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Lawyers For PDP, NPP Battle In Court Over Ballots… Hastert Welcomes Fortuno… 200 Boricua Soldiers Headed To Middle East… Water Strike Negotiations Break Down… Miami PR Cultural Festival Kicks Off… Parties Must Submit Ballot Arguments… Fortuño To Consult NPP On Acevedo Status Proposal… El Escambron Wins Blue Ribbon

Lawyers For PDP, NPP Battle In Court Over Ballots

By Manuel Ernesto Rivera

November 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Federal Judge Daniel Dominguez on Thursday will allow lawyers for the government and the Popular Democratic Party to present in court examples of voter ballots that, if the judge assumes jurisdiction in the New Progressive Party lawsuit, could be used as evidence in the case.

Dominguez said to NPP lawyers that he needs to hear the proof, which eventually could be admitted as evidence, in order to decide whether or not to assume jurisdiction in the NPP lawsuit challenging, mainly, the votes under the insignia of the PIP as well as under PDP candidates Anibal Acevedo Vila and Roberto Prats.

Charles Cooper, a lawyer for Acevedo Vila, showed a local ballot, exaggerating how those people exercised their right to vote.

With the Rules for the General Elections in hand, Cooper made an X under the insignia of the PIP and another two to the side of the photos of Acevedo Vila and Prats, and began to cite the rule sections that allow this type of vote.

The lawyer, one of the members of the Pres. Bush’s legal team in the 2000 electoral battle, said "this is not a double vote."

He questioned the NPP’s reasoning for alleging that these votes "are void," each time that in the column of direct vote or write-in two spaces are provided to voters to write the name of the candidate for governor and resident commissioner that they prefer.

There are approximately 28,000 mixed votes, that could change the results of the election if they are nullified, said the lawyer for Rossello, William Shermann.

[[Rossello, Puerto Rico's pro-statehood gubernatorial candidate, asked [the] federal judge to throw out thousands of ballots favoring his closest rival in the disputed Nov. 2 elections, arguing the voter's intent was not clear.

Rossello's lawsuit comes as officials review election results that showed him narrowly losing to Anibal Acevedo Vila, whose Popular Democratic Party favors keeping Puerto Rico's U.S. commonwealth status. Officials are trying to determine whether a full vote recount is needed.

[Preliminary results of the Nov. 2 elections showed a win for Acevedo Vila by 3,880 votes, some 0.2% of the vote.

More than 500 election officials are reviewing sheets containing the tally of votes from more than 7,000 precincts, a process meant to decide whether a full vote-by-vote re-count is needed. Officials have said a re-count could start Dec. 10 if the tally sheet review confirms the margin was less than 0.5 percent.

[Rossello's lawsuit also seeks to halt the tally sheet review and force an immediate recount of the actual ballots. It also seeks to prevent Acevedo Vila, Puerto Rico's outgoing nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress, from forming a transitional government.]

The federal judge also questioned the legal representation of the NPP members if in reality the situation on the island is similar to the case of Bush versus Gore, asking Shermann if "in reality, you have a Bush versus Gore situation or it was only a mere allegation."

Dominguez showed concern about the admission of the legal representatives to the State Election Commission, an entity that also was sued, where the ballots of soldiers and students in the United States were sent out of time.

SEC lawyer Pedro Dominguez said the 2,522 ballots were sent between Oct. 14 and 30, "as soon as they were ready."

He said that these voters have between 30 and 40 days to send their votes back and that this period could be lengthened because of the lateness.

For his part, Cooper insisted that the controversy be handled in Puerto Rican courts, and the federal court should not assume jurisdiction because no constitutional rights of the plaintiffs were violated.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert Welcomes Luis Fortuño

November 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Resident commissioner-elect, NPP Luis Fortuño, announced Thursday that he will received a welcome from U.S. House Speaker, republican Dennis Hastert.

Hastert will lead a ceremony with Hispanic Congressional Republicans to highlight Fortuño’s arrival in Congress.

"I don’t remember a House Speaker that has done this for any commissioner," Fortuño told a newspaper.

Fortuño is the first republican elected by Puerto Rico as resident commissioner, the island’s delegate to Congress.

200 Boricua Soldiers Headed To Middle East

November 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The U.S. Army Reserve announced that the 276th Maintenance Company, headquartered in Juana Diaz, will be mobilized Thursday night for operations in the Middle East.

The 200 Puerto Rican soldiers, led by Maj. Ariel Nogueras, will leave for the international airport in Isla Verde between 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Thursday night.

"The responsibility and the main mission of the company will be to lend maintenance support to Army units in the operations theater," a statement said.

Sgt. John Gonzalez, in charge of media relations for the Reserve, said the initial destination for the soldiers is Kuwait, and where they are sent from there will be decided later.

According to Gonzalez, already the soldiers had a farewell activity with their families, so that tonight, "more than anything is to fall in, board the planes and depart for the theater," of war.

He said the 276th Company has been training for the last month and a half in Salinas.

