SJ Archbishop Offers Special Mass For Pope... Puerto Rico & Cancún Rosario Is Ready Roberto Clemente Hispanic Event Broadens Focus It Is "La Florida" P.R. Wants U.S. To Honor Status Vote Water Rates Could Rise, Milk Could Be Scarce EPA Fines Ed. Dept. Over Asbestos Rossello Asks NPP Legislators For Support FBP Builds Florida Franchise Unspoiled Oasis Affordable
Archbishop Of San Juan Offers Special Mass For Pope
April 3, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) The Archbishop of San Juan, Monsignor Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, on Saturday night extended his condolences on the death of Pope John Paul II, in a special Mass at the San Juan Cathedral.
He remembered the popes visit to the island on Oct. 12, 1984.
"We want to give thanks to God for such an extraordinary ministry of this man of God, John Paul II, who for many years governed the church with love giving testimony of an authentically Christian life," he said.
Gonzalez Nieves said he will travel to Rome to participate in the popes funeral.
John Paul II, who led the Catholic church for more than a quarter century, died on Saturday at age 84.
Puerto Rico And Cancún
April 3, 2005
To the Editor: Maureen Dowd's opening to "In Cancún, Girls Gone Mild" (March 20) unfairly singles out Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans as being sexually "grisly," unnecessarily perpetuating negative stereotypes. She apparently had a couple of unpleasant experiences in San Juan during her spring breaks that I am sure she would have had in most other spring break destinations.
She then proceeds to contrast this with her and her sister's stay in a luxury hotel in Cancún, where they were shielded from such unsavory behavior. This brought to mind the notion of gated communities that are created to keep out the lower-class riffraff.
I would hope that Ms. Dowd and the [paper] would be a bit more sensitive in the future about the unnecessarily negative messages you send out in the Travel section. This type of stereotyping is harmful and should be unacceptable in this day and age.
To the Editor: As a woman in the white male world of academia, I appreciate and often applaud Maureen Dowd's incisive eye to equity and gender issues. You go, girl.
But obviously gender is not our only ailment. I simply don't understand how the only Puerto Ricans Ms. Dowd encountered during her "grisly" trip to the island wanted sexual favors or were "señoritas de la noche." That the ladies had fun in Cancún is a fine story and can be told without disparaging Boricuas on the island.
To the Editor: In the process of recalling her spring break adventures, Ms. Dowd stuffs a single sentence full of Puerto Rican stereotypes: a leering macho swinger, two gun-wielding prostitutes and, of course, a cockfight.
I am one Puerto Rican who has never witnessed a cockfight. What I have witnessed, repeatedly, is the reduction of Puerto Rican culture to a cartoon of sex and violence by North Americans who take perverse pride in their ignorance.
Few Bouts, But Rosario Is Ready
By Sharon Robb
April 3, 2005
NORTH MIAMI BEACH · Veteran trainer Milton LaCroix of Davie PAL met Jason Rosario two years ago in a gym where Rosario was sparring with one of LaCroix's boxers.
LaCroix said he knew the Puerto Rican from North Miami Beach had the heart and determination but lacked form and finesse. He found those tools working with LaCroix and is a 2008 Olympic hopeful.
Rosario, 17, has risen quickly in the 132-pound lightweight amateur division.
With only five bouts, he went to the region tournament in Greensboro, N.C., and qualified for the USA National Boxing Amateur Championships in Colorado Springs. There he placed fourth and earned a spot in the USA Boxing National Training Camp.
In two weeks Rosario (8-3) will box for a shot to make his international debut against Canada or Hungary.
LaCroix, who has trained hundreds of amateur and pro fighters, including heavyweight Shannon Briggs for his fight against Mike Tyson, will be by his side.
LaCroix is known for his unorthodox teaching. He likes his boxers to drop their hands instead of the "robotic, hands-up, statue, every punch you can see coming a mile away" style, he said.
