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In visit to Pittsburgh, San Juan mayor says time at CMU shaped philosophy

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 11:03 p.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and 1986 CMU grad Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto gives an interview Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Hamburg Hall on the Oakland campus of Carnegie Mellon University.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto arrived in Pittsburgh this week eager to spread the message that the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is prospering and needs to be more self-supporting.

“Puerto Rico is a thriving island nation that is a bridge among two cultures, Latin culture and the American culture,” Cruz told the Tribune-Review in an interview before a speech at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, where she earned a master's degree in 1986. “Times have changed. We need to be more self-sufficient, in terms of our economic development, so that we are allowed to explore different venues of different alliances with different countries.”

Cruz, 51, plans to spend three days in the city and will participate in a meeting on Wednesday of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She plans to attend a City Council meeting. It is her first visit to the city since she lived in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside and Bethel Park from 1984 to 1992. Upon graduating from Carnegie Mellon, she worked in human resources for Westinghouse Electric Co.

Puerto Rico, an island of about 4 million people, is in dire financial shape, with municipal debt of $70 billion. The economic revival of the island's capital is a priority for Cruz, a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports remaining a commonwealth of the United States. Under that status, Puerto Rico is subject to U.S. laws, though residents are exempt from some federal taxes.

Cruz does not favor statehood, but she acknowledged that much of Puerto Rico's development emerged from its relationship with the United States, which has to be “recognized and respected.”

“(Statehood) wouldn't be beneficial because eventually you would lose your cultural distinction,” she said. “A relationship with the United States is important. How we manage that relationship is what has to be tempered to the times.”

Statehood would lead to federal contributions, but would mean too much dependence on the government, making it a “passport to a welfare environment,” Cruz said.

“It is only through that financial independence that you are able to stay on course with your own vision,” she said. “If your vision on public policy depends on where the money comes from, your vision is going to change when that bank does not have any more funds.”

Cruz became San Juan's mayor in January 2013, the third woman to hold the office. She said her education at Carnegie Mellon shaped a philosophy that helped her succeed as a public servant. She is working with university officials to establish a summer internship program in Puerto Rico for Heinz College graduates.

“The opportunity she's talking about is perfect for students looking to work in city government. I can't imagine having a better mentor and a better experience,” said Brenda Peyser, associate dean of the School of Public Policy and Management.

Cruz doesn't worry that the weak economy has prompted many young professionals to leave the island for the U.S. mainland.

“We are exporting good professionals that show the world what we are all about,” she said. “The idea is, how do we get them to still maintain interest and to still contribute.”

Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media's medical editor. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or

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