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Navy Says Planes Did Not Fly Over Inhabited Areas, Police Department Buried In Debt, Vizcarrondo Wants Greater Island Autonomy, Urban Train Irregularities Denied, Calderon Insists Bush Will End Exercises, Unemployment Rate Rises To 13.1%

U.S. Navy - Our Planes Did Not Fly Over Inhabited Areas Of Vieques

September 23 2002
Copyright © 2002 EFE. All rights reserved.

San Juan, Sep 22 (EFE) - The U.S. Navy on Sunday said its planes did not fly over inhabited areas of Vieques during military exercises on Sept. 9 and 10, contrary to what civic leaders and island residents had claimed.

The investigation, conducted by U.S. Navy officials, determined that the flights originating from aircraft carrier "USS Harry S. Truman" were in accordance with established regulations, Navy spokesman Sixto Escobar told EFE at the Roosevelt Roads base in Ceiba in southeastern Puerto Rico .

The results of the investigation, conducted at the request of the Puerto Rican government, were sent to Special Commissioner for Vieques and Culebra Juan R. Fernandez.

"Security for us is paramount. All the flights are conducted in accordance with security standards for pilots and for civilians," said Escobar.

Escobar said the tapes kept by military aircraft controllers confirmed where the planes flew and at what altitudes.

Fernandez, in the name of the Puerto Rican government, sent a letter to Capt. Greg Cooper, the head of the training camp at the Garcia military base on Vieques , that outlined the complaints of the residents of the tiny island off the eastern Puerto Rican coast.

Three weeks ago, F-14 and F-18 warplanes took part in exercises that included bombing a firing range, which was also used as a target by destroyers accompanying the "Truman" battle group.

In April 1999, after the death of civilian security guard David Sanes when the pilot of a U.S. Navy plane accidentally bombed an observation tower located in a military area, agreements to limit Navy access to Vieques ' airspace were made.

During the current maneuvers, the military has arrested more than 20 activists who entered the restricted area to protest the training flights and the U.S. Navy presence on Vieques.

Police Department Buried In Multimillion-Dollar Debts

September 22, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - The Puerto Rico Police has accumulated old debts that amount to $128 million. Such debts include delays in utility payments, as well as overtime payments for police officers.

According to published reports, the agency owes $15 million in electricity and telephone services.

The current administration alleges that most of the debts are from past fiscal years.

Police Superintendent Miguel Pereira said he recently had a meeting at La Fortaleza to discuss the debts which include $56 million of overtime work. He said he expects to have the moneys in October to pay police officers the extra hours.

Pereira also said the government is trying to issue a bond emission to pay for the rest of the debts.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority confirmed that the Police Department owes $2.8 million in electricity bills.

Vizcarrondo Wants More Autonomous Powers For Island

September 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

PONCE (AP) – After stating that the Commonwealth has "colonial backwardness," House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo championed Saturday for Puerto Rico to have more powers in its relationship with the United States.

The House leader also expressed that it is not necessary for a U.S. district court, which he described as not constitutional but stipulated by law by Congress, to exist in Puerto Rico in the future.

"I have endorsed that after arriving at a reformulation of the terms and agreements of the Commonwealth, a court that has jurisdiction to interpret the terms of the pact between the United States and Puerto Rico be established in the future in Puerto Rico," he said. "If a court of this nature is achieved in the future, it could then substitute what is now known as the federal court."

He questioned why Congress is the one who determines what is locally inapplicable.

In talking about the economic aspect, Vizcarrondo, member of the liberal and autonomous wing of the governmental Popular Democratic Party (PDP), said Puerto Rico should have powers to be able to establish commercial relationships with other countries.

"We now depend on the authorization of the departments of Commerce, State, or the Interior of the United States, and I believe there are development areas that deserve to be looked at," Vizcarrondo said.

In another matter, Vizcarrondo supported without reservations the trip of a group of PDP legislators to Cuba to participate in the XII International Congress of Family Rights.

