Gov’t Employment Rises… AAV Amends Work Reduction Plan… Business Confidence, Illegal DR Migration Drop… Delgado Gives Back… Café Romances… Aponte: New Taxes Unnecessary… Senators’ Sanction’s Ratified… Prasa Increase Defended… Rossello Rejects Money… UPR To Invest $165m… Sanchez Returns… Ferrer Steps Back… IDs For Dominicans… Police Need $28m

Aponte: Government Has Increased Payroll

August 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Despite Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila’s call to reduce the government’s payroll expenses, House Speaker Jose Aponte on Thursday revealed that from January to June of 2005, the central government had increased the number of public employees by 13,000.

Aponte made the announcement based on current statistics of the Department of Labor & Human Resources.

The House speaker said Acevedo Vila has been negligent for allowing this situation.

Aponte said the statistics don’t include those who were hired for professional services.

House Labor Committee Chairman Johnny Mendez remembered that during the governor’s message to the Legislature in March, Acevedo Vila had talked about freezing government jobs.

However, according to Labor Department statistics, the government has been doing just the opposite.

Governor Amends Work Reduction Plan

August 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (EFE) — In an effort to prevent a general work stoppage in Puerto Rico, Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila on Wednesday agreed to amend the executive order that implements a work and salary reduction plan for government employees.

The amendment will allow public workers who willingly enter the work reduction plan to return to their original work schedules at any time.

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Ferdinand Perez confirmed the information Wednesday at the end of the PDP legislative conference.

He said it is now up to union leaders to pressure the Legislature to pass the tax measures proposed by Gov. Acevedo Vila in order to increase government revenues and alleviate the current economic crisis.

Perez also said the executive order would be amended so that union representatives can participate in the negotiation of the new work schedules.

"There shouldn’t be any reason for us not to return to the negotiation table and avoid the risk of causing greater damage and suffering to the economy and the people," Perez stated.

Ever since the signing of the executive order, local union leaders have threatened to go on a general strike.

Many of them have already performed several demonstrations condemning the governor’s plan.

Acevedo Vila’s plan consists of cutting government employees’ work week down to four days and reducing their salaries by 15%. Workers also have the choice to reduce their work week by 50% in exchange for 65% of their current paycheck.

Those who are five years or less short of retirement, may work half the time and receive 75% of their current paycheck.

Business Confidence Hangs By A Thread

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin

August 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PRWOW News. All Rights Reserved.

Hope is the last thing to go. At least that’s what the latest business confidence index for the second trimester of 2005 seems to indicate. However, judging by its downward trend and the island’s less-than-desirable economic progress, it looks like pessimism will continue to spread among local business owners.

Benjamin Negron, president of the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym), shared the same opinion during a recent interview with PRWOW News to discuss Estudios Tecnicos, Inc survey results.

The study revealed that for the period of April-June, business confidence stood at 49.4, down four points, or 7.5% from the first trimester.

On the other hand, consumer confidence dropped 13% during the first trimester.

"We business owners are always more optimistic than consumers, because we are privy to more information and tend to think that things will get better, as we look after our own businesss, but if we don’t start taking long-term measures–not necessarily short-term–now, both the consumer and business confidence will grow more pessimistic," Negron said.

According to the latest results, 50.1% of business owners hope their sales will increase within the next three months, while 34.9% expect them to stay the same. However, when asked about their projections for the next 12 months, 49.3% said they expected the economy to worsen, while 41.5% said they expected it to stay the same.

"The index is bordering on distrust and, judging by the trend of the first two trimesters, it is possible that it will come to that when we issue the results for the third trimester in September," Negron reiterated.

He insisted that to solve the current situation, the government must adopt fiscal and tax reforms together with new business incentives that will help increase its revenues without drowning the private sector.

Negron noted that the government’s gigantism won’t be solved overnight, but by taking a gradual approach that includes freezing jobs and creating early retirement incentives that will help reduce the government’s payroll without making the island’s economic situation worse than it already is.

"In order to see a light at the end of the tunnel, we must move little by little. This is not something that it can be done in days, but in years. Right now, however, there is no direction," said Negron, who favors the imposition of a sales tax on processed products and the implementation of business incentives to boost job creation in the private sector.

DR, U.S. Report Drop In Illegal Migration

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin

August 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PRWOW News. All Rights Reserved.

Perhaps the election of a new Dominican president and the efforts surrounding the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the Dominican Republic (CAFTA) have boosted the people’s hope of a brighter economic future. Maybe the dangerous journey through the rough seas of the Mona Passage that has claimed the lives of many has finally served as a deterrent to try similar trips. But whatever the reason may be, the bottom line is that from January to July 2005, illegal migration into Puerto Rico through the Mona Passage has dropped 35% when compared to the same period in 2004.

