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Gubernatorial Candidates Oppose Gay Marriage, They Present Mental Health Plans…Sara Lee To Close Corozal Plant Leaving 930 Jobless…Senate Approves Consumer Code…$100m Lawsuit Filed Against Prepa…Musicians To Hold Benefit Concert For Flood Victims…P.R. To Aid Haiti & DR…1st Cases Of West Nile Virus Reported

Candidates: Will Protect Homosexuals, Not Gay Marriage

June 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The two main gubernatorial candidates announced that if elected they would not favor any initiative to support gay marriage, while their Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) counter gave the idea lukewarm reaction saying "he would push for the development of institutions for people that want to have nontraditional families."

The PIP’s Ruben Berrios, the Popular Democratic Party’s (PDP) Anibal Acevedo Vila, and New Progressive Party’s (NPP) Pedro Rossello all pledged to work for the protection of homosexual couple’s intimacy.

"The respect for the dignity of homosexual couples should be the norm in Puerto Rico and I am committed to protecting their rights… as well as their right to have a domestic life. This will be part of my government plan," said Acevedo Vila.

However, the PDP’s candidate said that "marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Those are the legal parameters and that shapes my views on marriage."

Rossello, on the other hand, said "there most be an inalienable right to intimacy and there should be no discrimination against anyone for their sexual preference or conduct."

"Nevertheless, marriage is a formal, social, and legal institution that supercedes intimacy rights," said Rossello.

Berrios brought the discussion to the realm of political status saying "impendent of our individual stance, it is essential that we reject any decision imposed by the United States."

"Any decision taken here on the matter will be subject to the approval of the United States", added Berrios.

Berrios said the definition of family has changed and that government most reflect those changes in its policies and interpretation of the law.

Although he never actually came out in support of gay marriage, Berrios expressed that there most be a change in Puerto Rico’s institutions.

Gubernatorial Candidates Showcase Mental Health Plans

By Manuel Ernesto Rivera of Associated Press

June 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

During a forum sponsored by The Puerto Rican Mental Foundation on Thursday the three main gubernatorial candidates presented their proposals for dealing with the island’s mental health crisis.

While one proposed to restructure the Mental Health & Anti-Addiction Services Administration (Assmca by its Spanish acronym), another promised to institute compulsory mental healthcare coverage, and one simply blamed healthcare insurance providers for the current mental health crisis.

However, none of the proposals impressed Foundation Director Silvia Arias, who said they lacked innovative ideas and it was not made clear how these were to be implemented.

"They leave us with great doubt as to how these proposals will be translated into effective change for our patients and their families," said Arias.

Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila proposed a restructuring of Assmca, while promising to open regional mental health clinics in key areas around the island. He also proposed increasing the capacity of psychiatric wards in area hospitals.

"My stance is firm in the belief that government must play a central role in the direction of the current mental health apparatus, while providing services in conjunction with the private sector, services urgently needed by those affected," said Acevedo Vila.

New Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello proposed a compulsory mental healthcare initiative that would provide ambulatory care, emergency treatment, hospitalization, medication, and treatment by mental healthcare professionals.

"We would also implement an early detection program to those who may suffer from mental illness at an early age and we would also implement innovative strategies such as outpatient facilities and residential treatment facilities," said Rossello.

On his part, Puerto Rican Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Ruben Berrios blamed health insurance providers for the recent mental health crisis. He said that they more often than not put financial gain before the needs of the people.

Berrios proposed a state takeover of mental healthcare services and the establishment of an universal healthcare plan.

"As I have stated before, economic gain is incompatible with the provision of quality healthcare," said Berrios.

Arias, however, expressed misgiving about handing over control of the mental healthcare system to the government.

"Instead of allowing for single track solutions we must consider hybrid strategies that would offer multileveled solutions to the problem" added Arias.

Sara Lee To Close Corozal Plant And Reduce Vega Baja Operations, Leaving 930 Jobless

By Marialba Martinez of Caribbean Business

June 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

Sara Lee Branded Apparel announced this afternoon it will close its Corozal plant and reduce operations at its Vega Baja plant by the end of the year, affecting 930 employees.

In Vega Baja, approximately 250 employees will continue working on cutting patterns and sewing underwear while the assemblage of other pieces and brassieres will be transferred to another installation by 2004 eliminating 290 jobs. The closing of Sara Lee’s Corozal plant will affect 640 employees with operations being absorbed by other Sara Lee facilities, most probably in the Dominican Republic. In 2001, Sara Lee closed its Barceloneta, Comerio, and San Sebastian operations and reduced operations in Camuy and Guanica, affecting 2,200 employees.

"Our plants’ employees are exceptional workers," said Sara Lee Caribe Intimates & Hosiery Vice President Rafael Rodriguez. "We appreciate their efforts and will do all we can to help them identify new job opportunities. Their work ethics and high standards make them valuable assets for any workplace."

The company, which made the announcement this afternoon, stated it was closing five underwear and sportswear apparel brands’ plants in Puerto Rico, Honduras, México, and the U.S. mainland as well as certain administrative operations at their headquarters. The decision was made due to changes in production requirements and the need to prepare for apparel trade restrictions by the end of the year. Approximately 4,175 employees will be affected by this decision.

