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Puerto Rico Strike Ends

July 9, 1998

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Police arrested five people who were planting homemade bombs today at the headquarters of the Puerto Rico Telephone Co. _ the company whose sale prompted the biggest protest in the U.S. territory’s history.

Three adults and two 15-year-olds were found at dawn with bombs made of acid, metal, keys and shards of glass at the company’s suburban Guaynabo offices, Col. Adalberto Mercado said.

Police at the scene became suspicious after one of the saboteurs threw a bomb that exploded in an abandoned house, apparently to test it, he said.

The police, who suspect a clandestine pro-independence guerrilla group in previous bomb plantings, identified the three adults arrested as Alex Noel Ramos Vazquez, 21, Heriberto Olivera Vargas, 21, and Luis A. Morales Andaluz, 20.

The incident came hours after union leaders ended a 48-hour general strike that began Tuesday with a dramatic blockade of the main airport, a bomb and the strafing of a bank. The strike fizzled Wednesday to picket line scuffles with police and an ax attack on a telephone pole.

Union leaders said the strike united Puerto Ricans like few other issues in a century of U.S. rule. However, it ended Wednesday night with pro-independence rallies _ a stance a recent poll showed is supported by fewer than 8 percent of Puerto Ricans.

A Newspaper Guild official recited a poem urging islanders ``to resist those from abroad,″ at the biggest rally in San Juan. Lolita Lebron, the unrepentant militant who led a 1954 armed attack on the U.S. House of Representatives, wounding five lawmakers, also delivered a speech.

Labor leaders today were to discuss ending the three-week-old walkout by the telephone company’s 6,400 workers, which inspired the massive strike.

They are considering a change of tactics, including periodic one-day walkouts, said Annie Cruz, leader of the Independent Brotherhood of Telephone Employees.

``We won’t go (back to work). Not after what happened here,″ said Aida L. Rivera Marrero, a union delegate in an office park where riot police clubbed protesters three weeks ago.

The strikers failed to budge Gov. Pedro Rossello, whom they want to hold a referendum on the $1.9 billion sale of Puerto Rico Telephone Co. to a consortium led by GTE Corp. of Stamford, Conn.

Rossello said the only referendum would be one on the status of the island; the U.S. House of Representatives has already approved such a referendum and the Senate is discussing the matter.

Union leaders accuse the governor of ``selling the national patrimony″ in his campaign to make the island the 51st state of the union. Statehood supporters say the strike is aimed at presenting Puerto Rico as unstable and dissuading foreign investment in Rossello’s ambitious privatization plans.

GTE intends to go ahead with the acquisition, spokeswoman Sharon Cohen-Hagar said Wednesday.

Rossello says state companies cannot compete in a newly deregulated world. The telephone company slashed rates last year, but a call to California still costs about a third of the 34 cents a minute it costs to call across Puerto Rico.

Union leaders said 200,000 government employees stayed away from work, along with another 300,000 islanders. But the government said that 80 percent of its 300,000 employees worked through the strike.