to consider limiting the current sentence reduction system.

On another note, the NPP directorate also approved a resolution to extend health reform benefits to mental health patients in Puerto Rico starting January 2005.

Governor Signs Law Creating School Security Force

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Governor Sila M. Calderon announced on Tuesday a law creating The School Security Officers Corps (SSOC), which authorizes the recruitment of 1,000 new police officers.

Gov. Calderon said the new force will be in charge of safeguarding order and security within public schools.

"We have created the School Protection Officer, as a new category in Puerto Rico’s Police Dept. The law will empower the superintendent to recruit 1,000 new officers who will be trained in mediation and will work along side teachers to maintain the peace and security of our children," stated the Governor in press conference.

The Governor signed the law after participating in her monthly lunch in the San Juan Rotary Club, in which she recounted the many legislative measures adopted by her administration in the area of education.

Of the many measures adopted by her administration stood that signed on Monday, which gives the superintendent the power to create The School Security Officers Corps (SSOC).

It also authorizes the ability to negotiate with municipalities so that they may assign municipal police to this end. The cost of substituting such officers that may be reassigned will be covered by the central government.

The new law creates two new positions within the Police Dept., School Protection Officer I and School Protection Officer II.

The first will be a member of the Police force and will hold that that classification for a provisional period of one year, in which he will be evaluated twice. The second classification will be awarded to those who complete the provisionary period.

RUM Anti Militarism Group Reactivated

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

MAYAGUEZ (AP) – The University Front for Demilitarization and Education (UFDE) has reinitiated its activities in UPR’s Mayaguez University Campus (RUM by its Spanish acronym) painting an anti militarist mural on the side of the ROTC building.

UFDE president, Ismael Guadalupe, hopes that the mural will not be painted over by authorities, but maintains that it is watched by organization members around the clock.

"We hope that the authorities show our mural the same respect they have shown the mural painted by the pro ROTC contingent on the other side of the building," stated Guadalupe who is the son of Vieques activist of the same name.

UFDE also criticized RUM chancellor, Jorge Ivan Velez Arocho, for filling administrative charges against members of the organization while taking no action against pro ROTC protestors who blockaded the campus last semester.

"We see a clear double standard for evaluation and applying the rules," added Guadalupe.

The student leader refers to the RUM Disciplinary Board’s decision to review possible violations of regulations by five UFDE members on Friday.

The charges stem from the take over of the ROTC facilities to commemorate the 128 days since the initiation of a protest geared at stopping the building of a new Air Force ROTC facility on Campus, for which the Board of Governors had allocated $157,000.

As part of the protest, portraits of past RUM ROTC leaders were painted over with slurs such as "murderer, coward, terrorist, racist, and oppressors."

British Virgin Islands Open Tourism Office In Puerto Rico

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – The government of the British Virgin Islands on Tuesday inaugurated an office geared at promoting tourism from Puerto Rico and Latin America to their country.

The Minister of the British territory, Orlando Smith, stated that Puerto Rico is the second largest tourist market in the region, with some 37,000 visitors this past year.

The largest market comes from the United States, with 250,000 tourist in 2003.

"We are certain that this initiative will strengthen our ties with Puerto Rico, benefiting both our economies," stated Smith in a press conference in Isla Verde.

Smith added that on Tuesday afternoon he will meet with Secretary of State, Jose Izquierdo, Promoexport director, Antonio Sosa Pascual, and the director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Jose Suarez, to discuss areas of mutual interest.

Smith pointed out that over 20,000 British Virgin Island residents travel to Puerto Rico to shop or to receive medical treatment each year.

"Puerto Rico is our largest supplier of building Materials and medical services," added Smith.

The new office is located at the GCI Public Relations Firm headquarters in Hato Rey.

Old San Juan Increases Its Cultural Offerings

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Old San Juan’s cultural offerings will increase starting May 13th with the opening of a three screen cinema in the historic Cuartel de Ballaja .

Cynthia Wiesler, owner of the Ballaja Cinema, said each screening room, with a capacity of 250 people, will feature films and documentaries from Latin America as well as independent films. It also hopes to promote Puerto Rican filmmaking.

"I thought it unfair that in a City so large with so many people only had 522 seats to view international cinema. The rest of the venues were reserved for the overwhelming American cinema," stated Wiesler at the cinema’s presentation.

Weisler said that the project hopes to boost the creation of new screen writers for Puerto Rican film in collaboration with Sacred Heart University.