"These changes help us align our resources and implement our strategies for the company’s future growth in a free global market," said Sara Lee Branded Apparel CEO Lee A. Chaden. "Decisions such as these, which affect the jobs of our employees, are taken after careful analysis. But it is imperative that we restructure our resources so we can maintain and improve our competitive position in the long run."

Senate Approves Consumer Code

June 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — On Wednesday the Senate approved the Consumer Code with the support of all three political parties.

The code now will return to the House of Representatives, which originally submitted the bill, to add an amendment concerning sales receipts, said former Consumer Affairs Department (DACO by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Javier Echevarria who worked on the bill's preparation.

"We have already discuss the amendment with the House Committee, that should be brief and we expect to have the bill in front of Gov. Calderon by the beginning of next week," said Echevarria.

New Progressive Party (NPP) Party Sens. Orland Parga and Pablo Lafontaine voted in favor of the code, while others from the NPP Senate minority abstained.

The code will encompass a body of laws for the protection of consumer and merchant rights.

"We have created a body of consumer protection laws as have never existed in Puerto Rico or the world," concluded Echevarria.

Lawsuit Filed Against Prepa For $100 Million

By Ricardo Zuñiga of Associated Press

June 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

Attorney Nicolas Nogueras sued the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) for $100 million on behalf of clients who are claiming reimbursement of excessive charges.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday at the San Juan Superior Court, states that Prepa arbitrarily, illegally, and capriciously set excessive tariffs to defray the cost of purchasing energy from two privately owned co-generating plants.

It also mentions that Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña concluded in an audit that Prepa owes its clients $49.8 million as a result of that extra charge. Prepa, however, has refused to pay.

The lawsuit also requests that the court annul the tariffs charged by Prepa.

Prepa Deputy Executive Director Hector Alejandro said that if the lawsuit is based on the Comptroller’s statements, it is foolish and frivolous.

Nogueras said the two plants only produce 9% of the energy used on the island. However, Prepa passed that charge on to all its clients.

Musicians To Hold Benefit Concert For Flood Victims

June 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SANTO DOMINGO (AP) – Puerto Rican and Dominican artists will headline a concert benefiting the victims of flooding in the Dominican town of Jimani, announced on Wednesday event promoters.

"A song of hope," as the concert has been called, will be held at Fortaleza Ozama, a historic fortress at the heart of the colonial district of Santo Domingo, on June 19.

Puerto Rican musicians Danny Rivera and Luis Fonsi, as well as Dominicans Chichi Peralta, Adalgisa Pantaleon, Pavel Nuñez, Frank Ceara, Ciudad de Angeles, and Fernando Villalona have confirmed their participation.

"We hope the concert will raise money to provide Jimani residents with housing," said Ariel Rivas, Rivera’s promoter and event organizer.

Rivas added that the funds raised would be administered by the Fenton Foundation, which has promised to match the funds dollar for dollar.

Event organizers hope to gather 20,000 people each paying six dollars per ticket.

The disaster left a toll of 393 dead and 274 missing.

Puerto Rico To Send Aid To Haitian-Dominican Flood Region

June 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Puerto Rico's government said it will send aid to flood-afflicted areas in Haiti and the Dominican Republic after a delegation visiting the area returned Wednesday.

Floods on May 24 left more than 3,300 dead and missing in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic. Both countries share the island of Hispaniola.

Puerto Rico will send emergency economic aid and assist with reforestation and planning projects in the coming days, the U.S. Caribbean territory's Secretary of State Jose M. Izquierdo said.

Because more than 90 percent of Haiti is deforested, floodwaters were not held back and buried entire communities in mud and other debris. Most of Haiti's 8 million people cut down trees and burn them to use charcoal to cook.

"What we saw was the immediacy of human despair," Izquierdo said hours after returning from the border region where the floods occurred.

Izquierdo also said he met with interim Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and with the governor of Barahona province where the flooding occurred on the Dominican side of the border.

West Nile Virus Found On Island

By WOW Staff

June 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Secretary of Health Johnny Rullan along with representatives from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Wednesday that the West Nile Virus (WNV) has been identified in two birds captured in the vicinity of Roosevelt Road in Ceiba.

After confirming the existence of the WNV, Rullan urged the population to take extra measures to prevent mosquito bites and familiarize themselves with the virus’ symptoms.

"Since 2000 the Department of Health and the CDC have maintained an identification protocol to detect the WNV, which has allowed for its early detection," said Rullan in a prepared statement.

Rullan explained that the WNV could be transmitted to humans through mosquito bites. Once infected, the host will incubate the virus for 14 days after which it can be transmitted to others.

Common symptoms for the WNV are headache, fever, skin rash, and fatigue. Its profile is similar to dengue fever. Incubation could take from 3 to 15 days, Rullan said.

"The majority of those infected will not face any symptoms or just moderate, the virus posses a more serious threat to the elderly and young children," added Rullan.

Secretary Rullan urged the public to exercise preventive measures, such as using mosquito repellent, making sure homes are well guarded against the pest, and the removal of stagnant water, which provide breeding conditions.

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