According to Dominican Navy statistics, the number of intercepted vessels along the Mona Passage dropped from 175 to 83 for the same period in 2004.

The information provided by the Dominican Navy this week was also confirmed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard in San Juan, Lt. j.g. Eric Willis, told PRWOW News that as of Aug. 2, 3,440 migrants have been intercepted trying to enter Puerto Rico across the Mona Passage, a significant drop when compared to the 5,272 that were intercepted up until this time in FY04. Approximately 98% of a total of 6,012 migrants intercepted during FY04 were Dominican nationals. Cubans, Ecuadorians, Haitians, and the people’s Republic of China made up the other two percent, said Willis, who noted that the reduction is by no means the result of decreased patrolling efforts in the area.

"The U.S Coast Guard has maintained a 24-hour 7-day presence in the Mona Passage which separates the Dominican Republic and the west side of Puerto Rico. We are always on patrol for these vessels," Willis said.

He underscored the Coast Guard’s efforts to protect U.S. borders as well as the lives of migrants who venture into the sea, risking their lives in hopes of a better future on American soil.

"Primarily we are protecting our borders, but we are also protecting their lives, because almost all of the vessels that try to migrate coming across the Mona Passage are very overloaded and are very unseaworthy. We intercepted more than 130 boats last year and all but a few of these boats were homemade. On three occasions the U.S. Coast Guard witnessed these boats capsizing or sinking while we were there. Fortunately we were on scene. If we hadn't been there, the loss of life would have been even greater," Willis stated.

Since April, the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic has been conducting the second phase of its campaign "Illegal trips are trips of death" to save lives by warning Dominicans of the fatal consequences that these trips may entail.

From January to July 2005, illegal migration into Puerto Rico through the Mona Passage has dropped 35% when compared to the same period in 2004.

Delgado Gives Back

By Steve Gorten

Staff Writer

August 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 SO FL SUN SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

When Delgado started the organization Extra Bases, Inc., he said he envisioned raising enough money to start a scholarship program. It is now a reality.

Delgado and the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon announced an agreement Wednesday whereby Extra Bases will provide two scholarships annually to low-income students from western Puerto Rico, Delgado's native country, to study at the university. They must maintain a 3.5 GPA.

[The charity is paying for their tuition, room and board.]

Delgado said he talked with this year's recipients -- both live 10 minutes from Delgado's hometown of Aguadilla -- by video conference Wednesday and described them as "pretty excited."

"Giving the opportunity to an excellent student from low-income [background] to go to college, that's priceless," he said. "It's a pretty special day for us."

Café Romances


August 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005 MIAMI HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

It's all word of mouth.

Coral Way, one of Miami's loveliest streets, is home to a wide, almost dizzying, range of restaurants. They have a faithful, mostly Hispanic clientele. But they don't get much press.

South Beach, Coral Gables and the newly trendy ''Northern Corridor'' of Biscayne Boulevard generate buzz, but the shabby chic stretch of Coral Way between Southwest 12th and 37th avenues (Douglas Road) cruises along blithely beneath the radar.

Past 37th Avenue, the divided street becomes Miracle Mile, downtown Coral Gables and a very different scene. West of Miracle Mile, Coral Way is the residential Gables, lined with big trees and bigger mansions.

But east of the City Beautiful, bisected by awesome banyan trees, the street wears its mix of elegance and funk with great panache.

As elsewhere, restaurants come and go. Some low-rent joints get replaced by newer, shinier, pricier ones, but others stay, unchanged, seemingly forever.

The recently opened and well-named Café Romances plays the table-for-two game. The owners have kept the tropical-moderne decor of a previous incarnation, and it fits the international/tropical menu. The dishes are mostly Puerto Rican, and Romances would not be out of place in San Juan.

The bar makes righteous mojitos and the kitchen knows its island cookery. Mofongo, Puerto Rico's famous plantain dish, and rice can both be ordered with salmorejo, a richly seasoned crab dish that is handled deftly. No nouvelle portions here; the hearty appetites of the Caribbean are well satisfied.

House Won’t Approve Tax Measures For Now

August 10, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (EFE) — House Speaker Jose Aponte Hernandez said on Wednesday that the House won’t approve Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila’s tax measures during the current extraordinary session because they are unnecessary.

"They aren’t needed. (The tax measures to increase government revenues) won’t be approved," said Aponte Hernandez.

According to the House speaker, the $298 million that the Management & Budget Office (MBO) had recently identified would increase government funds and eliminate "the so-called crisis" that the current administration has been talking about.

