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Op-Ed: End of an ERA, reflections of an economist

Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernández-Colón died May 2, 2019 after a long battle against leukemia and surrounded by his loving family.

He was 82, same age as that of Gov. Luis Muñoz-Marin when he died several decades ago. Guess they will have a lot to chat about now.

Well-deserved honors by the people of Puerto Rico, current Gov. Ricardo Roselló declared a 30-day mourning period, the legislative and judicial branches as well as countless public servants, family, anonymous friends and persons like me who had the privilege of knowing him and collaborating with him witness the end of an era.

Many who have preceded me in exulting the leadership of Gov. Hernández-Colon may have been more eloquent in their expressions, but my reflection is personal and up-close.

In 1974, I returned to Puerto Rico after completing my graduate studies in Economics in England. I had the privilege of starting immediately to work for the Puerto Rico Office of Budget and Management as it was called then.

Part of my duties was to attend the meetings of the Financial Council, presided by Gov. Hernández-Colón, a very young governor at the time. Looking back at that period, I reminisce how fortunate I was to witness history in the making.

The first oil shock and widespread economic recession took place during fiscal year 1974-75. An economy in disarray with mounting fiscal deficits, Gov. Hernández-Colón retained the services of the well-known economist James Tobin for analysis and recommendations.

The austere and difficult measures that were implemented cost him his re-election in 1976. The economy improved and again in 1984 he governed Puerto Rico once again, this time for two terms.

A man of great intellect, always viewing the forest and not just the trees, he always enjoyed a challenging discussion and above all, he was a great listener.

I know because I enjoyed the frank and open discussions regarding the economy, housing, poverty, income inequality, and the concern to make a difference in our lives. Yes, I shall miss this leader, who was also a man who loved and was loved, with great attributes and also frailties.

Though he did not go for re-election in 1992, he was always present in subsequent key political decisions. His book “Contra Viento y Marea” (liberally translated as “Against All Odds”) is one of my favorites, concise, factual, and personal.

Yes, his absence will be sorely missed and though it is the end of an era of true leaders and public servants, it could be the new beginning for those who would like to follow in Gov. Hernández-Colon’s footsteps.
Till we meet again my friend! RIP.

Author Heidie Calero is president of H. Calero Consulting Group Inc.

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