Govt Exhausts Borrowing Capacity 'Ugly' Brawl Players Fined Senate, Union Agree To Solve Crisis Pres. Vote Nixed Again AAVs Authority Questioned, He Reduces Work Schedule EPA Fines Developers Bankers Blast Govs Speech 1k Ed. Jobs Cut Senate Dispute Continues Why The Army SJ Shadows $154m For UPR Students PRFAA Cut Deeper Govt To Up Hourly Wages IL Seeks P.R. Nurses Workers Face Cuts
Government Exhausts Borrowing Capacity
August 6, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) Government Development Bank (GDB) President William Lockwood Benet announced on Friday that the government has exhausted its borrowing capacity under Law 183.
Lockwood Benet made his statement during a hearing at the Senate Treasury Committee, where the GDB as well as the departments of Justice and Treasury opposed the Senates intention to repeal the law.
Law 183 authorizes the Treasury Secretary to borrow money from expired and pending tax debts to cover recurrent government expenses with the governors approval.
According to Senate Treasury Committee Chairwoman Migdalia Padilla, during the past three fiscal years, the government has borrowed $1.03 billion to balance the budget.
Some loans have been repaid, but others, like the $40 million loan to cover tax debts due to leasing contracts with the Public Buildings Authority in May of 2003, have yet to be repaid, Lockwood Benet said.
He also mentioned another loan of $250 million to cover the tax refund reserve in fiscal year 2002-03.
Lockwood Benet said this goes to show the economic stress that the Treasury Department was in. He added that in fiscal year 2004-05, the government also had to borrow $550 million to balance the budget.
China Fines Players For 'Ugly' Brawl
August 5, 2005
BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese Basketball Association fined 12 players and two coaches on the national team for an ``ugly'' brawl in a game last week with Puerto Rico, but did not suspend anyone, the China Daily reported Friday.
Fines ranged from 2,000 to 20,000 yuan ($250-2,500) and all players involved in the fight in Beijing last week -- called a ``night of shame'' by state media -- were given stern warnings and ordered to apologize, the newspaper said.
``We are here to officially apologize to the fans for what happened during the game against Puerto Rico,'' Chinese basketball official Kuang Lubin was quoted as saying in a statement.
The fighting erupted at Beijing Capital Gymnasium after two Chinese players charged off the bench to fight Puerto Rican players in the dying moments of a nationally-televised game that China was leading comfortably.
The fight spurred 3,000 home fans to hurl insults and missiles at the visiting team.
``The brawl has had negative effects for China as it gears up for the 2008 Beijing Olympics,'' Kuang wrote.
The International Basketball Association has not punished any players for the fight, the China Daily said.
Senate And Union Leaders Agree To Solve Crisis
August 5, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) More than 40 union representatives reached several agreements with Senate President Kenneth McClintock on Thursday to avoid a decrease in work and salary for government employees.
McClintock said he agrees that the jobs and work schedules of public workers shouldnt be hostage to budget disputes.
Political and union leaders alike also agreed that the governor shouldnt govern by decree.
The Senate president announced that they would create a committee to reach a consensus regarding the accuracy of several budget areas. The group will be comprised of three legislative advisers, three advisers from the union sector, and another three advisers who may be appointed by the executive branch.
McClintock added that everyone at the meeting believed that the budget of approximately $8.85 billion for fiscal year 2004-05 is not enough to run the government at the present time.
He also noted that they agreed there has been confusion over the legitimacy of the budget and whether the tax measures that were approved by the legislature would generate enough revenues. They also believe that any future changes should include a redistribution of the tax burden in Puerto Rico.
The General Workers Union, the Transport Confederation, and the Police Federation were some of the local unions represented in the meeting.
Court Again Rejects Bid To Let Puerto Ricans Vote For President
August 4, 2005
BOSTON --A federal appeals court in Boston has said for the fourth time that residents of Puerto Rico do not have the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections.
In a 5-2 ruling issued late Wednesday, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition by attorney Gregorio Igartua, saying the U.S. territory must either amend its constitution, or Puerto Rico must become a state, before its residents can vote for president.
"The case for giving Puerto Ricans the right to vote in presidential elections is fundamentally a political one, and must be made through political means," Chief Judge Michael Boudin wrote.
