Calderón, Sila María (1942–)
Calderón, Sila María (1942–)
Serving one term as the seventh governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (2000–2004), Sila María Calderón became the first woman to occupy the highest elective office in the history of this Caribbean nation. She was born into an affluent family in the capital city of San Juan, where she lived until attending college in the United States. After earning her degree in government from Manhattanville College in New York (1964), she returned to Puerto Rico to lead a successful career in corporate business, completed a master's degree in public administration from the University of Puerto Rico (1972), and started working in public service. As a member of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party, Calderó n landed her first government appointments in the first administration of Governor Rafael Hernández Colón (1972–1976). She began as executive assistant to the labor secretary, and later became the governor's special assistant for economic development. Upon his reelection in 1984, Colón assigned Calderón even greater responsibilities, making her the first woman ever to hold the position of secretary of state.
In the early 1990s Calderón participated in grass-roots community redevelopment projects in San Juan. This experience provided the blueprint for the Special Communities Program, the urban community revitalization initiative that she spearheaded as mayor of San Juan (1996–2000), and that as governor she transformed into a far-reaching plan to fight poverty and marginalization across the country. The program trained local leaders from impoverished urban and rural areas in community organizing methods. Communities themselves identified their most pressing needs (such as infrastructure, housing, health care, and job training) and together decided on a course of action. These locally generated initiatives were financed from a trust fund run by the Office of Special Communities. Calderón also played a decisive role as governor in securing the total withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from Vieques. For decades, the U.S. Navy had used this inhabited island off eastern Puerto Rico as a live-fire training facility. Governor Calderón's steadfast position on this issue earned her widespread admiration, both nationally and internationally. Calderón did not seek reelection in 2004 and has retired from electoral politics. In the early 2000s she continued to pursue her interests in public policy and social justice through philanthropy, creating an endowment fund to support faculty research and graduate student training in public administration at Rutgers University-Camden.
"A New Governor Ushers in a New Era in Puerto Rico." New York Times, January 6, 2001, p. A8.
Fernández, Ronald, Serafín Méndez Méndez, and Gail Cueto. Puerto Rico Past and Present: An Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Luis A. GonzÁlez