Category: History

Puerto Rico- Its political history and future
by Richard R. Tryon

A series of two news events- interviews with Governor Sila Caulderón, and another with one of the most beautiful women in the world, tie together to illustrate how many people in P.R. are confused about their loyalties.

Read the interviews and the commentary to see what effect these events may have on the future ability of almost four million Americans to maintain their U.S. citizenship while resolving a status issue that has festered for over 100 years.

INTERVIEW-Puerto Rico's leader steers careful path with U.S.

By Frances Kerry

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, May 14 (Reuters) - From her office in a walled city that was once Spain's sturdy defense against invaders, Puerto Rico's governor seeks a careful balance between preserving the island's difference and nurturing its unusual relationship with the United States.

Sila Calderon took over in January as Puerto Rico's new leader and quickly found herself at odds with Washington over the U.S. Navy's controversial bombing practices on Vieques, a tiny island just off Puerto Rico's east coast.

Calderon is trying to get the war games halted on the grounds they harm the health of Vieques' 9,300 residents. Her government has filed a lawsuit in federal court to get the Navy to stop bombing.

The Navy, which went ahead with a round of bombing practice last month that was met with a barrage of protest, is waiting for a referendum planned for November giving Vieques residents a choice between the military leaving in 2003 or staying.

Despite her stance, Calderon said she thinks dialogue with President George W. Bush's administration is the best way to resolve the issue, and she recoils from the notion she is in some way anti-military or anti-American.

"I think it's very American to fight for your rights, and the reason I am fighting for my rights and the rights of my people is because I am a U.S. citizen," Calderon, whose Popular Democratic Party supports Puerto Rico's current commonwealth status, told Reuters in a weekend interview.

The former mayor of San Juan is conducting her fight from an office in the oldest executive building under a U.S. flag, the graceful Governor's Palace in Old San Juan that was built in the 1530s as the Spanish colony's fortified headquarters.

In the old city, Puerto Rico can feel like both a Caribbean island -- peopled with descendants of the original Indian inhabitants, Spaniards and African slaves -- and a part of the United States. It is much poorer than the United States but much richer than neighboring Caribbean islands.

Puerto Rican politics in recent times have included a persistent minority demand for independence but political debate on the island of 3.8 million revolves around an acceptance of some form of relationship with the United States.

Calderon's election last November was seen as a setback for the pro-statehood cause of the New Progressive Party. It followed a referendum in 1998 organized by former PNP Gov. Pedro Rossello in which Puerto Ricans rejected statehood.


Like many Puerto Ricans, Calderon, 58, speaks English as well as Spanish. She scoffed at the notion her opposition to the Vieques bombing made her anti-American, adding that most Puerto Ricans wanted a permanent relationship with the United States.

"Our genetic roots are African, Spanish and Indian," she said, adding this gave Puerto Ricans a strong sense of patriotism. "We are Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens, we are not U.S. citizens who happen to be Puerto Ricans. We are Puerto Ricans first."

"But history and circumstances have brought us to this point. We have achieved a relationship which still needs further developing but which is a wonderful relationship. Many countries in the world would love to have the relationship we have."

"We're a very small island with a very poor background that somehow has this political and economic relationship with the strongest and most powerful nation in the world."

She raised eight children -- her own and those of her second husband -- while developing a career in public service, and is the first woman governor of Puerto Rico. But Calderon rejected the idea it was an uphill struggle.

"It's a myth that this a macho country," she said. "There are probably more women in charge here than in the United States."

Calderon said she never had an ambition to run Puerto Rico and that even while campaigning ahead of the November elections, she felt uneasy with the role. But, she said, her strict Roman Catholic upbringing gave her a keen sense of duty.

"Now I feel happy and contented and fulfilled," she said.

Calderon, who has been criticized for spending too much of her first months in office on the Vieques issue, described her priorities as creating jobs to bring down an unemployment rate of more than 11 percent and fighting corruption.

In a related story....

Miss Universe sets off a party in Puerto Rico

By Frances Kerry

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, May 12 (Reuters) - Honking car horns and waving flags, Puerto Ricans celebrated late into the night after their own Miss Puerto Rico, Denise Quinones, was crowned Miss Universe 2001 before a delirious home crowd.

San Juan's streets were lined with people stopping their cars to cheer as Quinones, a 20-year-old student with a dazzling smile and a mane of brown hair, was driven on Friday night from the pageant venue to a beachfront hotel for her "coronation ball."

Quinones, who told reporters that the enthusiastic home crowd boosted her confidence, swept away contestants from 76 other countries to become the 50th Miss Universe.

"I always dreamed about and visualized winning," Quinones told reporters after the pageant to hoops of joy from local journalists. "Thank God it happened. I was very confident in myself."

Quinones' winning smile adorned the front page of local newspapers as Puerto Rico reveled in its fourth Miss Universe title and its latest home-grown celebrity. The Caribbean island of 3.8 million people is a U.S. territory with a strong sense of its own identity.

Miss Greece, Evelina Papantoniou, was second and Miss USA, Kandace Krueger, was third at the end of a two-hour extravaganza that organizers said was televised in 130 countries.

The San Juan crowd, which had cheered their favorite every time she appeared on stage, went wild as the 5-foot-10 inch (1.78-metre) Quinones, who has studied singing and dancing, was crowned by last year's winner, Lara Dutta of India.


