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Calderon Meets With Top Bush Administration Officials To Discuss Puerto Rico's Role In Caribbean & Latin American Trade…She Promises $12M Voter Registration Push, Rendell Joins Effort To Promote National Campaign

Governor Calderon Meets With Top Bush Administration Officials To Discuss Puerto Rico's Role In Caribbean And Latin American Trade

June 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003
PR Newswire. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON - In extremely positive meetings this week, Governor Sila M. Calderon of Puerto Rico met with Ambassador Zoellick, United States Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce, Don Evans, to discuss a number of issues concerning free trade. They also examined ways to expand opportunities for Puerto Rico businesses in global markets, particularly those in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

The Governor expressed her support for negotiating a Free Trade Agreement for the Americas and the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which was well received by both Administration officials. Ambassador Zoellick, Secretary Evans and Governor Calderon agreed to work together closely as the agreements are negotiated in the coming months.

As an island economy 1000 miles removed from the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico is almost completely dependent upon trade. Entering into trade agreements with other Caribbean and Latin American countries creates new opportunities for both Puerto Rico and the United States. This is particularly important since Puerto Rico was previously restricted by extremely high tariffs imposed by many of these countries.

"Puerto Rico is a unique Commonwealth that enjoys a special relationship with the United States defined by a variety of mutual benefits," said Governor Calderon. "A strong U.S. economy fueled by trade, translates into a thriving Puerto Rican economy, as well as increased opportunities for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico."

Puerto Rico purchases more than $16 billion of U.S. goods on an annual basis, which makes Puerto Rico the 4th largest consumer of U.S. goods on a per capita basis of any country in the world. And with more than $55 billion in total exports to, and imports from, the United States, Puerto Rico is the 8th largest trading partner of the United States.

Currently, products from beneficiary countries under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), such as the Dominican Republic and Panama, can enter the U.S. duty-free, while Puerto Rico and U.S. products are often subject to high rates of duty in the markets of our competitors in the region. The same is true for countries in South America, most of which enjoy preferential access to the U.S. under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). For this reason, Governor Calderon discussed her administration's support for the efforts of the Bush Administration to negotiate the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas and CAFTA.

"I have a particular interest in promoting fair and balanced trade agreements with our neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin America because I strongly believe it will help 'level the playing field' with other countries in this region," Governor Calderon said.

Although the U.S. market is extremely important to the Puerto Rico economy, Governor Calderon discussed her interest in expanding opportunities for Puerto Rico businesses in Global markets such as the Caribbean, Central American and South America. Recently the Governor met with the President of the Dominican Republic and the President of Panama, who both asked for Governor Calderon to assist them with the U.S. Government in their efforts to participate in, or join, the proposed CAFTA. In this role, Puerto Rico, which is part of the U.S., but which is situated in the heart of Latin America, can play a useful role to help achieve fair and just agreements with neighbors in these regions.

"I am here today to tell you that I would be honored, both out of respect for the United States and out of Puerto Rico's own economic interests, to serve as a bridge between the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean," Governor Calderon said.

Governor Calderon also expressed Puerto Rico's special concerns with respect to important rum, tuna and coffee sectors of its economy. Puerto Rico recently supported the exclusion of rum and canned tuna from the list of articles eligible for duty-free treatment under the renewed and expanded Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA). Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce

CONTACT: Ana Carrion of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, +1-202-955-8451, +1-202-277-9375; or Meredith Henry, +1-202-326-1715, +1-202-841-6430, for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

Governor Promises $12 Million Voter Registration Push

By Lara Jakes Jordan of Associated Press

June 17, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON - Gov. Sila Calderon doubled efforts Tuesday to get Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland to register and vote in the 2004 presidential election, promising a total of $12 million for a nationwide voter registration push.

Last year, the island earmarked $6 million to sign up at least 300,000 voters among mainland Puerto Ricans - one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States. Puerto Ricans living on the island have no vote in the presidential election, but those residing on the mainland can vote for president or any other office in states where they meet eligibility requirements.

Up to 83 percent of Puerto Ricans turn out for elections on the island, said Calderon, but that rate drops to below 40 percent for Puerto Ricans living on the mainland.

"In Puerto Rico, we participate very, very aggressively and actively in elections," Calderon said. "We cherish our democracy, and we practice our democracy. It is a pity that people who vote so eagerly and so enthusiastically at home, come here and they don't even register.

"It seems they do not feel connected to the political process. They don't feel the link between their vote and their conditions in life," Calderon said.

Calderon will join Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, in Philadelphia on Wednesday to push the voter registration drive. Since last July, more than 100,000 mainland Puerto Ricans have registered to vote, Calderon said.

The push focuses on states with large Puerto Rican populations, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and Massachusetts. It also reaches out to traditionally Hispanic-speaking areas in California, Florida, Texas and Chicago.

An estimated 3.4 million Puerto Ricans live on U.S. mainland.

In an interview Tuesday, Calderon said she believes the United States should make Election Day a holiday, as it is in Puerto Rico, to boost voter turnout. She described her homeland's Election Day as "holy," with all businesses closed for the day and alcohol consumption banned until after 10 p.m.

"This is the most powerful economy in the world," Calderon said. "It's the biggest democracy in the world, but people don't vote. It's incredible."

Voter turnout for the 2000 presidential elections was 51.3 percent nationwide, according to the Census.

