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by Robert Becker

March 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

As Gov. Sila Calderón jetted out of Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, she had to be exhaling a sigh of relief.

Calderón had salvaged some modest gains from a two-pronged lobbying trip that had, at the beginning, looked disastrous. Before she left on her seven-day, New York-Washington trip on Feb. 22, Calderón said she wanted to raise the Vieques issue with President Bush and discuss her tax credit proposals with some congressional leaders.

In a one-hour meeting Tuesday, Feb. 27, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised Calderón he would consider her request that he halt Navy exercises on Vieques scheduled to start March 9. Calderón asked Rumsfeld to wait for the results of a federal review of a local study purportedly showing Vieques residents to be suffering heart damage from sonic booms caused by Navy shelling. Thursday afternoon, Rumsfeld, citing the health concerns and a desire to continue a dialogue, announced the Navy would conduct its March exercises without Vieques.

Calderón also met Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla. For Calderón, getting meetings with Lott and Nickles was an achievement, never mind the lack of immediate results. The next day, she met with White House chief of staff Andy Card and an aide, Joshua Bolton, and had Capitol Hill meetings with Democratic congressmen Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Charles Rangel of New York.

In New York on the 22nd, Calderón gave a fiery speech to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, in which she reminded her listeners that “Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but above all, we are Puerto Ricans, and we will die Puerto Ricans.” She also promised to end “ the persecution of the press in Puerto Rico,” a dig at the Rossello administration’ s cancellation of advertising in El Nuevo Dia, an unabashed Calderón cheerleader. Prior to her crowd-pleasing declarations to her audience of journalists, however, Calderón had instructed aides not to disclose to reporters where she would be staying in Washington.

On landing in Washington the next day, Calderón encountered a series of embarrassing gaffes and holes in her schedule that seemed to throw her entire trip in doubt.

Calderón's office had announced in advance that the governor would meet that Friday with Tommy Thompson, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. It turned out that Thompson did not have Calderón on his schedule that day, nor did any member of Congress have meetings with her, as they all were out of town for a short weekend recess. The governor spent the day meeting privately with staff. Aides refused to say where.

Calderón rebounded with a 12-minute meeting Saturday with Thompson, arranged around his appearance at the National Governor’s Association meeting, which Calderón also attended. Thompson said he was unaware of his Department’s review of the Vieques study. Calderón, in another misstep, had wanted the association to vote on an anti-Navy resolution sponsored by her, but she failed to meet the 30-day advance notice for consideration of resolutions.

Calderón spent her weekend at association meetings, emerging Sunday evening for a dinner in which Card was the speaker. Monday morning, Calderón attended an association brunch in which Bush was the invited guest. In the few moments of a face-to-face meeting with Bush, Calderón said nothing about Vieques, but did get in a few words about Puerto Rico’s need for economic assistance. She later explained that the timing was wrong to bring up the touchy subject

Tuesday was her scheduled day of departure, but Calderón extended her visit, and salvaged it with her meetings with Rumsfeld, Lott and Nickles. The Rumsfeld meeting bore fruit, with Thursday’s announcement the Navy would not use Vieques for bombing and shelling in its March exercises. Calderón reciprocated by promising she wouldn’t pass environmental regulations to stop the Navy shelling.

As for her meetings with congressional leaders over her economic development proposals, Calderón would only say she discussed her plans with them in general terms. Acknowledging her prospects were slim, Calderón said she still was not ready to disclose publicly those plans. An aide to Rangel let the cat out of the bag. Tax expert Jon Sheiner said Calderón wants to replace sections 936 and 30A of the Internal Revenue Code with a provision to allow Controlled Foreign Corporations to return profits made in Puerto Rico to the United States at a low rate of taxation.

Robert Becker, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at:

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