Posts Tagged ‘Luis Fortuno’

Puerto Rico status should be clearly decided

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

MCT News Service
October 29, 2009
Puerto Ricans need to be allowed to vote on changing their political status. The status quo is untenable.

With little fanfare, a bill is circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives that proposes an election that may ultimately decide the fate of Puerto Rico. The bill is needed now more than ever, for the island is gripped in a fiscal and political crisis that can no longer be ignored.

Puerto Rico has been an incorporated territory of the United States since 1898, and its residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917. Although the United Nations and much of the world have recognized it as a colony, Puerto Rico’s status as a “free associated state” has resulted in a stagnant economy and mounting political unrest.

It’s been a rough month for Puerto Rico.

First, in an attempt to rectify a financial crisis, the island’s governor, Luis Fortuno, announced the layoff of 17,000 government employees, which was met with massive, angry protest. A few days later, an unemployed worker threw an egg at Fortuno during a news conference, and one of the island’s biggest rap stars insulted the governor on an MTV awards show.

Then, the island’s largest labor unions led a general strike that paralyzed the capital city of San Juan.

Two weeks ago, drug violence took the lives of eight people in a shopping mall. Puerto Rico is suffering under a wave of drug crimes, as efforts to crack down on the illicit trade along the southern border of the United States have had the effect of rerouting it through the Caribbean.

This week, the island is recovering from a massive gas explosion that has cost $6.4 million to put out and may result in long-lasting environmental damage.

The chaos in Puerto Rico is largely a function of its peculiar status.

Since becoming a territory of the United States, Puerto Ricans have wrestled with three political options: “commonwealth” (status quo), statehood, and independence. But this struggle seems to have no endgame, and the people of this island nation are the losers.

By remaining a commonwealth, Puerto Rico has failed to acquire sufficient political power and has become subservient to U.S. economic interests.

Puerto Rico needs to move to a place where its economy can develop autonomously and not just as a subsidiary of U.S. and multinational corporations. It needs to set clear priorities on how to do this, and to finally decide among three options: statehood, a more autonomous version of commonwealth, or independence.

Since by law, Congress ultimately has the last word on the fate of the island, it should pass a plebiscite bill sooner than later. The time for serious discussion about viable alternatives is now. Puerto Rico’s current political system no longer allows for true self-determination, which is the right of every American citizen.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Ed Morales is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail: pmproj@progressive.org; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP’s funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.

This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to MCT subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

(c) 2009, Ed Morales

FBI: No sabotage in Puerto Rico tank explosion

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

By DANICA COTO (AP) – 1 day ago
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The FBI said Friday there is no evidence of sabotage in last week’s explosion at a Puerto Rico fuel depot, which burned for more than two days and forced the evacuation of hundreds of people. Gasoline vapors from an overflowing fuel tank caused the blast at the Caribbean Petroleum Corp. facility near the U.S. territory’s capital, San Juan, according to Luis Fraticelli, the FBI special agent in charge for the island. He said more than 240 investigators analyzed the explosion and did not find evidence it was intentional. But Fraticelli said authorities are still investigating whether negligence was involved. “Since this is a federal investigation, the word ‘accident’ will not be used,” Fraticelli said at a news conference.

The explosion shortly after midnight on Oct. 23 shattered windows and sent tremors across San Juan. The fire destroyed 21 of the depot’s 40 fuel storage tanks and sent up a plume of thick, toxic smoke. More than 1,500 people were evacuated out of fears of contamination, but there were no deaths. Immediately before the blast, a tanker ship had released nearly 28,000 gallons (106,000 liters) of fuel into the tanks, and an undetermined amount spilled into a drainage ditch that is capable of handling a 10 percent overflow, said ATF spokesman Marcial Orlando Felix.

The fuel released a large amount of vapor, and one of three items could have caused the spark, although Felix declined to name them because officials have not pinpointed the source. Federal and local agents questioned more than 100 people, including company employees, and investigated leads including graffiti found after the blast in a highway tunnel in the capital with the message: “Boom, fire, RIP, Gulf.”

