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Calderon Becomes First Woman Governor Of Puerto Rico

January 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved.

Compiled From Wire Service Reports

San Juan, Jan 2 - In the presence of several dignitaries and Latin American presidents, Sila M. Calderon was sworn in as the first woman governor of Puerto Rico by Supreme Court head Jose Andreu Garcia at an inauguration ceremony in San Juan.

Attending Calderon's formal inaugural event were the presidents of Haiti, Rene Preval, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Panama, Mireya Moscoso, the Dominican Republic, Hipolito Mejias and others.

Also in attendance were: Nicaraguan Vice President Leoporto Navarro, Argentine Ambassador Guillermo Gonzalez and the Vatican representative based in the Dominican Republic.

Congress members Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), and Nydia Velazquez, (D-NY), were also present.

In her 20-minute speech before the crowd that blanketed the north side of the Capitol waving Puerto Rican flags, Calderon head of the anti- statehood Popular Democratic Party (PPD), extended her hand to the other nations in the hemisphere.

"Here the Hispanic and Caribbean races unite... we live, think and pray the same way," she said.

The governor praised Puerto Rico 's relations with the United States, noting that Puerto Ricans value their U.S. citizenship, but added: "we are, above all, Puerto Ricans."

With Rear Adm. Kevin Green, the U.S. Navy's top official on the island sitting among her guests, Calderon said the people of Puerto Rico want the immediate halt of military practices in Vieques and that she hoped President Bill Clinton would take action in that direction before concluding his tenure in office.

"We would like to think that his sensibility toward human rights and justice will prevail before his tenure is over," Calderon said.

Calderón's inauguration, three weeks before George W. Bush's as president, raised the possibility of an even more conflicted relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. government.

In an interview Monday, Calderón said she will hold true to pledges to oust the U.S. Navy from its prized bombing range on the outlying island of Vieques and to clarify the island's status with Washington.

In addition, Calderon said the status issue should be solved by Puerto Ricans because "it is our responsibility," while at the same time she lauded the benefits of the Commonwealth.

``Most people think the United States is not doing the right thing in maintaining the bombing of Vieques,'' said José Garriga Pico, a professor of political science at the University of Puerto Rico, adding that the vote for Calderón was a ``vote for rejecting the previous governor [Pedro Rosselló] and his policies on Vieques.''

But Pico said Calderón, like Rosselló, might not be able to give the people what they want.

``The Navy will stick to its guns,'' Pico predicted. ``She's going to have a hard time trying to get the Navy out of Vieques.''

Pico also believes Calderón will have scant luck in her push for greater autonomy for the U.S. commonwealth. As the standard bearer of the Popular Democratic Party, Pico said, she is unlikely to have the ear of President-elect Bush on either Vieques or status.

``She has no hope because Republicans in Puerto Rico will dominate the conversation with Bush,'' he said. ``She's simply going to be preaching in the desert.''

One of the event's highlights included the interpretation of the national anthems by Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano. The blind artist reprised his bluesy rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, which caused much controversy in the 1960s when he first performed it.

Pro-independence leaders Julio Muriente and Hector Pesquera were also present.

The only elected New Progressive Party (NPP) senator who stayed for the ceremony was NPP Interim President Norma Burgos.

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