Sila María Calderón Serra (born September 23, 1942) is a Puerto Rican politician, businesswoman, and philanthropist who served as Governor of Puerto Rico from 2001 to 2005. She is the first woman elected to that office; Wanda Vázquez Garced would become the second in 2019. Prior to serving as governor, Calderón held various positions in the Government of Puerto Rico, including the 12th Secretary of State of Puerto Rico from 1988 to 1989, and Chief of Staff to Governor Rafael Hernández Colón. She was also Mayor of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, from 1997 to 2001.
Early life and education
Sila Calderón was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 23, 1942 to entrepreneur César Augusto Calderón and Sila Serra Jesús. Her maternal grandfather Miguel Serra Joy emigrated from Majorca, Balearic Islands to Puerto Rico in the late 19th century. Calderon was granted Spanish citizenship in 2012. She attended high school at the Colegio Sagrado Corazón de Las Madres in Santurce, Puerto Rico. In 1964 she graduated with honors from Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government. She later attended the Graduate School of Public Administration at the University of Puerto Rico.
Her career began in 1973 when she was named Executive Aide to the Labor Secretary, Luis Silva Recio. Two years later, she was named Special Aide for Economic Development to then Governor, Rafael Hernández Colón.
After Hernández Colón was defeated in the 1976 general elections, Calderón went to work on the private sector working as Director of Business Development at Citibank, N.A. in San Juan. At the time, Citibank in San Juan was one of John Reed's experimental marketing centers. As part of her business development responsibilities, Calderón designed and marketed several new consumer products which significantly increased the earnings of the Retail Division of the Bank. In 1978, she became president of Commonwealth Investment Company, a family real estate concern that owned and managed industrial buildings.
In 1984, Rafael Hernández Colón was again elected governor and he appointed Calderón as Chief of Staff, being the first woman in that position. In 1988, Hernández Colón named her Puerto Rico's 12th Secretary of State also
During this time, Calderón was also part of the Governor's Economic Adviser Council and the Board of Directors of the Puerto Rico Government Development Bank and the Center for Specialized Studies in Government Management. She also presided the Inversions Committee of the Industrial Development Company. She was also Secretary General of the Commission that organized the activities of the Fifth Centenary of the Discovery of the Americas.
Calderón resigned in 1989 and returned to her business endeavors. She served on the boards of major local corporations such as BanPonce, Banco Popular, and Pueblo International. She also served as part of the Committee for Economic Development of Puerto Rico, the Sor Isolina Ferré Foundation, and as President of the Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting Corporation during 1991 and 1992.
Calderón returned to public life in 1995, running in the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) primary for Mayor of San Juan. She won the primary handily over her two opponents by a huge margin. After that, she became President of the Municipal Committee of the PPD in San Juan, and later became part of the Board of Directors of the Party.
In the 1996 general elections, she was elected Mayor of San Juan, becoming the second woman in the city's history to serve in that office and the first woman elected to the position. As mayor, she undertook one of the largest public works program in the city to date, sponsoring various urban redevelopment projects to revitalize Old San Juan, Condado, Río Piedras, Santurce, and other deteriorated sections of the city. She also initiated the Special Communities Program to assist poor communities’ empowerment and economic development.
On April 21, 1999, Calderón presented her candidacy to be Governor of Puerto Rico. In May 31, she won the primary and took the presidency of the party, with then-President Aníbal Acevedo Vilá assuming the role of Vice-president. Acevedo Vilá eventually became Calderón's running mate for Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico.
In 2000, Calderón led the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) during a close campaign for governor against Carlos Pesquera (PNP) and Rubén Berríos (PIP). Calderón was elected governor, becoming the first elected female governor in the history of Puerto Rico. After being sworn in, Calderón appointed her two daughters, Sila Mari and María Elena, to serve as First Ladies.
As governor, Calderón took action to eliminate corruption and restore confidence in the government, strengthen public finances and retain credit quality, spurred economic growth and job creation, and gave particular attention to the most disadvantaged sectors. To this program Calderon gave 1.4 Billion dollars to the project of special communities. This money was given to the municipalities of Puerto Rico. Much of this money was diverted to other funds. An investigation about this matter is being currently performed by legislature. She however was commended by President George W. Bush and by the Department of Housing and Public Works for her great efforts to combat poverty. She remains one of the few woman governors in the United States that has been praised for her great works as a first executive.
In 2003, Calderón announced her determination to fulfill the commitments of her platform and her decision not to seek re-election in 2004.
On May 26, 2004, Calderón had to deal with a man who entered La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion, with a knife and took a receptionist hostage, demanding to speak directly with Calderón. After Calderón negotiated with the hostage taker, the man dropped the knife and surrendered to the police.
Calderón is pursuing her private endeavors, a business and trade consulting firm, Inter-American Global Links, Inc. (IGlobaL), with links in Central America, the Caribbean and the United States and is also spearheading the development of an environmentally oriented 500-unit housing project in Puerto Rico. She chairs a philanthropic Foundation which has establish a non-profit and non-partisan entity – The Center for Puerto Rico: Sila M. Calderón Foundation – which gives attention to the issues of poverty, women, urban revitalization, ethical values and social responsibility.
Calderón was elected Trustee of the New York Public Library in 2007 and sits on the advisory boards of Primera Chicago and of the Health and Hospital Company (HHC) Foundation of New York City.
Honours and awards
During her career, Calderón has received many honors and awards:
- The Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce named her Outstanding Woman in the Public Sector three times (1975, 1985, 1987).
- In 2005, she was named as one of the Distinguished Women of the Year by the Product Association of Puerto Rico.
- In 1987, she was granted the Order of Isabella the Catholic by the Juan Carlos I, King of Spain.
- In 1988, she was selected Leader of the Year in the field of Public Works by the American Public Works Association, Chapter of Puerto Rico.
- In 2003, she received the Harvard Foundation Award.
- In 2004, she received the Golden Plate Award from the Academy of Achievement in Washington, DC.
Calderón has also received several honorary degrees:
- 1989 - Manhattanville College – Doctor in Arts and Humanities
- May 1997 – Manhattanville College – Doctor of Humane Letters
- May 2001 – Boston University – Doctor of Laws
- May 2001 – New School University – Doctor of Laws
During her tenure, Calderón gave particular attention to strengthening the economic, commercial and cultural ties between Puerto Rico and its Latin American neighbors. Underlining this effort, official visits were paid by Governor Calderón to the Dominican Republic, Panama and Costa Rica in the years 2001, 2002 and 2004. In recognition of her administration's efforts of collaboration between these countries and Puerto Rico, their governments bestowed upon her their most important civil orders: the Order of Merit of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella of the Dominican Republic; the Order of Núñez de Balboa of Panama; and the Order of Juan Santamaría of Costa Rica.
Calderón was married to engineer Francisco Xavier González Goenaga from 1964 to 1975. They had three children together: Sila María, Francisco Xavier, and María Elena. Both Sila María and María Elena are attorneys, and they served as "First Ladies" of the Commonwealth during Calderón's governorship. Francisco is an investment banker at RBC Capital Markets.
In 1978, Calderón married entrepreneur Adolfo Krans. They divorced in 2001 after 23 years of marriage.
Calderón married again, during her tenure as governor, with Ramón Cantero Frau, her former Secretary of the Department of Economic Development. The wedding was celebrated on September 10, 2003. They were divorced two years later.