PUERTO RICO’S NEW GOVERNOR, Sila Maria Calderon, back in 2001, was said TO STALK CORRUPTION

This article from 2001 shows how corruption in Puerto Rico has been a problem for decades, meaning corruption is systemic in Puerto Rico, and nothing new.



Ivan Roman, San Juan Bureau
January 1, 2001

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — When a judge swears in Sila Maria Calderon as Puerto Rico’s first woman governor Tuesday, people here can expect a kinder, cleaner government.

Calderon’s administration is expected to help the less fortunate while clearing up corruption. A truth commission of sorts is already in place to delve into public scandals.

In these days when privatization is popular, she wants to restore faith in government’s ability to get things done. Bucking thinking that less government is more, this 58-year-old public administrator and businesswoman is touting the value of public service to temper market-driven economics, the underpinning of the dizzying pace of reforms set forth by outgoing Gov. Pedro Rossello since 1993.

“You’ll see no grand initiatives, no big adventures,” said political analyst Juan Manuel Garcia Passalacqua. “It’s going to be just good public administration, and it’s going to make a difference. And that’s enough to win again in four years after all the corruption scandals we just had.”

Constant headlines for the past two years about bribery and money laundering, along with pictures of legislators being led away in handcuffs, helped bring down the pro-statehood New Progressive Party at the polls Nov. 7.

Calderon’s call for a clean government propelled her to the island’s top political post and helped her Popular Democratic Party take back the House and the Senate.

Pointing to scandals in the news, she reminded people, “That is not Puerto Rico. We Puerto Ricans are not like that.”

She held the Puerto Rican flag to her chest in television campaign commercials while calling for a government that inspired unity. To some it seemed trite, but the message hit home with many who were fed up with Rossello’s leadership style, often called overbearing or arrogant.

Calderon’s first two executive orders will forbid government employees from wearing political party logos to work and prohibit supervisors from asking government employees their party affiliations.

She vows that her assault on public corruption will spare no one. If people within her own political party fall, she says, so be it. To head an independent commission probing government contracts and reforms, she tapped lawyer David Noriega, a pro-independence activist and former legislator responsible for uncovering the San Juan AIDS Institute money-laundering scandal, which landed several well-connected professionals in jail.

“This can’t be seen as a witch hunt,” Calderon said. “I have a responsibility to clear up those transactions that left doubts in people’s minds.”

So much money is involved, resulting in so much new public debt, that there’s a lot to look at: the $1.76 billion Urban train, set to run in 2002; the multimillion-dollar aqueduct that brings water from the northwestern hills to San Juan; the billion-dollar-plus health reform that gave private health insurance to those who didn’t have it.

Although she opposed selling government hospitals and dismantling the island’s public-health system to make that happen, Calderon says the health reform is a good idea and wants to keep it going despite the hefty price tag.

But her rhetoric and her Cabinet picks signal she wants to do more when it comes to helping the poor and tackling particularly tough social and environmental problems.

She’s beefing up efforts to rehabilitate prisoners. She has promised better controlled growth. She plans to shore up family services, and fortify education and prevention campaigns to get at drug trafficking.

But although some take comfort in her focus on social justice, others are wary of her moves on economic matters. Calderon, who had held jobs in banking but is best known as a public administrator, put two people she supervised as chief of staff in Rafael Hernandez Colon’s administration from 1988-92 in key economic-development posts.

For Rossello’s economic-development gurus, this signals a return to old ways when the island depended almost exclusively on manufacturing and tourism. In the past eight years, Rossello diversified the economy, emphasized the professional-service sector and embarked on big infrastructure projects.

The administration’s last and biggest baby is a transshipment port, now in its planning stages, to make Puerto Rico’s south coast a regional hub for worldwide shipping, transportation and repackaging.

“We have made a quantum leap and made the government work as if it were a private enterprise, because it’s the only way to stay competitive in the world today,” said Lourdes Rovira, the outgoing president of the Government Development Bank. “I don’t think they come with that mentality. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see much forward thinking in this administration.”

The true danger, according to political science Professor Jose Garriga Pico, is the Popular Democratic Party’s penchant for studying things too much and allowing inaction or internal power struggles to bring projects to a slow death. Reflected in its decades-old theme “Bread, Land, Liberty,” the PDP’s poor and working-class roots are still linked to a social philosophy that doesn’t always fit with the free market.

“The bottom line is that Sila’s view [on the economy] is the same one that Rossello has,” said Garriga Pico, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico. “The difference is Rossello can say it, but she can’t. Sila is a businesswoman and has that view, but the base of the party she leads doesn’t use that kind of rhetoric.”

Unlike the past eight years when Rossello held two failed plebiscites in a push for statehood, the island’s decades-old political-status debate is expected to take a back seat with the PDP at the helm. At the insistence of its left-wing leaders, the party that supports the current commonwealth status established in 1952 — which makes the island’s 3.8 million residents U.S. citizens — decided to push for “improvements” and more autonomy when it drafted its campaign platform last year.

The status issue is hardly the motor that drives the PDP. President Clinton created a task force last month to get some movement on the island’s status, but it’s not clear how committed the new administrations in Washington and San Juan will be to the process.

Puerto Ricans do not vote for president and do not have voting representation in Congress, although they do receive federal aid.

Calderon’s theme for the inauguration — “Peace, Unity, Future” — may point to her biggest immediate challenge: a possible confrontation with forces in Congress and a George W. Bush administration over the U.S. Navy’s use of its target range on the island of Vieques.

Both sides have so much as said that a clash is imminent.

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