Calderon Gets A "Gentleman’s C"

by John Marino

May 3, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. JOHN MARINOLast year at this time, Puerto Rico appeared to be living an endless fiesta.

Denise Quiñones was crowned the most beautiful woman in the universe, boxer Felix "Tito" Trinidad still had bragging rights as the best "pound for pound" boxer in the world and celebrities and politicians from the U.S. mainland were visiting the island in droves to show support for the cause to end military manuveurs on Vieques.

The good times peaked during a May weekend when both Denise and Tito won their respective crowns, and Gov. Calderón declared a national holiday to celebrate.

But Denise will give up her crown this month, Tito lost his championship to a boxer who wiped the floor with a Puerto Rican flag and the Vieques quagmire continues.

Today, Puerto Ricans are disillusioned with their political leaders in general, sickened by the public corruption which has made front page headlines from San Juan to New York and skeptical that their government can bring an improvement in their lives, according to a poll this week.

The poll was conducted between April 3 and April 15 by Kaagan Research Associates, Inc. for El Nuevo Día newspaper. Pollsters say there is a 3 percent margin of error.

Although Gov. Calderón has taken the brunt of the discontent expressed by poll respondents, there is enough bad news for all three political parties.

About 66 percent of respondents believe that public corruption has worsened over the last few years.

The greatest majority of poll respondents -- 36 percent -- said the New Progressive Party is the most corrupt party, but 35 percent said that all parties were the most corrupt and another 19 percent said that both the NPP and the Popular Democratic Party were the most corrupt.

While Calderón got decent grades in her battle on corruption -- 19 percent gave her an "A" and 26 percent a "B" -- the number of respondents believing it is impossible to fight rampant corruption jumped to 30 percent this month from 22 percent two years ago. And most respondents graded the governor average or worse.

The refusal of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló to speak about the corruption cases against former members of his administration was also criticized by poll respondents, with 76 percent calling his posture "unacceptable."

But what's clear from the polls is that the Calderón administration's fight against corruption, which has become its focal point, is not enough to win voter support, according to the polls.

Overall, respondents ranked Calderón's management of the government as mediocre at best, with only 12 percent giving her an "A" and 23 percent a "B."

Most respondents -- 28 percent -- gave her a "C," while 4 percent gave her a "D" and 19 percent gave the governor a grade of "F."

Her greatest achievement, according to 39 percent of respondents, is her fight against corruption, but 21 percent said she has not achieved any major goal and 12 percent said her greatest feat was becoming the first woman to serve as Puerto Rico governor.

On important issues like the fight against drugs and improving education, only a measly 4 percent and 3 percent of respondents said that Calderón has achieved her greatest accomplishments.

Contrast that to Rosselló's first term in office, when 43 percent said his fight against crime was his biggest achievement while 12 percent said it was his health reform program.

Despite the poor reviews, Calderón would still beat former foe NPP Carlos Pesquera by a 35 percent to 30 percent margin if the election were held today, according to the poll.

But the NPP's second-in-command, San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini would edge out the governor by a 36 percent to 33 percent margin.

Reacting to the poll, Calderón said she would still seek reelection in 2004 but admitted that her administration was not where she wanted it to be and said there would be changes.

Part of the problem, she said, was an ineffectual communication of her administration's achievements. Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado called the perception by poll respondents erroneous because "because government officials are killing themselves working."

He also said "we are working harder than we are communicating. The government has diminished to a minimum spending on publicity."

But Pesquera said the poll shows the "lack of ideas, of projects and of direction of this government."

Despite the spin given by Calderón administration officials, the poll no doubt is a wake-up call. Working hard is not enough if results are not achieved. And the role that outside events -- like an economic downturn in the United States and the Sept 11 terrorist attacks -- may have had on administration plans will also not be considered by voters.

Interestingly, Calderón's first months in office were consumed by her fight to end Navy training in Vieques, but despite her efforts, nothing was achieved except a restatement of the pledge to end maneuvers by May 2003.

The major lobbying to win backing for the Section 956 amendment to help Puerto Rican industry has also come to naught in Washington, D.C., despite the governor's optimism that a new tax lure would be enacted by summer.

Interestingly, the major disillusionment expressed by poll respondents was over Vieques, with 19 percent saying the governor handled the situation badly.

Another 10 percent cited unfulfilled pledges -- such as winning a new federal tax lure -- as their biggest disappointment.

There is some evidence that Calderón is already listening to the polls. On Wednesday, her Cabinet announced a deal with lawmakers to lower proposed "sin taxes" on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes and to come up with alternatives to balance next year's budget shortfall.

This is after heavy criticism by industry about the loss of jobs the new taxes would allegedly cause.

Now if she can reinstate a scheduled tax reduction and eliminate the so-called marriage penalty tax before leaving office, voters might have an improved image of her administration.

But the clock is ticking, and voters are clearly expecting the administration to deliver more.

John Marino, City Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback