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“Unlikely duo” a hit at Miami Conference

© By John Collins (Caribbean Business 12/13/01) 

Puerto 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,” he said.

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.”

Calderon 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. 

January 07, 2001

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