Agents also are investigating what security systems were in place to prevent such an explosion and why apparently no alarms were activated, Felix said. The explosion damaged more than 200 homes, and crews have installed new doors and windows and repaired walls, Gov. Luis Fortuno said. Twelve homes required more extensive repairs, and six will be partially or completely torn down. President Barack Obama had designated Puerto Rico an emergency zone and ordered federal aid to supplement local efforts.

Caribbean Petroleum spokeswoman Frances Rios said the company is cooperating with authorities, and crews have built dikes and contained toxic material to prevent further contamination of water sources.
Caribbean Petroleum supplies 200 Gulf gas stations in Puerto Rico.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Puerto Rico cancels Calle 13 concert after insult

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Calle_13.jpeg
Rene Perez, right, and Eduardo Cabra of Calle 13, arrive at the “Los Premios MTV 2009″ on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009, at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

(AP) – 3 hours ago
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rican officials said Saturday they have canceled a concert featuring Grammy-winning band Calle 13 after the group’s lead singer insulted the governor and other Latin American politicians during an MTV awards show.

San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini said he was calling off the Halloween concert only because no contract had been signed for use of the city’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum — not because of the comments by singer Rene Perez, known as “Residente.”

But his announcement indicated the city did not want the concert, saying, “We are not interested in reaching the contract now or in the future.” The city allowed a similar concert by the same promoter last year.

“Mister Perez, of Calle 13, will not be bothered by the decision … because I don’t think he is interested in benefiting economically from an event that was going to be held in a facility administered by government personnel for whom he has no respect,” Santini said.
During Thursday’s MTV show, Perez used an offensive phrase referring to the mother of Gov. Luis Fortuno as he denounced the state’s layoff of 17,000 workers.

Perez also wore a black T-shirt with a message that appeared to criticize Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for a deal to allow U.S. bases in his country — and which could be read to suggest he has paramilitary links.

The Colombian government issued a statement saying it was “indignant” about the “slanderous” message. Fortuno made his first public comment about the incident while attending a political event Saturday.

“This individual disrespected all Puerto Rican women, all Puerto Rican mothers and the people of Puerto Rico in general,” Fortuno told reporters. “That is what I can tell you.”
Representatives of Calle 13 and production company Arco Publicidad did not immediately respond to requests for comment. City officials declined to elaborate on details of the concert contract.

Calle 13 won a Grammy for best Latin urban album last year and it has won several Latin Grammy awards.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Puerto Rico strikers shut down center of San Juan

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

* Stoppage called to protest large public sector layoffs
* Strike closes government offices, businesses, schools
* Governor appeals for calm, defends layoffs (Updates with protest
details, governor’s comments)
by Matthew Goldstein
Reuters (Oct 15, 2009)

SAN JUAN, Oct 15 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Puerto Rican public workers protesting layoffs shut down the center of the capital San Juan on Thursday in a one-day strike that closed many government offices, businesses and schools.

Labor unions in the U.S. Caribbean island territory called the 24-hour stoppage to protest the firing of thousands of workers by the government, which is trying to shrink a $3.2 billion budget deficit.

While Governor Luis Fortuno insisted the layoffs were essential to cut government spending and bolster the island’s credit rating, around 50,000 protesters packed Roosevelt Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the central Hato Rey financial district in San Juan, witnesses said.

Most government offices and schools, and many businesses remained closed on Thursday during the strike protest, which was also backed by religious and student organizations.

“The street will be our battleground. There will only be peace when those that govern respect the will of the people,” said Methodist Minister Juan Vera, who addressed the protesters along with labor leaders and other personalities.

Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate was 15.8 percent in August, higher than any U.S. state.

The island, which has a population of nearly 4 million and is a manufacturing hub for petrochemical, pharmaceutical and technology companies, as well as a major tourism destination, has been in recession for more than three years.

Fortuno, who last month announced the firing of 17,000 public workers, appealed for calm but defended the government’s strategy. Heavily indebted Puerto Rico is a leading issuer of tax-free bonds in the United States.

“I will not allow our credit ratings to suffer any further because of the effects it would have on the population,” Fortuno told Reuters in an interview. “It is just unthinkable …. We would be impaired from providing basic services.”