The ruling marks the fourth time since 1994 that the 1st Circuit has denied such a bid by Igartua, who had asked the full court to review the case after a three-judge panel last year rejected his arguments.
At a hearing in May, he argued that denying Puerto Rico's residents the chance to vote in presidential elections creates a "government without consent."
"We have the same at stake in presidential elections as all other American citizens," he said, noting that 28 American citizens from Puerto Rico had died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet none had the right to vote for the president who sent them there.
Federal prosecutor Gregory Katsas countered that the court doesn't have the authority to order Congress to count electoral votes from Puerto Rico, or admit the territory as a state.
Puerto Ricans, who were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, narrowly rejected statehood in two nonbinding referenda, in 1993 and 1998. The island has roughly 4 million residents.
The 1st Circuit handles appeals of federal cases in four New England states and Puerto Rico.
McClintock Questions Governors Authority
August 4, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) Senate President Kenneth McClintock questioned the authority of Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá to cut the Legislatures budget.
McClintock said he does not know with what authority the governor will reduce $24 million from this branch of government since the consequence of the veto issued to the budget approved by the Legislature is that the allocation that remains in effect, constitutionally, is the one signed by Gov. Sila Calderón last fiscal year.
"This [the reduction in the budget] has not been explained to me," the Senate leader said during a press conference after the extraordinary session.
According to McClintock, official information on Acevedo Vilás announcement regarding the reduction in the Legislatures budget has not arrived yet.
Governor Issues Order To Reduce Work Schedule
August 3, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila on Wednesday issued an executive order to establish the plan to reduce the work schedule of government employees in exchange for certain benefits to those who voluntarily agree to take the pay cut.
According to Chief of Staff Anibal Jose Torres, these employees would have several options to work less while earning a little bit more.
Marta Beltran, director of the Office of Human Resources, said that those who decide to work four days will receive 85% of their salary, while those who choose to reduce their work week by half will receive 65% of their normal salary.
Those who are close to retirement (five years or less) may work half the time while receiving 75% of their normal salary.
Torres said this is a voluntary program. Therefore, it is up to government employees to accept it.
However, the governor has stated that if necessary, he would resort to more drastic measures in order to make up for the government economic deficit.
EPA Fines Developers For Damaging Wetlands
August 2, 2005
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made two companies caught illegally filling wetlands in the western part of the island, restore the damaged areas where possible, or create new wetlands to mitigate the loss. The work is part of settlements with two developers that include financial penalties totaling more than $125,000.
"These developers thought they could ignore federal law but EPA will continue to crack down on them if they don't get a proper permit before developing a wetland," said Kathleen C. Callahan, Acting EPA Regional Administrator. "Violators will be forced to pay the cost of mitigating the damage they caused, plus pay fines when they break the law."
Wetlands, commonly called swamps or marshes, are valuable public assets. In fact, if rain forests have been called the lungs of the ecosystem, then wetlands could be called its kidneys. Wetlands naturally filter chemicals and other contaminants from our inland and coastal waterways and help control erosion, especially during storms. Wetlands also nurture and sustain a vast array of bird, plant, aquatic and animal life. Damaging or eliminating wetlands can cause devastation up and down the food chain. Wetlands also provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, sites for research and education, and support commercial fisheries.
Last September, EPA filed a complaint against Hector M. Torres Zayas, president of Ciudad Centro, Inc. and Pablo H. Padro, president of the Economic Construction Corporation for filling in 2.9 acres of wetlands to build a portion of a housing development called Villas de Sotomayor in Aguada. EPA ordered them to remove the fill and replant aquatic vegetation. After Torres Zayas and Padro demonstrated good faith by removing most of the illegal fill, EPA settled for a payment of $87,000. The violators are removing the remainder of the fill and restoration of the site is ongoing.
Also last September, EPA issued a complaint against Dennis Bechara, Esq., the president of Western Shopping Center, Norte, Inc. and Hector del Rio Torres, the president of Tamrio, Inc., for building in a wetland without a permit. After having difficulties obtaining a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, they constructed Western Industrial Park in Mayaguez and impacted 1.9 acres of wetlands. EPA ordered these companies to remove portions of the illegal fill and create at least twice as many acres of new wetlands.
