Calderon, Sila Maria


Calderon, Sila Maria
▪ 2002

      On Jan. 2, 2001, Sila María Calderón, who had served as mayor of San Juan from 1997 to 2000, became Puerto Rico's first female governor. Heading the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) ticket, she narrowly defeated the New Progressive Party candidate Carlos Pesquera by a margin of 48.5% to 45.7% in the November 2000 election. Her victory was viewed as a setback for proponents of Puerto Rican statehood; though Calderón pledged to work for greater Puerto Rican autonomy, she supported its status as a commonwealth with the United States.

      Calderón was born in San Juan on Sept. 23, 1942, and was influenced by her father, who was a strong supporter of the PPD. Following a conventional upbringing, Calderón was educated at Manhattanville College, Purchase, N.Y., where she earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1964; she later gained a master's degree in public administration from the University of Puerto Rico. When Luis Silva Recio, a former professor of Calderón's, was chosen as Puerto Rico's secretary of labour in 1973, she became his executive assistant.

      Calderón gained valuable experience in both the public and the private sector in Puerto Rico. In 1984 she served as the special assistant to Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón. The following year Colón appointed her chief of staff, and she then served as secretary of the interior before becoming secretary of state in 1988. During her private-sector career, she served as a vice president of Citibank and as president of the Commonwealth Investment Co., Inc. In 1996 Calderón was elected mayor of San Juan with just over 50% of the vote and was later chosen as head of the PPD. In the 1998 referendum on Puerto Rican statehood organized by pro-statehood governor Pedro Rosselló, she led the pro-commonwealth campaign; her efforts were rewarded when the majority of votes were cast in favour of commonwealth status.

      In running for governor in 2000, Calderón promised to end corruption and the U.S. Navy's bombing exercises on Vieques, a large island off the east coast of the main island of Puerto Rico that had been used for naval exercises since 1941. Calderón's strong antibombing stance, plus the killing of a security officer by an errant bomb in 1999 and the island's alarmingly high cancer rate (which many attributed to the exercises), catapulted her to victory.

      Despite U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton's offer to hold a referendum on the bombings in Vieques in 2001, Calderón vowed immediately after her inauguration that she would step up efforts to end the military use of the island. On April 24 Calderón launched legal action against the U.S. government, basing the lawsuit on the Noise Control Act of 1972. Although U.S. Pres. George W. Bush had initially resisted ending the exercises, in June his administration announced that the bombings would be permanently halted in 2003, and in a nonbinding referendum in July more than two-thirds of the island's residents voted to end the exercises immediately, significant victories for the very visible governor. In September she announced plans to conduct a binding referendum, allowing voters to choose either to halt the exercises in 2003 or to accept a $50 million aid package with continued bombings.

Michael I. Levy

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▪ governor of Puerto Rico
born September 23, 1942, San Juan, Puerto Rico

      Puerto Rican politician and governor of Puerto Rico (2001–05), the first woman to hold the post.

      Calderón was born into a wealthy and politically active family, her father being a strong supporter of Puerto Rico's Popular Democratic Party. After a conventional upbringing and education in Puerto Rico, she attended Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, where she earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1964. In 1972 she was awarded a master's degree in public administration from the University of Puerto Rico.

      When Luis Silva Recio, a former professor of Calderón, was chosen Puerto Rico's secretary of labour in 1973, she became his executive assistant in the administration of Governor Rafael Hernández Colón (Hernández Colón, Rafael). When Hernández Colón returned to the governorship in 1985, he appointed Calderón his chief of staff. She later served as secretary of the interior and secretary of state. Calderón also gained extensive experience in the private sector as a vice president of Citibank in Puerto Rico and as president of an investment company.

      In 1996 Calderón was elected mayor of San Juan, and she was subsequently chosen leader of the Popular Democratic Party. In the 1998 referendum on Puerto Rican statehood organized by pro-statehood governor Pedro Rosselló, she led the pro-commonwealth campaign; her efforts were rewarded when the majority of votes were cast in favour of commonwealth status. In her campaign for governor in 2000, Calderón promised to root out corruption and end the U.S. Navy's bombing of Vieques (Vieques Island), a large island off the east coast of the main island of Puerto Rico that had been used for naval exercises since 1941. Calderón's strong antibombing stance—together with the killing of a security officer by an errant bomb in 1999 and the island's alarmingly high cancer rate (which many attributed to the exercises)—helped her to win by a narrow margin, and in 2001 she was sworn in as the commonwealth's first woman governor. Her election was considered a setback for proponents of Puerto Rican statehood.

      Despite U.S. President Bill Clinton's offer to hold a referendum on continuing to use Vieques for U.S. naval exercises, Calderón vowed immediately after her inauguration to accelerate efforts to end the bombing of the island. In April 2001 she sued the U.S. government on the basis of the Noise Control Act of 1972, but the suit was dismissed the following year. In a nonbinding referendum held in July 2001—despite the announcement by U.S. President George W. Bush that the bombing would be permanently halted within two years—more than two-thirds of Vieques residents voted in favour of ending the exercises immediately, a result viewed as a significant victory for Calderón. She announced in 2003 that she would not run for reelection, and she left office in 2005.

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Universalium. 2010.

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