Letting Them Eat Cake

by John Marino

September 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. The defining moment of the wedding of Gov. Calderón and her former Economic Development chief Ramón Cantero Frau Wednesday was when the couple came down to the fiesta del pueblo in the gardens of La Fortaleza and passed out cake.

Whether you saw it as the final classy touch to a tasteful public wedding, or found the Marie Antoinette imagery all too much and evidence of the couple’s aristocratic leanings, it was the image that most of Puerto Rico tuned into.

It was the moment when the cameras first started to really pop, catching a radiant governor before a sea of smiling faces, perhaps for one of the last times. And it was the moment for the couple to charm Puerto Rico, rubbing shoulders with the public and members of the press.

Most of Puerto Rico cheered – some out of support for her administration, others glad the governor was leaving office. The media fed public hunger for details about her dress and the cake, the guest list and the entertainment for a solid week before the event.

It might have been the perfect day for Calderón the woman, and Puerto Rico, including political opponents, is almost unanimous in wishing the couple a bright future. But the day was not without its setbacks for Calderón the governor.

Criticism of the wedding has been muted by the perception that it is somewhat a private affair. While that might be true of the actual ceremony, by inviting the public to share cake, getting married by the Supreme Court chief justice, and inviting every prominent government official and Popular Democratic Party politician to the ceremony, Calderón and Cantero Frau created the conditions for their marriage to be open to public discourse.

Many critics – women and men from all political parties – said the affair had a bit too much pomp and circumstance for a couple each on their third marriage. Even though the couple picked up the tab, Comptroller Manuel Díaz Saldaña said he would investigate whether public funds were misspent because of the activity – largely through the increased security needed for the event and the mass absences from work of a small army of public officials prompted by the wedding.

Political opponents worried whether the marriage would give Cantero Frau too much influence in the government and called on the governor to cancel her honeymoon because of the rising crime rate.

Evidence of faults in the Calderón administration also popped up when reporters were distributed copies of official wedding photos on a CD, purportedly by the La Fortaleza press office, which were titled: "Matrimonio: Sila M. Calderón y Ramón Cantero Fraud."

More importantly, the governor’s wedding throws light on the motivation behind Calderón’s shocking announcement last May that she would not seek reelection to a second term.

When the governor said she would not run, "but instead, look forward to a much more balanced life in my remaining years, God willing," nobody really believed she was dropping out for what were essentially personal reasons.

Her choice of words -- the "God willing" in particular -- led many to suspect her decision to retire from politics in 2004 had to do with health problems. Her political opponents, pointing to general dissatisfaction over the economy and the rising crime rate, simply said the move showed Calderón knew she could not win reelection.

But as the governor wed this week, and prepares for a two-week honeymoon in Italy and France later this month, the personal reasons she cited in her political retirement speech appear more likely to be taken at face value.

And that points up a big problem within the PDP. Many of its best people have been dropping out of public life for personal reasons; a problem that has not afflicted the New Progressive Party to such an extent.

By the end of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló’s eight years in office, many key posts had seen two or three different faces, but the Calderón administration has been hit with such personnel problems after two years in office. The governor has made some good picks – Education Secretary César Rey and Family Secretary Yolanda Zayas pop immediately to mind – but she has had problems filling posts almost since the moment she was elected.

Key public relations, public safety and other posts have been left unfilled for months at a time or have seen an unhealthy number of changes, even the key Police Department, which has seen three different superintendents and with them an almost constant wave of reshuffling of top officers.

The trend has just accelerated since Gov. Calderón announced she would not seek reelection, with the administration losing such key faces as Labor Secretary Víctor Rivera. A day after officiating the governor‚s wedding, Supreme Court Chief Justice Andréu García announced he would retire at the end of the month, leaving a spot on the top court for Calderón confidante and Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado. Police Superintendent Víctor Rivera is expected to return to the bench before the end of the governor‚s term and Chief of Staff César Miranda has been talked about as a new head of the Telecom Regulatory Board.

The best and the brightest of the PDP showed up at the wedding, with large smiles and congratulations for the governor and Cantero Frau. But there was the feeling they’d be much happier if the gathering promised some political punch for the party, which it did not, since the strongest political leader it currently has is not seeking election in 2004. And her wedding was probably the biggest reason why.

The governor miscalculated badly when she orchestrated the PDP backing of former governor’s son José Alfredo Hernández Mayoral for gubernatorial candidate just to see him drop out of race. (It’s noteworthy that not one member of the Hernández Colón clan attended the wedding.)

Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, who went on to win the PDP nomination, was hurt badly by that initial snub, and he is now stuck with the label of being a second choice.

Calderón will have to make it up to her hand-picked running mate in 2000 by campaigning fiercely for Acevedo Vilá, or her storybook wedding could be somewhat tarnished by the election of November 2004.

John Marino, City Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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