In the settlement, the companies agreed to remove some of the illegal fill and provide compensation by creating new wetlands at a nearby site that will be five times the size of the wetlands lost. Western Shopping Center, Norte, Inc. also agreed to preserve the unfilled wetlands surrounding the industrial park where they had planned to construct more industrial lots. EPA estimates that Western will have to spend $700,000 to complete these actions and has imposed a $40,000 penalty , which the violators have agreed to pay.
Wetlands, commonly called swamps or marshes, are valuable public assets. In fact, if rain forests have been called the lungs of the ecosystem, then wetlands could be called its kidneys.
Banking Association Blasts AAVs Address
August 1, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) Puerto Rico Banking Association President Arturo Carrion criticized Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vilas radio address to government employees on Monday, for offering simplistic and erroneous solutions to the fiscal crisis of the island.
Carrion said its not correct that the Legislature hasnt approved a tax measure for banking institutions.
"During the past ordinary session, the Legislature approved House Bill 1721, which imposes an additional tax of 2.5% on the annual income of corporations and regular societies, including banking corporations," Carrion said in a prepared statement.
He noted that the administrations proposal to impose a 4% tax on banks net interest rate revenues is unreasonable and is based on a formula that is contrary to financial and accounting practices.
Carrion also said the budget deficit wont be solved by trying to increase government revenues through the imposition of unreasonable taxes on specific sectors of the economy. According to Carrion, the current situation requires permanent and long-term solutions.
He also said that trying to solve long-term problems with short-term tax measures has negatively affected the value of banking shares by creating market uncertainty.
"Any tax measure that translates into unreasonable banking costs could have a direct impact on the prices of financial products and services, which could result in another source of pressure on Puerto Rican consumers," Carrion said.
Education Eliminates 1,000 Teaching Posts
August 1, 2005
PONCE (EFE) Rafael Feliciano, who is the president of the Teachers Federation (FMPR by its Spanish acronym) said on Monday that approximately 1,000 teaching posts that had been requested by school organizing committees were eliminated by Education Department regional directors.
According to Feliciano, most of these posts respond to an increase in school enrollments and the need to hire new teachers.
"This is totally unacceptable and there must be a way to establish the mechanisms to make the Education Department meet this need," Feliciano said.
He noted that this unilateral decision will affect the students who wont have a teacher at the start of the new school year.
On another note, Feliciano said he would focus on strengthening school autonomy and fostering a sense of respect among the organizations that help promote school development and improve students education.
On the start of the school year, when Education Secretary-designate Rafael Aragunde is expected to meet with FMPR Interim Administrator Felix Rodriguez to discuss the problems with that organization, Feliciano said he would try to defend himself from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) effort to place the FMPR under temporary receivership.
The AFT has blamed Feliciano for the fiscal situation of the union.
However, Feliciano said that on Aug. 18 he would hold a referendum to ratify the FMPR delegate assemblys decision to end their membership at the AFT.
"With this action, we will eradicate the dubiousness of such institution and prevent the AFT from sacking our membership fees," Feliciano said in a prepared statement.
Senate Helm Dispute Continues
July 31, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) Despite their intention to smooth out the rough edges among them, the New Progressive Party (NPP) leaders who attended the meeting Saturday werent able to reach a solution to the ongoing dispute over who should be in control of the Senate helm.
Although NPP Secretary General Thomas Rivera Schatz declined to give details of what went on in the meeting on Saturday regarding that issue, he did say that five subjects were brought up, including the one having to do with the Senate presidency.
Rivera Schatz said party members agreed to work on those issues over the next few months. He said they agreed to increase their efforts to scrutinize the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), to deal with the revision of NPP rules, the partys reorganization, the preparations for the NPP convention and the general assembly of Aug. 14.
They also agreed to solve the dispute that started when NPP President Pedro Rossello decided to wrest the Senate presidency away from Sen. Kenneth McClintock, who has so far refused to give up his post.
"I wouldnt like us to talk about that issue because there will be other meetings. We are pleased and hopeful because we believe that we will be able to make significant progress on this subject," Rivera Schatz said.
The NPP secretary general also noted that the party would deal with the issue internally and reiterated that in due time, the people would know about the status of these efforts.
Why The U.S. Army
By Mike Clary
July 31, 2005
During peacetime, enlisting in the U.S. Army often means job training, the promise of money for college or just a way out of a humdrum life. When the nation is at war, joining the military involves other considerations as well.
