Former Puerto Rico Governor Encourages Students To Help the Poor

By John Mason

Sila Calderon, center, with Eastern students Katherine Ruiz, left, and Pamela Hernandez.

Sila Maria Calderon delivered a passionate message of social responsibility, community commitment, and helping the poor to students and facility Monday afternoon at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic.
The former governor of Puerto Rico said, “If you ever have the chance to give a couple of years to public service, do it. You’re going to be the happiest person in the world.”
Calderon is making several appearances in Connecticut to promote her philanthropic foundation – The Center for Puerto Rico: Sila M. Calderon Foundation – which addresses issues of poverty, women’s rights, urban development and strengthening ethical values and social issues.
In 2001, Calderon became the first woman elected as governor of Puerto Rico. She also has served as the mayor of the island’s capital, San Juan, and secretary of state.  As governor, she started numerous programs for economic development, tourism, education and drug enforcement.
However, Calderon bucked decades of tradition when she decided not to serve a second four-year term. She called the decision the biggest mistake of her life.
“I thought I was getting too old,” said Calderon, 69, who was married and divorced three times and has three grown children from her first marriage.  “I wanted my private life back.  Looking back … I should have stayed on,” she said, given the political turmoil that ensued shortly after she left.
In 1989, while the Commonwealth’s Secretary of the State, Calderon had a profoundly moving experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo, which devastated the island. As she toured the countryside – meeting the people affected by the devastation, hardship and death resulting from the hurricane – she became increasingly aware she wanted to help those in need. She left public office not long after to coordinate efforts to re-build the island.  “Social responsibility, to me, is the obligation to extend your hand to the less fortunate. There’s nothing more valuable than the dignity of human beings,” Calderon said during her 30-minute speech.
Eastern alum Yolanda Negron told Calderon she met her in the late 1980s while visiting relatives in Puerto Rico after the hurricane.  Negron praised Calderon for her compassion toward others, but more importantly, she said she idolized Calderon for having the strength to battle the island’s drug and corruption problems.
Despite her assertion, it is clear that Calderon has been a force to be reckoned with. While she was governor, she started several economic growth and job creation programs that helped the island’s most disadvantaged residents.
But one program that continues to haunt Calderon eight years after leaving office is a billion dollar project, The Special Communities Program that went toward housing and infrastructure. Longtime opponents continue to assert that some of the funds were unaccounted for and the program didn’t achieve its objectives. The legislature continues to investigate the allegations.
When asked about the program, Calderon jokingly offered a flippant response, “I stole everything,” she said.  And then, more seriously, “They have been investigating this for eight years since I left and they have not been able to find anything about the program that is irregular.”
Calderon strongly believes that the island should remain a U.S. Commonwealth as opposed to becoming the country’s 51st state.  “I believe in permanent ties with the United States.  I’m very proud of my citizenship and share the same values of democracy and liberty,” she said.
“She’s great,” said Estela Lopez, a friend, who helped arrange Calderon’s talk Monday and another scheduled today, Sept. 18, at Hartford Hospital in conjunction with the Latino Endowment Fund of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. “Since leaving politics she’s found a way to continue addressing poverty.”
Dr. Elsa Nunez, the university’s president, said what amazed her about Calderon’s life is her ability to relate to poor people in light of having come from a wealthy family. “It’s very unusual,” Nunez said, “that someone from her elite background would care so deeply about the poor people of Puerto Rico.”
Eastern students Katherine Ruiz, 17, and Pamela Hernandez, 17, who are Latina, said Calderon is a positive role model for women working in male-dominated careers. “I’m very proud of how she has improved the lives of people, both while in office and now,” Ruiz said.


4 thoughts on “Former Puerto Rico Governor Encourages Students To Help the Poor

  1. I have to protest but did anyone forget what SILA CALDERON did with 1000 million of dollars of contracts? She gave 30 million dollars of contracts to her own daughters construction company. It was a huge scandal of corruption in Puerto Rico!
    Shame! In this article these young women that say that “she is great and has the ability to relate to poor people” YOU DO NOT KNOW THE HISTORY OF PUERTO RICO under her tenure SHE ROBBED FROM THE PEOPLE AND GAVE ALL THE MONEY TO HER FAMILY AND FRIENDS! And now she is helping the poor? THIS IS A JOKE!
    WE WILL NOT FORGET WHAT SHE DID! She was the “PAPA DOC” of Puerto Rico. Corrupt to the core!

  2. I am a PhD student at the University of Puerto Rico, I am an entrepreneur owner of Fast Lane and Founder of Yees! the only entity dedicated exclusively to teach our kids in Puerto Rico to become entrepreneurs.
    I am not into politics and we have no relation with Sila Calderón foundation, except that we rent their facilities to teach our kids to become entrepreneurs.
    I have seen with my own eyes what she is doing for the poor and its amazing, she is empowering the poor with education, one by one, all this after being governor, not like the other governors of the Island that are doing nothing, except for themselves.
    I do not agree with Rosalma Flores comments because what ex governor Calderón is doing today. Her empowering the poor movement is for real and she is making a difference, being on the field with her team, teaching by example.

  3. Only a sick person can make comments such as what Rosalma Flores has written here. Ms Calderon was born rich. She had no reason to steal from the people of Puerto Rico. She was a great Governor that focused on helping the poor by improving their living conditions and quality of life. Come and see what she has done in Cantera! And there are many more examples. Please have the decency and respect that a former Governor deserves.

  4. domingo, 27 de febrero de 2011
    Doña Sila y la ideología del inmovilismo
    La semana pasada, Sila Calderón, quien tiene la dudosa distinción de haber sido gobernadora de Puerto Rico, nos sermoneó sobre la necesidad de darle al Partido Popular la oportunidad de volver al poder. Esta señora tuvo la babilla de regañar a esos que están tratando de inscribir partidos políticos nuevos, pues “solamente las mayorías robustas” pueden “producir cambios.” Primero, si el PPD es una mayoría robusta, que gane sin la ayuda de los que ya no lo ven como una opción. Segundo, el PPD no busca cambio alguno. Solamente le interesa recuperar el control del desprestigiado gobierno del llamado ELA. Tercero, esta señora ya tuvo la oportunidad de hacer algo distinto a lo que sus predecesores y sucesores han hecho, e hizo nada que valga la pena recordar, emular o continuar. Su cinismo es tan atroz como su maternalismo y su noción de que somos unos idiotas. Repudio su falta de respeto, su cinismo y su pretensión de que tiene algo relevante que decirnos.
    Publicado por Roberto Ariel Fernández en 19:42 Sin comentarios:
    In other words she did nothing during her term and she dares come here to be glorified! tooooo funny! Sila, where are the millions that you stole from the people of Puerto Rico?

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