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20th Puerto Rican Soldier Killed In Iraq… SJ Preservationists Ignored… Recycling Firms Get Tax Credits…Families Affected By Jeanne Aided… 4 Beaches Up For Blue Flag… VA Hospital Certified… Little Hope For PRIIF Inquiry… FEMA Asks Homeowners To Verify Insurance… NPP Claims Budget’s Unbalanced… Improved Gov’t Emergency Response Sought

Twentieth Puerto Rican Soldier Killed In Iraq

September 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - A 20th Puerto Rican soldier has been killed in fighting in Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

Marine Lance Cpl. Ramon Mateo, who died Friday in Iraq's Anbar province, was of Puerto Rican descent. The 20-year-old was from Suffolk County, N.Y.

The military said in a statement that he died "as a result of enemy action," though it didn't give specifics. He was one of three Marines killed Friday in Anbar province, according to a military casualty list.

Mateo, who enlisted in December 2002, was assigned as an automotive mechanic in the Headquarters and Service Company, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, from Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Among various awards, he was recommended to receive the Purple Heart for valor.

Funeral arrangements weren't immediately announced.

At least 1,049 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to the Defense Department.

The casualties have included both troops from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and those born in the mainland United States to Puerto Rican parents.

San Juan Mayoral Candidates Criticized By Preservation Group

September 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – For the organization "Pro Rescate" of San Juan, the three candidates for mayor of the capital have not shown interest in promoting the sustainable development of the Old City.

Jaime J. Altieri, spokesman for the organization, criticized the candidates for not responding to the group’s proposal that would try to protect Old San Juan from development that threatens the buildings.

"We sent our proposal to the three candidates from the three political parties … None answered despite the fact that we gave them additional time due to the inconveniences that occurred after tropical storm Jeanne," he said in a statement.

"The lack of interest, omission and promise with our city on the part of the three candidates for mayor, shows one more time that in the political landscape there is no one who seriously wishes to assist in the development and planning of the island," he added.

According to Altieri, the proposal included suggestions for a multi-modal transportation center in the port area near Puerta de Tierra, and new zoning codes to redesign the commercial and pedestrian zones that would make the city more attractive to tourists, among others.

Solid Waste Authority Rewards Recycling Firms

September 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The Solid Waste Management Authority (SWMA) announced Tuesday that it will award tax credits worth more than $4.87 million to four companies dedicated to the recovery, processing and sale of recycled materials.

The executive director of SWMA, Guillermo M. Riera, said the four industries have proposed an investment of $14 million and it will generate 127 direct jobs.

According to Riera, since 2001 almost $24 million in incentives has been awarded to 35 firms, with a private investment of approximately $57 million.

"Through these economic incentives they have generated 800 direct jobs and 120 indirect jobs," he said in a statement.

Riera said that SWMA has an Economic Assistance Program, through which companies can obtain financing for equipment, loan gurateness, allowances or awarding of funds, tax extensions, investment credits, and purchasing preferences.

Families Affected By Jeanne Receive Furniture, Appliances

September 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Families affected by tropical storm Jeanne who live in 22 municipalities that are not receiving federal aid will on Friday start to receive furniture and appliances from the Family Department.

This was announced by the head of the agency Yolanda Zayas, who also said that they had distributed $10.8 million to 16,793 families in sums of $1,000 for each one.

"We decided to concentrate on the municipalities that are not covered by FEMA so we don’t duplicate aid," Zayas said, according to press reports.

The municipalities where they are concentrating on delivering the furniture and appliances are Las Marías, Gurabo, Luquillo, Trujillo Alto, Culebra, Fajardo, Cabo Rojo, Guánica, Hormigueros, Lajas, Maricao, Mayagüez, Sabana Grande, San Germán, Adjuntas, Guayanilla, Jayuya, Peñuelas, Ponce, Yauco, San Juan and Guaynabo.

Four Puerto Rico Beaches Could Get Blue Flag Approval

September 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The Tourism Co. announced Tuesday that four Puerto Rican beaches have recently passed the jury selection of the Caribbean area for certification in the Blue Flag program.

The executive director of the Tourism Co., Jose M. Suarez, said he trusts that Puerto Rico will receive certification in November. The program ensures that public beaches and marinas are maintained with high standards in the quality of water, security, management and environmental education.

"We are very satisfied with the list and the fact that we have been done well up to this point, as we have successfully completed all the requirements in this very meticulous process," Suarez said.

The beaches on the list - El Escambrón in Puerta de Tierra, Moserrate in Luquillo, Flamenco in Culebra and the public beach in Carolina – still must be approved by an international jury in Denmark.