[One] South Floridians who recently enlisted:
Jose Zavala, 23, of Caguas, Puerto Rico, was living with his aunt in Greenacres earlier this year when he stopped by a recruiting station to ask about training as a mechanic or a radar technician. When those job slots were not available, he agreed to go into the infantry. "The situation in Iraq is definitely scaring people," Zavala said. "I had a cousin in the Army who came back home to Puerto Rico after being in Iraq and he didn't last two weeks.
He was shot during a carjacking. That made me look at things differently, about when it's your time to die. "I just want to do something with my life," he said. "Faith is the last thing you lose. I know I'm coming back."
At Home In The Shadows Of San Juan
Oline H. Cogdill
July 31, 2005
Any Wednesday I'm Yours. Mayra Santos-Febres. Riverhead Books/Penguin. $14. 274 pp.
A "fragile reality" surrounds San Juan's nights as Julián Castrodad learns how darkness and the anonymity of a motel can keep secrets. Recently fired from his newspaper job, stalled on his novel, failing at a relationship, Julián now works nights at the front desk of a motel, renting some rooms by the hour. He's hoping that this mundane job will help him finish his novel by allowing him to "get to the essence of the ordinary" in life.
Julián and his Haitian partner, Tadeo, witness a broad spectrum of humanity pass by to rent their rooms, including a drug lord, a labor attorney and a woman whose sole companion is a brandy bottle. For those customers, Julián is "the gust of air that leads the car to the garage, that hands over the keys, brings extra sheets." But being "an invisible being" also frees Julián to scrutinize the customers. Fatal consequences erupt as these lives intersect while Julián closely views the layers of the city's power structure and its worst elements.
Mayra Santos-Febres brings a poet's touch to this perfectly pitched noir view of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and those who prowl the nights in Any Wednesday I'm Yours. The author takes us through San Juan's streets and its neighborhoods. Santos-Febres equally shines at delivering characters who live in shadows. Julián is shrouded from humanity, as well as from himself. He cannot make a connection with people until he reaches out to himself first.
It's too bad, though, that there's no hint of the author's credentials in the book.
Fortunately, the publishers did supply some background info for reviewers. Santos-Febres, who wrote Any Wednesday I'm Yours in Spanish and translated it herself into English, has published two short-story collections, poetry books and a novel. She is now a full professor of literature at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.
UPR Students To Receive $154 Million In Grants, Aids
July 30, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) University of Puerto Rico (UPR) President Antonio Garcia Padilla announced on Friday that the institution will receive $154 million in student grants and other economic aids during the academic year of 2005-06.
Starting in August nearly $9.2 million will go for tuition exemptions for students at the UPRs 11 campuses. These include $2.2 million in tuition exemptions for university employees dependents and $1.4 million for teachers aides.
Honor students and participants of athletics, artistic, and cultural programs will also receive tuition exemptions.
Garcia Padilla said that this year the UPR will receive nearly 68,000 students, of which 12,100 are new enrollees.
He also said that 62% of UPR students receive Pell grants.
Budget Cut To PRFAA Greater Than Expected
July 29, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Executive Director Eduardo Bhatia said on Friday that the budget cut that Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila has implemented is greater than what he had expected.
Bhatia said the Management & Budget Office had informed him that PRFAAs budget for 2005-06 would be reduced by 31.7%.
"The budget cut is greater than what I had expected, but I understand the governors need and responsibility to balance the countrys budget and I support his actions," Bhatia said in a prepared statement.
Bhatia added that he has already meet with PRFAAs budget and finance director and with the executive team to determine their course of action in terms of adjusting the agencys expenses.
"We had already reduced our expenses by 22%. We have eliminated more than 25 job positions in Washington and shut down three regional offices in Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Houston, but with this new budget, it wont be enough," Bhatia stated.
Government To Increase Hourly Wages
July 29, 2005
SAN JUAN (EFE) Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila will reduce the work schedule of government employees to four days, but will increase their hourly wages, Management & Budget Office Director Ileana Fas Pacheco said Friday.
Fas Pacheco announced that according to an executive order, starting in September approximately 300,000 government workers may volunteer to take the schedule reduction.
Police agents, teachers, and healthcare workers will be exempt from this pay cut.
