|June 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Should Governor Calderón Stay at Home?
This week, Herald readers have a chance to decide how they feel about Governor Sila Calderóns tendency to prefer hotel suites to her desk at La Forteleza. Over the past year, she has traveled to Panama, the Dominican Republic and made numerous jaunts to the U.S. mainland, each with the announced purpose of advancing the best interests of Puerto Rico. As meritorious as the globetrotting might have been previously, it is a fair question to ask if now, as a Governor with a limited time remaining in office, she has credibility to represent the island either in foreign capitals or in Washington.
Moving fast to avoid a "lame duck" indictment, Gov. Sila Calderón racked up another 5000 miles on her frequent flyer card this week as she undertook a mainland schedule of activities.
It was to have been an opportunity to look in on her usual area of concern, her Congressional agenda both to resuscitate her failed effort to save tax credits for firms investing in Puerto Rico, and the more promising endeavor to gain benefit equity for Puerto Ricans in federal entitlement programs. Before it was over there was "trouble in paradise," as news broke that one of the thirteen offices within Puerto Ricos mainland empire, PRFAA (Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration), became embroiled in accusations of political manipulation by her administration.
In spite of that glitch, her press office reported "extremely positive meetings" regarding free trade issues with United States Trade Representative Ambassador Robert B. Zoellick, and Secretary of Commerce Don Evans. Ms. Calderón is anxious for Puerto Rico to have a pivotal role in U.S. negotiations to expand the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to other Latin American nations, including those in Central America and the Caribbean. But U.S. politicians also read the newspapers and know that the clock is ticking towards an end of the Puerto Rico Governors incumbency and it is unlikely that those talks produced much more than photo opportunities.
No other meetings in the nations capital were announced, but it would be surprising if Ms. Calderón did not find time to plead with members of the Bush team to soft peddle any move by the administration to help resolve Puerto Ricos vexing political status. The Governor seems desperate to leave office as "queen of the status quo."
After two days in rainy Washington, Ms. Calderón left Republican territory to visit Pennsylvanias Governor, Edward Rendell, a Democrat. There she continued her campaign to encourage the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland to vote in elections wherever they live. The campaign, billed "Let Nothing Stop Us" ("Que Nada Nos Detenga"), will end as she leaves office. Originally budgeted at $6 million dollars, she announced that she would be upping the ante to $12 million. Later, when howls were heard from budget strapped programs on the island, she reversed herself, saying through a press spokesman that the "the budget will remain the same."
The voter registration effort is controversial, not because registering Puerto Ricans to vote is offensive to anyone, but because it is being funded by the tax money of Puerto Ricans residing on the island who do not enjoy the privilege of voting in federal elections. Also she has been accused of leveraging these votes alternately between Republican and Democratic candidates in exchange for their support of her agenda. In many ways this tactic was responsible for the PRFAA flap in Florida.
The week before her arrival in Washington, Luis Pastrana resigned from his post as head of the Central Florida and Southern States Office based in Orlando. Pastrana accused the Calderón Administration of using PRFAA resources and personnel for partisan political uses and not for its intended mission of assisting Puerto Ricans living on the mainland. Then, a replacement candidate, Eddie Diaz, withdrew his name from consideration, charging that Calderón had vetted his name with Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Diaz, a failed candidate in 2000 for one of Floridas new Congressional seats had been a Republican but he ran as a Democrat. No doubt this bifocular political experience gave Diaz some notion as to what Republican Jeb Bush might say about him. In convoluted denial statements, both governors pleaded "innocent" through press spokespersons, but the "politicization" horse was out of the barn.
Then, with all of this controversy swirling about her, Governor Calderón got the news that her hand-picked Popular Democratic Party (PDP) replacement candidate for 2004, Jose Alberto Hernandez Mayoral, might not be able to run due to a health problem concerning his 12-year old son. Asked if she would be willing to reconsider her withdrawal from consideration for a second term, she confirmed her "lame duck" status. "My decision is final and firm," she is reported to have said.
This week, Herald readers are given the opportunity to advise Governor Sila Calderón as to whether she should continue to project Puerto Rico on the mainland and abroad or if she should use her remaining time in office to "tend to the knitting" of governing an island with severe economic and social problems and to work to heal her political party, now in disarray and projected to loose to either of the two announced New Progressive Party (NPP) candidates waiting for their chance to govern Puerto Ricos 4-million residents.