The (Broke) Island of Enchantment

As one of my friends put it, June was a month full of wake up calls for Puerto Rico. Everything happened! The month started with the Givernor declaring that the Island was broke and wanted to declare bankruptcy, a right that States have because they are part of the Union. Quickly Congress scrambled to put a plan in place to “help” the world’s oldest colony as the USA’s Supreme Court deliberated, and later ruled, that as a territory, Puerto Rico is not extended the same constitutional rights as the rest of the nation. This pretty much meant that instead of protecting the local economy from creditors, its status as a territory ensured that the creditors had first pick at any cash the government has collected to pay the past due bills. The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave part doesn’t apply to these US Citizens. Ouch!!!

Congress’s solution, a hasty measure called PROMESA, was approved today authorizing the enactment of a Fiscal Control Board to oversee and undertake all efforts of debt repayment. La Junta, as it is called in Spanish, puts the country under the rule of 8 guys in suits, not elected by the people, to ensure the island survives the financial crisis. The vulture hedge funds are circling and brought their muscle with them to get paid, fast. Tensions are high on the island especially since over 46% of the locals see this “Junta de Control” as a savior. Guess Puerto Rico doesn’t do it better anymore, nor will be given a chance to pull itself back up by the bootstraps.

To add insult to injury, the CDC has declared that the Zika virus is at a state of emergency and high incidence rate in Puerto Rico. The consensus is that it must be contained and is dangerous to the locals and their guests. The solution was to spread NALED over its citizens to kill the dreaded mosquitos that carry it, an agent that is not only toxic when inhaled by living things but deadly. For some reason the authorities thought it was wise to fumigate its people from the skies to solve the so called crisis. Everyone I ask that lives there tells me they don’t know where the scare is coming from because they know more people with Chikungunya than Zika. Tourism plummets as the experts try to figure out what’s going on and continue to advice women to not get pregnant for the sake of the babies. Anything that harms babies isn’t good, right?

On top of all this the unionized taxi drivers are fighting against Uber to ensure their livelihood isn’t threatened. They live off the same tourism that has taken a beating because of the government’s actions (both USA and PR). Many think that this free enterprise will help some make more cash, and help with the economic crisis, but for this model to succeed the internet-based corporation needs to understand that in the land of the “pon” or free ride, very few will pay a fellow stranger to get from point A to point Z. Puerto Ricans barely used taxi and public transportation. That’s why these systems are broke or barely breaking even. Cars are seen as status symbols, so I wonder who can in fact afford or need an Uber. Tourists? Foreigners? The rich? Retirees? God knows that those able bodied and degrees folks are leaving by the thousands, if they haven’t left already. The targeted customer pool is shrinking quickly because of the instability. The Huffington Post called PR a third world country. In my wildest nightmares I never thought it would come to this, that Borinquen was going to fall so hard it would be deemed undesirable.

The only thing left to break is the natives’ fighting spirit. As I type this thousands are congregating to protest the many evils PROMESA brings: the dismantling of schools and the privatization public utilities. The last successful protest made the PR Senate retract a measure that would grant hotels and resorts rights to privatize the beach fronts. The legislators are mote than ready to sell the natural beauty and resources of their country to the highest bidder to make some coin. Disgusting. