Appeals Court Rules PR Supreme Court Should Decide Election NPP Confident Of 2/3 House Majority Unemployment Falls Governor Reassigns 1,500 Police In Attempt To Quell Violence Demand For Low-Cost Housing On Rise EPA Refuses Permit For Ponce Water Treatment Fishing Industry Unable To Expand Calderon Rebuts WSJ Natl Guard Hasnt Fixed MAB Security Flaws
Federal Appeals Court Rules Puerto Rico's Supreme Court Should Decide Election
By DENISE LAVOIE
AP Legal Affairs Writer
December 15, 2004
BOSTON (AP) - A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Puerto Rico's Supreme Court, not a federal judge on the island, has jurisdiction over disputed election ballots in the governor's race.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that with a few narrow exceptions federal courts are not authorized to meddle in local elections.
The ruling kicks the protracted gubernatorial election back to the island's Supreme Court to review thousands of disputed ballots favoring pro-commonwealth candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila of the Popular Democratic Party.
Preliminary election results from Nov. 2 showed Acevedo Vila narrowly ahead of the pro-statehood contender, former Gov. Pedro Rossello of the New Progressive Party -- 48.38 percent to 48.18 percent.
On the ballots in question, voters marked an 'x' for the tiny Independence Party, but they also put marks next to the names of Acevedo Vila and Roberto Prats, the Popular Democratic Party's candidate for nonvoting delegate to U.S. Congress.
Acevedo Vila's supporters say Puerto Rico's laws allow voters to mark one party in addition to candidates from other mainstream parties.
The 1st Circuit rejected the claim by Rossello that these so-called "three-mark ballots" were not legitimate.
"Here, there is no clearly articulated Commonwealth policy, much less a statute, to indicate the three-mark split vote ballots were invalid," the court said in its ruling.
Rossello's lawyer, former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who represented George W. Bush in the disputed 2000 presidential election, had argued that it is impossible to determine the voter's intent on those ballots.
Last month, Puerto Rico's Supreme Court and U.S. District Judge Daniel Dominguez both ordered an immediate recount, but made contradictory rulings on how to deal with the ballots favoring Acevedo Vila. The Supreme Court ordered them counted as valid, while Dominguez ordered election officials to count the ballots, but not to add them to the final recount tally until he rules on their validity.
The dispute landed in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week, where dozens of protesters showed up on the courthouse steps.
A three-judge panel of the court issued a 41-page ruling concluding that "it was an abuse of discretion for the District Court to exercise jurisdiction over this local election dispute."
Editors' Note: Denise Lavoie is a Boston-based reporter covering the courts and legal issues.
NPP Confident It Will Get Two-Thirds Majority In House
December 15, 2004
SAN JUAN (AP) After assuring two additional seats in the House, the New Progressive Party (NPP) only needs one additional seat to have a two-thirds majority, which would allow them to go over any project of the governor, whoever it turns out to be, and guarantee rejection of any bill.
The NPP already has two-thirds in the Senate, but the same power in the House represents the possibility that the Legislature could revoke executive vetos, something that is very important if Popular Democratic candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila is certified as governor.
The results of the Nov. 2 election gave the New Progressives the two-thirds in the Senate, but the House is short by one representative.
According to news reports, Edwin Mundo Rios, outgoing representative and a member of the NPP vote review committee, announced that his party prevailed in Precincts 15 and 20. The first has Quebradillas, Camuy and part of Hatillo, the second has Hormigueros, Cabo Rojo and part of San Germán.
Unemployment Rate Falls To 9.9% In November
December 15, 2004
SAN JUAN (AP) Some 2,000 people found jobs in November and another 1,000 stopped looking, a combination that reduced the unemployment rate to 9.9 percent.
According to official numbers, an increase of 2,000 employed people was registered, but at the same time, 1,000 decided to leave the labor pool a group composed of people older than 16, who, for a given period, work or make efforts to continue their employment.
This combination dropped the unemployment rate to 9.9 percent in November, from 10.1 percent in October. A total of 1,272,000 people were employed in November, 2,000 more than in October.
Also, the labor pool fell from 1,413,000 to 1,412,000 between October and November, according to the most recent poll taken by the Statistics Division of the Labor Department.
Governor Reassigns 1,500 Police In Attempt To Quell Violence
December 14, 2004
SAN JUAN (AP) Seeking to quell the recent wave of violence, Gov. Sila M. Calderon on Tuesday ordered 500 police posted at Aqueduct and Sewer Authority facilities and another 1,000 stationed at public schools to return to patrols.
Calderon said she ordered ASA President Jorge Rodriguez to hire 500 private guards to free up the state police that currently are providing security for the company.
By doing so, the governor intends to counteract the rise in violence in the past several days, which included two triple homicides in Guaynabo and Naguabo in less than three days.
"I dont know the economic impact of this but, there is no price or value on the protection of human life," Calderon said at a press conference in Rio Piedras.
She said the police would be stationed on patrol "as soon as possible."
Calderon said if the Independent Authentic Union workers end the strike t would not be necessary to assign police to guard ASA plants.
The governor announced also that she was increasing the number of agents assigned to the investigation of the multiple homicides that happened near San Patricio Plaza in Guaynabo in which relatives of former governor Carlos Romero Barcelo were killed.
