Pope Benedict XVI Congratulated, Welcomed… Students Protest Strike Over Tuition… Vieques Residents Call On Political Leaders For Help… Gov Asks Business Support For Nominees… PREPA Clients Face Higher Bills… Fortuño Touts UT Minillas Expansion… Prisoners Demand Dialogue… Saving For 1st Home Promoted… Better Vieques Transportation Sought

Acevedo Vila Congratulates New Pope Benedict XVI

April 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila on Tuesday congratulated the new leader of the Catholic church, Joseph Ratzinger, and sent best wishes for success in his new post.

"Puerto Rico is a people of profound religious and Christian beliefs. We wish him the highest success," the governor said at a press conference.

When asked if the election of Ratzinger, who will be known as Benedict XVI, seemed correct, the governor said "that is not my area of expertise and I don’t feel that it would be appropriate (to express an opinion)."

"He has been elected, he has my best wishes and I know that this is the feeling of the immense majority of the Puerto Rican people; independent of what religion they belong to everyone wants him to be successful in his work," Acevedo Vila said.

New Pope Welcomed

April 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

LONDON (AP) -- From Notre Dame in Paris to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, cathedral bells tolled and prayers were offered Tuesday to celebrate the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

Roman Catholics and political and religious leaders around the world embraced the staunchly conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as successor to the hugely popular Pope John Paul II. Many watched live television broadcasts of the white smoke that puffed from a Vatican chimney to tell the world a new pontiff had been chosen.

But while some praised Ratzinger as a fitting choice to consolidate and build on John Paul's work, others saw him as too hard-line to lead the church in the 21st century.

Jewish and Muslim leaders said they were hopeful that Ratzinger, who chose the name Benedict XVI, would continue his predecessor's effort to reach out to those from other faiths.

At St. Michael Seminary in Traunstein, Germany, which Ratzinger attended as a child, a roomful of boys jumped up and cheered at the news.

''It's fantastic that it's Cardinal Ratzinger,'' said Lorenz Gradl, 16, who was confirmed by Ratzinger in 2003.

''It's a very good choice,'' agreed Alois Kansky, priest at the St. Anthony church in downtown Prague, Czech Republic, as he rang the bells to honor the new pontiff.

But some worried about the new pope's deep conservatism, saying he was the wrong choice to lead the church as it grapples with a host of modern problems. Divisions between the wealthy north and the poor south, priest sex-abuse scandals, a chronic shortage of clergy in Western nations and the stream of Catholics leaving the church are among the issues confronting Benedict XVI.

''The election signalizes continuity,'' said Hans Peter Hurkal, chairman of the Austrian branch of We are the Church, a group that promotes reform within the church.

''But if Pope Benedict XVI refuses to reform, the church's descent will go faster,'' he said. ''There is a clear demand for reforms.''

''I would have liked a more liberal man,'' said Felix Bared, 70, a businessman in San Juan, Puerto Rico, who said he attends Mass every week. ''You have to change with the times. He is probably a very holy man but he is too attached to the doctrine. I would have liked a pope from the Third World.''

But Luz Maria Casillas, 59, a retired teacher visiting Mexico City's main cathedral, was pleased. ''Since I'm conservative, I like him a lot,'' she said.

She noted that Ratzinger was close to John Paul, but wasn't sure whether he would be as popular. ''It's difficult. Here in Mexico he (John Paul) was completely adored,'' she said.

Hundreds Of Students Demonstrate Outside UPR

April 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005
EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Hundreds of students gathered Tuesday in front of the Rio Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico, on Ponce de Leon Avenue, to demonstrate against the strike that has been under way for 13 days and halted administrative work and classes at the school.

The students shouted slogans such as "What do we want? To study!" in front of the main gate, and read aloud from their books and study materials.

Mariela Hernandez, a student in the first year of law school, said the gathering was not for the participants to demonstrate for or against the tuition hike, the reason for the strike, because they all have different opinions.

"We need to finish our semester," Hernandez said. She is one of the spokespeople for students and professors that held the demonstration and do not belong to one political organization in particular.

Vieques Residents Call On Political Leaders For Help

April 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005
EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Six years after the death of Vieques resident David Sanes, the state government has forgotten the people of Vieques, the coordinator of All of Puerto Rico with Vieques said Monday.

The organization held a press conference at the Bar Association of Puerto Rico where they explained the current situation of the island municipality and demanded that political leaders reintroduce the theme of their respective agendas.

"We are worried by the number of cases of cancer that have arisen in Vieques during the past year. Nevertheless, the Health Department still has not divulged the results of studies about the incidence of this illness," said organization spokesman Josefina Pantoja.

The spokesman of the Jorge Paraliticci, said the federal and state government have totally abandoned the island.

Governor Wants Businesspeople To Support Cabinet Nominees

April 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005
EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila on Tuesday called upon members of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce to come out in favor of the Cabinet nominees that have not been confirmed by the Legislature.

During a busy Private Business Summit with the government in a San Juan hotel, the governor spoke about how the lack of confirmation of executives is contributing to the economic stagnation of the commonwealth.

