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Arias Denounces US Decision To Cut U.N. Family Planning Funding

Governor Opens Peace Conference

Zambrana Included In Federal Anti Drug Task Force

Ocasio Pleads Guilty, Will Testify

Last Bodies Recovered From Plane Crash

Al Gore Pays Visit

Cases In Puerto Rico: Tetanus Vaccine Safe & Effective

EPA To Discuss Vieques Cleanup

Treasury Collections Increase With New Taxes

Arias Calls U.S. Decision To Cut Funding To U.N. Family Planning Agency "Insulting"


August 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias denounced a recent U.S. decision to cut funding to the U.N. Population Fund, saying the lives of poor women were being put in jeopardy.

Last month, the Bush administration cut dlrs 34 million in funding to the U.N. agency, accusing it of supporting Chinese agencies that carry out coercive programs involving abortion. The agency denies the accusation and a U.S. government fact-finding mission found no evidence of the claim.

The U.N. Population Fund runs family planning programs in 141 nations.

"The fact that the United States is holding back (these) funds is not only insulting ... but it also constitutes a direct threat to the lives of many poor women who will not be able to receive basic health services," said Arias, at the start of a three-day peace conference on Monday.

After the U.S. move, the European Union said it would give an extra 32 million euro (dlrs) to offset the loss.

Arias also criticized U.S. gunmakers for selling arms to autocratic countries who use "military power as a way of remaining in power while they take little care the most basic necessities of their people."

The former president of Costa Rica was awarded the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on a Central American peace accord that helped pave the way for democratic elections around the region.

Other people expected to speak at the peace conference include Spain's top investigative judge, Baltasar Garzon, who tried to prosecute former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, and pop star Ricky Martin.

Governor Welcomes The World To An "Island Of Peace"

August 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - In what may constitute a contrasting view of many island residents who witness political disputes, drug-related violence, and skyrocketing crime rate in Puerto Rico everyday, Gov. Sila Calderon welcomed world renowned leaders and artists who came together to participate in the Peace for Peace World Conference on Monday with an opening speech that portrayed the island as one of generosity and peacefulness.

"Our history hasn't been stained by war. As a matter of fact, we've provided shelter to brothers of other countries who have had to flee from strife, dictatorships, and economic difficulties," said the governor.

She expressed satisfaction and pride for being the host of the such an important world conference and thanked Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora for co-sponsoring the event, as well as Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1987 and former Costa Rican president, for chosing Puerto Rico as a site for peace.

Calderon called for unity and understanding by appealing to reason and human nature. She mentioned unemployment, lack of education opportunities, and the absence of proper housing as the source of strife, dispair, and the worst violent clashes in the world.

"We cannot hope to build a culture of peace if we accept a social reality that condemns most of our fellow citizens to a cruel injustice. As long as there is a starving child, a woman begging for the well-being of her children, a father who is denied the right to provide for his family with dignity, there won't be a chance for a lasting peace," Calderon said.

The governor added that in order to promote peace in the world, it is not only necessary to fight material poverty but the poverty of the spirit as well. That which causes people to close their eyes to the pain of others, and refuse to listen to those who plead for justice.

On the other hand, Calderon used the opportunity to highlight one her administration's initiatives to provide better quality of life to low-income families in Puerto Rico.

Calderon said about 50% of the island population lives in poverty, according to the economic standards of the United States and pledged her commitment to deal with this social problem through her Special Community Program, which constitute about 700 communities on the island.

"In the name of those who are still waiting, of those who are poor in the world, I urge you to think of their pain and in ways to alleviate it and to bring them hope," Calderon asked of the world leaders gathered in San Juan from Monday to Wednesday.

Zambrana Included In Federal Anti Drug Task Force

August 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – The new Drug Control Office Director Luis Guillermo Zambrana was included in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Executive Committee, a task force to fight drug traffic in the Caribbean.

"I am very honored to be part of the HIDTA’s executive committee because I’m sure that this designation will allow Puerto Rico to receive more resources to fight drug traffic," said Zambrana to the Associated Press.

HIDTA is an organization in which 20 federal agencies coordinate programs and strategies to fight drug traffic.