"If Puerto Rico passes this last jury in good form, it will be receiving the Blue Flag next November," Suarez said.

Veterans Hospital Receives Certification

September 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - The Veterans Hospital announced Tuesday that its Cardiac Rehabilitation Program received a certificate from the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

The program director, Maricarmen Cruz, said the certification recognizes programs that have been rigorously evaluated by a United States board and have completed the requirements for standards of care.

"This recognition is the result of the excellence and the continual strength of the incredible interdisciplinary team that consists of physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and nursing personnel. Other specialists also contribute such as nutritionists, cardiologists and specialists in critical care," she said.

According to Cruz, the four-phase program has served more than 400 patients in the last three years, mainly people that have had open-heart surgery.

Investigator Has Little Hope For PRIIF Inquiry

September 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – After the Justice Department filed the two reports of the Blue Ribbon Committee that pointed out irregularities in the creation of the Puerto Rico Industrial Incentives Fund, the investigator for the House popular majority, Nilsa Garcia, has little hope in the inquiry now being conducted into the agency.

Garcia, who also participated in the Blue Ribbon investigations, said the Justice Department did not investigate the possibility of fraud and tax evasion in the 31 transactions of 936 firms that contributed to the fund during the last administration of New Progressive Pedro Rossello.

"Why would the Justice Department investigate the PRIIF disbursements if the two Blue Ribbon reports has been shelved without undertaking a full criminal investigation into the mechanism of investing to the fund and if the Treasury received profits from this mechanism?" Garcia said to a newspaper.

The investigator reacted this way to the announcement of the new Justice Secretary William Vazquez that he extended the active inquiry into PRIIF.

Garcia said it was contradictory for Justice to "announce now that it is investigating the PRIIF disbursements when this was the investigation that should have begun in 2002, after Blue Ribbon submitted its reports."

The House and federal authorities are investigating the creation of PRIIF, a fund that offered tax incentives to firms in order to create jobs, but it allegedly cost the Treasury $1 billion without the companies significantly contributing to the local economy.

Homeowners Asked To Check Insurance Status Before Contacting FEMA

September 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked Monday that victims of tropical storm Jeanne who have active insurance policies against flooding contact their agent or insurance company before requesting federal aid.

Peter Martinasco, federal coordinator for FEMA, said that some affected people have asked for aid without knowing if their homes are covered by flood insurance, and he suggests people find out if their homes are insured by communicating with their local mayor.

"I advise that people who have damaged homes or belongings communicate with the local mayor’s office to determine if they have an insurance policy on the property," he said in a statement.

He said that after Hurricanes Hortensia and Georges, the Free State Association bought flood insurance for homes that had been damaged.

"The lists of the policies that are active in each of the affected municipalities are available through the mayors," he said.

He also said that FEMA will reclaim any federal assistance funds that have been awarded if properties have a claim processed by an insurance company.

NPP Legislators Say Budget Is Unbalanced

September 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Three New Progressive Party (NPP) legislators on Monday said credit agencies presented a "negative outlook" for the finances of Puerto Rico due to the government allegedly operating with a deficit of $1.06 billion in the active budget.

Reps. Anibal Vega Borges, Antonio Silva and Jose Aponte said the government has taken loans from the Government Development Bank (GDB) to balance the budget, which has climbed to more than $24 billion in federal and local funds.

According to Vega Borges, House spokesman for the New Progressive minority, the administration of Gov. Sila M. Calderon has incurred a "shocking pattern" of covering the budgets in 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 through loans from GDB that "have effectively liquidated the bank and have caused the two most important agencies for evaluating credit to give a negative outlook on the finances of the island."

The legislators said Standard & Poor's and Moody's gave a negative picture of Puerto Rico’s finances, but did not specify what rating they gave the island.

New Measures Would Improve Government Emergency Response

September 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Popular Democratic Rep. Ferdinand Perez announced the filing of a group of bills meant to improve government and citizen responses to natural disasters.

One of the measures proposes establishing a protocol that would guide the reestablishment of electric service.

"We don’t know how many more times the decision will be made to shut down the electrical system and this reestablishment protocol should not only be at the discretion of the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority," he said at a news conference, where he was accompanied by Elias Gutierrez, director of the Planning School at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras.

According to press reports, the representative said he will ask Gov. Sila M. Calderon to include the measures in the next special session or ratify them by executive order.

Perez also proposed that the Housing Department acquire cisterns and generators for public housing projects, using some of the $1 billion received annually for the remodeling of these communities.

Another measure the Legislature will order calls for a study of the housing and communities in flood zones or areas susceptible to landslides.

In addition, Perez suggested establishing an education program in public schools to familiarize students with natural phenomena such as hurricanes and floods.

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