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P.R. Drive Nets 70,000 New Mainland Voters, Excise Tax Increase Is Here To Stay, Ramirez Accuses Calderon Of Inaction, PDP Censured For Mundo Decision, Nobel Winner Says Militarism Threatens Vieques Residents, House Majority Refuses To Swear Mundo In, Bush Gets Vieques Request

P.R. Drive Nets 70,000 New Mainland Voters

October 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

ORLANDO, Florida (AP) - More than 70,000 people from Puerto Rico registered as new voters through a program by the island government to increase the political might of its citizens in mainland elections, officials said Monday.

More than 13,500 of the new Puerto Rican voters signed up in New York, while 13,000 registered in Florida, 11,000 in New Jersey and 7,500 in Connecticut, Puerto Rican officials said at a news conference on the steps of Orlando City Hall.

"A lot of people will discover the power of the Puerto Rican vote in the coming election," said Manuel Benitez, South Florida's regional director for the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration.

Gov. Sila Calderon began the three-year "Let Nothing Stop Us" campaign in July to encourage the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans living on the mainland to vote in elections wherever they live.

The deadline in Florida to register to vote in the state's Nov. 5 general election was Monday.

Metro Orlando, which has Florida's largest Puerto Rican population, had 10,000 Puerto Ricans registered as new voters for local, state and congressional races. More than 150,000 Puerto Ricans live in central Florida.

The officials didn't have a breakdown of the party affiliation of the new voters.

"We can be a swing vote in areas like Orlando," said Celeste Diaz Ferraro, communications director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. "Politicians on both sides are going to pay attention."

Excise Tax Increase Is Here To Stay

October 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Local Treasury Secretary Juan Flores Galarza on Monday removed any hope of eliminating the excise tax increase on alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which was approved at the end of fiscal year 2002.

During a press conference held to announce the balancing of the fiscal budget 2002, Flores Galarza said the excise tax increase is needed for the following fiscal years, as it is a source of recurrent funds.

"Based on the [excise tax increase law] we expect that we won’t have to use a special fund or pass legislation to balance the budget of fiscal year 2003. We’ve already started to work on fiscal year 2004 and so far our expectations are that the laws already approved won’t be altered," Flores Galarza said.

He explained that for fiscal year 2002 the government took a series of administrative measures that allowed for the use of non-recurrent funds to balance the budget. Some of these measures were the transfer of $71 million from a contingency fund that was never used when the Puerto Rico Telephone Co. was sold in 1998.

Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration also signed a law to use $53 million from the Compulsory Insurance Association. This money comes from drivers who have full-cover car insurance and yet wind up paying twice for the compulsory car insurance. Most of the time, the money is neither claimed nor returned.

Galarza said the use of non-recurrent funds to balance a budget may harm the rating of the government’s bond emission. He explained this shows the inability to balance a budget with recurrent funds.

"In order to convince the bonds evaluating companies that the government of Puerto Rico had enough recurrent income to cover recurrent expenses we had to increase certain items," he said.

The Treasury chief said that although the government was able to balance the 2002 budget, there was a decrease in the amount of money collected from corporate taxes and the general excise tax of 5%, which is applicable to all merchandise that enters the island through the U.S. Customs. He explained that this is linked to the economic slowdown that has been taking place in Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland.

He said that if the economy is not at its best, companies purchase fewer materials for production, thus generating less profit. If profits are low, companies’ taxes are less. On the other hand, if companies’ production drops, the amount of merchandise coming into the island is less, and the income from the general excise tax also decreases.

"I think it is pertinent to say that 46 states of the U.S. have projected a $36.1 billion budget deficit by June 2002, which proves that this administration is complying with its commitment to straighten our economy," Flores Galarza said.

The moneys collected from individuals, however, increased $188.9 million when compared to fiscal year 2001. Some $2.34 billion was collected in 2001, compared to $2.52 billion in fiscal year 2002. Galarza said this was due to an aggressive collection plan that includes seizing of individual bank accounts. Still, he added that the debt due to morose tax payers stands at $1.7 billion.

On the other hand, the Treasury secretary added that the fiscal budget of 2002 benefited from the excise tax-increase on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes. He explained that although the legislation was passed in June to be applicable to fiscal year 2003, the controversy sparked by the new increase drove the affected industries to spur their sales. Therefore, the income from excise taxes climbed from $1.34 billion to $1.46 billion compared with fiscal year 2001.

According to Galarza, the government income at the end of fiscal year 2002 reached $7.5 billion, which represents an increase of $540.4 million or 7.8% when compared to fiscal year 2001. The income also surpassed the government’s expectation by $37.4 million.

Ramirez Accuses Calderon Of Inaction

October 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

PONCE (AP) - New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Miriam Ramirez accused Gov. Sila Calderon's administration on Sunday of abandoning its quest to find solutions to key problems of the island, for the sake of investigating pro-statehood leader and NPP President Carlos Pesquera.

Ramirez also said she doesn't understand why the government insists on spending money to announce public services such as those provided by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

The NPP senator said Puerto Rican families often have to deprive themselves of going out on weekends because they have no money. Sometimes they don't have money to pay for utilities, she said.

"This happens as a result of a bad administration," Ramirez added.

