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Many Puerto Rican politicians ignore the will of their people as soon as U.S. money is laid on the table.

Related Gully Coverage

Venezuela and the Oil Crisis: The Colonial Script

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Our complete articles.

Calderon, Moscoso, Mejias, Chavez

Newly inaugurated Puerto Rico Governor Sila María Calderón greets the Chiefs of State from Panama, Mireya Moscoso (l); Dominican Republic, Hipólito Mejía (c) and Hugo Chávez from Venezuela, January 2, 2001. Ana Martinez

Puerto Rico

Calderón Hangs Tough... For Now

by Kelly Cogswell

JANUARY 5. On Tuesday, Sila María Calderón became the first woman Governor of Puerto Rico. In her inaugural speech she repeated the themes of her campaign. The former San Juan mayor, 58, vowed to clean up the corrupt island government, and help free the island of Vieques from the U.S. Navy.

And, as a U.S. task force examines Puerto Rico's colonial status and the options of statehood, independence, and commonwealth, the pro-commonwealth Calderón promised to intensify cultural and trade relations with Latin American countries, and defend the Spanish language.

A Clean Government
If Calderón does nothing else but make good on her promise "to fire and prosecute" any civil servant caught stealing from taxpayers, or involved in any type of corruption, she will have radically changed the island.

Government corruption is rampant in Puerto Rico. The administration of outgoing Governor Pedro Rosselló was rocked by a scandal over the disappearance of AIDS funds. It could as easily have been the disappearance of library funds, or money for parks or roads, or hospitals.

The worst effect of corruption is that many Puerto Rican politicians ignore the will of their people as soon as U.S. money is laid on the table. Take the 1999 Vieques deal President Clinton brokered with Rosselló. The outgoing Governor talked tough against Navy bombs until he was promised U.S. funds for "economic development" and the return of a few hundred acres of land. As in an identical 1983 agreement, politicians were expected to line their pockets and silence the people of Vieques, who get nothing.

Trial By Fire: Vieques
Free Vieques SignCalderón's first dramatic test comes at the end of January when the Navy is scheduled to resume Vieques maneuvers, including bombing. During her campaign, Calderón promised to do everything possible to evict the U.S. Navy, including passing sound pollution laws which would allow her to get an injunction against Navy bombing. She has also promised to withdraw the Puerto Rican police protecting the main gate of the U.S. Navy's Camp Garcia from Vieques activists.

"The people of Puerto Rico want an immediate halt to the naval exercises," Calderón said to applause at her inauguration. "Sixty years of a menace to the health and security of our people is unacceptable for any civilized and peaceful society." It remains to be seen if Calderón stays defiant. Like Rosselló, past Puerto Rican governors have been known to start off with a hard line to please their nationalistic audience at home, and to wring concessions from the United States, but when the screws tighten they almost always cave in.

The Navy won't go quietly. On December 22, just a week before Calderón's inauguration, the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, notified her that the Navy won't return land, or hand over any economic aid for Vieques per their agreement with outgoing Governor Rosselló, unless Calderón keeps the lid on protesters, and allows bombing. He also warned of a "future of unknown consequences" if she continues to insist that the Navy close the range. In other words, the Navy will have an excuse to resume unfettered live bombing and shelling.

Vieques protesters are planning to step up actions of civil disobedience, including incursions into the Navy's bombing zone. They celebrated New Year's by dismantling hundreds of feet of Camp Garcia's fence.

The President's Task Force
For the last several years, the United Nations' Special Committee on Decolonization has joined with Puerto Ricans of many political stripes in demanding the U.S. resolve Puerto Rico's status as colony. Clinton finally took the first step, though he waited until December 23 and Bush's transition to create The President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status.

The Task Force is supposed to create a dialogue that "shall seek to clarify the options for Puerto Rico's future status and enable Puerto Ricans to choose among those options." The offerings of statehood, commonwealth, and independence will be once again on the table like stale Christmas leftovers.

Calderon, Moscoso, Mejias, ChavezWhile Bush can undo Clinton's executive order, he did say during his campaign that he supported such a task force. Nevertheless, he is certainly not bound by its recommendations. The Task Force, due to report to Bush on May 1, will be chaired by Bush's attorney general, probably the ultra-conservative John Ashcroft.

Blind Assessment
The only problem is that an assessment by the Task Force is useless unless its members, including Mr. Ashcroft, take into account the unpleasant fact that the ascent of pro-statehood forces, including Rosselló's eight years in office, has been largely a product of U.S. interference. Last year's release of FBI files officially confirmed how the agency actively hounded and imprisoned Nationalist and pro-independence leaders for decades.

Popular support for Calderón's commonwealth—the status quo, should also be skeptically scrutinized, because the U.S. has never allowed its Puerto Rico colony to develop a viable, independence alternative, let alone offered one.

The tug-of-war over Vieques, has again forced Puerto Ricans to take a good look at their nation's extremely unequal relationship with the United States. The 21st century question for Puerto Rico is increasingly how much of its future lot it will cast with its traditional U.S. patron, and how much with the rest of Latin America.

Crystal Ball
While the outgoing, pro-Statehood governor Rosselló looked toward the North, pushing English in public schools, Calderón acknowledges geographical and cultural realities. "We live, think, pray and love in Spanish, and we're not willing to ever give up the language that expresses [what's in] our hearts," she said at her inauguration.

hugo chavezUnlike in past inaugurations, the U.S. military heads in Puerto Rico, including Navy Chief, Rear Admiral Kevin Green were seated in the back. In the front row were the new Governor's Caribbean neighbors, the Presidents of Haiti, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, as well as Venezuela's bad boy, President Hugo Chávez.

The latter three have a great deal in common with Calderón. Like her, all were recently elected on anti-corruption, anti-poverty, pro-development platforms. Unlike her, they are somewhat wary of the United States, which tends to hold onto foreign real estate (like canals, military installations, etc.) with bull terrier teeth.

The pro-commonwealth Calderón seems to believe she can have a cozy, profitable relationship with the United States, and still get her way with Vieques. "We Puerto Ricans value and treasure our U.S. citizenship," Calderón said. "But we are first, before all else, and always—Puerto Ricans!"

Related links:

For details on the FBI's secret war against the Puerto Rican independence movement, see chapter 4 of The Cointelpro Papers by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall.

For information on Vieques go to Vieques Libre.

For the U.S. Navy's viewpoint of Vieques.

For Complete Coverage Puerto Rico


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