"I told him I was going to change his style, that it was going to be different and my way, but I guaranteed him he would be very successful," LaCroix said at the opening day of the South Florida Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament at South Florida Boxing Gym. "I told him let's keep going as far as we can ride this train. This is just the beginning."
The soft-spoken Rosario, a student at North Miami Beach Senior High with no athletic background, is a natural in the ring. His father, Jose, was an amateur boxer in Puerto Rico.
"When I started boxing four years ago I never expected to be this good," Rosario said.
"I thought we were crazy going to regions with only five fights, but when I won I got confidence. I know if I stick with it I can write my own ticket and maybe someday compete in the Olympics and turn pro."
April 2, 2005
Roberto Clemente by Jonah Winter (Atheneum, $16.95, ages 5 and up) is a lyrically written picture book biography of the Hall of Famer, tracing his childhood in Puerto Rico to his days with the Pittsburgh Pirates to his tragic death at 36 in a plane crash.
Winter's text has the rhythm of poetry, and Clemente's childhood offers evocative images. Too poor for real equipment, he made a bat from a guava tree branch and a glove from a coffee-bean sack.
His arrival in Pittsburgh in 1955 helped the last-place Pirates win the World Series his first season there. Sportswriters figure in this story, too, as Clemente never felt he received his due: 'It's because I'm black, isn't it?' he asked the sneering reporters.'' Not until his ''one-man show'' against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series did America sit up and take notice.
The artwork, by Raúl Colón, is done in two styles -- watercolors in warm hues mixed with black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings -- but it all has an appropriately reverent, even somber, tone. Colón, a Puerto Rican who remembers seeing Clemente play winter ball on the island, has created a beautiful tribute.
Hispanic Event Broadens Its Focus
The Business & Consumer Expo moves to the Orange convention center.
By Cristina Elías | Sentinel Staff Writer
April 2, 2005
Only a week before the year's largest gathering of the region's Hispanic market, Grace Fitch's phone won't stop ringing.
"As soon as I hang up, another call comes in," said the Puerto Rican businesswoman, who is in charge of selling booth space. "And I try to hurry folks up, to go quickly, but there's just more interest this year."
More interest, more elbow room and more words in its name: The Hispanic Business & Consumer Expo 2005 has moved this year from the former Expo Centre in downtown Orlando to the Orange County Convention Center.
Organizers have signed more than 330 companies for the April 8-9 show and hope to attract some 15,000 people -- double last year's attendance.
The emphasis this year -- hence the longer name -- is to attract Hispanic consumers with music and giveaways, in addition to drawing Hispanic businesspeople.
"Traditionally, typical Hispanic families are leery of attending because they think that the expo is only for businesses," said Ramón Ojeda, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, which organizes the event every year.
To attract the general public, the chamber is offering free show passes in print media and on the Internet, as well as free parking (donated by the convention center). But the big hook will be $5,000 in gift certificates to Bravo Supermarkets.
Attendees will be able to check out various companies, register to vote, peruse job listings, get a massage or buy jewelry.
The Hispanic expo started in 1994 with 20 booths and 1,500 participants. Among the older sponsors is Banco Popular, the Puerto Rico-based bank, which first joined the show in 1997 and has seen the event evolve throughout the years.
"We started almost since we got to Orlando," said Mercedes McCall, regional officer for Banco Popular in Central Florida. "I remember we had to be very careful because we didn't even have offices here yet and we were already at the expo."
Increasing interest in the region's Hispanic market can be seen in this year's choice of keynote speaker: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"I think it's great that the governor is attending," said Margarita Vivas, a Venezuelan community leader and businesswoman who will have a booth in what is turning out to be the expo's Venezuelan corridor.
One thing that will not be sold at the expo: Hispanic food.
"Arepas or tacos -- that you are not going to find," said Fitch, explaining that only the convention center's concession stands are allowed to sell food. "Well, maybe just samples and packaged foods."
It Is "La Florida"
April 1, 2005
Fort Myers -- My birthday coincided with Easter Sunday this year. A 1513 coincidence, led to much later misunderstanding about Ponce de Leon naming our state.
