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Berrios Sentenced For Trespassing On Vieques, Released After Hours In Jail

Calderon Forced To Implement Health Plan

Berrios Sentenced For Trespassing On Vieques, Released After Hours In Jail

June 14, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) President Ruben Berrios and environmentalist Jorge Fernandez Porto were released from the U.S. Courthouse in Old San Juan after serving six and four hours in jail, respectively.

Berrios Martinez and Fernandez Porto were sentenced for trespassing on U.S. Navy firing range in Vieques Tuesday.

"After today there will be no more U.S. Navy in Vieques," Berrios Martinez told a crowd of supporters who awaited his release outside the courthouse.

U.S. District Court Judge Juan Perez Gimenez sentenced Berrios Martinez to six hours and Fernandez Porto to four hours in jail for trespassing on federal land on May 10. Both men slipped past military guards to enter the Vieques range to protest the Navy's exercises there.

The activists could have been sentenced up to six months in jail. Berrios Martinez had said before entering court Monday that he and Fernandez Porto would not defend themselves in court and were "prepared to face whatever verdict."

Berrios Martinez and Fernandez Porto served their sentences in a cell at the federal building in Old San Juan, under U.S. marshals’ custody.

Fernandez Porto was released at 3:15 p.m. and Berrios Martinez at 5:15 p.m.

Gov. Pedro Rossello said the U.S. District Court did its job by sentencing both independence leaders.

"I think the case was handled in a generous and prudent way to make people understand that it’s an offense to trespass into U.S. Navy restricted areas," Rossello said.

The U.S. District Court judge said he recognized the exercise of democracy in Berrios Martinez’s right to disagree, just as he recognizes it in the peaceful protest carried out by Berrios Martinez’s followers outside the courthouse. Still, Perez Gimenez said democracy requires laws to survive.

"A society without laws will self-destruct," he added. "So again, we are on the same side; you complying with your conscience and I with mine," Perez Gimenez added.

The trial was held in the same courtroom where Berrios Martinez was sentenced to three months in jail for trespassing the U.S. Navy firing range in Culebra, 30 years ago.

Calderon Forced To Implement Health Plan

By Iván Román
June 12, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The roar from the basketball court in the El Prado public housing complex couldn`t have been any louder than last week`s political jousting.

Gov. Pedro Rossello was handing out government health cards to 50 people, the first in San Juan to be part of Puerto Rico`s public health insurance for the poor, already in place in 77 municipalities. Invited at the last minute, San Juan Mayor Sila Maria Calderon, gubernatorial candidate for the opposing party, showed up late, setting off dueling chants.

She stood there for 15 minutes. Rossello didn`t acknowledge her presence, and she left, sparking more shouting and confusion. But the circus atmosphere and the political posturing masked the more serious showdown regarding health reform on the island.

Three weeks ago, the Legislature passed a law forcing the health reform down Calderon`s throat -- to implement it in San Juan by July 1. City and state officials of rival political parties clashed about how much San Juan should contribute to the fund -- $66 million vs. $46 million the city wants to pay -- to buy private health insurance for the 103,000 city residents eligible for it.

The island`s government pays $77 million to buy insurance for the 1.7 million people who already have it. So Calderon calls the $66 million price for San Juan`s residents "unfair." Paying that would force her to close city clinics and hospitals and lay off employees, a recurring nightmare throughout the island during the rocky transition to a more privatized health care system.

"The residents of San Juan should know that the health card in San Juan is going to be the best in all Puerto Rico because we`re going to keep the clinics open," said Calderon of the opposition Popular Democratic Party.

When he took office in 1993, as U.S. officials tried to figure out what to do about the growing number of uninsured, Rossello pledged better health care for the island. He began buying HMO-style health plans with five insurance companies for people who qualify.

To help pay for it, the New Progressive Party administration sold almost all of its hospitals and clinics, some at bargain basement prices.

Some people who have the insurance card say they love not having to wait for hours at crowded, deficient government hospitals. Now they get their medications for free. Rossello points to health reform`s results: greater choice of doctors, more dentist visits, lower infant mortality rates and near universal vaccination.

Calderon`s opponents say if she can compete with the private hospitals, she doesn`t have to close the city`s clinics. Sen. Jorge Santini, the New Progressive Party`s candidate to replace her in City Hall, penned the new law authorizing the island`s municipal income collection agency to retain 17 percent of San Juan`s general fund to pay the $66 million in health premiums.

But Calderon hinted at a court battle to avoid this. "We`ll fight in the appropriate forum when we think it`s the right time to do so," Calderon said. "Right now, the card is coming to San Juan."

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