Senate OKs Status Bill With Constitutional Assembly… Island Could Lose $58.6m In Federal Funds… Feds Sign Off On RR Reuse Plan… Puerto Rico Libre… OMB Needs $2.8m For Unicameral Vote… Cruz Goes Home… Rossello Will Lead Health-Care Comm… Pont Sees Int’l Role For P.R.… Cataño Drug Ring Broken Up… Fraud Alleged At Veterans Affairs

Senate Approves Status Bill That Includes Constitutional Assembly

March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — In a vote that many senators described as "histororic" the Senate on Thursday approved the substitute status bill that includes the Constitutional Assembly as a possible way to resolve the political relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.

The final version of the bill includes an amendment that says the House and Senate commit to legislation that will allow the electorate to choose a mechanism to determine status, in case the U.S. government does not commit to a process of free determination before Dec. 31, 2006.

For the proposal to be viable, the electorate will have to vote in a referendum July 10 in favor of asking the U.S. Congress and the president to commit to free determination for Puerto Ricans by December 2006.

Puerto Rico Could Lose $58.6m In Federal Funds


March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Aggravating the already-difficult financial situation on the island, Puerto Rico could see a loss of $58.6 million in federal funding allocations in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

This was announced Thursday by the director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), Eduardo Bhatia, who said at least five programs could disappear.

The endangered programs are Safe and Drug-Free Schools; Vocational Education; Federal Program of Technological Aid; Community Development Block Grant; and Justice Assistance Grant, Bhatia said at a La Fortaleza press conference.

He called on business and civic organizations that would be affected by the proposed cuts to unite and work together with Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño to see that Puerto Rico does not lose the federal funding.

"We are working together, we are conscious of the work we have to do, but it is a challenge for Puerto Rico," he said.

Bhatia said that until the end of September there will be steps taken to see how to educate members of the U.S. Congress about the importance of these funds to maintain island programs.

He added that PRFAA will soon hire lobbyists to let people in Washington, D.C., know about the socioeconomic problems throughout the island in order to retain as much funding as possible.

It was not immediately known how much the lobbyists will be paid.

In the fiscal year 2004-05, Puerto Rico received $1.57 billion in federal funds and if Congress approves the budget recommended to President George W. Bush for 2005-06, the island will receive $1.51 billion, a reduction of 3.7 percent, Bhatia said.

"It is a challenge for Puerto Rico," Eduardo Bhatia said.

Federal Agency Signs Off On Reuse Plan For Roosevelt Roads

March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Thursday backed the reuse plan for the land on the old Roosevelt Roads Naval Base, proposed by the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce.

The secretary for the Puerto Rican agency, Jorge Silva Puras, said this is the only formal endorsement necessary by the U.S. government to develop the "Portal del Futuro de Puerto Rico" project, which includes a technological part, environmental preservation areas, housing, businesses and schools.

Silva Puras said HUD decided the plan for the land development presented an "adequate balance" among the needs of the community and the elements required for the "optimum economic development of the area."

"Once the Navy complies with the environmental evaluations that the National Environmental Policy Act requires, the transfer of the lands will begin and the following actions to put the reuse plan in place," Silva Puras said.

Puerto Rico Libre

Supporting Happiness


March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

The Sentinel reports the happiest place on Earth is the island of Puerto Rico, an occupied territory of the United States.

That's easy to explain. The U.S. Treasury spends $43 million dollars a day to support the island, or $339 per month per capita. That helps to keep them so happy.

But I think true and patriotic Puerto Ricans would be happier if they were permitted to be a free and independent nation, which is their natural right, and end the 105-year military occupation by the United States.

Puerto Rico Libre.

Martin Kessler
Winter Park

OMB Seeks $2.8m For Unicameral Vote

March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Thursday said it will identify the $2.8 million in additional funds requested by the president of the State Elections Commission, Aurelio Gracia, in order to hold the vote on unicamerality.

After a meeting with Gracia at OMB headquarters, the agency’s executive director, Ileana Fas Pacheco, said she will do an analysis to see how the amount can be adjusted, but she didn’t rule out having an answer for the SEC by next week.

Fas Pacheco said that if, after doing an evaluation, there is a way to continue additional reductions, they will. If not, the $2.8 million will be assigned through an allocation of budget funds, probably an executive order.

Cruz Goes Home

March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005. All rights reserved. 

Niagara point guard Alvin Cruz, the Purple Eagles' career assists leader, signed a one-year contract yesterday to play for Bayamon Vaqueros in his native Puerto Rico.

Cruz will join the team for its final 13 games after he graduates in May.

Rossello Will Lead New Health-Care Committee

March 30, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Sen. Pedro Rossello was selected to lead the recently created legislative commission that will study options to improve the public health system, the presidents of the House and Senate announced on Wednesday.

Also, legislators that make up the committee will establish its regulations and work plan, but Rossello was not available to discuss those issues.

Senate President Kenneth McClintock and House President Jose Aponte said that before June 30, 2006, the committee must resolve how to cover all Puerto Ricans with a medical plan.

"The main responsibility (of the committee) will be to come up with legislation that guarantees the fulfillment of the NPP platform commitment to give 100 percent of Puerto Ricans health insurance," McClintock said at a press conference.

Marisara Pont Sees International Role For Puerto Rico

March 30, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Puerto Rico must assume a leadership role for the Caribbean region and serve as a link between the United States and the rest of Latin America, the designated Secretary of State, Marisara Pont, said Wednesday during her confirmation hearings before the Legislature.

Pont said she has written a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, expressing her wish that Puerto Rico take on the role of mediator between the United States and Latin America.

"Puerto Rico must continue with its efforts to reach an international space. We must strengthen our presence in the Caribbean, pick up our leadership, and contribute to the economic growth of the region," Pont said in her testimony.

Cataño Drug Trafficking Ring Dismantled By Police

March 30, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — A drug distribution ring in El Coquí I public housing complex in Cataño was broken up Wednesday in an operation by state and federal authorities.

Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo said the investigation began nine months ago, in a joint effort of the Drug, Narcotic and Vice Squad, the Mobile Enforcement Team Program, the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the Special Investigations Unit.

After the investigation ended, 19 arrest orders were issued in Superior Court in Bayamon against members of the organization that, according to the police chief, generated nearly $2 million annually.

Toledo said 12 group members were arrested, while another two were turned in to police. Authorities still have not been able to find five other members.

Fraud Is Alleged At Veterans Affairs Dept.

March 30, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs canceled the benefits of some 1,353 people on the island, who received payments higher than $29 million, despite many of them already being dead.

This decision by the federal agency was made after an evaluation of the benefits administration of the San Juan Regional Office, which also revealed that 82 veterans were eligible for medals and decorations which they had never received.

The field work, done at the office in San Juan between June 14 and July 16, 2004, ended with 13 people referred for criminal investigations and nine for administrative inquiries due to possible fraud, media reports said.

It is alleged that some benefits "facilitators" inside the system are connected to the fraud cases.

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