Thursday, May 24, 2018

Former governor of Puerto Rico gives talk about poverty

Hannah Holland ’15
Staff Writer 

On Tuesday Sept 18, Trinity College hosted the esteemed Sila María Calderón, the first, and only female governor of Puerto Rico. Calderón is a member of Puerto Rico’s Popular Democratic Party and an advocate for the under privileged and a commonwealth Puerto Rico.

After witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Calderón made poverty a pillar of her beliefs. Calderón had appointed Rafael Hernandez Colon as her chief of staff prior to her tour of Hugo’s catastrophic damage of Puerto Rico. This tour allowed her to view the country from a unique vantage point and it became clear to her that Puerto Rico was in desperate need of help. She urged the audience to adopt a sense of responsibility for other people’s well being. “If you look behind you,” she said, “you will always see people worse off than yourself.”

She climbed the ranks up through the Puerto Rican government starting in 1973 when she was named Executive Assistant to the Labor Secretary, Luis Silva Recio. Calderón would become governor in 2001, but not without facing immense amounts of adversity and strong opposition from the Puerto Rican public. When Calderón first entered the primaries, her opponents asked her if she was ready to be called a “puta” and slandered for being a woman. The primaries were then cancelled all together to prevent her from running entirely, so she went to the press. After this first incident of running for office, Calderón traveled to Washington D.C. to take a course on elections and governments. She returned to Puerto Rico, ran for president in the 2000 election and won, making Calderón the first woman to obtain a spot as a high-ranking government official.

As governor, Calderón strived for social rehabilitation and economic reform, especially in impoverished areas. She also vowed to make efforts to end bombing associated with the island, something she is notorious for in Puerto Rico. She received accolades from President George W. Bush, among others, for her work in furthering these causes.

 Puerto Rico has a tradition of extremely high voter participation.  Voting is treated as something similar to a religious experience: stores are closed and people go to the voting booths dressed in their Sunday best, according to Calderón. Puerto Rico is split between those in favor of a commonwealth Puerto Rico and those who support an independent state. This stark division helped Calderón, who supported a commonwealth Puerto Rico, during the election.

Calderón decided not to run again in 2005, and instead, dedicated her time to a nonprofit, philanthropic organization, The Center for Puerto Rico: Sila M. Calderón Foundation. The foundation focuses on poverty, women and social responsibility among other things. One program of the foundation provides women with financial support if they find four other women to support them, ensuring a sense of support for the women in need of money.

Calderón’s success stems from her unwavering fundamental values. She urged the audience to be disciplined and persistent in their passions. Skills learned in a classroom setting are the skills that, Calderón believes, have directly impacted her success in both the philanthropic and political world. Calderón is an inspiration to all, for her work in women’s rights, her vow to end poverty and her overwhelming desire to make life better for both Puerto Rico and people around the world.

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