While saying that "most ethnic groups are naturally inclined to the Democratic Party," Calderon said President George W. Bush, a Republican, stands a strong chance of winning over Puerto Ricans who applaud his decision to end U.S. Navy bombing practice on Vieques.

"This is very valuable for us. It means a lot to Puerto Rico," Calderon said. "It means that he is a man committed to justice."

Governors Calderon And Rendell Join Forces To Promote Nation's Largest And Most Successful Hispanic Voter Registration Campaign.

June 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003
PR Newswire. All rights reserved. 

PHILADELPHIA- Today Governors Sila M. Calderon of Puerto Rico and Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania rallied Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania to register to vote as part of a nationwide, non-partisan voter registration and education program targeting the 642,000 Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States who were not registered to vote as of July 2002. Pennsylvania is home to more than 228,557 Puerto Ricans - representing 60 percent of the state's Latino population. In less than one year, the campaign has registered 119,255 voters nationwide including 11,277 in Pennsylvania as of June 1 and voter participation increased by more than 35 percent in targeted precincts in the 2002 general election and 25 percent in the recent 2003 primary.

Governor Calderon through the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), is leading the educational effort to increase the number of Puerto Ricans registered to vote in the United States in order to empower Puerto Rican communities across the nation. By providing Puerto Ricans with comprehensive information and assistance, the campaign enables Puerto Rican voters to be heard and take action which will impact their own communities.

As Republicans and Democrats alike target the ever-growing Hispanic vote, Puerto Ricans have the opportunity to play a dramatic role in Pennsylvania politics. Residents will have the opportunity to decide a number of key, upcoming local races including Philadelphia's mayoral race in 2003, as well as all 19 Pennsylvania Congressional seats and one U.S. Senate seat in 2004.

"This campaign is about solidarity, pride and empowerment," Governor Calderon said. "We want to mobilize Puerto Ricans and raise awareness of their potential impact on elections in Pennsylvania, as well as issues that affect the Island."

Governor Rendell supports Governor Calderon's campaign to educate potential new voters. "Governor Calderon and I recognize that all citizens play an important role in the political process and should have the information and the opportunity to carry out their civic duty."

Governor Calderon also announced the results of the ambitious campaign. "Our efforts to register Puerto Ricans living on the mainland have been extremely successful." The Governor explains, "Over the past year, we have registered more than 100,000 unregistered voters. We are on target to have a big impact on the 2004 elections."

The campaign's success also can be seen in exit poll data made available following the 2002 elections. Polls shows a 70 percent increase in turnout among first-time Puerto Rican voters. In addition, 87 percent of 2002 Puerto Ricans surveyed said they were aware of the voter registration campaign and 54% said they were motivated to vote because the campaign drew a clear link between voting and benefiting their community and Puerto Rico. Since the campaign's launch in July 2002, major voter registration rally events have been held in New York, New Jersey, Florida and now Pennsylvania - all states with large Puerto Rican populations.

Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico also share strong economic ties. Puerto Rico exports $555 million worth of goods from Pennsylvania - creating more than 11,000 Pennsylvania jobs in 2001 according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report. Puerto Rico ranks among the top five per capita consumers of U.S. goods and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that approximately 274,000 U.S. jobs are attributable to Puerto Rico.

The campaign theme, "Que Nada Nos Detenga!" (Let Nothing Stop Us!), speaks directly to the Puerto Rican spirit of determination and hope for a better future, to encourage them to increase their participation in the democratic process, thereby positively impacting their communities both on the mainland United States and on the Island. Governor Calderon's campaign combines grass-roots community outreach efforts with an aggressive, multi-faceted communications campaign reaching Puerto Rican neighborhoods across the nation.

Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico vote at a significantly higher rate than any state on the mainland - over 80 percent - but when measuring the voting rate of Puerto Ricans living in the continental U.S., the voting rate decreases nearly 40 percent. The voter registration campaign is helping to address this significant disparity and encourage the 1.7 million able Puerto Rican voters in the mainland United States to become engaged in the civic process. By focusing on the entire Puerto Rican community nationwide, Governor Calderon's Administration hopes to arouse Puerto Rican interests and build political leverage from increased voter participation.

Mari Carmen Aponte, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration discussed the progress of the aggressive program. "Our regional offices have worked hard to reach out to unregistered Puerto Ricans here in Pennsylvania by forming partnerships with 100 small businesses and 20 community-based organizations such as the Latino Partnership, our lead partner in Philadelphia," she said.

"Many of these communities represent swing votes that could potentially decide elections across the nation. It is essential that we begin to recognize the value of this resource and utilize it to make a difference," Governor Calderon added. According to the 2000 census, the mainland Puerto Rican population has grown to 3.4 million, a 28.5 percent jump in the last ten years alone. In addition, Puerto Ricans now reside in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. "This is all about enfranchising our people to effect change throughout the nation," she said.

Puerto Rican communities are located in politically strategic areas and can become deciding votes in many states during future elections. In the 1992 Presidential election, 100 electoral votes were decided by a difference of less than two percent of the votes.

The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, which serves as the mainland offices of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, operates 13 regional community outreach offices in Boston, Camden, NJ, Chicago, Cleveland, Hartford, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Newark, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Springfield, Mass. and is headquartered in Washington, DC. Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration

CONTACT: Ana Carrion of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, +1-202-955-8451, or +1-202-277-9375; or Meredith Henry, +1-202-326-1715, or 202-841-6430, for Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration

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