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P.R. River Preservation Bill Stalls In U.S. Senate, 4 Anti Navy Activists Arrested, 2nd Nat’l Guard Group En Route To Persian Gulf, Excessive Government Spending Criticized, Mercado: Statements On Vieques Taken Out Of Context, NPP Leaders Plead "Not Guilty" To Riot Charges, Actions Demanded From Governor And Navy

Puerto Rico River Preservation Bill Stalls In U.S. Senate

September 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 EFE NEWS SERVICE. All rights reserved.

Ponce, Puerto Rico, Sep 16 (EFE) - A bill to protect three rivers flowing through the Caribbean National Forest in perpetuity is stalled in the U.S. Senate, officials said.

Park Superintendent Pablo Cruz told reporters over the weekend that the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act passed in the House of Representatives but is stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Cruz said the bill would prohibit construction of dams in three of several rivers that have their source and flow through the tropical forest, known as El Yunque.

"We have not managed to obtain (approval), although we've made progress. The bill is with the Natural Resources Committee, but at this moment, there are other priorities, and we need to wait to see what happens," Cruz said.

Cruz said the proposed legislation aims to protect in perpetuity the Mameyes, La Mina and Icacos rivers that flow through the Puerto Rican rain forest.

El Yunque, which covers 28,000 acres, is the only tropical forest in the U.S. National Forest System.

Four Anti Navy Activists Arrested In Vieques

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

SAN JUAN (AP) – On their third week of military maneuvers, the U.S. Navy confirmed the arrest of four trespassers on the Navy restricted land in Vieques on Sunday.

The Navy spokesman Sixto Escobar said the maneuvers commenced at 8 a.m. with bombings from sea to shore from USS Briscoe, but failed to say which other maneuvers would be taking place on Monday.

Escobar also said that the arrests took place in the Puerto Diablo sector to the north of the island.

"We assumed that they got there in a boat because they were very far from the gate, it is several miles [from the gate] and it is very difficult to walk on the area," Escobar said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the Workers Socialist Movement announced that the four people arrested are members of the organization and were identified as Andres Santos, Ricardo Santos, Norma Ortiz and Mariel Torres.

From the beginning of the maneuvers, last Sept. 3, 26 people have been arrested in the Navy restricted area in Vieques.

Second National Guard Group En Route To Middle East

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

SAN JUAN (AP) - The federal government activated a second battalion of the National Guard to serve in the Middle East.

Close to 600 soldiers will depart to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin on Sept. 17. The unit will then head to the Persian Gulf to take part of the Desert Spring operation, said Francisco Marquez, National Guard general aide.

The soldiers' mission is related to the security and protection of the U.S. military that are in the Persian Gulf region.

This is the second battalion of the National Guard in Puerto Rico to participate in this operation this year.

Zayas Seijo Criticizes Excessive Government Spending

September 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

PONCE (AP) - The $17,000 a month that advertising agent Rafael Jaume earns in government contracts is the fact that has harmed the Legislature the most, House Treasury Committee Chairman Fancisco Zayas Seijo said Sunday.

"There are things that cannot be upheld when a person earns in a month what a teacher would earn in a year, it is difficult to accept regardless of how much he has worked," Zayas Seijo said.

"I believe that this issue has harmed the Legislature the most," the Treasury chairman said in a radio interview.

Although the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) legislator commended Jaume's performance, he said having a person with so many government contracts was unjustifiable.

"I believe the people are very upset with the Jaume case," Zayas Seijo said.

"I thank God that this came out now and not back when the government increased the excises taxes. Imagine how we could have justified that at that moment?" said Zayas Seijo.

On the other hand, the PDP legislator said it is the media's hobby to criticize the Legislature and accuse it of excessive spending.

He also said all his consultants and employees are justified.

Martin Lambastes Government's Excessive Spending

September 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

PONCE (AP) - Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Fernando Martin warned that the Puerto Rican people will be shocked once the payrolls of Gov. Sila Calderon, San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, and government agencies are disclosed.