Water Strike Negotiations Break Down Again

November 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – As the strike at the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority reaches 45 days, negotiations between the company and the Independent Authentic Union shut down again, and union leaders do not think the conflict will end Thursday.

Juan Ramos, spokesman for the IAU negotiation committee and president of the San Juan chapter, said he doubted the possibility stated Tuesday by Labor Secretary Roman Velasco, who said the strike could end Thursday depending on "the will of both parties."

"I do not really expect that it will end today because we have some obstacles and some situations," Ramos said in a radio interview.

Ramos said the union still has a conflict with the management over a clause related to handling employee complaints and disciplinary procedures against union members.

Puerto Rican Cultural Festival Kicks Off In Miami

November 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004
EFE News Service. All rights reserved. 

Miami, Nov 18 (EFE).- The Puerto Rican community here is celebrating the first-ever Puerto Rican Film and Art festival, set to bring samples of the best of Puerto Rican culture to the hundreds of thousands who make up the Hispanic community in Florida.

The event was jointly organized by Miami Dade College, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration in Miami.

This is an opportunity for the 500,000 Puerto Ricans who live in Florida, mainly in Orlando and Miami, to "appreciate Puerto Rico through the eyes of some of its artists and filmmakers," organizers said.

Some 3.5 million Puerto Ricans live in the United States.

Organizers are sending the same message to the 1.5 million Hispanics who live in Miami-Dade and make up 60 percent of the county's population.

Several films highlighting Puerto Rican actors, directors or landscapes will be screened at a well-known theater in Miami's Calle Ocho, the main axis of Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, including "Linda Sara," "La gran fiesta," "La guagua aerea" and "El alcalde Machuchal."

Documentaries, including "Los heroes de otra patria," "Flight of Fancy" and "Rafael Hernández: el Jibarito del mundo," are also scheduled to be shown.

Works by some 20 Puerto Rican artists, including Geraldo Oyola, Hector Gabino, Elisabeth Baez, Luis Pratts, Walter Lopez and Carmen O'Neil, will also be on display inside the theater.

The films will be screened through Nov. 21, while the artworks will be on display through Nov. 28.

Election Commissioners Must Submit Ballot Arguments

November 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The election commissioners have until midday Thursday to submit their arguments about how to proceed with the allocation of ballots on which dissimilar marks have been found.

Aurelio Gracia, president of the State Election Commission, announced this on Wednesday and he will evaluate letters from the three main political parties and will decide whether or not to use these ballots.

"Tomorrow (Thursday) at noon they should submit a memo about how to proceed, if they should allocate them or if an opportunity will be given to the parties to present objections and have some exam or present proof about sustaining the allegations," he said at a press conference at the Voting Operations Center.

The election officials suspect that the different marks indicate the intervention of persons other than the voter.

The New Progressive Party election commissioner, Thomas Rivera Schatz, has said publicly that a handwriting expert must review those ballots.

His Puerto Rican Independence Party counterpart, Juan Dalmau, was the first to raise the alarm on Friday about possible ballot fraud.

Meanwhile, Popular Democratic commissioner Gerardo Cruz said that at this stage of the electoral process it is not necessary to bring in an expert, and that the ballots should be awarded and put aside for a future review before the courts if necessary.

Fortuño Will Consult NPP On Anibal Status Proposal

November 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Resident commissioner-elect Luis Fortuño said he will consult with the New Progressive Party (NPP) on the proposal from Anibal Acevedo Vila to hold a referendum and let voters decide if they prefer a Constitutional Assembly or a plebiscite to resolve the political status.

Fortuño, also a Republican, made his statements as part of a visit to Washington, D.C. to prepare for his new post. There he spoke with other legislators who he questioned about how to advance the subject of the island’s status.

"My natural inclination is that I should always allow the voter to move the process forward. I would first like to discuss (Acevedo Vila’s proposal) with the rest of the party," Fortuño told a newspaper.

Don Young, the Republican Congressman who started an attempt for a federal plebiscite during Rossello’s administration said he will be ready to start a new status process, but he did not know what type or how it would be designed.

Puerto Rican Beach Wins International Distinction

By Hilario De Leon

November 17, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – El Escambron public beach in San Juan on Wednesday was named the first public beach on an America continent to obtain the "Blue Ribbon" distinction as evidence of the high water quality, security, education and environmental management.

Samuel Gonzalez, executive director of the Puerto Rico National Parks Co., said the important prize also was awarded to 2,000 beaches in 24 countries in Europe and South Africa.

"El Escambron is the first public beach on an American continent on which the Blue Flag will be raised," Gonzalez said after a beach ceremony in which he raised the flag, which has a white circle in the center and various shades of blue.

To achieve the distinction, El Escambron had to comply with the strict standards of the Europe Environmental Education Foundation, headquartered in Denmark, which established the program in the 1980s.

Three other Puerto Rican beaches - La Monserrate in Luquillo, Flamenco in Culebra and Isla Verde in Carolina – have completed the requirements for the program.

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