Demand For Low-Cost Housing Is On Rise
December 14, 2004
SAN JUAN (AP) More than half of the housing demand projected for the next four years is for low-cost units, a study commissioned by the Association of Banks revealed.
The survey, by the firm Estudios Técnicos Inc., calculated the total demand for housing at 19,960 units annually during the period from 2005 to 2009, a little less that the number of units built in the past decade.
"A little more than half of the projected demand is for units priced at $90,000 or less, which is "social interest" housing under the current definitions," the report says, which was presented Tuesday at a press conference.
The report said to satisfy the demand for low-cost housing some type of governmental help is necessary.
EPA Refuses Permit For ASA Water Treatment Plant In Ponce
By JOSE FERNANDEZ COLON
December 14, 2004
PONCE (AP) The Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (ASA) must invest $50 million in the sanitary water facility in Ponce after the Environmental Protection Agency refused to grant a permit.
Carl Axel Soderberg, director of the EPA in the Caribbean, said the ASA was denied a permit to treat wastewater in the facility, located in La Matilde in Ponce, for not complying with environmental regulations.
"In the first week of December, we left a warning formally suggesting the denial of a permit requested by the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority," he said.
"We estimate that to be able to comply to treat wastewater and install the necessary equipment for processing and disposition of mud . will be at a cost of $50 million," he added.
That $50 million is in addition to another $30 million already invested in the construction of an underwater discharge tube in the Caribbean Sea.
Soderberg, an engineer who in the past specialized in wastewater treatment facilities, said that although the ASA made efforts, it could not repair two leaks in the underwater sanitary water outlet.
He said the ASA had promised to fix the leaks in the pipe by last Oct. 11.
"The EPA has given them several opportunities to seal the leaks. The fact is, they had a year to seal the leaks at deep levels, and last Oct. 2 they were able to seal two leaks in water over 300 feet deep, but not two other leaks at 400 feet deep," he said.
PR Unable To Expand Local Fishing Industry
By JOSÉ FERNÁNDEZ COLÓN
December 14, 2004
PONCE (AP) Puerto Rico does not have the ability to increase local fishing or reduce seafood imports, said Walter Padilla, director of the Fishing Program in the Department of Agriculture.
Padilla said on Tuesday that agency statistics show local fishing contributes 15.22 percent of the seafood consumed here. The remaining 84.78 percent is imported.
"The production remains at approximately just over 3 million pounds per year of fish and seafood in general. This is a number that reflects the last five years. We cant increase our quantity of (fish shipments) because we have a high density of fish, but a low population density (of fishermen)," he said.
He said, also, that with fishing facilities in 42 coastal municipalities and 2,000 fishermen, local fishing generates between $7 million and $10 million for the Puerto Rico economy.
Padilla said local fishing also cant be increased due to the size of the fish population the majority of which are found when they are not yet sexually mature and have to be allowed to grow and the lower frequency of egg-laying in tropical zones.
Padilla also said the total number of fishermen in the country is going to change in 2005 when new regulations are put in place, which require all sea workers to get licenses in order to continue their trade.
Calderon Responds To Wall Street Journal Editorial
December 13, 2004
SAN JUAN (AP) With a letter published Monday by The Wall Street Journal, Gov. Sila M. Calderon began her administrations campaign to counteract an editorial in the same paper that said there had possibly been fraud in the Puerto Rican elections.
After the publication of the editorial on Dec. 3, Calderon blamed the New Progressive Party for divulging false information about the local elections to the U.S. press, and announced that her government would begin a campaign to counteract the rumors.
In her letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal, Calderon said the editorial offended her and all of Puerto Rico.
"You seem to think that we are incapable of electing our own political leaders and need a battery of costly legal consultants and political strategists; that we are better if the federal courts decide our future; and that our political system in Puerto Rico has faults and is corrupt," she wrote in her letter.
Calderon said the NPP and its gubernatorial candidate, Pedro Rossello, did not challenge the mixed votes in the 1996 election or in 2000 or the night of the Nov. 2 elections.
La Fortaleza sent local media copies of the letter, which Calderon sent to the Journal on Dec. 6, and the edited version was published by the paper on Monday.
The newspaper had published an editorial called "The Florida of Puerto Rico" in which it said the ballots with three marks must be annulled to avoid an electoral crisis such as the one that followed the 2000 presidential elections.
The Wall Street Journal also accused the Puerto Rican Supreme Court of assuming a position of jurist activism, and said there is no way to know the intention of the voters that submitted the ballots with three marks, which are being challenged in court.
National Guard Has Not Fixed Security Flaws At Muñiz Air Base
December 13, 2004
SAN JUAN (AP) The National Guard allegedly has not dealt with security flaws pointed out by federal authorities on flights from the Muñiz Air National Guard Base, which could lead to the possible closing of the facility.
According to press reports, the Department of the Air National Guard in Washington did an investigation into the security of flights that leave the Muñiz base and found irregularities that have not been corrected by the special assistant of the National Guard, Francisco Márquez.
The report, dated last summer, said Márquez had a period of ten months to correct the security flaws.
To continue operations at the base, which employs 1,753 people, the document said the National Guard must change the administration, modify its mission, or close the base.
The department ordered the dismissal of the chief of plane operations, Col. Carlos Quiñones, who was in charge of security on the aircraft.