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PUERTO RICO REPORT
Vieques Failure Produces A More Pragmatic Sila
by Robert Becker
September 7, 2001
Realpolitik has a way of catching up with everyone. It surely has with Gov. Calderóns Vieques policy, now largely in tatters and a far cry from its chest-thumping militancy of eight months ago.
Calderón won the 2000 gubernatorial election on a platform whose principal plank was the immediate eviction of the Navy from Vieques. The voters of Puerto Rico believed her.
Over the past eight months, Calderón has failed to persuade the Congress and the White House to act as she wishes. Moreover, she has also failed in her legal strategy of using a clearly discriminatory noise law to stop Navy exercises on Vieques.
Calderóns Vieques policy failures, however, have introduced a new, more pragmatic tone to her administration. The new pragmatism is especially evident in her administrations downplaying of Vieques and a shift in focus to Puerto Ricos troubled economy.
Candidate Calderón harshly criticized the Vieques compromise crafted by former president Bill Clinton and former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, both Democrats. Calderón attacked from the left, saying the deal didnt go far enough against the Navy.
Now, Gov. Calderón, dealt a succession of wake-up calls by Congress and the Bush administration, has embraced the position of President Bush as a pragmatic fall-back stance. Bush has ordered the departure of the Navy from Vieques by 2003, with the continuation of training until then. His order makes moot the scheduled November referendum by Vieques residents on the Navys future, which was also part of the Clinton-Rosselló deal.
On Tuesday, Calderón told a San Juan newspaper that her short-term Vieques strategy now is to head off any congressional efforts to cancel the November referendum -- a deal she until recently denounced.
Calderóns Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C., Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, has also acknowledged the prevailing political realities of continued Vieques training.
"You have to deal with what language the (congressional) majority will approve" he told a reporter. "its not possible to get immediate cessation (of the bombing) approved."
Calderón is visibly easing up the pressure from her government on the continuing Navy maneuvers on Vieques. Her fading militancy is provoking a reaction from her left, where independence supporters and anti-Navy mavericks such as Sen. Norma Burgos have decried her inactivity in the anti-Navy campaign.
That does not bode well for Calderóns reelection prospects in 2004, as her victory last November was fueled by voters from outside her own Popular Democratic Party who liked her Vieques tough talk.
But in the past month or so, talk about Vieques has almost disappeared from Calderóns agenda, and most of her time has been spent talking about Puerto Ricos economy.
She has made appearance after appearance before business groups touting her economic plans and boosting Puerto Rico as a good place to do business.
The new, pragmatic Gov. Calderón told the Legislature in an Aug. 23 speech that jobs and investments are her main objective. "There can be no other agenda nor any other struggles," she said, pointedly avoiding the mention of Vieques.
In that same speech, Calderón unveiled the broad outlines of her economic development plans for Puerto Rico. They included proposals to revitalize the islands 78 urban centers, based on a package of tax and salary incentives, and, as a way of stimulating small businesses, the parceling out of government construction contracts to smaller contractors.
Calderóns package also included tax incentives for manufacturers, and tax incentives to attract cutting edge industries to Puerto Rico.
Her plan also includes some $1.2 billion in infrastructure projects to be bid out over the next four months. Calderón raised eyebrows with her declaration during her speech that her proposals will make Puerto Rico as globally competitive as Malaysia and Singapore.
For Calderóns many critics in Puerto Rico, her new found pragmatism is too little too late.
She has ruined any chances of getting federal tax incentives through her intransigence on Vieques, and the shrinking federal budget surplus will likely administer the coup de grace to that idea. Moreover, her local incentives will do little to attract new investment from outside Puerto Rico, as -- Calderóns declarations of competing with Malaysia and Singapore notwithstanding -- the islands high utility costs, unwieldy labor laws and bloated government bureaucracy cancel out any advantages Calderóns team otherwise can muster.
Calderóns short term prospects are not encouraging. To move Puerto Rico forward, shes going to have to find one -- if not several -- rabbits to pull out of her hat.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org