The government is hoping to avoid a downgrade of Puerto Rico’s bond rating to junk, or non-investment, grade.

Bond rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rate Puerto Rico a notch above junk level and Fortuno says any downgrade would lead to even more job cuts.

San Juan’s international airport, as well as the port area, operated normally on Thursday. Buses stopped running but many taxi cabs and the light rail system ran as normal.

Plaza Las Americas, the Caribbean’s largest mall located in the Hato Rey district, shut its doors.

Fortuno says the public sector layoffs are necessary to cut government spending by $2 billion annually. He told Reuters the government had already achieved savings of $1.2 billion and was on track to reach the $2 billion target.

Puerto Rico’s economy shrank a record 5.5 percent in the 2009 fiscal year that ended June 30. The Puerto Rico Planning Board said the decline showed the economy had touched bottom and predicted 0.7 percent growth in fiscal 2010.

(Additional reporting by Michael Connor in Miami; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Jim Loney)

Puerto Rico eyes statehood status

Monday, May 5th, 2008

By Brian DeBose

Washington Times (April 26, 2008)

The status of Puerto Rico — commonwealth, U.S. state or independent — could be settled soon by the island’s populace if Congress will allow it.

Earlier this week, a bill to allow Puerto Rico residents to hold an official vote on whether to become a U.S. state or continue commonwealth status, passed a congressional committee for the first time, and the head of Puerto Rico’s governing party says the time has never been more ripe for the Caribbean island to become the 51st state.

The New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico, which is pro-statehood, has been trying to get Congress to sanction a vote for more than two years and says it thinks a bill can be passed this year. Previous referendums on the island’s status have been held by its government without U.S. authorization.
“In the past, we’ve never had a federally sanctioned vote, which caused turnout to drop to about 70 percent, and we feel we can reach our average of 83 percent participation if we have Congress’ support,” said Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth D. McClintock, a party member.

Mr. McClintock’s party is at the height of its political power, controlling both Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives and Senate, and 42 of the island’s 78 mayoral posts. Party Chairman Luis Fortuno is the territory’s nonvoting delegate to Congress. In addition to that, their chief rival and leader of the opposing party, Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila has been indicted on 19 count of campaign-finance violations and mail fraud, negating his ability to effectively advocate against the bill.

Rep. Jose E. Serrano, New York Democrat, introduced the Puerto Rico Democracy Act in 2006, along with with Mr. Fortuno, but the bill had been languishing in committee until this week. “I am very pleased that the process is finally moving forward to allow Puerto Ricans the ability to decide once and for all whether they would like to be a state or an independent nation,” Mr. Serrano said.

Mr. McClintock wants a congressional floor vote by summer in order for his party to reach its goal of a referendum on the territory’s status before the end of next year. “We are very excited now, because my trip here was to advocate for the bill to come out of committee, and an hour before I arrived Tuesday, it was moved, and we are now calling for Congress to hold a vote on the floor,” he said. Mr. McClintock is also involved in the Democratic presidential race as co-chairman of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s National Hispanic Leadership Council.

He said it should be no surprise that recent polls of Puerto Rico voters show her getting 50 percent to Mr. Obama’s 37 percent in advance of the island’s June 1 Democratic primary, in which 63 delegates are up for grabs. While both Mrs. Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama have significant Puerto Rican populations in their states, her policy record is far more robust in terms of issues specific to Puerto Rico.

“In six years, she has either sponsored or worked to get passed a number of bills, including the domestic-manufacturing tax cut, and working to expand the child care tax credit so that any Puerto Rican with a child is eligible,” he said. Currently, Puerto Ricans must have three or more children to receive a child tax credit. He also said Mrs. Clinton has visited the island many times, most notably after Hurricane Georges to make sure the island received Federal Emergency Management Agency funding. Mr. Obama’s only recent trip has been a fundraiser, in which he met with Mr. Acevedo Vila, but not with Mr. McClintock.

“Senator Obama has not sponsored or co-sponsored any legislation related to Puerto Rico,” Mr. McClintock said. “I have had two private meetings and one political meeting with her, and none with him.”