One Year Wait For Military Base Closure Report

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – The report detailing a list of military instillations scheduled to be closed by the Pentagon, as part of the BRAC closure and realignment plans, will be presented to an independent panel within one year.

Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, foresees a 24% reduction in US military installations, but a Defense Department report presented in March estimates that if they manage to close 20% of the installations, savings will begin to be reflected in the 2011 fiscal year and will exceed $5 billion.

From that point forward the annual savings will be of $8 billion.

"The Department of Defense recognizes that the BRAC plan may affect the economy of the communities that surround the base," states the report that was initiated in Fort Buchanan.

The document states that the Pentagon has studied the effects on unemployment rates in 75 communities that have experience the closing of a military base.

The closings in the 75 communities had caused the loss of 130,000 civilian jobs, but since October 2003, 93,000 new jobs had been created.

"Reuse of a former military installation by local communities offers the opportunity for fulfillment of multiple goals, a community can diversify its economy and create new jobs, expanding its taxpayer base and meeting its needs for public buildings," added the report.

Solid Waste, Number One Cause Of Environmental Problems

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

PONCE (AP) – For House of Representatives Natural & Environmental Resources Commission President, Ramon Ruiz Nieves, solid-waste management is the number one cause of environmental problems in Puerto Rico.

Ruiz Nieves said that the high output of waste and poor management have set off a chain reaction which is very harmful to the environment. He added that on average each resident of Puerto Rico generates from eight to ten pounds of waste a day.

"The problem of waste management is the number one threat to Puerto Rico’s environment," claimed the district 22 legislator.

Ruiz Nieves estimated that 8,000 tons of waste are generated on the island each day, half of which come from San Juan.

PDP Defends New Penal Code

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Representative Carlos Hernandez and his colleague Senator Eudaldo Baez Galib rejected claims made by the New Progressive Party (NPP) to the effect that the new Penal Code shortens jail sentences and puts criminals back on the streets earlier than they otherwise would be released.

The PDP legislators, who led their respective legislative bodies’ Legal committees, insisted that the minority had ample opportunity to participate in the drafting of the new code.

They pointed out that many of the recommendations made by the minority were included in the final draft of the bill, which has been approved by the House of Representatives and is scheduled to be voted on by the Senate on Monday.

"This Penal Code does not reduce sentences and will not put criminals back on the street," stated Hernandez in a press conference.

According to Baez Galib, the new sentencing procedure reflects the discrepancy between prison terms and the actual time that convicts serve in jail.

He said that new minimum sentences are longer than what prisoners served previously.

Meanwhile, House Minority Speaker Anibal Vega Borges continued with his criticisms calling the new Penal Code an "incentive for those who commit crimes or are imprisoned."

Vega Borges also claimed that the crime of perversion of minors was reduced from a serious to a lesser crime, a claim that PDP legislators rejected as false.

"That is false," said Hernandez, who maintained that the crime was still considered serious.

Cartagena: The Police Were Not Called To Testify In Penal Code Revision

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – Police Superintendent Agustin Cartagena complained on Monday that he was never called to testify before the legislative committee in charge of drafting the Commonwealth’s new penal code.

"The police were never called to participate in the public hearings," said Cartagena following a meeting with Gov. Sila Calderon at La Fortaleza.

He said however that the agency will use the code once it is approved by the legislature and signed into law.

"The governor will evaluate it and make her ruling. We will obey anything that comes from the governor," said Calderon.

He noted that the work of the police is to arrest and take people to court, the rest is up to the judicial system.

Aerostat Is Raised Again In Lajas

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

LAJAS (AP) – As part of the fight against drug trafficking in the Caribbean the much criticized aerostat of Lajas was raised again on Monday during a ceremony headed by Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila and personnel from the U.S. Air Force.

Acevedo Vila emphasized the importance of the aerostat in detecting drug trafficking flights.

"We can’t allow our coast to remain unprotected. The aerostat allows us to identify suspicious flights we suspect to be carrying large cargoes of drugs," said Acevedo Vila.

Acevedo Vila lobbied in the Pentagon for the reactivation of the aerostat, which was deactivated for lack of funds and indicated that the program has a recommended budget of $32.5 million for this fiscal year.

The aerostat has been criticized by the residents of Lajas who worry about possible health hazards and allege that it serves as a guide for vessels bringing illegal immigrants trying to reach the island costs.

Acevedo Vila argues that such technology is not hazardous to health.

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