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Acevedo Vila Prevails In Recount… Fortuño Ready To Assume Role As Resident Commissioner… Hard Rock Cafe To Reopen… McClintock Proposes Elimination Of Supreme Court Age Limit… End Of Water Strike Is In Sight, IAU Amenable To Gov’t Recommendations

Acevedo Vila To Be New Puerto Rico Governor

December 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--Anibal Acevedo Vila is Puerto Rico's new governor, elections officials announced Thursday after a contentious vote recount that favors the man who wants the U.S. territory to retain its commonwealth status.

He beat out Pedro Rossello, who was governor from 1993-2001 and wanted Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the U.S.

With 99.9% of votes recounted, Acevedo Vila of the Popular Democratic Party received 961,693 votes compared to 958,465 for Rossello, election officials said.

Officials won't officially certify a winner until Tuesday because some 2,000 votes have yet to be counted in suburban Caguas. But that number won't not affect the outcome, election officials said.

Election results from Nov. 2 showed Acevedo Vila narrowly leading Rossello, 48.38% to 48.18%, forcing the recount. Rossello and his New Progressive Party quickly challenged thousands of ballots favoring Acevedo Vila.

On Wednesday, the federal appeals court in Boston effectively put an end to Rossello's legal challenge, giving jurisdiction over the ballots to the island's Supreme Court - which supported the Popular Democratic argument - instead of a U.S. district judge who refused to adjudicate the disputed votes.

A lawyer for Rossello, Luis Berrios, has said the New Progressive Party would decide this week whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The disputed election deepened bitter divisions in the Caribbean island of 4 million people who have argued for decades about whether to become a U.S. state, remain a U.S. commonwealth or move toward independence. Another 3 million people of Puerto Rican descent live on the U.S. mainland.

There were some accusations of voter fraud during the recount, which lasted more than a month. The pro-statehood party said prisoners - who are allowed to vote in the territory - were forced to vote for the Popular Democratic Party. The party also said a few votes had irregular marks both in pencil and pen on individual ballots. Electoral officials dismissed the accusations.

Rossello also disputed ballots in which voters marked both the name of Acevedo Vila, who was the nonvoting delegate to U.S. Congress, and Roberto Prats, a legislator who was running for Acevedo Vila's position as Congress delegate as well as marking an "x" for the tiny Independence Party. He said that made it impossible to determine what the voter wanted.

Acevedo Vila's supporters say Puerto Rico's laws allow voters to cast "mixed votes" to support keeping the Independence Party registered while also supporting candidates from other parties.

In a Dec. 15 ruling, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said "there is no clearly articulated Commonwealth policy, much less a statute" that indicates ballots marked for Acevedo Vila and the Independence Party are invalid.

But in his petition for reconsideration filed earlier this week, Rossello said the court's decision was "patently erroneous." Rossello claimed that the State Election Commission changed the rules governing the disputed ballots after the election.

[The recount results show that Acevedo obtained 6,031 mixed votes to Rossello's 334, and the difference was enough to swing the election to the PPD candidate.]

Luis Fortuño Ready To Assume Role As Resident Commissioner

December 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Puerto Rico Herald. All rights reserved. 

In an exclusive interview with the Herald on Tuesday in San Juan, New Progressive Party (NPP) Resident Commissioner-Elect Luis Fortuño laid out his longer term objectives as he packs his bags for the flight to Washington to be sworn in as a member of the 109th U.S. House of Representatives and begin a four-year tour as Puerto Rico’s principal voice in the U.S. Congress.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the former Secretary of Economic Development in the administration of former Governor Pedro Rosselló, Fortuño spoke of his desire to ameliorate some of the negative stereotypes that have grown up in Washington, resulting from the separatist rhetoric of the past four years and anti-American statements made by some Puerto Rican political leaders during the debate over the U.S. Navy’s use of its training facilities on Vieques.

Fortuño said that being a Republican will give him an advantage in the U.S. Congress, currently controlled by the GOP in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Already, House leadership has touted him as the first Republican Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico since early in the Twentieth Century. Of special interest to the Party is the fact that they have added another Hispanic to their membership in Congress. The GOP’s effort to attract Hispanic Americans to their flag has been one of the Party’s national objectives.

