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Candidate Profile: Carlos Pesquera

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

An engineer, professor, and bureaucrat, a relatively young man who has never held elected office, Dr. Carlos Pesquera was considered a long shot for Governor of Puerto Rico when he became the New Progressive Party (NPP) candidate on June 30, 1999. Incumbent Governor Pedro Rosselló (NPP), who had been trailing in the polls to his Popular Democratic Party (PDP) challenger Sila Calderón, had surprised the island only weeks before when he announced that he would not seek a third term. After tense deliberations within the NPP, Pesquera, the 42-year-old Secretary of Transportation and Public Works, emerged as the party’s candidate.

Although he cites the inspiration of a grandfather who was the three-term mayor of Naranjito, Puerto Rico, in the 1920s and ‘30s, politics do not figure prominently in Pesquera’s background. A graduate, with top honors, of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, he spent the next five years at Cornell University, where he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Structural Engineering.

Returning to Puerto Rico, Pesquera worked as a consultant on numerous bridge and building projects and became a Professor of Civil Engineering at UPR-Mayagüez. He eventually rose to the position of Director of the university’s Infrastructure Research Center.

In 1993, the newly-elected Governor Rosselló appointed Pesquera to the top post of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. As Secretary, Pesquera developed a reputation as a capable and non-partisan administrator, overseeing a $12 billion investment in the island’s infrastructure. He was a driving force behind the Urban Train project, an ambitious public transportation endeavor to relieve the notorious traffic in the San Juan metropolitan area. The $2 billion rail system is due to reach from Bayamon to Santurce and transport 115,000 passengers daily starting in 2002. This past August, Pesquera was on hand for the first test ride between Altamira and Torrimar stations.

When Gov. Rosselló withdrew from the gubernatorial race last year, Carlos Pesquera was named the replacement candidate for the NPP. Tall, broad-shouldered, with boyish good looks and glasses, Pesquera was nick-named Clark Kent by supporters who hoped he would prove to be the NPP’s Superman.

At first, however, Pesquera’s campaign did not take off, and PDP candidate Sila Calderón enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls well into this year. By June, however, Pesquera had narrowed the gap to six percentage points; and a poll at the end of July showed him in the lead for the first time, with a 40% to 35% advantage. That margin has since narrowed, and Pesquera held a slight lead as of the first week of October.

Pesquera portrays himself as the best candidate to build upon the successes of his political mentor, Pedro Rosselló. At the same time, he appears eager to avoid the current governor’s mistakes. Like Rosselló, Pesquera supports statehood for Puerto Rico and hopes as governor to call a plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s political status. However, after the failure of Rosselló’s locally-sponsored plebiscites in 1993 and ’98, Pesquera has resolved not to hold another status vote until the U.S. Congress passes a law establishing options that are clearly-defined and binding. Speaking in New York this summer, he said that "if you don’t have a referendum endorsed by the U.S. Congress, it is useless, because the people realize it will lead nowhere."

Pesquera also sees Puerto Rico’s status issue as the root cause of the controversy on the island of Vieques, where the 1999 death of a civilian security guard on a U.S. Navy bombing range has sparked more than a year of anti-Navy protests. "If we were a state, the Vieques issue would be solved by now," he said in June. "The Vieques problem surfaces because we are a colony of the United States of America, and that cannot continue for years to come." In the meantime, he supports the compromise agreement between President Clinton and Gov. Rosselló that allows for continued military training on a limited basis pending a referendum among the residents of Vieques on the Navy’s future there sometime next year. The agreement also provides up to $90 million in U.S. aid to the 9,000 residents of the island, depending on the outcome of the referendum.

A central feature of Pesquera’s platform is the use of new technology to secure Puerto Rico’s place in the global economy. "Technology permeates our lives," he told Caribbean Business. "It affects security, health, education, infrastructure, and the economy." As such, he has pledged to "reduce the technology gap" by creating a new cabinet-level post, Secretary of Technology and Services, with the goals of making technology more accessible to all and encouraging high-tech entrepreneurship. "I have a vision of a more prosperous Puerto Rico," he said, "more productive, with more wealth in the hands of more Puerto Ricans."

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