The trip is being questioned by legislators of the New Progressive Party, but Vizcarrondo said he supports it because it is being conducted in the frame of the study of the revision of the civil code in Puerto Rico.

Allegations Of Irregularities On Urban Train Project Denied

September 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) Secretary Jose M. Izquierdo Encarnacion and contractors in charge of the recently inaugurated Urban Train Caparra station said on Friday the project is in compliance with all construction requirements needed to ensure its safety.

The government official and the contractors refuted allegations made by New Progressive Party (NPP) President and former DTPW secretary Carlos I. Pesquera, who said on Thursday that the project has serious defects that place the investment at risk.

Izquierdo Encarnacion said in a press conference that Pesquera’s allegations are deviating from reality, which is, procedures that being followed with great caution and effectiveness."

The secretary denied that the Transportation and Roads Authority had certified the Jardines de Caparra station as ready.

He explained the certificate issued was one of substantial termination, which means the project is operational, but still lacks some corrections.

"That is included in the contract and it was done that way. We are under the impression that Pesquera does not remember the details of the contract he signed, or is forgetting the construction process," Izquierdo said.

Siemens Transit Team contractor in charge of the Urban Train operations, issued a document with 283 findings about the construction of the Jardines de Caparra station, which was done by the company Necso Entrecanales.

Local Siemens official, Robert Jungkind, said their findings were misunderstood and were presented as deficiencies in the project construction, which was not the case.

For his part, Necso Entrecanales contracting company representative, Miguel Angel Heras said quality controls ruling the Urban Train project in Puerto Rico have stricter construction codes than anywhere else.

Both contractors, as well as the secretary denied that the inauguration date announced [Sept. 2003] is unrealistic.

Pesquera said on Thursday that the inauguration date responds to a political calendar, and that the haste places the quality and security of the project at risk.

Izquierdo denied the allegation and said the date is based on the fact that in 2003 the federal government will assign the funds to be allocated for the following six years, for which reason the state of the project would be the best presentation card the local government could have to demonstrate its capabilities.

"If Puerto Rico fails to use that window, there will be no more funds available for the project until 2009," the secretary said.

Calderon Insists Bush Will End Navy Bombing Exercises

September 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 EFE. All rights reserved.

San Juan, Sep 19 (EFE) - Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon on Thursday dismissed as "rumors" press reports that the U.S. Navy has recommended that President George W. Bush not sign an executive order ending military exercises on the island of Vieques .

"That's not correct. Usually those rumors stem from political sources. A decision has been made by the president, who's the chief of the armed forces, and that decision is what will prevail and I trust his word," Calderon said during a news conference.

The governor's statement was prompted by news reports that White House Navy Liaison director Christopher Roulin had sent Manuel Mirabal, president of the Puerto Rican Coalition, a letter regarding a change in the Navy's plans to withdraw from the island.

Vieques is an island municipality located southeast of Puerto Rico , which has served as a stage for Navy air and sea bombing exercises for the past 60 years. Bush has pledged that the Navy will leave the island by May 2003.

According to the Puerto Rican Health Department, the exercises, which in the past included live fire artillery practice and bombing runs, have caused extensive environmental damage to the isle and an increase in cancer cases and other illnesses among Vieques residents.

Unemployment Rate Rises To 13.1%

September 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Unemployment in Puerto Rico shot up in August to 13.1%, two percentage points higher than last month, according to the Department of Labor and Human Resources.

The agency attributed the rise to an increase in the working group, which according to the agency, reflects more people interested in obtaining jobs.

Labor Secretary Victor Rivera Hernandez said "within the current economic context, the employment panorama in Puerto Rico is positive."

He said the annual increase in the employment level has been consistent, which is verified in the Housing Survey and the Establishment Survey, both conducted by the Labor Department.

Rivera Hernandez said between July and August, the working group reflected an increase of 8,000 people, which represents a participation level of 46% in July to 46.2% in August.

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