RHC Offers New Status Proposal Plantain Imports Halted FEMA Allots $8m For Hwy Repairs UT Extension Could Begin In 08 Womens Caucus Created 2nd Security Guard Testifies In Death Penalty Trial 2 New Natural Reserve Areas Named ASA Cuts Millions H-P Laying Off 600 At Aguadilla Plant Rossello Still Seeks Senate Presidency
Hernandez Colon Suggests New Status Proposal
By ISTRA PACHECO
March 9, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) Former governor Rafael Hernandez Colon on Wednesday made a new status proposal, to convene a temporary Constitutional Assembly until the 2008 elections are held and a Constituent is selected, through the mechanism of the Constitution.
Hernandez Colon said the Assembly, according to the proposal by Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila, would be "statutory" and could die with the electoral changes. Instead, he said that the Constituent, convened through the Constitution, would transcend political changes.
"The bill (of Acevedo Vila) conceived the Constitutional Assembly as a statutory character, that is to say, one that is created by law that the Legislative Assembly can approve and can repeal," the former governor said during public Senate hearings on status.
Acevedo Vila, also from the Popular Democratic Party, has presented a measure that would have Puerto Ricans vote in a referendum whether they prefer a plebiscite with Congressional support or a Constitutional Assembly to deal with the status issue.
"It is necessary that the Assembly is permanent and continuous so that it can articulate the will of the people of Puerto Rico on status, and negotiate that Congress acts on that will," Hernandez Colon said.
Agriculture Dept. Halts Import Of Plantains
March 9, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) After improving the cultivation of plantains and bananas in the island, Agriculture Secretary Jose Orlando Fabre Laboy ordered on Wednesday a halt to the import of these products.
Fabre Laboy said only imported plantains and bananas that already are on route will be accepted, due to sales made weeks in advance.
"Plantain cultivation on the island has improved substantially in the month of March," Fabre said. "We hope that the country's production will cover the market demand that imports have been fulfilling."
Tropical Storm Jeanne devastated 90 percent of plantain and banana production in September, prompting Puerto Rico to imports from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Ecuador.
Two Highways To Get $8 Million In Repairs
March 9, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) The federal government assigned $8 million for repairs to Highway 3 and Highway 5, which cross several towns in the east of the island, and were affected by flooding in November 2003.
This was announced Wednesday by Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño, who said that the funds are from the federal Emergency Assistance Program, allocated for the repair or reconstruction of highways affected by natural disasters.
"These funds are crucial for improvements to these two highways, and they have not been awarded until now because they were not considered a priority" he said in a statement.
Fortuño said the funds were requested in November 2003, but the petition had not been dealt with by the federal government, allegedly due to the demand for money from other states and U.S. jurisdictions.
Construction On Urban Train Extension Could Begin In 2008
March 9, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) The second phase of construction on the Urban Train that will extend the project to Carolina could begin in 2008, after completing a federal process that will formally begin in the next few months.
Paul Weiss, a consultant in Washington, D.C., for the Puerto Rican government, said negotiations to extend the project will begin this season, with the hope that in August preliminary classification will be obtained from the Federal Transportation Administration.
According to media reports, the first process that must be completed by the Department of Transportation and Public Works is the preliminary design for the new route, which will run from the Rio Piedras station to Carolina, near the Superior Court and Roberto Clemente Park.
The track will run parallel to 65th Infantry Avenue.
After the initial steps receive federal government approval, the local government must prepare an environmental impact statement, the final version of which will be presented in December 2006. According to Weiss, the hope is that the final design of the project will be certified before July 2008.
The past government estimated the cost of extending the Urban Train at $914 million.
Legislative Assembly Creates Womens Caucus
March 9, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) To commemorate Tuesdays International Working Women's Day, the Legislative Assembly announced the creation of a womens caucus, which will defend legislation that benefits women and give talks on womens issues.
Senate President Kenneth McClintock said the caucus is necessary because women are disadvantaged economically in comparison to men, and continue to suffer discrimination in some industries.
The group will work outside of party lines and together with the Womens Advocacy Office, although it will also oversee that agency, said Rep. Albita Rivera, who will lead the caucus starting in 2007.
Second Security Guard Testifies In Puerto Rican Death Penalty Trial
By LEONARDO ALDRIDGE
March 8, 2005
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - A former security guard testified at Puerto Rico's second death penalty trial in 75 years Tuesday, identifying one of the defendants as the man who pointed a gun at his head during the first of three armed robberies that left another guard dead.
