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Status Dominates Last Debate... Bar Association Denounces IAU Raid, Resumption Of ASA, IAU Negotiations Urged… Calderon’s Public Salary Increases Hailed… Martin Goes After Sex Tourism… PRIIF Hearings Suspended… Fortuño Defends Sales Tax Proposal… Sports Museum To Be Presented… Federal Agents Raid IAU Headquarters

Gubernatorial Candidates Tackle Puerto Rico's Status In Last Debate Before Election


October 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Three gubernatorial candidates promised to give Puerto Rico a fresh chance to debate the future of its relationship with the United States -- but differed widely on how to bring the issue to a popular vote.

In their last debate before the Nov. 2 elections, the candidates on Thursday tackled one of the most divisive issues in Puerto Rican politics.

The race is a contest between former Gov. Pedro Rossello of the pro-statehood New Progressive party, Anibal Acevedo whose Popular Democratic Party supports Puerto Rico's current U.S. Commonwealth status, and Ruben Berrios of the Independence party.

Rossello wants a referendum on whether the U.S. Congress should define the territory's options -- a route he said would eventually lead to a binding referendum on Puerto Rico's status.

Rossello was governor from 1993 through 2000 when Puerto Ricans narrowly rejected statehood in two nonbinding referendums. He insisted a binding referendum should not include "territorial or colonial" options, meaning Puerto Ricans should choose between statehood and independence.

"In the next four years, I'm convinced that Puert Ricans will finally decide the question of status," he said. "A referendum is the most democratic way."

Acevedo said allowing Congress to define options would amount to robbing Puerto Ricans of the right to decide their future. He also noted that eliminating the commonwealth option would deny Puerto Ricans a choice that has wide support on the island.

"Rossello wants to destroy the U.S. Commonwealth and throw us into limbo," Acevedo said.

He proposed a constitutional convention to clarify Puerto Rico's status. Locally elected members of a convention would ensure that Puerto Ricans have a voice in the debate, he said.

Berrios said he agreed with the idea of a constitutional convention, but accused Acevedo's party of having no intention of carrying it out. If the party were serious about it, Gov. Calderon would have moved it forward, he said.

"I think that a convention should resolve the colonial problem. He (Acevedo) doesn't think there is a colonial problem," Berrios said.

Many Puerto Ricans prize U.S. citizenship, which allows 3.4 million of them to live in the U.S. mainland. About 4 million live on the island.

Others, however, feel disenfranchised because they cannot vote for U.S. president or have a voting representative in Congress.

Puerto Ricans pay no federal taxes, but they can be drafted into the army.

Recent polls have shown Rossello leading with about 44 percent support, compared to 36 percent for Acevedo. Ruben Berrios trailed with 5 percent.

College Of Lawyers Denounces Raid At IAU Headquarters

October 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Bar Association declared the operation in which federal agents occupied the headquarters of the Independent Authentic Union for 15 hours was "abusive" and "arrogant," and announced that the group’s Human Rights Committee will investigate the case.

The president of the association, Julio Fontanet, said IAU lawyers José Carreras y Juan Ramón Acevedo, told him that the FBI agent in charge of the raid, Jose Figueroa, said he had instructions from federal attorney Humberto Garcia to not allow the more than 10 employees who were inside the headquarters to have access to the lawyers.

"The Bar Association has to be very worried because in Puerto Rico you can not detain people without an order and you can not obstruct legitimate steps of the lawyers. Puerto Rico is a country of order and rights; we can not allow anyone to alter this," said Fontanet.

Federal IRS and FBI agents on Wednesday raided the headquarters of the IAU and took files relating to the union health plan.

Labor Secretary Calls New Meeting Between IAU, ASA

October 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — At a time when the dispute between the Independent Authentic Union and the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority has seemed to intensify, Labor Secretary Roman Velasco made a new call on Thursday for both parties to return to negotiations for a collective agreement with the intent to put an end to the strike.

The meeting was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Friday at the Labor Department offices in Hato Rey.

"We understand the negotiation process is well advanced and we should continue with it. It is necessary that the parties respond to our call for a dialogue with the best intentions of ending the strike affecting our country," Velasco said in a release.

At 2:30 p.m., the Labor Department’s press secretary, Luis Daniel Colón, said neither of the parties had confirmed if they would appear at the meeting.

Miranda Says Public Salaries Were Raised During Calderon Term

October 21, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Weeks after Gov. Sila M. Calderon complained that members of her party did not promote her work, Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda said that this term they have awarded the "most substantial" raises to public workers.

Miranda spoke about the raises for policemen, teachers, firefighters and nurses, as well as increases in the Christmas bonus and the support of the health plan.

"The past administration left an increase of $100 to police, but it was this administration that had to find the money because it had not been budgeted," he said at a press conference at La Fortaleza.

He said that in addition to the $100, the current administration gave them raises of another $400.

Miranda also emphasized the hiring of 700 physical education teachers and 400 fine arts teachers.

