Rico and the Dominican Republic (D.R.) dominated this year’s Miami Conference
on Latin America and the Caribbean with President Hipolito Mejia delivering the
keynote address at the opening dinner and Gov. Sila Calderon speaking at the
plenary luncheon the following day.
Each joined the other at
their respective banquets and together they gave the conference, an annual
affair for 25 years now, a boost since attendance has been declining in recent
years. Attendance at the two functions hovered at 500 whereas in earlier years
they were attended at times by 2,000 or more participants.
“Last year trade between
Florida and the Caribbean surpassed $7 billion of which $4.3 billion was with
the D.R.,” said Mejia. “We are the No. 1 trading partner of the U.S. in the
Caribbean and second in the hemisphere, exceeded only by Brazil.”
After boosting the D.R.’s
potential to host foreign investment,” the president discussed the impact of
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. and the Nov. 12 crash in New York of
the American Airlines plane bound for the D.R.. “We are on the road to overcoming the negative effects on
our economy where both tourism and the free trade zones have been affected,”
Mejia explained the recent
placement of the $500 million bond issue at 9.5% interest as “the best example
of the confidence that our country offers the international financial
community.” Introducing Mejia at the dinner was Luis Pellerano of the Santo
Domingo law firm of Pellerano & Herrera which arranged the bond issue with
Morgan Stanley even after their offices in the World Trade Center were destroyed
in the 9-11 attack.
The contrast between Mejia
and Calderon struck numerous delegates The South Florida Sun Sentinel described
them as “different as oil and vinegar” and “an unlikely pair.” Referring
To him as “macho, slang-talking and full of hyperbole,” the journal said he
runs his country “like a plantation.” Calderon, on the other hand, was
described as “polished, bilingual and a stickler for detail, managing her
island like a corporation.”
“Mine is a new
administration determined to integrate Puerto Rico better with the rest of the
hemisphere,” said Calderon. “I am also intent on bringing about fundamental
change to the island. I am talking about a new management style of
results-oriented government. One which favors business and investment but always
remembers the people we came to serve."
Among the high lights of her
presentation of economic development were four strategies including utilizing
“our fiscal autonomy to the fullest,” “simplifying and accelerate our
permit process,” “reducing the costs of doing business, particularly energy
costs” and “seeking a new federal tax incentive to promote economic
development and investment.”
to push for ACS membership
Emphasizing that “our
Commonwealth form of government allows for a broader regional role,” the
governor said “we are participating again as an observer in CARICOM and are
again active in the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). We are reactivating
our cooperation agreement with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)
and seeking active participation in the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) as
an associate member.
Her move to seek associate
membership in the ACS is opposed by the U.S. Government. Although invited to the
ACS Summit in Margarita Island Dec. 11/12 Calderron reportedly has declined but
will be represented by Secretary of State Ferndinand Mercado.
The governor concluded by
describing the current state of the world as “complex times, but also
marvelous times. Opportunities abound. Let us ignite our potential with unity,
cooperation and the immense creativity of our people. Let us force ahead,
confident with our abilities.”
Introducing Calderon was
McConnell Valdez partner Jorge Gonzalez who is the vice president for Puerto
Rico and trustee of Caribbean Latin American Action (CLAA), the Washington-based
group that sponsors the conference.
Seated at the head table at
Calderon’s presentation, besides Mejia, were
Secretary of Economic Development & Commerce Ramon Cantero Frau, Puerto Rico
Industrial Development Co. president William Riefkohl, Tourism Co. Executive
Director Milton Segarra and newly named U.S. Ambassador to the D.R. Hans Hertell.
Sponsoring the luncheon was
Allergan, represented by vice president Bradford Gary. Also present at the
luncheon were other CLAA trustees representing ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil.
Seated at the head table at
Mejia’s function, in addition to Gov. Calderon, were Panama’s second vice
president Kaiser Bazin. Also D.R. Foreign Minister Hugo Tolentino Dipp, D.R. Amb.
to the U.S. Roberto Saladin, Amb. Hertell, former U.S. Amb. to the D.R. Charles
Manatt, Codetel president Jorge Ramirez and Alfonso Fanjul of Palm Beach, owner
of Central Romana and Casa de Campo, among others.
Speaking about Mejia before
his introduction, Manatt described the president “as the right man at the
right time to be the president of the D.R. He sets forth his commitment with
vitality and knowledge – its obvious he can make the tough decisions that have
to be made.”
At the ribbon-cutting,
opening the exhibition in connection with the conference, Florida’s Secretary
of State Katherine Harris asked President Mejia to join her as well as Panama
vice president Bazin and Cantero Frau who was thanked for Puerto Rico’s
participation in the conference and the resumption of the sponsorship of the
opening reception by Rums of Puerto Rico.
Among the other dignitaries
attending this year’s conference were President Francisco Flores of El
Salvador, prime ministers Owen Arthur and Denzil Douglas, of Barbados and St.
Kitts & Nevis, respectively; CARICOM
Secretary General Edwin Carrington and Forbes publisher Steve Forbes.
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