However, MBO Director Ileana Fas Pacheco said the $298 million have already been included in the government budget of $9,005 million. Therefore, they don’t constitute additional money.

Aponte Hernandez didn’t take into consideration the comments that House Treasury Committee Chairman Antonio Silva Delgado had made about the possibility that the tax measures that were approved by the Legislature may include technical errors that may affect the government capacity to collect additional revenues.

The proposed tax measures include a temporary excise tax increase to 4% on all financial institutions, the imposition of a capital gains tax of 20%, and a retirement incentive plan for government employees.

Sanctions Against NPP Senators Ratified

August 9, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Following a meeting on Tuesday, the New Progressive Party (NPP) Directorate ratified the sanctions on five senators who support Senate President Kenneth McClintock’s decision to hold on to the Senate helm

NPP Secretary General Thomas Rivera Schatz said the directorate has agreed to hold an evidentiary hearing during the NPP General Assembly on Aug. 14.

"We had recommended that the directorate ratify the sanctions and they have been ratified," said Rivera Schatz, who added that the senators’ request for reconsideration has been denied.

Rivera Schatz said that each of the senators would be notified of the directorate’s decision as soon as possible and that, should they fail to attend the evidentiary hearing on Aug. 14, the party will take it as a sign that they have agreed to abide by the general assembly’s final decision.

The directorate has decided to relieve senators McClintock, Lucy Arce, Migdalia Padilla, Orlando Parga, and Carlos Diaz from their leadership positions at the NPP. They have also been forbidden to run as NPP candidates in the next general elections.

On Tuesday, NPP President Pedro Rossello also reiterated his intention to wrest the Senate helm away from McClintock.

"Ever since I arrived to the Senate I have expressed my desire to assume the presidency. That desire is still there," the legislator said.

Prasa Chief Defends Water Rate Increase

August 9, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) Executive President Jorge Rodriguez on Tuesday defended the proposed water rate increase that he believes will generate revenues of $748 million.

Of that amount, $578 million will go to cover operational costs; $145 million will go to cover the agency debt, and another $25 million will be used in subsidies.

Rodriguez also noted that Prasa’s operational debt has reached $190.8 million.

"We have concluded that the implementation of new rates is urgent and inevitable", the government official said.

He explained to the Senate Commerce, Tourism, Urbanism & Infrastructure Committee that once the rate increase comes into effect in October, residential clients will pay a basic rate of $10.60, as opposed to the $4.65 that they pay right now for the first 10 cubic meters of potable water.

This would represent an increase of 128%, which will also apply to commercial and industrial clients.

However, Rodriguez noted that the actual rate for both potable water and sewer services will be $19.71, instead of $8.64, which is what they pay right now. This will also apply to commercial and industrial clients and it also represents a 128% increase.

Pedro Rossello Won’t Take The Money

August 9, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Former Gov. Pedro Rossello thanked the pro-statehood group known as ‘Friends against Abuse’ on Tuesday for raising more than $80,000 to pay for his debt at the Retirement Systems Administration (RSA). However, he refused to take it.

Rossello, who was notified of the situation on Monday after New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. Lourdes Ramos and pro-statehood activist Peter Muller gave the RSA a manager’s check for $81,000, admitted that he was moved by the gesture, which he described as a token of their trust, respect, and support.

However, the NPP senator begged the people who participated in the radio marathon to allow him to decline that contribution. He said this is a matter of principle and that he will never admit that he owes money to the RSA.

"Therefore, I won’t validate what the government has done," said Rossello, who noted that to take that contribution would be like admitting that he owes money to the RSA.

Rossello added that this is his own personal fight and that he won't let it affect well-intentioned people who have only tried to help him.

He issued his statements during a press conference following the NPP directorate’s meeting on Tuesday.

UPR To Invest $165 Million In Infrastructure

August 8, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (EFE) — University of Puerto Rico (UPR) President Antonio Garcia Padilla announced on Monday that the institution has already awarded construction contracts for several infrastructure projects and has begun a bidding process on other developments to improve the facilities of several UPR campuses on the island at a cost of $62.8 million.

According to a prepared statement, the UPR administration also intends to award an additional $103 million in development contracts during the current fiscal year.

Some of these projects include the remodeling of the UPR Rio Piedras Campus Theater, the Museum and Academic Senate of the Mayaguez Campus, also known as MUSA by its Spanish acronym, the UPR Library and Laboratory buildings in Utuado, as well as the UPR Business Administration Building in Humacao.

Garcia Padilla said these improvements have been rigorously and carefully planned and designed to meet the needs of each campus.

"It is also about making sure that these structures are in accordance with our academic needs," he added.