Former Governor's Aide Pleads Guilty, Will Testify

August 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - La Fortaleza former deputy sub-secretary Angel Luis Ocasio pleaded guilty in federal court on Monday to conspiracy and extortion charges related to a scheme to receive kickbacks from businessmen in order to get them contracts within former Gov. Pedro Rossello administration.

Ocasio was charged along the former governor’s personal assistant Maria de los Angeles Rivera, but she declined to enter a guilty plea. Jury selection in her case was begun late Monday and her attorney Edgar Vega Pabon said they were ready for trial.

Although Rivera had requested a separate trial from Ocasio the evidence gathered against the duo is the same.

Part of that evidence is so damaging to the defendants that even lead Judge Juan M. Perez Jimenez to say in court that after listening to some of the tapes he could see why Ocasio would have pleaded guilty.

"I could see why Mr. Ocasio is pleading guilty after listening to those tapes," Perez Jimenez said in court after accepting the defendant’s change of plea.

Defense Attorney Daniel Lopez Romo made a similar statement in court.

"If it goes to court my client could have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Lopez said.

As part of the agreement, Ocasio will cooperate with the prosecution in the case against Rivera and will most likely take the witness stand to authenticate the tapes in question.

Ocasio has already pleaded to another conspiracy and extortion scheme were he paid kickbacks in exchange for a $1.9 million contract at the Commonwealth’s Employee Retirement System Administration.

This time he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of interference with commerce by extortion induced by economic fear.

During the time of the scheme Ocasio worked for a while, as the New Progressive Party’s (NPP) finance director in 1996. By the next year, Ocasio would no longer hold any post within the NPP but continued to arrange and request kickbacks in exchange for contracts.

Rivera for her part would allegedly used her position to arrange meetings for those businessmen from whom she received kickbacks.

Rivera would allegedly request $1,500 a month for her efforts from several contractors that at times lead to a monthly income of $5,000. According to the federal indictment on the case Rivera received $140,000 in kickbacks as a result of her bribes.

Rivera arrived in the courthouse along with her parents. As she waited for the jury selection to be completed she looked at Ocasio straight in the face as he waked pass her. She did the same with U.S. District Attorney Guillermo Gil for a couple of seconds.

Later in court during Ocasio’s change of plea hearing, Gil would say that the evidence will show that Rivera would continually deposit money in her account, which was not consistent with her salary.

She spent over $30,000 in personal treatment at the Condado Zen Spa and would also buy cars in cash.

Witness in the case against her will include former coworkers and former Permits and Regulation Authority Director Carlos Gonzalez, among others.

Workers Recover Last Two Bodies Among 10 Killed In Plane Crash

August 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (AP) - A search team cut into the wreckage of a U.S. Air Force plane Sunday and found the bodies of two servicemen, the last of 10 who died when their plane slammed into a mountainside.

The searchers found the bodies after opening a battered section of the cockpit using a specialized saw and other equipment, officials said.

"We have finished one of the most important missions, which is the recovery of bodies," said Lt. Col. Adolfo Menendez, commander of a National Guard unit at the crash site. "Now begins the investigation."

The MC-130H special operations plane crashed during a training mission Wednesday night. The bulky plane was flying in rain and fog when it struck Monte Perucho, broke in two and erupted in flames, witnesses said.

The crash left wreckage scattered over the mountainside near Caguas, 20 miles south of San Juan.

About 30 searchers and military investigators were working at the crash site as the two bodies were found Sunday, officials said. The area was closed to reporters.

Meanwhile, a 10-member team from the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, began supervising the investigation Sunday, officials said. An Air Force accident board also was being assembled to rule on the cause, which remained unclear.

Searchers on Friday found the cockpit voice recorder. The plane had no flight data recorder, officials said.

The two bodies found on Sunday were being flown by helicopter to nearby Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on the U.S. territory's northeast coast.

The Air Force released three final names of victims on Saturday and Sunday after notifying their families.

Six of the 10 victims were from Air Force Special Operations at Hurlburt Field, Florida; one was from the Air Intelligence Agency and assigned to a unit in Florida; two were members of the Kentucky Air National Guard on temporary duty in Puerto Rico; and one was assigned to Puerto Rico for the Southern Command's Special Operations Command.