The legislator said it is time that the House and Senate put aside investigating Pesquera, and spend more time investigating why utility bills have increased.

She said the government should be more concerned with solving problems related to health, unemployment, and crime.

Tripartite Censure For Decision To Not Swear Mundo In

October 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - The unusual determination of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) majority in the House of Representatives to refuse to swear elected Rep. Edwin Mundo in earned a strong tripartite censure Saturday.

Former legislators David Noriega and Celeste Benitez and former legislative advisor and former San Juan Deputy Mayor Luis Batista Salas gathered the feelings of many, expressed in different forums, that condemn the determination of the group, led by House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo.

The three former officials said in a radio panel that the determination lacks foundations.

Noriega, a former Puerto Rican Independence Party representative, said the analysis made to come to that conclusion was legally and politically "bad."

"I understand that Mundo has all the requirements to be a member of the House of Representatives. . .which means that it seems to me that the House has no other alternative but to certify him," he said while emphasizing that the case pending in the court "is not an impediment" to swearing him in.

Benitez agreed that "a serious error" occurred and added that Mundo's swearing in is "inevitable."

She said the House should receive him and later wait for the resolution of the judicial case against the elected representative, accused along with other New Progressive Party (NPP) leaders of a riot charge for the incident that occurred in June at the Women's Advocate Office.

Meanwhile, Batista Salas described the PDP's attitude in the House as foolish.

The NPP lawyer said it is the electors who voted for Mundo on Sunday "who are being affected" by the obstacles to him occupying his post.

"They are being violated of the constitutional and civil rights," he said while saying the House has no jurisdiction on Mundo because it is the court's job to judge him.

The PDP majority refused Friday to swear Mundo in on the grounds of the accusation against the new legislator.

The delegation agree to create a special commission to evaluate the situation, and a report recommending an action is expected to be filed on or before 20 days.

Meanwhile, Mundo and the House NPP delegation will go to court to order the swearing in.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner: Militarism Threatens Vieques Residents

October 5, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jody Williams, said Friday that the U.S. government’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is "inappropriate" as it puts its citizens at greater risk and criticized the possible military conflict against Iraq.

"The present administration of the U.S. government is responding in an inappropriate form to what happened Sept. 11," said Williams, who is visiting Puerto Rico.

The U.S. pacifist leader, who dedicated years to the fight for the elimination of landmines at a world level, said she does not support "government terrorism nor individual terrorism."

"I don’t think, as a U.S. citizen above all, that attacking Iraq, particularly of a unilateral form, pushing a war resolution that is clearly influenced by U.S. electoral politics, will make me a more protected citizen. I think it puts me in more danger," she said.

Williams told journalists in the Puerto Rican Legislature that U.S. intentions to declare war on Iraq does not affect her campaign to destroy landmines.

On the other hand, Williams, who is also ambassador of the International Campaign for the Prohibition of Landmines, compared the living situation of 9,400 U.S. citizens, residents of Vieques, with the residents of some 69 countries, where hundreds of landmines are still hidden.

Williams said in Vieques and other countries, the civil population lives threatened by militarism, even though their territories are not at war.

Williams visited the island Friday to offer a conference during the annual assembly of a professional organization.

The International Campaign for the Prohibition of Landmines was founded in 1992 and has the support of more than 1,000 non-government organizations in 60 countries.

En 1997, Williams was awarded the prestigious international prize after achieving 122 countries to sign the Ottawa Declaration, which establishes a prohibition of producing, exporting, and storing mines. The United States is one of several countries that has still not signed the agreement.

House PDP Majority Impedes Swearing In Of Edwin Mundo

October 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The majority of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) prevented Friday the swearing in of elected Rep. Edwin Mundo because he is accused of a crime in the courts.

House New Progressive Party (NPP) Minority Leader Anibal Vega Borges said he would go to court to order the swearing in of Mundo.

House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo said the refusal to swear Mundo in Friday is based on a resolution approved by the PDP majority to create a commission to evaluate the elected legislator’s case on whether he should be allowed to be sworn in.

Vega Borges asked Vizcarrondo to inform him of the House commission’s decision, and if the decision is negative, he will go to court.

Special Commission Chairman Charlie Hernandez said he expects the group to make a decision in less than 20 days.

Mundo told Vizcarrondo that the refusal to swear him in Friday prevents the people who voted for him Sunday from being represented in the House of Representatives.

Mundo was elected Sunday in an internal NPP primary to fill the post left vacant by Rep. Angel Cintron’s resignation.

The House PDP majority is examining whether the riot charge against Mundo for the incident at the Women’s Advocate Office will prevent him from occupying his post, even though he has not been tried yet.

Bush Gets Vieques Request

October 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Three U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to President Bush urging him to put in writing his verbal promise to stop using Vieques as a naval bombing range by May 2003. The letter was signed by Rep. Luis Guiterrez, D-Ill., and Rep. Jose Serrano and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, both D-N.Y. Anibal Acevedo-Vila, a nonvoting delegate to the House from Puerto Rico , also signed it.

Gov. Sila M. Calderon wrote a letter to Bush on Sept. 17 saying "the lack of written commitment has made it easier for rumors and doubts to propagate here." As the United States moves closer to a conflict with Iraq, Puerto Rican officials worry the Navy departure may be stalled.

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