Sanchez Returns To Puerto Rican Roots

August 8, 2005
Copyright © 2005 All Rights Reserved.

LOS ANGELES ( "Kojak" and "Rush Hour 2" star Roselyn Sanchez is set to co-write, produce and star in "Yellow," an independent feature set to shoot in the actress' native Puerto Rico.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Alfredo De Villa ("Washington Heights") will direct "Yellow," which was based on a story by Sanchez and Nacoma Whobrey, scripted by Whobrey.

"Yellow" focuses on a woman haunted by the death of her father and co-stars Bill Duke ("Karen Sisco"), D.B. Sweeney ("The Cutting Edge"), Sully Diaz, Jaime Tirelli and Manny Perez.

Sanchez, whose feature credits include "Boat Trip" and "Chasing Papi," will next be seen in "Underclassman" and "Edison." The 35-year-old actress is also joining the cast of CBS' highly rated procedural "Without a Trace" for its upcoming season. She's previously been seen on the small screen in "Dragnet," "Ryan Caulfield: Year One" and "Fame LA."

Ferrer Steps Back


August 8, 2005
Copyright © 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Mayoral politics was in evidence yesterday at the Bronx Puerto Rican Day parade, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was at the head of the line, even though Fernando Ferrer, a Democrat of Puerto Rican descent who is running for mayor, was the event's grand marshal. Mr. Ferrer marched five blocks behind. Asked beforehand if he intended to walk alongside Mr. Ferrer, a former Bronx borough president, the mayor replied, "If that's where they place me, I'd be thrilled to march with anybody that wants to march in that parade." Told of Mr. Bloomberg's remarks, Mr. Ferrer said afterward: "Well, then why didn't the mayor join me?"

Dominicans Living In Puerto Rico Can Get IDs

Governments and businesses should accept the IDs, a Dominican envoy says.

By Matthew Hay Brown | Sentinel Staff Writer

August 7, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Following the lead of the Mexican government in the United States, the consul general of the Dominican Republic in San Juan plans to issue identity cards to Dominicans living here.

Dominican Consul General Eladio Espinal wants government agencies and businesses to accept the consular cards, known as matricula, as valid identification for Dominicans seeking to obtain drivers licenses, open bank accounts and access other services. He hopes to begin issuing them by the end of the year.

"Dominicans living in Puerto Rico need a document that identifies them," Espinal said. "Hardly anybody carries their passports around, because they're afraid it will get damaged."

Many of the estimated 300,000 Dominicans in Puerto Rico are here illegally, and the effort brings Puerto Rico into the national debate about consular identity cards, such as those issued by the Mexican and Guatemalan governments to their citizens in the United States.

Proponents say the cards help authorities identify undocumented foreigners, bring them in from the margins of society and protect them from exploitation. Critics say the cards help illegal aliens evade immigration enforcement.

"It's a kind of piecemeal amnesty," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. "It doesn't formally confer any immigration status or anything like that, but as a practical matter it makes life easier for illegal aliens and makes it less likely they'll be picked up."

But immigrant advocate Joan Friedland says the cards "recognize the reality of people who are here."

President Bush and Congress have attempted to curtail the use of the consular cards with the Real ID Act, a measure signed this year that gives states three years to stop recognizing the cards or risk losing federal recognition of their own drivers licenses.

Espinal says he has had only positive responses from the government officials and business executives with whom he has discussed the card. The administration of Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Krikorian remains skeptical.

"People legally in the United States, or Puerto Rico, have some federally issued documentation, either a visa attached to the inside of their passport, or a green card or a crossing card," he said. "The point is: No Dominican in Puerto Rico will lack U.S. ID unless he's an illegal alien."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Toledo: Police Need Additional $28 Million

August 7, 2005
Copyright © 2005 EFE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (EFE) — Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo told the House of Representatives on Friday that the department needs an additional $28 million to cover several expenses that include the increase in utility rates and gasoline prices.

Toledo issued his statement during a private meeting with members of the House Budget & Allocations Committee, which is evaluating the budget that Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila adopted after vetoing the budget bill that had been approved by the Legislative Assembly.

Upon his exit, Toledo said the representatives are willing to analyze the department’s need to cover additional expenses that also include a salary raise for civilian employees.

He also said there are 900 sergeant vacancies and 200 lieutenant vacancies.

Initially, the governor had proposed a budget of $814 million, but the Legislature allocated $774 million. Following the governor’s veto, the budget stayed at $800 million.

Committee Chairman Angel Perez said he will analyze the Police budget and noted that his priorities will always be public safety, health, and education.

On Monday, the Committee is expected to hold a hearing with Office of Budget & Management Director Ileana Fas Pacheco.

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