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Foes Call Governor A Roach -- Campaign Season Must Be Here

Iván Román

March 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The few dozen protesters in front of the Capitol shook their hips to the catchy, Christmastime hit flowing from the loudspeakers. To not so subtly make their point, some held up posters saying it was time to "fumigate" the Governor's Mansion.

Kill the roach

That bit up your shirt

If you don't kill her, squash her

If you don't, she'll jump on you

And so the 2004 gubernatorial campaign begins.

It may seem disrespectful to indirectly call Gov. Sila Calderón a roach -- and they were doing it while she addressed the Legislature in her State of the Commonwealth message this month.

But images of insects or animals have long been intertwined with the music, jokes, accusations, sarcasm and gossip used to get people to the polls.

It's that colorful affection that is the essence of our political culture. In the marathon between now and November 2004, you need something with staying power.

Government agencies or the government itself have been called the "golden cow" or the "spider government" that "ruins everything."

Former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló's nickname has been "The Horse" for 25 years, and his arch rival and former Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón has been called "The Rooster" even longer than that.

But given that this year's image is a roach, it's clear that this will be a hard, loud and vicious campaign, even by Puerto Rico standards.

The embattled opposition New Progressive Party seemed stuck in the political doldrums, still smarting from losing power in 2000 under the shadow of massive corruption in former Gov. Pedro Rosselló's administration even though he wasn't on the ballot.

Ironically, Rosselló's announcement that he is running again for governor snapped the NPP out of its lethargy.

Current NPP President Carlos Pesquera, who was Rosselló's transportation and public-works secretary, is roaming the island in caravans urging people to flock to the party's pro-U.S. citizenship rally this weekend.

Besides measuring his strength in a wave of U.S. flags, Pesquera wants to drive home the point that he -- not his former boss -- can get the support of the crucial swing voters because he doesn't carry the "baggage" of the past.

But not to worry.

Calderón and the governing Popular Democratic Party are helping him out for now. They haven't forgotten the NPP's sarcastic "Look How Beautiful!" campaign, putting a statement by Calderón out of context to portray her as a self-indulgent, self-absorbed elitist.

On the other side of the Capitol that day, PDP loyalists carried bumper stickers with a hazy photo of Rosselló's eyes and part of his face with the slogan, "Look How Ugly!"

"Corruption is a crime," Calderón told a packed legislative chamber, mincing no words to the NPP opposition. "Those who steal from the people are criminals, and those who let that happen, also. And punishing them is not political persecution."

Rosselló certainly is going to try to make the "persecution" case once he wins the primary and the campaign becomes a rehash of all the corruption scandals he said he knew nothing of during his eight years as governor.

Even his executive assistant and two former deputy chiefs of staff are behind bars, and once he hits the campaign trail, the U.S. attorney is slated to roll out more indictments of people close to him.

But let's leave that for later, shall we? Right now, people are talking more about Calderón's "date" with her former economic development secretary, Ramón Cantero Frau. He resigned from her Cabinet in December, and she gave him another high-profile job about the time his divorce became final. She divorced while in office in 2001.

The high-powered pair was seen entering the Santurce's Metro Theater to see Chicago last weekend. Through her press secretary, Calderón said there is no "official or formal" personal relationship between the two and insists he is just a "friend and collaborator."

Most politicians on all sides have said her personal life is off-limits. But some privately hint that because he was part of her Cabinet and head of her transition team, that relationship may merit closer scrutiny.

So don't be surprised if popcorn and a movie becomes a campaign issue in these tough 20 months ahead.

Now all they have to do is find a roach in the theater and start shaking those hips.

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