De Leon had lost his governorship of Puerto Rico in a political shuffle. The king of Spain promised him a new governorship if he discovered a "new" island. Also, the king needed an heir by his new young wife. If Juan Ponce de Leon found the "Fountain of Youth," to let him know right away.
Easter Sunday, March 27, 1513, Ponce de Leon sighted land, which was named "La Pascua Florida" because it was during the Octave of Easter (eight days following Easter) that Ponce de Leon had landed. Easter week is called in Spanish "Pascua florida."
Looking over America's map, one notes Spanish discoveries were named after the church calendar. Map makers shortened the name to "La Florida." The English speaking settlers used "Florida."
Author Washington Irvine, who wrote a book on the discovery in the mid 1800s, said Juan Ponce named Florida for its flowers.
So, despite teaching fourth-graders for years and touring the local historical museum, the error persists. However, this will not prevent my toasting to Juan Ponce de Leon on the day we can both celebrate.
FRANCIS W. COMMISKEY
Puerto Rico Wants US To Honor Its Vote On Island Status
April 1, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP)--Puerto Rico's legislature has passed a bill to petition the U.S. to commit itself to honoring the eventual decision by this U.S. Caribbean territory to become a state, increase its autonomy or become independent.
Puerto Ricans have been divided for decades over the status issue. In 1993 and 1998 referendums, voters supporting statehood were defeated by a slim margin. Less than 5% voted for independence. Most preferred the current semiautonomous status, in effect since 1952. But the referendums were unbinding.
The bill, passed unanimously by both the 27-seat upper house and the 52-seat lower house late Thursday, provides for a July 10 referendum in which voters will vote for or against a petition calling on the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush to pledge that the results of another decision on the status of this island will be honored.
[Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila is expected to sign the bill into law.]
If by Dec. 31, 2006, the U.S. does not react to the petition or reacts unfavorably, legislators will pass a bill providing for another referendum, in which voters will decide on how to redefine the status - either by means of a constituent assembly or a request for a direct congressionally binding referendum.
Water Rates Could Rise This Year
April 1, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) Due to the $400 million in budget cuts proposed for the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority this year, the executive president, Jorge Rodriguez, confirmed that before the year ends, an increase in the water rates could be implemented.
Rodriguez said that the water subsidies now received by residents of public housing projects, could be offered only to beneficiaries of the Nutritional Assistance Program.
"We have analyzed many other alternatives. We have reduced operational costs, frozen periods, but it simply doesnt work. To cover the deficit, there must be a raise in the rates," he said in media reports.
Rodriguez appointed a special committee to evaluate whether an increase will result in economic benefits for the agency.
Fresh Milk Could Be Scarce This Summer
April 1, 2005
PONCE (AP) Fresh milk could be scarce in markets between August and October, due mainly to the lack of rain on the island over the past two months, the director of the Milk Industry Development Administration, Pedro Benitez, warned Friday.
He said the possible drop in milk production was also due to the lack of food for cattle, the high costs of production and the prolonged wait for an order to increase the price of milk.
"In the north and east areas, the most important areas for cattle, we have seen a drop in vegetation, (and there are) hopes for rain," Benitez said.
EPA Fines Education Department Over Asbestos In Schools
April 1, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined the Education Department $4.5 million for not complying with a plan for asbestos management in schools.
Immediately, Education said they would take the 20-day period that the EPA allows to object to the fine, and said it thinks that there have been external factors that caused the violations to the agreement signed in February 2004.
"I acknowledge that we did not comply with some regulations, but on others we did," said Angel Curbelo, deputy secretary of the Puerto Rico Education Department.
In several letters, the federal agency told the Education Department about its limited compliance with the Consent and Final Order agreement, which imposes deadlines for several phases of dealing with the asbestos.
Rossello Asks NPP Legislators For Support In Taking Senate Presidency
April 1, 2005
SAN JUAN (AP) Pedro Rossello met Thursday night with five of his Senate colleagues, and asked them, without success, for a vote of confidence to place him in the Senate presidency post.
Sens. Lornna Soto, Hector Martinez, Carmelo Rios, Roberto Arango and Jose Emilio Gonzalez were present at the meeting, media reports said.
After speaking about his reasons for wishing to take the post, the senator for the district of Arecibo asked those present to express their objections to supporting him in his efforts to unseat Kenneth McClintock from the Senate presidency.
The legislators told the New Progressive Party leader that they did not think it would be fair to take the presidency away from McClintock, and criticized the fact that the group that supports Rossello's aspirations has managed his interest in taking the presidency by exerting extreme pressure.
FBP Open To Acquisitions As It Builds Florida Franchise
April 1, 2005
Puerto Rico's second largest banking group First BanCorp (NYSE: FBP) does not rule out opportunistic acquisitions in Florida to complement its organic growth strategy, senior marketing and PR VP Allan Cohen told BNamericas.
"If an interesting opportunity like the sale of a bank that complements our Florida strategy were to come up, we would look at it," said Cohen.
First BanCorp on Thursday said it closed the acquisition of holding company Ponce General Corporation and its subsidiaries Unibank and Ponce Realty Corporation in an all-cash deal. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Prior to the acquisition, First BanCorp's presence in Florida was limited to a loan origination office in Miami. Unibank brings with it 11 branches, assets of about US$492mn, and US$419mn in deposits.
"The purchase of Unibank opens the doors for us in Florida with a full service bank," said Cohen. "We see it [Unibank] as our bridge head into Florida, where we are going to look for more expansion opportunities, basically organic."
LOOKING TO MAINLAND
Over the last few years Puerto Rican banks have looked to the continental US for growth opportunities outside of their crowded home market.
Competition between traditional low-cost bank deposits and other savings products like mutual funds that enjoy favorable tax treatment in Puerto Rico has also spurred banks to turn to the mainland in search of cheaper funding.
Puerto Rico's largest banking group Popular (Nasdaq: BPOP) acquired Californian thrift Quaker City and Florida bank Kislak last year to boost its presence on the continental US where it has about 127 branches.
Earlier this year R&G Financial Corporation (NYSE: RGF), another Puerto Rican bank, more than doubled its branch network in Florida with the acquisition of 18 branches from SouthTrust Bank in a deal that included US$300mn in assets and about US$600mn in liabilities, mostly deposits.
"R&G has had good results from its Florida expansion. I think Popular has had a good experience but their returns in the US have been lower than in Puerto Rico," said Cohen Bros. senior banking analyst Joseph Gladue.
Unlike Popular, which is methodically building a community banking franchise in six states, First BanCorp has its sights set on Florida for now.
"We are not aggressively looking at other states right now," Cohen said.
First BanCorp has assets of more than US$15.6bn and 112 offices in the US and the British Virgin Islands.
Unspoiled Oasis Affordable
By Donna Rosato
March 21, 2005
Vieques, Puerto Rico: Discount airlines make an unspoiled oasis affordable.
Why now? Vieques was once the site of Navy test bombings and citizen protests. No more.
Today nature lovers are exploring pristine beaches, coral reefs and the world's brightest bioluminescent bay (filled with light-emitting plankton). The Caribbean is always a good deal in summer, and it's an even better deal now that discount airlines have arrived -- San Juan is practically a hub for low-fare carriers including JetBlue, Spirit and Delta's Song (starting in June).
Fly for as little as $200 round trip from some U.S. cities and then take a 30-minute hop on Vieques Air Link (888-901-9247, vieques-island.com/val) for about $135 round trip. Thanks to trade winds from the south, humidity on Vieques is low. But hurry: Developers are already planning to build resorts.
The deal Stay at one of the charmingly basic guesthouses in Vieques for $50 to $65 a night. Or enjoy a beachfront room at the new Bravo Beach Hotel, named one of the world's most affordable beach resorts by Travel & Leisure (787-741-1128, bravobeachhotel.com, $125 to $175).