Six victims from the 16th Special Operations Wing were identified as pilot Maj. Michael J. Akos, co-pilot Capt. Christel A. Chavez, navigator Maj. Gregory W. Fritz, loadmaster Staff Sgt. Robert J. McGuire Jr., electronic weapons officer 1st Lt. Nathanial D. Buckley and flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Robert S. Johnson.

Also identified were Staff Sgt. Shane H. Kimmet, a support operator from the Air Intelligence Agency, Capt. Panuk P. Soomsawasdi, a special tactics liaison officer with Special Operations Command, and two combat controllers from the Kentucky Air National Guard, Tech. Sgt. Martin Tracy and Tech. Sgt. Christopher A. Matero.

The plane belonged to the Air Force Special Operations Command and was flying from Roosevelt Roads Naval Station to the Borinquen Air Station on the Caribbean island's west coast.

The accident was the second in two months involving the four-engine Combat Talon II, a special operations variant of the C-130 Hercules cargo plane. The other crashed in June in Afghanistan, killing three.

Al Gore Pays Brief Visit To The Island

August 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Former Democratic presidential candidate Albert Gore paid a visit to the island during the weekend to meet with friends who put him up-to-date with the political and economic issues in Puerto Rico.

Attorney Miguel D. Lausell, Gore's collaborator and leader of the National Democratic Party on the island confirmed Gore's visit and said the former vice president stayed at a hotel in Fajardo.

"He arrived Friday night and left Saturday afternoon," Lausell said.

Lausell also confirmed that Gore had been invited by a private company and that they met to talk about several issues of the island.

He said Gore showed a lot of interest in the matters and was very receptive.

Gore lost the presidential elections to U.S. President George W. Bush.

He keeps active within the Democratic Party and the possibility of him running for president again in 2004 has yet to be ruled out.

Cases In Puerto Rico Indicate Tetanus Vaccine Safe And Effective, CDC Reports

August 10, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Vaccine Weekly via All Rights Reserved. & -- Between February and May 2002, the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDOH) received reports of three tetanus cases, two of which were fatal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the July 19, 2002, issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. None of the three patients had a definite history of prior vaccination with tetanus toxoid and none was younger than 60.

This is consistent with the experience of the United States as a whole, where tetanus is associated with lack of vaccination or incomplete vaccination, and more frequently occurs in older age groups. The increased risk in older people is thought due to the greater likelihood that they never received a primary vaccination series or might not have received subsequent tetanus boosters.

Now that the tetanus vaccine shortage has ended, health care providers should review the vaccination status of all patients and administer tetanus vaccine (Td) as indicated.

EPA To Discuss Cleanup Of Vieques Land

August 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – During the next 30 days, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make available to the public the cleanup plan for the 12 areas under the U.S. Navy control on the eastern side of the Vieques municipality.

The EPA will participate in a public hearing on Thursday in which the plans will be discussed. The U.S. Navy and the contractor in charge of the cleanup will also participate in the hearings.

The process is part of the Administrative Order of Consent agreed to by the Navy and the EPA to investigate and cleanup 12 areas that are not being used in the bombing exercises, according to published reports.

The EPA made a preliminary determination that the areas are contaminated with selenium, chloroform, mercury and lead, materials that might have affected the municipal water reserve or the people who used the beaches or breathed contaminated dust, according to the order issued on January 2000.

Treasury Department Increases Earnings With New Taxes

August 9, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Two months after putting into effect the excise tax increase for sports utility vehicles (SUVs) the Treasury Department increased its collections by 25.8%.

For Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza the increase registered in a period considered less active in automobile sales "is a good indication" of the market, according to published reports.

Automotive businessmen stated that the increase is a result of the record sales in May, just before the excise tax increase was enacted. Consequently, they are still worried about the effect the tax might have on the long run.

Meanwhile, consumers are still benefiting from discounts aimed at counteracting losses expected in SUV sales due to the new taxes imposed, although the period these discounts will be available is still unknown.

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