Puerto Rico governor touts commonwealth's status and economy

Sila Maria Caldersn, the first woman elected governor of Puerto Rico, yesterday issued a progress report that included strong support of the island's commonwealth status and condemnation of America's military presence in Vieques. She spoke in Dodds Auditorium on Princeton's campus.

"For half a century, the commonwealth has continuously opened new doors for freedom, self -government, prosperity and self-confidence," said Caldersn. "It has provided a solid social platform from which to move forward."

According to Caldersn, since its establishment in 1952, Puerto Rico has been able to focus its energies and progress in social and economic development primarily due to the island's status as a commonwealth. Puerto Rico celebrate its 50th anniversary in July.

"Puerto Ricans have consistently favored a middle course," she said. "The commonwealth has allowed us to maintain our U.S. citizenship, which we value and treasure, while keeping our own identity and the right to speak in our own language." Caldersn added "the commonwealth has provided us with a powerful tool for economic development by granting us fiscal autonomy that permits us to collect our own revenues and to set our own fiscal policies."

Puerto Rico governs its own internal and fiscal matters, but the United States determines how much federal aid it receives and the island is subject to the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Supporters of statehood for Puerto Rico want increased rights, including in the area of Congressional representation, that the commonwealth now lacks.

Caldersn, who served as mayor of San Juan before becoming the seventh elected governor of Puerto Rico, believes that the rules of commonwealth are both ideological and practical. "This creation speaks to the ability and tenacity of the Puerto Rican people for finding and devising a common-ground solution that all sides can live with even if their particular aspirations are not completely satisfied," she said.

"The commonwealth is a means for allowing people with a distinct national identity to govern themselves and affirm their culture within the federal framework," Caldersn said. "The commonwealth status provides a vehicle for people with a different background, history and language to maintain their allegiance to the United States and to the ideals for freedom, liberty and democracy, which the U.S. represents."

Before she began her presentation, Caldersn noted that "Princeton has a special place in my heart." Her daughter is a graduate of the class of 1992 and, she said, the University has produced some of the best public officials Puerto Rico has ever had. Addressing faculty and students, Calderon said, "I commend your effort to educate and to become educated."

Caldersn closed with brief yet stinging remarks regarding the continued use of Vieques as a bombing target range by the U.S., although she noted she has confidence in President Bush's pledge to remove the naval presence next year.

"Sixty years of a menace to the health and security of our people is unacceptable for any civilized and peaceful society. It has affected our lives, jobs, economic development, environment, peace of minds and, most important, our health," Caldersn stated firmly. "The people of Puerto Rico want an immediate halt to naval exercises . This is not an anti-America issue. It is a human rights violation issue. It is about what is fair and what is right."

The lecture was co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Program in Latin American Studies .

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601