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Pesquera: Ondeo Has Proved Too Expensive, Pentagon Still Looking For Alternate Bombing Range, Calderon: Wants Bush’s Promise In Writing, Denies Vieques Role In Army So. Loss, Rumsfeld Reiterates Navy’s Continued Use Of Vieques, Obligations Local Police, Army So. Moving To Texas

Pesquera: Ondeo Has Proved Too Expensive For The Government

September 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera said on Wednesday that the water service system of the island may collapse if the Calderon administration doesn’t push Ondeo Services to begin the construction projects to improve the system.

"The future of the water infrastructure has not been taken care of, the capital improvement projects aren’t being taken care of. The information we have is that the program to build permanent work for the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (Prasa) has collapsed," Pesquera said.

The NPP president and former Infrastructure Financing Authority chief said Ondeo Services has refused to begin the program because it wants more money. Pesquera referred to a newspaper clipping to back up his allegations. He said one of the reasons why the government chose Ondeo Services to manage Prasa’s operations was that the private company would only charge the government 4.5% of the construction costs.

"While [Prasa and Ondeo Services] try to agree, the people continue to be affected by higher bills, the system’s collapse, and by a standstill in the permanent construction works," Pesquera said.

The NPP president said that because the transition from the previous managing company to the current one was rushed, that specific part of the contract which ensured the payment of 4.5% was not signed.

Pesquera also accused the Prasa president of serving as a public relations agent for Ondeo Services instead of doing his job, which is to monitor the company’s performance. He said all Agosto Alicea has been doing the past few days is giving excuses for the company whose performance he was hired to oversee and evaluate.

"We should remember that Agosto Alicea was the one who made a big deal to announce the selection of Ondeo granting it an unfair contract, at the expense of the Puerto Rican people," Pesquera said.

He rejected Agosto Alicea’s previous allegation that maybe former Prasa operator, Water Co., failed to bill Prasa clients the way it was supposed to. He said no company benefits from not charging its clients. However, according to the new contract, Ondeo Services would benefit from charging its clients more by keeping 90 cents of every additional dollar it gets, he said.

Pesquera also urged Agosto Alicea to say if he already has an audit program detailing how Prasa will evaluate the operator’s performance at the public corporation.

During a press conference on Wednesday, the governor admitted to WOW News that she did not have the information to hand to verify whether Pesquera’s allegations were true. Instead, she used the opportunity to attack the NPP president.

"Here we have a person who has been typified by his own peers as weak. We will see him in future press conferences making up issues to project a strong image," the governor said.

For his part, Prasa president said in a press release that the public corporation is not paralyzed. Although he didn’t answer specifics about Pesquera’s allegations, he said he was willing to sit with him to talk about the situation. Agosto Alicea said he would be addressing the issue within the next few days to let Puerto Ricans know about the status of the corporation and what he has been doing to improve its operations.

Pentagon Still Looking For Alternate Location

September 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - David Lucket, U.S. Navy spokesman at the Pentagon confirmed in published reports that the military corps commitment to seek an alternate location for the Vieques target range is unaltered.

"Nothing has changed," he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during a press conference on Monday that the Pentagon considers Vieques a very important location for training and that the military plans to continue using the range according to "our obligations."

Lucket, as a Navy spokesman, said Rumsfeld statements referred to the Pentagon commitment to train Navy and Infantry personnel in Vieques, as well as the notification that is made to the Puerto Rico government before the resumption of maneuvers.

However, he said the Navy is still seeking alternate sites for the military exercises.

Governor Asks Bush To Put His Promise In Writing

September 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - More than a year after President George W. Bush promised to withdraw the U.S. Navy from Vieques, Gov. Sila Calderon asked him to put it in writing.

During a press conference held at the Education Department on Tuesday, the governor gave the press copies of a letter containing her request.

"At this point, the lack of a written commitment has made it easier for rumors and doubts to propagate here. Formalizing the process would do much to reassure the people of Puerto Rico and facilitate the law enforcement process," wrote Calderon in the letter.

Asking Bush to issue a written statement confirming the May 1, 2003, deadline is one of four options for dealing with the issue the governor suggested to the president.

First, Calderon told Bush that he could ask the secretary of the Navy to submit a transition plan for his approval. The second option is to issue a statement confirming the date for withdrawal from Vieques.

The governor also suggested the creation of a joint transition committee or his approval of a local transition committee as the third and fourth options.

Calderon’s letter followed bitter criticism from opposition parties, as well as religious and civil organizations, which have accused her administration of betraying the cause of Vieques.

The governor has constantly told the press that she wouldn’t answer hypothetical questions as to what the local government would do if Bush decides to keep the Navy in Vieques after May 2003. However, she addressed the issue in writing Tuesday, but only after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a U.S. mainland reporter that the Navy would continue operating in Vieques according to its obligations. The governor sent a letter to both the president and Rumsfeld.

"Your expressions have been misconstrued by some as contradicting Bush’s public commitment to cease military exercises in Vieques no later than May 2003. I am certain that was not the meaning of your statement, and that the president will keep his promise," Calderon’s letter to Rumsfeld read.

