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August 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

No Seat At The International Table For Governor Calderon

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Colin Powell rebuked Governor Sila Calderon by dispatching an "action message" to U.S. ambassadors, instructing them to advise governments not to bestow upon her or her representatives head-of-state status. It was not the first time that her administration has been "taken to the woodshed" by Washington for dabbling in international matters that bear on the foreign policy prerogatives of the United States government. Last November, the Governor was spanked by the State Department for attempting to be seated at the table as an equal with Latin American heads of state at the 12th Ibero-American Summit of Heads of States and Governments held in the Dominican Republic.

That escapade became the subject of a Hot Button Issue poll that asked Herald readers if they agreed with the Governor’s forays into the international arena, representing herself as the chief executive of a sovereign state (Puerto Rico Herald Volume 6 #47). By margins of nearly 3 to 1 on both the island and mainland, respondents opined that she should stay at home and let the diplomats from "Foggy Bottom" negotiate and sign treaties for the United States.

At that time, State Department officials were infuriated that Calderon had secretly attempted to lobby Dominican officials to meet her at the airport with head-of-state protocol and to seat her at the table as a delegate representing the "nation" of Puerto Rico. Hearing of the plans just before the Governor’s take-off from San Juan, the Department made clear to the Dominican government that it would be highly displeased if the political leader of a U.S. territory were accorded the same courtesy as would be tendered to the President of the United States, should he be visiting the country.

The Dominicans "got the message." Ms. Calderon touched down in Santo Domingo as an "honored guest," not a delegate, and spent most of the weekend fuming in her hotel room. After her return home, Department of State spokesman Robert Zimmerman told the Herald that the U.S. Government made it clear to Forteleza officials that it would repudiate any attempt by Governor Calderon to speak for the United States or assume any role that implied that Puerto Rico was a sovereign entity. Among the pictures that Sila Calderon will NOT be taking off her wall when she leaves the Governor’s office in 2004 is one with her in the company of Latin American Presidents.

Even though Gov. Calderon has had no luck convincing U.S. officials that she should be granted head-of-state status, she should be given credit for persistence. In the past, she has sought membership for Puerto Rico in the Association of Caribbean States, the International Labor Organization and the World Food and Agricultural Organization. In attempts to stay ahead of the globetrotting Governor, the State Department has also needed to remind the governments of Panama, Chile, and most recently Bolivia, that the U.S. Government’s official representative in those countries is the U.S. ambassador and not the Governor of one of its territories.

Foiled in Santo Domingo last November, the Calderon administration had been secretly requesting Nicaragua and other nations to support her effort to win full membership at the 13th convocation of the Ibero-American Summit scheduled for next November in Bolivia. Secretary of State Powell’s recent cautionary message to ambassadors was an attempt to raise the stakes in the poker game that Calderon has been playing with federal officials about Puerto Rico’s level of participation at international political meetings.

Aware that such high level communications from the State Department are vetted with the National Security Council (read White House), Gov. Calderon tried to make the best of the situation after the Powell letter was made public by banner headlines in island newspapers. Expressing doubt at the letter’s existence, she said that "the relationship of my administration with the Bush administration is good and my personal relationship with President George W. Bush is excellent."

Independence Party (PIP) leaders grumbled that the letter was "humiliating" to Puerto Rico and proof of its "colonial status." New Progressive Party (NPP) politicians lambasted Gov. Calderon and her Secretary of State, Ferdinand Mercado, who has "fronted" most of the governor’s international aspirations, for foolishly antagonizing the federal government on which Puerto Rico depends for funding commitments totaling 14 billion dollars annually.

After the letter’s existence was confirmed by a Department of State press release, the governor showed a weak hand. After justifying her international policy as a part of her strategy for the island’s economic development, she alleged that she was "following the standards of the U.S. State Department." Puerto Rico's Secretary Mercado went even further in bowing to Washington. "We have never asked to participate as an independent nation in an international organization because we are not a sovereign nation," he told the Associated Press.

Powell and his diplomats had filled an "inside-straight." But the game continues!

Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, now the Popular Democratic Party’s (PDP) sole candidate for governor in 2004, told reporters that Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth status allows it to represent itself in international conferences and suggested that he would continue on that path, if elected to succeed Calderon. Presumably, he will carry that message into his political campaign, arguing that it is but another aspect of political autonomy to which Puerto Rico is entitled.

The Department of State, no doubt, has already marked the deck for the next deal.

Should Puerto Rico be accorded an equal status among the leaders of sovereign nations at international venues?

Please vote above.

This Week's Question:
Should Puerto Rico be accorded an equal status among the leaders of sovereign nations at international venues?

(US Mainland Residents, please vote on the left; PR Residents on right)

US . Residents
. PR
Yes 33%
62% No 61%
3% Don't know 6%


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