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PUERTO RICO
Green governor?
IPS
8/17/2002
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Environmentalists claim that Gov. Calderón is showing her true colors.

Environmentalists are starting to doubt Gov. Sila Calderón’s commitment to the "green" views that she espoused during her 2000 election campaign and whether she will fulfill her promise to promote sustainable development.

Environmentalists had accused her predecessor, former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, of favoring explosive urban growth, and hoped that Calderón, of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), would reverse his policies (LP, Feb. 12, 2001).

"What we are witnessing here is the same style, which the people thought they had defeated in the last elections," the Coalition Against Environmental Corruption, an umbrella group of activist organizations, said in a statement. "This administration is doing the same: basing our economy on the construction industry and keeping the money flowing by instituting a development policy that will cause the accelerated devastation of our natural resources."

The last straw for critics was the forced resignation of two strong pro-environment staff members, Félix Aponte and Hermenegildo Ortiz, from the Puerto Rico Planning Board, which is responsible for evaluating construction proposals. Environmental activists believe the two were fired because of pressure from the construction industry.

The Puerto Rico Homebuilders Association had taken out full-page newspaper ads in which it complained that Planning Board delays have paralyzed the island’s economy and cost 35,000 construction jobs.

"In her political program, the governor spoke of transparency, citizen participation, sustainable development and a new vision," said Wanda Colón, a spokeswoman for the Coalition Against Environmental Corruption. "But the reality is just development, not preceded by the word ‘sustainable.’"

Environmental activist Juan Rosario accused Calderón of accelerating approval for construction permits.

"Our Environmental Policy Act requires construction projects to go through environmental studies, which make it impossible for permit processes to be brief," he said.

After meeting with leaders of environmental, professional, grassroots and labor organizations, Calderón said she would not rehire Aponte and Ortiz, but she offered to establish an environmental advisory board that would include civil society groups.

The organizations are debating whether to accept the proposal. Meanwhile, the Homebuilders Association has taken out new ads warning of economic doom if the government continues to delay or deny construction permits. — IPS


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