"It had been almost 10 years," that they have not had a mass recruitment of teachers for these subjects, he said.

Ricky Martin Goes After Sex Tourism In U.N. Visit


October 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004
REUTERS. All rights reserved. 

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Latin pop sensation Ricky Martin called on U.N. diplomats on Wednesday to lend a hand in backing a U.S. government initiative to combat child sexual tourism.

``This is slavery and this is the year 2004 and we are still dealing with it. There is a lot of denial,'' Martin, best known for tunes that appeal to English and Spanish audiences, told a news conference after addressing a luncheon of Latin American diplomats.

``I want to see abolition of this slavery,'' he said. ``I need to see the world step out of denial and see this happening here.''

Child sex tourism involves adults who travel abroad to exploit minors. The crime is fueled by poverty, the Internet, corruption and the ease of global travel.

Martin, 32, called it a $7 billion a year criminal trade. He was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and heads a foundation ( that funds projects aimed at eliminating child trafficking and exploitation.

PRIIF Hearings Suspended After Many Don't Show Up

October 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The public hearings on the Puerto Rico Industrial Incentives Fund, which were the main theme of public debate for the past several weeks, it seems have not generated much interest lately.

The hearings were suspended Wednesday after no members of the Popular majority nor the case investigator attended the meeting.

It had to be the spokesman for the New Progressive minority in the House, Aníbal Vega Borges, who opened and closed the proceedings in a protocol act that only lasted a few minutes.

"This is the best proof of what we have been saying from the beginning, that this investigation was only a political act, and now that they see it is not bearing fruit …they abandon the hearings," Vega Borges said to the Associated Press.

The former director of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. under the previous administration, Jaime Morgan Stubbe, was scheduled to appear, but he did not arrive either and it was not immediately clear if he has been excused from the process.

According to Vega Borges, personnel from the House Treasury Committee that led the hearings announced that Friday there will be an executive meeting to look at the calendar for next week.

Fortuño Defends Sales Tax Proposal

October 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The New Progressive candidate for resident commissioner, Luis Fortuño, on Wednesday defended a sales tax proposed by his party, citing reports from the credit rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's.

The proposed tax includes "reducing significantly the taxes on the middle class" and "will reduce evasion" of taxes, according to the report from Standard & Poor’s which refers to a project of the current Popular Democratic administration.

"In the most recent reports, sent at the end of September, 2004, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s reflect information that refutes the statements of the Calderon-Acevedo Vila administration that have been made to the people of Puerto Rico," Fortuño said at a press conference.

With only two weeks till the elections, the PDP candidate for governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vila, has attacked the proposal of his NPP opponent, Pedro Rossello, arguing that the sales tax will be a large burden for the poor.

Plans For Sports Museum Will Be Presented

October 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

GUAYNABO (AP) — The City of Guaynabo will hold a special ceremony on Oct. 26 to present plans for a Puerto Rican Sports Museum to a group of leaders.

The executive director of the museum, Rafael Serrano Segarra, said Tuesday the event will be held to explain the plans and dimensions of the work, and the inauguration of the structure will be carried out later.

"We will break ground on the project at another occasion," Serrano said.

Federal Agents Raid IAU Headquarters

October 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Federal agents from the IRS and FBI on Wednesday morning raided the Hato Rey headquarters of the Independent Authentic Union (IAU).

The agents were allegedly prohibiting entry into the headquarters while between 11 and 16 employees remained inside the building, said union lawyer Jose Carrera, after briefly entering the union hall.

"The FBI said they are not going to allow anyone to enter. They have shut away employees that are there. I told them that as a lawyer I wanted to be with them there, they told me no and forced me to leave," Carrera said at a hastily called press conference.

The operation was carried out at the IAU headquarters on Mayaguez Street in Hato Rey, where television images showed at least 20 people from the FBI and IRS cordoning off the building.

The island spokeswoman for the FBI, Brenda Diaz, said the information about the report would be offered by the federal attorney, Orlando Rios, who did not immediately answer calls.

Carrera said he had not received information that the agents had visited any union leaders or other property belonging to the union.

He said that, immediately he expected to meet with the union directors to decide how the IAU will respond.

The agents arrived at the union building at 7 a.m., a little before the scheduled time — 9:30 a.m. — for a new negotiation meeting between the IAU and the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (ASA) to resolve a strike that has been in place since Oct. 4.

ASA Executive President Jorge Rodriguez said in a radio broadcast that the meeting at the Labor Department is still on.

"I understand that we must arrive at an agreement today (Wednesday) if it is possible," he said.

The IAU started the strike due to conflict in the negotiations over a new collective agreement.

The main cause of unrest was the medical plan, after ASA leadership decided to suspend its support of the insurance administered by the union and substitute it with the private firm Triple S. The ASA administration based their decision on a report by the Insurance Commissioner that found possible irregularities in the administration of the union plan.

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