Quinones, who says she would like to be a singer and create her own television show, was whisked away on Friday night first to her coronation ball and then on to more parties.

The Puerto Rican was set for precious little beauty sleep before heading into her new life as Miss Universe.

Theresa Beyer, vice president of marketing with the Miss Universe Organization, said Quinones would spend Saturday holding talks with the Miss Universe organization, giving interviews and attending photo sessions and then fly to New York on Sunday.

The competition, launched in Long Beach, California, in 1952 by a swimsuit company, is run by the Miss Universe Organization, jointly owned by property tycoon Donald Trump and CBS Television.

The new Miss Universe gets to live for a year rent-free in a luxury apartment in a Trump building in New York City and receives a salary and clothes allowance. In exchange, she does promotional and charity work and travels around the world.

"Denise is still a student but she will put her studies on hold for a year," Beyer said. "Her new life starts tomorrow."

The contest is called Miss Universe but it is followed with more or less interest by countries around the world.

Latin nations are among the most enthusiastic, but this year was similar to other years in that large parts of the globe, such as China and many African and Arab nations, did not send contestants.

All 77 contestants were on show at the start of Friday's pageant but 67 of them were eliminated earlier in the week after a swimsuit and evening attire parade on Sunday and interviews during the week.

The lucky 10 remaining contestants were announced as the evening got started. After the swimsuit and evening gown parades, those 10 were pared down again to five women: Miss India, Celina Jaitly, Miss Venezuela, Eva Ekvall, and Quinones, Papantoniou and Krueger.

Then the final placing was decided on questions from the judges. Quinones sailed through her questions, confidently pronouncing that she had no regrets in her short life and noting that real beauty is more than skin deep.

Also making Friday's show a night for the island to celebrate was Puerto Rican Ricky Martin, who has been one of the stars in the worldwide Latin music boom in recent years.

Martin, who lives in the United States, came home to perform on the island for the first time in nearly two years. He drove the crowd wild with two numbers from his latest album, "Sound Loaded."

Another Puerto Rican with worldwide appeal, singer Marc Anthony, was one of the eight judges, along with his wife, Dayanara Torres, who was Miss Universe in 1993.

10:58 05-12-01


by Richard R. Tryon

What an extraordinary coincidence that these two stories are almost run in parallel. The interview with the Governor, had it happened after the wonderful nationalistic victory of Miss Puerto Rico as Miss Universe, we would have read an even stronger statement of Sila Caulderon’s position. She is first and foremost a Puerto Rican that is convinced that she and her people are both easily identified as victims of a Yankee arrogance that has little or no concern for the health and well being of the dependent people of P.R.

The need for “national pride” assumes a racial character when she admits to loving her national heritage which qualifies PR as a ‘nation’, that is able to stand on equal footing as a nation with the U.S. There is nothing wrong with having that kind of pride in the beautiful island and its people, but she fails to realize that Americans on the mainland do not think the same way. They are American citizens first, and secondly, residents of some one of fifty states, where peoples of many walks of life, many origins, religions, and attitudes live together.

Perhaps it is an island mentality that prevents Gov. Caulderón from recognizing that her loyalties are inverted. She claims to love her US citizenship, but she doesn’t know that it should mandate in her a loyalty first to the nation called the United States and then secondarily to P.R. She may claim that this is caused by her inability to vote or pay U.S. taxes, but she has done everything she can think of to avoid becoming a full U.S. citizen.

Her citizenship idea is one of convenience and advantage, not one of loyalty and support of the whole country. That may explain why she thinks that the U.S. Navy has caused a massive threat to the health of one-half of one percent of the people of P.R. who live on the island of Vieques. One day that concern will be shown to be very much unfounded.

Although she managed to encourage some 180 people into a civil disobedience on Vieques to the point of being arrested, only four of them live on Vieques! That shows that the issue of winning the vote in November is not as clear cut as the Governor would like to see. Motions to hold an advance vote or plebiscite sponsored by the PR government have been considered and apparently rejected. Could it be that the closeness of the result would send a message to many who have been conditioned by media pressures into thinking that almost everyone else on Vieques wants the Navy out? Unless such a vote went over 65% for removal, the media efforts will be disparaged, and the Navy might well gain votes in the interim before November when the Federal forces through the Navy will conduct the vote that counts to the U.S. Congress and the Navy.

In the balance, the future of four million Americans hangs on the ability of the Governor and the mainland leaders. If the present trend line continues, we may soon see evidence of Congressional support to the Navy in ways that will possibly antagonize the Governor and her supporters for "Paz a Vieques", an island off of PR that she claims is victim of high rates of heart disease and cancer caused by environmental damage and noise from U.S. Navy practice bombing and shelling of its target range at the Eastern tip of Vieques.

Together with the paralysis of PR government programs caught in a web of concern over possible corruption in the prior administration, the Caulderón government may be rapidly falling into an abyss from which it has not easy way out. If Congress pulls out much of the $13 billion annual subsidy, and shuts down military bases, PR will not only feel the shock, it will cause a great upheaval in its politics and its economy.

If so, Gov. Caulderón will have to struggle to direct the anger in a way that keeps her in power as the leader of a newly independent nation, a position she has never sought. Her role in the old Colón government was to help find the way to enhance Commonwealth. If Congress kills that idea any more and calls for a decision for statehood or independence, she will have to reluctantly plead that it is Congress that forces her to take her people to independence with her as its leader!

Previous Chapter


Next Chapter