Puerto Rico Installs 1st Woman Gov.

A hearse carrying the the remains of former President Gerald Ford drives past the University of Michigan band after arriving at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapinds, Mich., on Jan. 2, 2007. The band performed the school's famous fight song, "Hail To The Victors," which was a favorite of Ford's.
AP Photo/Morry Gash
Sila Calderon was sworn in Tuesday as Puerto Rico's first woman governor, promising to seek greater autonomy for the U.S. territory and to halt U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the small island of Vieques.

A crowd of thousands broke into wild applause and chants of "Sila! Sila!" as she took the oath of office on the steps of the island's Capitol, which overlooks the Atlantic. A cannon blasted from the nearby Spanish colonial fort of San Cristobal and doves flew into turquoise skies with lazy clouds.

People marched along the seaside boulevard in front of the Capitol, parading a large banner announcing: "Peace for Vieques Not one more shot!" They processed through a mass of people, who took up the strong chant of "Vieques yes! Navy no!"

Calderon told the Associated Press Monday that she has named her entire Cabinet, plans a first meeting Wednesday and already has drafted some 20-25 new laws, including some to fight the endemic corruption she has promised to halt.

"We're ready," she enthused. "I want to start running. I don't want to start walking."

Calderon's inauguration, coinciding with George W. Bush's start in the presidency, raised the possibility of an even more conflicted relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. government.

Calderon is opposed to statehood, which was championed by outgoing Gov. Pedro Rossello. Her victory in November and her Popular Democratic Party's success in winning the majority of seats in both houses of the local legislature were seen as a collective "No" to making Puerto Rico the 51st state of the union.

It was also viewed as a popular rejection of an agreement between Rossello, the White House and the Navy that would delay any withdrawal of the Navy from its bombing range on Vieques until 2003 even if islanders vote against the Navy's presence in a referendum this year.

"Unfortunately this agreement is not in accord with the general consensus in Puerto Rico," Calderon said in an interview with The AP. "We have to bring this message to Washington, and I want to do it in a way that is open and honest and democratic."

The Navy had agreed to transfer 8,000 acres of Vieques land to the local government last Sunday. However, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig informed Rossello that the transfer would not occur until Calderon promised to stand by the pact.

Calderon says the Navy should get out immediately. "We have fulfilled our responsibilities for the common defense ... with the bombing which has been going on for 60 years," she said. Ending it was part of the mandate she received when she was elected, she said.

Years of simmering resentment over the bombing exploded in anger after two 500-pound bombs were dropped off-target and killed a Puerto Rican guard on the range in April 1999. Protesters invaded the range and prevented further exercises -- which the Navy says are essential to the national defense for a year until federal marshas forcibly removed them in May.

Calderon supports the island's current "commonwealth" status but wants more autonomy.

"We all cherish our (U.S.) relationship, we treasure our U.S. citizenship. We desire the same principles of democracy and liberty," she said of the Spanish-speaking territory that the United States wrested in the 1898 Spanish-American War.

But, "protecting and preserving our heritage, which cannot be compromised, that's not for sale, this is something very precious for us."

Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917 and the island became semiautonomous in 1952. Islanders serve in the U.S. armed forces and are subject to the military draft, but they cannot vote for president and have no vote in Congress.

Puerto Rico receives some $13 billion a year in federal aid including veteran pensions and other entitlements , but they pay no federal taxes, which has become a cause of contention.

Under Rossello, the island lost its status as a tax-free haven for U.S. businesses. Some 10,000 jobs have been lost as a result. The tax-free status had made the island the biggest producer of medication to the U.S. market and provided some $1.2 billion in development funds for Caribbean Basin countries.

Calderon, a business executive and former vice president of Citibank in Puerto Rico, was an architect of that plan when she was Puerto Rico's secretary of state in the last Popular Democratic administration in the 1980s.

In the interview, she said she plans to introduce other incentives to encourage companies from the mainland and elsewhere to invest.

The presidents of Venezuela, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Panama will participate in her inauguration, an indication of the respect she commands.

A native of the city of San Juan, Calderon has a bachelor's degree in political science from New York's Manhattanville College.

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