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Dalai Lama Praises Puerto Rico For Rejecting Death Penalty…Puerto Ricans Want Answers About Power Shutdown

Dalai Lama Praises Puerto Rico For Rejecting Death Penalty

By LAURA RIVERA MELENDEZ, Associated Press Writer

September 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The Dalai Lama praised Puerto Rico on Thursday for rejecting the death penalty in its constitution.

The political and spiritual leader of Tibet arrived in the U.S. Caribbean territory Thursday for a three-day visit, the first stop on a tour of Latin America.

"The death penalty is something that should not exist," the Dalai Lama told a news conference. "Why? Because the death penalty shortens human life."

The Buddhist leader said he thought Puerto Rico's peculiar relationship with the United States was beneficial, though he acknowledged he knew "very little" about the territory's economy and politics.

"Puerto Rico is associated with the United States in many aspects ... that help with Puerto Rico's progress," he said.

The island has been a U.S. possession since 1898, when it was seized from Spain. With the help of tax breaks and 14 billion in annual federal funds, Puerto Rico has become one of the wealthiest places in Latin America.

Islanders pay no U.S. federal income taxes and cannot vote in national elections, though they can be drafted into the military. Puerto Ricans narrowly rejected statehood in nonbinding referendums in 1993 and 1998. In the last vote, status quo squeaked by with just over 50 percent.

The Independence Party receives 5 percent of the vote in elections.

The Dalai Lama, 69, gave Gov. Sila M. Calderon and her daughters, Sila Marie and Maria Elena Gonzalez, a white shawl. Calderon offered the religious leader a bouquet of yellow orchids, a painting of a bird and a Puerto Rican flag.

Calderon said the Dalai Lama brought "calm after the storm we have just been through," referring to Tropical Storm Jeanne's sweep through the island last week. Jeanne killed seven people in Puerto Rico, flooded streets and caused an estimated US$100 million in damages to the agricultural industry.

"You have come to bring a message of love, of peace, of solidarity, of friendship," Calderon said.

On Friday, the Dalai Lama will join leaders from other religions -- and Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin -- in a prayer for peace at the Puerto Rican Art Museum in San Juan, the capital.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India since a failed Tibetan uprising against China in 1959. He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1989.

Puerto Ricans Want Answers About Power Shutdown During Tropical Storm Jeanne

By FRANK GRIFFITHS, Associated Press Writer

September 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Puerto Ricans are asking hard questions about why the government shut down the island's entire power grid during Tropical Storm Jeanne, a decision that caused more than $200 million in economic losses and indirectly caused three deaths.

The state-run Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority shut down the entire grid Sept. 15 before the storm's center made landfall in the U.S. Caribbean territory, saying it was to prevent electrocutions from downed lines, and damage to the system's infrastructure.

Early Wednesday, there were still 150 customers who have had no power for two weeks, said Joari Molina, a spokeswoman for the power authority. It took about a week after the storm to restore power to 90 percent of the 1.4 million customers.

The power authority's director, Hector Rosario, adamantly defends the decision. "It was planned and was one of consensus," he told The Associated Press, denying reports there was confusion about what to do.

He said a load imbalance between the production levels of power turbines in the south and consumption levels in the northern part of the island led them to shut down the grid.

Rosario has allowed an engineers' association to conduct an independent evaluation of the blackout and a seven-member committee is to submit a preliminary report Thursday. The association will analyze whether the energy authority followed proper protocol.

The power authority has given the committee a computer log, which details the sequence of events during the shutdown.

But in Florida, which was hit by four hurricanes in six weeks, electric utilities did not shut down power.

"We don't turn power off to our customers, period," said Kathy Scott, a spokeswoman for Florida Power & Light, which serves about half of the U.S. state. "We let Mother Nature take its course. When power goes out, it's because of the storm."

The Florida utility may shut down a few of its 33 power plants, but it is able to make up the difference with other plants, Scott said.

Some Caribbean islands routinely shut down their power grids, as Jamaica did before Hurricane Ivan hit there.

But independent energy experts agree that "It's not a usual practice," according to Kojo Ofori-Atta, vice president of ICF Consulting in Fairfax, Virginia.

"The usual practice is to leave the grid on and manage the power system while the hurricane is still going on. If you lose a line you try to rebalance the system ...

"It gives me the impression that (Puerto Rico is) not very confident in their protection and control systems and their ability to isolate faults and protect the infrastructure."

Many Puerto Ricans believe something went terribly wrong and they want answers. In the days after the storm, angry callers flooded radio programs demanding an explanation.

Margarita Jimenez went without electricity for 11 days and like many of the 4 million islanders, she wants to know why.

"There should be an investigation without politics to figure out what went wrong," said the 65-year-old housewife who lives in the east-central town of Juncos.

Jimenez, who got her lights back Saturday night, used a portable propane gas stove to cook and a generator to light her house, but said it was expensive -- about $20 a day just for fuel.

The blackout caused $87.91 million in daily economic losses in the first two days, said Leonardo Cordero, president of the Puerto Rico's Chamber of Commerce. Small business owners were the most affected, he said.

After the storm, supermarkets and other businesses threw out tons of rotten meat and other frozen goods. President George W. Bush declared Puerto Rico a disaster area and sent at least $2 million in disaster relief.

There were also human costs. A couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning when fumes from a generator reached their bedroom. Another man died of smoke inhalation from a fire caused by a candle.

However, Rosario said the decision saved lives, including those of utility workers. Thirteen people, including power authority employees, were electrocuted and died after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Georges in 1998.

Nobody was electrocuted because of Jeanne, he said. A total of seven people died in the storm.

But even those who have their lights back are complaining about incessant power surges that have destroyed some appliances and burned out light bulbs. Brenda Rivera, a 33-year-old housewife in Juncos, got her lights back Saturday, but she hasn't turned them on since surges destroyed two of her fans.

"I'm afraid for my four kids," Rivera said, whose children range in age from 1 to 11. "I don't want them to be electrocuted."

She has run an extension cord from her neighbor's house to plug in her refrigerator, but won't turn on the hot water heater or washing machine.

"I just want them to fix all the problems already," she said.

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