Also, Martin said the people are outraged and upset due to the excessive spending at the Senate. He added that this issue has earned the Senate a bad reputation.

He criticized Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora for engaging in an unnecessary secrecy by originally refusing to reveal the Senate's payroll.

"People will be shocked when they find out about La Fortaleza and the San Juan municipal payrolls," Martin said.

On the other hand, Martin undermined former PIP Rep. Carlos Gallisa who accused the party of excessive spending as well.

"These attacks come from people who, in my opinion, have little credibility," he said.

Gallisa was expelled from the PIP in the 1970s.

Mercado: Statements On Vieques Taken Out Of Context

September 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – After Gov. Sila Calderon disavowed his statements, Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado said Saturday that his comments about the possibility that the government relax its call for Vieques in the eventuality of a U.S. war against Iraq "were taken out of context."

"The interpretation given to my statements is pitiful and absurd," Mercado said in a written statement.

"When a reporter asked me about the possible effect of a war against Iraq in the Vieques case, I indicated responsibly that we all have to reevaluate all situations, the same manner we did with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. No one, absolutely no one, can anticipate the effects of these events," he added.

Mercado said in lieu of the question, he issued "an honest and objective response in the broad context of the reality that encompasses the world. However, those statements were taken out of context."

Mercado received sharp criticism after leaving the door open for the possibility that the government renounce the public policy that calls for the immediate cease of military bombings in Vieques and the exit of the U.S. Navy on or before 2003 if the United States starts a war against Iraq.

The governor immediately discredited the official, according to La Fortaleza.

Public Affairs Secretary Jorge Colberg Toro said the Calderon administration will not speculate on hypothetical matters and recalled that the war in Afghanistan did not represent any change in the situation in Vieques, according to published reports.

However, the governor’s spokesman said in principle that "if situations arise from now until that date, they will be examined." But he said that does not imply that the Calderon administration will reevaluate the date of 2003.

NPP Leaders Plead "Not Guilty" To Riot Charges

September 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Four New Progressive Party (NPP) leaders, including president Carlos Pesquera, pled "not guilty" before Superior Court Judge Fernando Gierbolini during the hearing to read the charges for the crime of inciting a riot.

Gierbolini, former Caguas Judicial Center administrative judge, was designated by San Juan Judicial Center Administrative Judge Heriberto Sepulveda to preside over the hearing as well as the trial.

Upon leaving the courtroom, Pesquera repeated previous accusations that the case involved "selective" prosecution against the political opposition.

To reaffirm his argument, Pesquera said during the last months, several violent incidents have taken place in public places, all covered by the media, without any reaction from the government or any accusations filed at the moment.

"This is a selective accusation, and everybody knows that," Pesquera said.

Some of the defense attorneys mentioned the possibility of asking for separate trials.

The other three statehood supporters facing charges are former party president Leo Diaz, former legislator Edwin Mundo, and party electoral commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz.

Prosecutors say they plan to call 27 witnesses in the trial, set to begin Nov. 12.

The list of witnesses includes 18 Women’s Advocate Office employees, police agent Jose Marrero Rivera, as well as Channel 6 photojournalists Jorge Negron Velazquez and Francisco Reyes Rosario, and their news director Nora Soto, among others.

Group Demands Action From Governor And Navy

September 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – The so-called Working Group on Vieques, attached to the Ateneo Puertorriqueño, asked Gov. Sila Calderon on Friday to order the immediate disclosure of the results of the study on the incidence of cancer in Vieques.

The group also demanded the U.S. Navy to make public the final report on the places other than Vieques that could be used for military practices.

"The governor is not doing anything, and the Navy is doing many things to stay (in Vieques) later than May 2003," said Juan Giusti, member of the group.

If the information is not immediately revealed, according to Giusti, the governor and the Navy will be pushed into the possibility of a United States war with Iraq, which would give the Navy an excuse to remain in the island municipality.

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