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Editorial & Column


Ash Wednesday


March 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Last week, on the day that marked the beginning of the Christian season of penance, Gov. Sila Calderon gave her fourth and last State of the Commonwealth address to a joint session of the Legislature.

In it, the governor took credit for what she understands are the many great accomplishments during the past three years of her administration. She also excused herself for an occasional failure, mentioning Section 956 and the status specifically.

As expected, partisan eyes didn’t see her speech in the same light. The governor’s supporters praised what they see as her many accomplishments. Detractors pointed out that the most significant "achievements" noted by the governor all relate to public works initiated by her predecessor.

In our opinion, and to our great surprise, the speech was given and received as a sort of review of the governor’s term in office, almost as a swan song, as if a whole year of her term weren’t still ahead of her. Regardless of whether the governor’s supporters or her detractors are right regarding their assessment of her successes or failures so far, what we regret is that she dedicated less than one third of the speech to talking about what she intends to do this year.

For example, there was not one single word about what the administration plans to do to promote the tourism industry and only five lines in the speech boasting about the opening of 1,535 new hotel rooms in three years, with an additional 2,204 still under construction.

Above everything else, we were dumbfounded by the almost total absence of any reference to the administration’s vision and plans to redevelop Vieques and Ceiba following the Navy’s exit.

Make no mistake about it. Since the governor’s last State of the Commonwealth address early last year, the most significant development in Puerto Rico was the Navy’s definitive exit from its target practice range in Vieques and the subsequent dismantling of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba.

The Navy’s exit from both facilities dealt a devastating blow to Puerto Rico’s economy–it represents a loss of about $1 billion a year when you factor in the exit of U.S. Army South, another event that occurred under the Calderon administration. Yet, at the same time, the Navy’s exit holds incredible potential for future economic development. The latter requires, however, for a visionary plan to be articulated and implemented. What’s this administration’s plan? We don’t know.

The governor dedicated to Vieques merely 10 lines of her speech to boast about having achieved peace by kicking the Navy out and to say how everything now is hunky dory because the administration has supposedly invested $50 million in Vieques and another $60 million in Culebra. As for Roosevelt Roads, the single most important economic development opportunity for Puerto Rico in a generation, the governor dedicated only four lines to saying that $23 million will be spent to help the local communities in Ceiba.

Is that it? Is that what this administration plans to do with Vieques and Ceiba? Then read our front-page story and get a sense of where they may both be 30 years from now. It’s been 29 years since the Navy left Culebra and, as you will see, not much has happened. As with the former Ramey Air Force base in Aguadilla before it (CB July 31, 2003), the lack of a comprehensive economic redevelopment plan has ensured that Culebra’s otherwise incredible economic development potential remain unfulfilled.

We don’t doubt that some second-level bureaucrat in the administration probably has something, somewhere on his desk about Vieques and Roosevelt Roads. God knows outside consultants are certainly making a pretty penny on it.

But as the whole point of the State of the Commonwealth address is for the governor to outline his or her priorities in the coming year, we now know that neither Vieques nor Ceiba–nor tourism, for that matter–are anywhere near the top of Gov. Calderon’s list.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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