Furthermore, the governor stressed her commitment to the president’s war against terrorism and against the enemies of democracy. She also stated that this commitment in no way contradicts her stance on Vieques.

"Our total support for Bush’s brave fight against terrorism in no way contradict our will to end the maneuvers in Vieques once and for all," the governor said.

Calderon insisted that the president is not avoiding the issue and that he would address the matter when he thinks it appropriate, just as she addresses issues when she thinks it’s appropriate.

Governor Downplays U.S. Army South’s Withdrawal

September 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Gov. Sila Calderon didn’t give much importance to the news that U.S. Army South would leave Ft. Buchanan in Guaynabo.

The governor said the news reached La Fortaleza late Monday afternoon. She added that the departure of that military body from the island doesn’t worry her.

"U.S. Army South has been on the island for about two years. I doubt that its departure will make a dent in Puerto Rico," the governor said.

According to CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, U.S. Army South has been in Puerto Rico since 1999. It employs over 1,200 people on the island, some 755 of them civilians. In addition, its annual contribution to the local economy has been estimated at more than $160 million.

When asked about these figures, the governor acknowledged that she was not aware of them but that she is sure that the impact on the island of the departure of U.S. Army South won’t be of great significance.

The governor issued her comments during a press conference at the Education Department on Tuesday. Because her letters to President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asking them to address the U.S. Navy’s withdrawal from Vieques in writing solicited more attention, the governor limited her comments regarding U.S. Army South.

Calderon’s administration has been under fire by New Progressive Party members who have held the governor responsible for creating a hostile environment for the military, since she took office in 2001.

They have claimed that Calderon’s public policy to support the immediate ousting of the U.S. Navy from Vieques, despite the presidential directives of 2000 has been a factor in the federal government’s decision to move U.S. Army South to Texas.

However, members of the Calderon administration, including Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, have denied such allegations, claiming that one issue has nothing to do with the other.

Rumsfeld Reiterates Navy Will Continue To Use Vieques, Stresses Local Law Enforcement

DoD News Briefing

September 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 M2 Communications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Q: Last week several times, American military personnel in Puerto Rico were attacked by civilians who were protesting the continued naval exercises on the island of Vieques. And the reports are that the local police stood by and watched that happen without acting. What, if anything, is the department going to do about that situation, try and force the local police to enforce the law?

(Secretary Of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld: I had not seen those reports. And any time local police --and I'm not validating that your report is correct, because I don't know, but obviously, any time local law enforcement officers fail to enforce the law, they're in dereliction of their duty. And -- how to phrase this gracefully -- places where local law enforcement people do refuse to perform their duties obviously are creating an environment that's not terribly hospitable for other people.

How to intend to deal with it was the other part of your question. If it's true, we would look into it and talk to the authorities there and see if we can determine if they're aware of what's going on, and encourage them to fulfill their responsibilities.

Vieques is an important location for us, and we intend to continue to operate on a basis that's consistent with our obligations, and we hope others will continue to cooperate in a manner that's consistent with their obligations.

Q: Mr. Secretary, if I could follow up on that question? The U.S. Southern -- Naval Southern Command has said that they have contacted the police and they have remonstrated with them, they have said they're firing flares at our people, throwing rocks at them; you're doing nothing. And the response has been zero. So what can you do after they have ignored counseling from us?

Rumsfeld: We have a former Southern Command commander here, who's kind of ready, cocked and prepared to respond to your question. (Chuckles.)

Pace: There is a great deal that government agencies can do with and for each other. And any time that one element of the structure that's supposed to provide security to all citizens, whether they're wearing uniforms or not, any time that that does not function properly, there are other elements of the government that are there to deal with that -- not U.S. military; there's a judiciary system and there's the governor of Puerto Rico and there's other U.S. leaders who have those responsibilities. So as a military man, I would continue to go to the civilian leaders who have those responsibilities, through the secretary, to make sure that our folks, whether they're in uniform or not, are properly protected on Puerto Rico or anywhere else in the world.

Army South Moving To Texas


September 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Army's headquarters that oversees operations in Latin America and the Caribbean is moving to Fort Sam Houston from Puerto Rico, the Army announced Monday.

U.S. Army South, a component of the U.S. Southern Command, has been at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, for about three years, said Maj. Chris Conway, an Army spokesman. The Army said the move to San Antonio is part of an effort to cut costs.

The move will allow the Army to eliminate overhead costs and reduce its personnel from 400 to less than 300, the Army said in a news release. Conway said the move will save the Army $125 million in construction costs, but relocation will cost about $45 million.

"We are always trying to do the mission at the least cost to the taxpayers," Conway said.

The Army said Fort Sam was chosen because of the availability of its facilities, its relative accessibility to U.S. Southern Command at Fort McPherson, Ga., and Latin America, and its ability to provide support such as health services, schools and housing to Army South without much construction.

The Army said the move should begin next fiscal year, which starts in October.

Lt. Col. Tom Budzyna, U.S. Army South spokesman, said Congress had imposed a moratorium on new construction at Fort Buchanan after Puerto Rican opposition forced the Navy to end bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. That stalled needed services and facilities for personnel, Budzyna said.

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