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Candidate Profile: Sila Calderón

October 6, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The position of Mayor of San Juan is often considered a springboard to election as Governor of Puerto Rico. Sila Calderón hopes not to be an exception to the rule. In 1996, she was elected Mayor of the island’s capital and largest city. This year, as the candidate of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), she is running to become the first female governor in Puerto Rico’s history.

Calderón was born in San Juan in 1942. She was educated at Manhattanville College in New York, where she graduated with honors, and at the University of Puerto Rico, where she received a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Calderón has spent much of her career as a public servant. In the early 1970’s she worked for Secretary of Labor Luis Silva Recio. She was a Special Assistant to the Governor of Puerto Rico during the first term of Rafael Hernández Colón, specializing in economic development and labor issues.

After 1977, Calderón worked in the private sector for a number of years, where she held several executive positions. When Hernández Colón returned to La Fortaleza for two more terms as Governor, he brought back Sila Calderón, first as Chief of Staff and then as Secretary of the Interior. In 1988, Hernández Colón named Calderón Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State.

Calderón left the Hernandez Colon administration in 1990. Over the next six years, she served on the Boards of Directors of several top corporations and non-profit organizations, including Banco Popular of Puerto Rico and the Sister Isolina Ferré Foundation. In 1995, she won the PDP primary for Mayor of San Juan, and the following year she became the city’s first PDP mayor in 28 years.

Calderón rose to island-wide prominence in 1998 with her endorsement of the "None of the Above" option, which garnered 51% of the vote, in that year’s political status plebiscite. A supporter of the enhancement of Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth status, she opposed the territorial definition of commonwealth that appeared on the plebiscite ballot. She views the commonwealth arrangement not as colonial but as "an exemplary model of interdependence" that is "the only form of government that allows Puerto Ricans to retain ... our national identity as Puerto Ricans, and our United States citizenship." Undeterred by criticism that her proposed arrangement runs contrary to the U.S. constitution, Calderón has promised to work so that "this relationship evolves on its natural path of greater flexibility and self-sufficiency for Puerto Rico."

Sila Calderón has also been a vocal critic of the U.S. Navy’s presence on the island of Vieques, where a stray bomb killed a civilian security guard during military exercises in 1999. She has said, "Puerto Ricans across all social, religious, and political lines have formed an unprecedented consensus and have determined that the bombing must end and the land occupied by the Navy must be returned to the people of Vieques." She has opposed, however, a recent proposal to charge the U.S. government for its use of military facilities in Puerto Rico. "I don’t think [charging for the bases] fits into our relationship with the U.S.," she said. "We are a commonwealth, we have a common defense that we share with all the other states."

Calderón has called economic development the "spine" of her platform. She proposes better technology, the improvement of manufacturing industries, and the implementation of "tailor-made" economic plans for Puerto Rico’s different regions. Moreover, she sees development more as a means than an end. She calls it a "tool" that she believes will give Puerto Ricans a more just distribution of wealth, a better quality of life, and a deeper understanding of "their roles as residents of Puerto Rico with ties to the U.S. but preeminently with a Latin and Hispanic identity."

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