Those who agree to the 20% reduction, will receive a 5% increase in their hourly wages. Those who agree to a 50% reduction will get 15% increase.
Fas Pacheco said the governor agreed to this arrangement in order to cushion the blow to the public workers pockets and avoid the implementation of a drastic layoff plan.
The agency chief acknowledged the risk that this type of measures could have on government services and efficiency. Therefore, she noted that Gov. Acevedo Vila has urged all cabinet members to keep an eye on the quality of service that they provide to local residents.
Governor Signs Law To Draw Nurses To State
By Jason George
Tribune staff reporter
July 29, 2005
Illinois hospitals will soon begin recruiting nurses from Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories for a new program that aims to alleviate the state's nursing shortage.
The program, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law Thursday, will allow nurses from these territories who have not yet passed the profession's main licensing test to work for up to a year in Illinois under the direct supervision of a nurse who has.
The nurses must have been licensed in their home territory to participate in the program, as well as prove proficient in the English language and enroll in a course that prepares them for the licensing test, known as the National Council Licensure Examination.
The externship program, as it is called, will be funded for a two-year trial period and will take place at approved hospitals, although none has been granted approval yet.
"Creating opportunities for nurses trained in U.S. territories will increase access to quality health care in communities across the state," Blagojevich said, adding that there is a 7 percent shortage of nurses across the state. "Through the use of externships, we not only have more nurses working in Illinois, we can be sure they are well trained and fully qualified."
Blagojevich made his remarks Thursday in Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago, where he signed the externship bill as well as another that eliminated mandatory overtime for nurses and another that did away with a test for foreign nurses coming to work in Illinois.
While the externship program's main goal is to combat Illinois' nursing dearth, having Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican nurses will create additional benefits for the state's Latino communities.
"In the Latino area we don't have a lot of bilingual or Latino nurses," said state Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago), who co-sponsored the House bill. "We have a lot of seniors who prefer to go see someone who speaks their native language. This just makes sense."
Nurses from other states will also be allowed to take part in the externship program, but health care professionals believe the vast majority of interest will come from nurses arriving from Puerto Rico, said Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
The reason, she said, was that nurses coming here directly from Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories like Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands are often not trained to pass the exam.
Kathy Perry, president of the Illinois Nurses Association, said no matter where they come from, the externship nurses will be watched closely on the job. "It varies from hospital to hospital, but the intent is you are not without supervision."
Workers In Puerto Rico Face Cuts
By Ray Quintanilla | Sentinel Staff Writer
July 29, 2005
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- As many at 40,000 public employees could face a shortened workweek beginning next month, Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá said Thursday.
The governor delivered the unexpected news while announcing that he plans to veto a $9.25 billion budget approved by the island's Legislature last month.
"We are going to have to do more with less," Acevedo Vilá said, adding that his budget office projects Puerto Rico's revenues will be about $1 billion less than last year. As a result, the governor said, the island's police, health and education departments are faced with possible cuts.
That also may mean, the governor said, public employees working only four days per week.
"All branches of government are going to have to tighten their belts," said Acevedo Vilá, leader of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party.
Thursday's news raised concerns in both houses of the island's Legislature. Those bodies are dominated by lawmakers from the rival New Progressive Party, who say the budget sent to the governor three weeks ago should be sufficient to cover workers' salaries without cutbacks or layoffs.
Senate President Kenneth McClintock said he is willing to sit down and discuss the budget with Acevedo Vilá.
In the meantime, Genevieve Valentin Soto, director of Puerto Rico's public-works department, told reporters that a reduced workweek is necessary to prevent a budget shortfall next year.
"Something has to be done to ease a shortfall," she said. "Something has to be done to ease concerns about major deficits."
Thursday's decision also means the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration will face severe cuts. But it's still unclear how much, officials said.
"We know the $10.2 million we received last year is going to be trimmed significantly," said Ana Carrion, the agency's director of communications. "No matter how the budget process gets settled on the island, we are bracing for a major cutback."
Already, officials said, PRFAA offices in Houston, Los Angeles and Cleveland have been closed. Offices in New York, Orlando, Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., will be looked at for additional cuts, Carrion said.
"We should know in a couple weeks what is going to happen to this agency," Carrion said.
In the meantime, last year's funding levels will be used by Puerto Rico until the governor and Legislature can agree upon a 2005 budget.