The new Resident Commissioner told the Herald that he intends to work to support the Republican agenda of the new Congress, including reform of the Social Security system, health care and tort reform. He also intends to speak for Puerto Ricans to insure that islanders are treated equitably in legislation relating to federal benefits and economic development. He is particularly focused on the expansion of enterprise zones as a tool to create jobs and stimulate the island’s economy.

The new Resident Commissioner also commented on the challenges facing him as he navigates through the new political reality in Puerto Rico, a divided government. The apparent Governor-elect, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá is a member of the rival Popular Democratic Party (PDP), while Fortuño’s NPP will control the Puerto Rican legislature in both Houses of Congress. He expressed the hope that this novel situation will produce a more cooperative atmosphere as both Parties work to advance the aspirations of Puerto Rico’s residents.

In next week’s Herald, readers will be provided with a full transcript of the new Resident Commissioner’s views on these and other subjects, including the important issue of a non-territorial permanent political status for Puerto Rico’s four million American citizens.

Hard Rock Cafe To Reopen Doors In Puerto Rico More Than A Year After Blaze

December 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ The Hard Rock Cafe in Puerto Rico will reopen its doors next month, a year and a half after a fire roared through the restaurant and collapsed part of its roof, officials said.

The grand reopening of the restaurant will take place Jan. 17, three days before the start of the annual San Sebastian street festival in the capital, said Greg Healy, a Hard Rock spokesman.

The restaurant was almost fully remodeled and 30 seats were added to bring dining capacity to 230 people, Healy said.

Healy said almost all memorabilia are new, including a tie signed by Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, a shirt worn at the 1991 Grammy Awards by Puerto Rican pop icon Ricky Martin, a silk kimono belonging to singer/actress Jennifer Lopez and a black leather jacket donated by Cuban singer Gloria Estefan.

McClintock Proposes Elimination Of Supreme Court Age Limit

By Leonardo Aldridge

December 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The next Legislature should consider a Constitutional amendment that would eliminate the age limit of 70 that Supreme Court justices have on the island, incoming Senate President Kenneth McClintock said.

During the next four-year term two of the three judges named to the Supreme Court by NPP governors - Baltasar Corrada del Río and Francisco Rebollo - will be obliged to retire due to age. If Anibal Acevedo Vila is confirmed as governor he could change the ideological balance still more toward the Popular Democratic Party with his nominations.

But McClintock is not worried about this possibility, he said, because nominations to the Supreme Court must be approved by the Senate.

"I don’t think we should look at it in that way. If we look at the demographic progress of Puerto Rico, the life expectancy is not the same as it was in 1951 when the Constitution was written. Already, life expectancy has risen to 77 or 78 years old," McClintock said.

The Supreme Court has never had a majority of justices named by the NPP.

End Of Water Strike Is In Sight

December 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The leader of the Independent Authentic Union (IAU) announced Wednesday that he is ready to put an end to the more than 80-day strike against the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (ASA) after accepting recommendations from a dialogue committee.

Union President Hector Rene Lugo said the membership of approximately 4,300 workers accepted the proposals.

The IAU negotiating committee on Wednesday accepted the recommendations made by members of a dialogue committee named by Gov. Sila M. Calderon to seek a solution to the strike.

"With this agreement the situation is resolved that has caused the strike of more than 80 days, so it has come to a happy ending," Lugo said at a press conference.

He said he hoped the negotiating committee for the company completes the details of the agreements so it can be ratified by a meeting of the union membership on Christmas Eve and they can return to work.

Recommendations To End Strike Are Proposed

December 22, 2004
Copyright © 2004 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The recommendations of a dialogue committee designated by the governor, on Monday night were in the hands of Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda, and the leadership of the Independent Authentic Union, in an effort to resolve the impasse in negotiations for a collective agreement with the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority.

After a meeting that lasted nine hours, those designated for the talks, among them government and union leaders, said that in the coming hours the strike conflict could be resolved, which has kept 4,300 IAU members away from their jobs since Oct. 4.

"I feel that the work done during the day today (Tuesday) … has fulfilled the mandate of the governor. It will proceed with the creation of a report that on the same night will be sent to the Chief of Staff," said Labor Secretary Roman Velasco, according to press reports.

The recommendations were not released to the public.

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