Medina, 24, and Lorenzo Catalan Roman, 25, are accused of murdering Gilberto Rodriguez Cabrera, 31, who was delivering money from an armored truck to a bank when gunmen killed him on March 27, 2002.
The trial opened Monday with testimony from security guard Eluber Torres, who was at the wheel of the truck during the attack that killed Rodriguez. Torres identified the defendants as the attackers and said both of them shot Rodriguez.
Rodriguez died on the way to the hospital.
The Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled in 2000 the death penalty violated the U.S. Caribbean territory's constitution, but a year later, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned the ruling, saying the island is subject to federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision.
U.S. Congress restored it for certain federal crimes in 1988.
The U.S. attorney-general has authorized federal prosecutors to seek it twice in Puerto Rico since then.
It is the second death penalty trial on the island in more than 75 years. Two men who faced the death penalty in a murder trial were acquitted last year.
Puerto Rico has not held an execution since 1927, when farmworker Pascual Ramos was hanged for beheading his boss with a machete.
The island outlawed capital punishment in 1929, and is now among 12 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that ban it.
If Catalan and Medina are convicted and sentenced to death, they will not be executed on the island.
Planning Board Names Two New Natural Reserve Areas
March 8, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) The Planning Board has approved two new natural reserves: the system of caves and caverns in Aguas Buenas, and the extension of the Boqueron State Forest in Cabo Rojo.
Planning Board President Angel Rodriguez Quiñones said they are establishing the limits of the Natural Reserve of the System of Caves and Caverns at Aguas Buenas inside an area of 1,804 'cuerdas', located in the Sumidero and Caguitas areas in Aguas Buenas and Cañabon in Caguas.
In Cabo Rojo, the Planning Board resolved to adopt 319 cuerdas to expand the Boqueron State Forest.
"The adequate management of these resources could be an alternative to battle the economic, social and ecological problems of the area ... Because they are non-renewable natural resources, it is necessary to intervene for their protection and best use," Rodríguez Quiñones said.
He added that the Planning Board is evaluating the establishment of a natural reserve at the Ciénaga Las Cucharillas in Cataño.
ASA Cuts Millions In Expenses
March 8, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) The Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (ASA) has achieved a reduction in expenses of $36 million, as part of a plan to reduce the public companys operation deficit, estimated at some $200 million annually.
Jorge Rodriguez, ASA executive president, made the announcement Monday and said that some $20 million of the cuts are due to the freezing of "some 200 positions already approved," while in new regions a selective recruitment has been implemented.
"For more than 20 years, there has not been effective control of these expenses (the drop) represents a reduction of 18 percent in operations losses," he told a newspaper.
The cuts in expenses include $2 million from the advertising budget, as well as $2.75 million in miscellaneous purchases.
Hewlett-Packard To Lay Off 600 Workers At Aguadilla Plant
March 8, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) Starting in June, Hewlett-Packard will lay off 600 employees from its plant in Aguadilla, nearly half of the workers there.
The Labor Department announced it activated a plan to help the affected workers, including psychological support, financial and transition advice, reports said.
"Immediately, when we were warned that Hewlett-Packard would dismiss 600 of its workers, we activated the U.S. Rapid Response Office for Displaced Workers, at the Office of Occupational Development and Human Resources," said the interim secretary of Labor, Jose O. Rolon.
Hewlett-Packard and the agency said the layoffs will be staggered, beginning in June 2005 unti April 2006.
Rossello Wants To Continue Fight For Senate Presidency
March 8, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) Pedro Rossello on Tuesday denied that discussion on the subject of the Senate presidency has ended, despite the endorsement that New Progressive senators gave on Monday to Senate President Kenneth McClintock.
Thirteen of 17 NPP senators on Monday ratified the decision for McClintock to lead the Senate, and committed to not address the issue again for the rest of the term.
"I will continue to bring up the issue. I dont want to reduce the situation to counting signatures and votes," Rossello said in a radio interview.
Rossello has maintained an intense struggle with McClintock for the leadership of the Senate.
"I hope that through the process, it shows that the responsibility of everyone is to answer the question of how best we can organize to continue and advance the goals of our party," Rossello said, and added that the issue of who will lead the Senate is strictly political, not personal.