Three days of mourning declared for former Canóvanas mayor ‘Chemo’ Soto Rivera
By The Star Staff
Former Canóvanas Mayor José Ramón Soto Rivera, better known as “Chemo” Soto, a prominent New Progressive Party mayor who also became famous for nightly expeditions in search of the mythical “chupacabras,” died Monday. He was 78 years old.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia declared three days of mourning and ordered all flags to fly at half mast.
Born in 1943, Soto was mayor of Canóvanas from 1993 to 2014, a period in which he spearheaded major renovations and public works in the northeastern municipality.
Soto was born in Loíza, to Ramón Soto Segarra and Rosa Rivera Carrión. He was the sixth of 11 children born to the couple. He began his studies at Cambalache elementary school, and then attended Eugenio María de Hostos Junior High School and Andrés Flores López High School in Canóvanas.
He served with the United States Army in the Vietnam War. After his military service, he became a police officer in the Puerto Rico Police Department. Soto also studied at Puerto Rico Junior College, completing a degree in criminology. He also completed an associate degree in economics and physical education from Interamerican University of Puerto Rico.
In 1978, Soto started working as a private investigator for various banking institutions. He also became involved in the sports field in Canóvanas, and eventually became a leader in the community. This prompted him to seek public office in 1992.
Soto began his tenure as mayor of Canóvanas after he was elected in the 1992 general election. He was reelected five consecutive times (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012), making him one of the island’s longest tenured mayors.
During his time in office, Soto became known for his fervent belief in the existence of the chupacabra. Starting in the 1990s, Soto claimed that the mythical creature roamed the terrain of Canóvanas, and he organized various expeditions to search for it, without success. This earned him the nickname “Chemo Jones” after the character in the Indiana Jones movies.
In 2014, Soto announced his intention to retire from politics. He was succeeded as mayor by his daughter, Lornna Soto. However, the following year Soto announced he would run for a seat in the Puerto Rico Senate, but he was defeated in the 2016 primaries.
A high school in the San Isidro ward of Canóvanas was named José Ramón Rivera Soto High School.
Soto had nine children from several relationships.