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Personal Attacks Dominate 1st Debate… Comptroller Will Investigate Decision To Shut Down Power, Now 99% Restored… "Grito de Lares" Begins… Anti-Military Recruiting Campaign Mobilizes… FEMA Adds Vieques, Culebra… Roberto Clemente Day Proclaimed…Gay Community Endorses Acevedo, Prats… 54 Municipalities To Get Federal Aid

First Debate Between Puerto Rico's Gubernatorial Candidates Focuses On Personal Attacks, Not Sagging Economy


September 24, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Personal attacks dominated a debate between three gubernatorial candidates on Thursday with few proposals offered on how the island will pull out of its economic slump or recover from losses suffered in Tropical Storm Jeanne.

The target of many assaults was former Gov. Pedro Rossello, who holds a comfortable lead in recent polls and whose New Progressive party supports making Puerto Rico the 51st state.

His rival, Anibal Acevedo Vila of the Popular Democratic party that supports Puerto Rico's status-quo commonwealth status, highlighted the corruption scandals that plagued Rossello's term in office. Rossello insisted there wasn't "a single charge" against him.

"I'm here to challenge everything you represent," Acevedo Vila quipped to Rossello.

The third candidate -- Ruben Berrios whose Independence Party would like to see Puerto Rico be a sovereign state -- chided his opponents from straying from the issues, saying "the people deserve a better debate than the one they are listening to now."

He warned voters of "one captain who looted the ship and an aspiring captain who doesn't know where to take the ship."

U.S. President George W. Bush recently named a 16-member panel to re-evaluate Puerto Rico's status. Islanders pay no U.S. federal income taxes and cannot vote in national elections.

Puerto Rico has a 12 percent unemployment rate.

The economy took a recent beating when Tropical Storm Jeanne swept through the island last week, killing seven people and causing an estimated US$100 million in damages.

Rossello wants speedier construction permits, which he says will speed jobs.

Acevedo tooted his plan for dedicating a fixed percentage of government purchases to products of small businesses. He also proposed creating tax-free zones to persuade people to move away from overcrowded areas.

Berrios, who accused his rivals of catering to corporate interests, said Puerto Rico should be in control of its own destiny and not be tied to U.S. interests.

Rossello was governor between 1993 and 2000, when Puerto Ricans narrowly rejected statehood in two nonbinding referendums. Rossello has said he will call another vote on Puerto Rico's status if elected Nov. 2.

Rossello's first two terms were marred by corruption scandals that led to charges against more than 20 officials. During the debate, he promised he had a plan for fighting corruption "this time around."

Comptroller Will Investigate Decision To Shut Down Power

By Jose Fernandez Colon

September 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña announced Thursday that his office will begin an investigation and audit to determine what motivated the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Hector Rosario, to shut down the system before tropical storm Jeanne passed over the island.

Diaz Saldaña said the Office of the Commonwealth Comptroller is looking into the issue because public funds are involved in the Prepa system so they can monitor the actions of personnel.

"Yes, definitely we are going to investigate; they were paid $31 million for a computer system for this kind of emergency. This is one of the areas the Office of the Comptroller will be examining," Diaz Saldaña said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Diaz Saldaña, a certified public accountant, said he will also investigate how much the executive director’s decision cost the public.

The former Treasury Secretary said he will analyze aspects of the investments in maintenace, technology and the payment of overtime for Prepa employees.

Diaz Saldaña said that from Thursday until the end of the Nov. 2 elections, the audit will not be made public.

He said when the elections are over he will publish reports for La Fortaleza, as he has done under the governorship of Pedro Rossello as well as Sila M. Calderon.

He also said he will publish additional reports about the mayorship of San Juan under the administrations of Jorge Santini and of Calderon.

Diaz Saldaña said the last report he will release before the elections will be published Thursday and it is related to the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority.

Power Restored To 99% Of Island

September 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) said that 19,881 clients throughout the island were still without electric service as of 11 a.m. Thursday.

Prepa said it had already restored service for 98.6 percent of the 1.4 million clients who had lost power when the government decided to shut off the entire electricity system so it would not suffer major damages during tropical storm Jeanne, which passed over the island last Wednesday.

According to Prepa, as of 11 a.m. Thursday 9,928 clients in the Arecibo region were without power, 2,126 in Bayamon, 2,871 in Arecibo, 2,042 in Mayaguez, 1,500 in Ponce, 1,014 in San Juan and 400 in Carolina.

"Grito de Lares" Gets Under Way

September 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

LARES (AP) — Approximately one thousand people on Thursday started the ceremonies commemorating the Grito de Lares with the traditional march from the Puente de Anon to the municipal cemetery and from there to the Plaza de la Revolucion.

As much in the cemetery as in the plaza, the independents placed flower offerings in honor of those who lost their lives in the revolt against the Spanish government in 1868.

Conspicuously absent among the audience was the president of the Puerto Rico Independence Party, Ruben Berrios. He had said he could not attend because he has to participate in Thursday’s debate among the candidates for governor.

Lares Mayor Luis Oliver expressed surprise at the small attendance of the event, which traditionally draws more than 5,000 people.

"I don’t know what happened, but there are fewer people here than in the past," Oliver said, who is running for a third term.?