"I ask you to express yourselves, to participate in the democratic process. One hundred days have passed and the Legislative Assembly has only confirmed four out of 37 nominees. You are businessmen. How can your business move forward if you can’t say there is permanency in the post?" Acevedo Vila said, who received applause during his speech.

At a press conference following the speech, the governor received the endorsement from the current president of the Chamber of Commerce, Leonardo Cordero Suria, and from the president-elect, Marcos Vidal, who spoke in favor of the remaining nominees being confirmed in the next 30 days.

"If we want to collaborate with the governor for better economic development in Puerto Rico, I think and I suggest to the Legislature that these nominations be approved," Vidal said to the press.

Hike In Fuel Costs Will Mean Higher Electric Bills For PREPA Clients

April 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005
EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) — The executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), Hector Alejandro, announced Tuesday that the company’s clients will see an increase on their electricity bills for April.

Alejandro said the hike is due to dramatic increases in the price of fuel, "a condition that affects the world economy."

"It is our responsibility to send a clear message to our clients: unfortunately we see an increase of approximately 9 percent in the bills this month. However, since April 9 there has been a gradual reduction in the price of fuel that PREPA uses," he said.

Alejandro said if this trend continues, it will directly benefit PREPA clients.

He said the price increase will not be permanent, since the cost of gas is already heading downward.

Urban Train To Focus On Minillas Expansion

April 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005 Business News Americas (BNamericas.com). All rights reserved. 

The Minillas extension of Puerto Rico's (PR) rapid transit system dubbed the urban train will be the next project for the urban train extension, Luis Fortuño, congressional representative for PR in the US federal congress told BNamericas.

The Minillas line, running from capital San Juan's stop 26 to the Minillas government center, "is really considered part of the original urban train line, even though it hasn't been built," he said, adding it is "by far" the most advanced project within the urban train extension plan.

If transit authorities had the funding, "they could start building it tomorrow," he said.

At the same time, "there are federal and state funding for the additional segments of the urban train that are not yet determined."

In terms of project costs, "it depends on which system is used, whether you continue with the same type of heavy train, or if you switch to a light rail system. That is more of a technical determination to be made by the FTA [US federal transit administration] and the highway authority here in Puerto Rico," Fortuño said.

The 17km urban train trunk line in capital San Juan, built by Siemens, was inaugurated in December 2004. Costing more than US$2.1bn, it is Puerto Rico's largest infrastructure project.

Prisoners Demand Dialogue With Corrections Administration

April 18, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) — The Association for Prisoners Rights on Monday began a general strike at six prison institutions on the island, which they will maintain until the secretary of the Correction and Rehabilitation Department, Miguel Pereira, responds to their requests.

At the same time, starting Monday, leaders from the Association will camp in front of the Capitol until Pereira restarts dialogue with the inmates, said Leyda Saldago, spokesperson for the organization.

Salgado said the Corrections Administration can not afford adequate rehabilitation for the inmates, because they face a million-dollar budget deficit.

She denounced poor prison conditions, including poor health conditions and the low salaries received by prison officials, making the situation in the jails worse.

"The officials are poorly paid, and on top of that they can’t cope with everything. So, they are working double shifts. The poor treatment for the guards falls on us, the prisoner community," said Jose Luis Mendez, a member of the Association.

Mendez gave the example of a situation that occurred several weeks ago at Institution 1072 in Bayamon, where a prisoner is accused of trying to introduce controlled substances to the jail.

Agency Will Promote Saving For First Home

April 18, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) — The Housing Department has announced it will undertake massive training programs in public housing complexes with the objective of promoting the Savings and Individual Development Program (SIDP).

According to a statement from the Administration for Community Revitalization, the program is a way to save to acquire a first home, because contributions or deposits from participants will be matched with agency funds.

Through fund-matching, SIDP will award participants one dollar for each that they save, up to $2,000.

"At the moment, we have 77 active accounts and 10 families that today enjoying their own home thanks to the help of the program," said SIDP administrator Gabriel Alonso Serra.

SIDP personnel will visit 329 housing complexes on the island to try to motivate savings among families in these communities.

Vieques And Culebra Residents Ask For Transportation Improvements

April 18, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Residents of Vieques and Culebra this weekend urged the Ports Authority to improve services provided to the neighbors of the island municipalities, during a public hearing with Sens. Lornna Soto and Hector Martinez.

Soto and Martinez held the hearing Saturday at the Multiple Use Center in Isla Nena to discuss Senate Bill 207, which proposes ordering the Maritime Transport Authority to provide free transportation to island residents.

According to a press release from the senators, residents of Vieques and Culebra who attended the event opposed the measure but demanded attention to other issues, such as "poor treatment (by the Ports Authority) that the residents receive, as well as the absence of boarding protocol and the conditions the boats are found in."

"The Ports Authority doesn’t know how to work with Vieques and Culebra, and has castrated tourism on the island municipalities," said professor Alba Encarnacion.

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