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PuertoRicoWOW News Service

Candidates Face Off In Last Gubernatorial Debate

By Proviana Colon Diaz

November 2, 2000
Copyright © 2000 PuertoRicoWOW News Service. All Rights Reserved.

Candidates Face OffPHOTO: NPP President Carlos Pesquera, PDP President Sila Calderon and PIP President Ruben Berrios face each other Wednesday night for their final debate for Tuesday's election.

SAN JUAN — The last gubernatorial debate before Tuesday's election was characterized by less personal attacks and more campaign promises, but still some questions were left unanswered.

During the two-hour debate Wednesday night, the audience saw Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) President Ruben Berrios, New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President Sila Calderon go against each other for a final time.

Each candidate had three-minute segments to answer questions related to economic development, education, health, status and an open topic. Then each had two minutes to rebut their opponent's statements.

On the first theme of the night, economic development, Berrios said the only way to develop a stronger economy for Puerto Rico was by joining the world economy and emulating smaller nations with a bigger per capita income, such as the Bahamas. Pesquera said he would reinforce the economy by creating 100,000 new jobs in the technology field. Calderon said she would seek to create "full employment" by also creating 100,000 new jobs; at least one within each household.

Calderon surprised her opponents, particularly Pesquera, when she expressed her support for bilingual schools, which she had reportedly opposed in the past.

"Ms. Calderon now changes her mind and supports bilingual schools. A person who changes her mind so often will also govern like that," Pesquera said, adding that it had been his idea to create 84 new bilingual schools, at least one for each municipality.

Berrios said he also supported bilingual schools, but schools in which Spanish was taught well and fully understood, before English or any other language was taught.

"A second language cannot be learned well until one's own language is learned," said Berrios, adding that to teach English as a first language would be like going back to the 1930s and having people speak both languages "badly."

The status issue was clearly dominated by Berrios, who stressed that Tuesday's elections are not a plebiscite and that status will not be solved by the next governor but rather by a Constitutional Assembly in which all options will be considered. The option that wins is the option taken to the U.S. Congress for it to deal with the issue, Berrios said.

"Ms. Calderon seems to be the only person who thinks the status is solved and Mr. Pesquera hides behind the problem," said Berrios.

Calderon, who in more than one occasion supported projects of the current administration, such as the Urban Train, the bilingual schools and the health reform, also backed the Constitutional Assembly, calling it a "great alternative." Still, she said whatever status resolution alternative is chosen would have to be approved by all parties through her proposal for a Committee of Consensus.

Berrios took exception to Calderon's statement that the PIP had joined with the NPP in 1998 to hold an anti-commonwealth referendum.

"Lizards and electricians both climb electrical poles, but they are not the same," said Berrios, referring to the fact that because they supported a status resolution event did not make them equal to the statehooders.

Pesquera answered Calderon's statements that statehood would eliminate the Puerto Rican nationality by saying he was tired of being called less Puerto Rican for wanting statehood. "I'm just as Puerto Rican as my brother Farrique who is pro independence."

Following the debate each candidate claimed victory and addressed their followers gathered outside channel two facilities.

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