Campaign Mobilizes Against Military Recruiting

September 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — While Puerto Rican soldiers continue to be mobilized for the war in Iraq, the "Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano" (MINH) announced the beginning of a campaign against military recruitment under the slogan "U.S. Army: a useless way to die."

The co-president of the MINH, Hector Pesquera, said the ads were meant to publicly ask Education Secretary Cesar Rey to allow them equal time to counteract the military recruiting going on in schools.

As part of the campaign, at noon on Friday there will be simultaneous protests in front of 10 military recruiting offices around the island.

The campaign includes visits to schools, theatre in the streets, protests and distribution of informative pamphlets.

Pesquera said the proportion of reservists and National Guardsmen mobilized for the war in Iraq was 56.8 for each 100,000 residents, while in Puerto Rico 65.7 have been mobilized for each 100,000 residents.

"This demonstrates the politics of mobilizing in a proportionally selective way more young Puerto Ricans than U.S. residents, as has been the case in Vietnam and other wars," Pesquera said.

Vieques, Culebra Added To Federal Aid List

September 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Thursday that the municipalities of Vieques and Culebra were added to the list of 54 cities and towns authorized to receive federal aid for damages caused by tropical storm Jeanne.

FEMA Director Michael D. Brown said in a statement that affected residents in the 56 municipalities included in President George W. Bush’s disaster declaration could ask for aid for repairs to homes, and other expenses related to the storm that are not covered by insurance or other aid programs.

Residents should call 1-800-621-FEMA to request aid. People with hearing disabilities can call 1-800-462-7585.

As of 7:30 a.m. Thursday, 6,738 requests for aid had been called in, according to local FEMA officials.

Among the municipalities eligible for aid are: Aguada, Aguadilla, Aguas Buenas, Aibonito, Añasco, Arecibo, Arroyo, Barceloneta, Barranquitas, Bayamon, Camuy, Caguas, Canovanas, Carolina, Cataño, Cayey, Ceiba, Ciales, Cidra, Coamo, Comerío, Corozal, Dorado, Florida, Guayama, Hatillo, Humacao, Isabela, Juana Díaz, Juncos, Lares, Las Piedras, Loíza, Manati, Maunabo, Moca, Morovis, Naguabo, Naranjito, Orocovis, Patillas, Quebradillas, Rincon, Rio Grande, Salinas, San Lorenzo, San Sebastian, Santa Isabel, Toa Alta, Toa Baja, Utuado, Vega Alta, Vega Baja, Vieques, Villalba y Yabucoa.

Governor Rendell Proclaims Roberto Clemente Day In Pennsylvania

September 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PR Newswire Association LLC. All rights reserved. 

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell today proclaimed Sept. 22 as Roberto Clemente Day throughout Pennsylvania in joint commemoration with Major League Baseball. As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Governor and Major League Baseball are honoring one of the greatest baseball players and humanitarians ever to play for a professional team in the Commonwealth.

Clemente played his entire 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and led his team to two World Series championships, providing countless memories for fans in Western Pennsylvania and throughout the country.

Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972, when his plane crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff in Puerto Rico. He was en route to Nicaragua to bring food, medical supplies and clothing to victims of an earthquake there.

Gay Community Endorses Acevedo Vila, Prats

September 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Human Rights Foundation endorsed the Popular Democratic candidate for governor, Anibal Acevedo Vila, and his companion on the ticket, Roberto Prats, arguing that both have taken positions that benefit the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender communities.

Ada Conde, president of the foundation, said that the few New Progressive candidates that endorsed the organization are those that are politically active in the U.S. Democratic party because "they have a clear commitment and express that they have a social justice agenda."

"In the case of Anibal Acevedo Vila, he has expressed … that he is in agreement that relationships between people of the same sex be recognized with the legal figure of civil unions," Conde said, according to press reports.

She said that 50,000 pamphlets are being printed that will be distributed throughout the island to serve as a guide for the gay community and "other communities that are traditionally discriminated against, such as Dominicans and the disabled."

Federal Aid Will Be Granted To 54 Municipalities

September 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — President George W. Bush agreed to include personal and individual losses in his declaration of a federal disaster zone which includes 54 municipalities, Gov. Sila M. Calderon announced Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activated a telephone line citizens can use to report damages in order to receive federal assistance covering losses of furniture and appliances, damage to homes and personal losses.

The director of FEMA’s Caribbean office, Jose Bravo, said the telephone number is 1-800-621-3362 and it will be operating starting on Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, as long as necessary.

"The families that live in these 54 municipalities, the same as people that have special needs or additional damages can claim them in a different process .. over the telephone … you do not have to go anywhere… To receive help you only need to call this number," Calderon said at a press conference at La Fortaleza.

When citizens report damages, a FEMA inspector will verify the claim and determine if it qualifies for economic help, the level of which will be decided on a case by case basis.

The governor said that she is in the process of requesting that Vieques and Caguas be added to the 54 towns.

Meanwhile, the governor said that the Economic Development Bank, the Chamber of Commerce the Manufacturers Association and the United Retailers Association have established an alliance to facilitate loans to different economic groups hurt by the storm in areas such as agriculture, manufacturing, commercial, services and tourism.

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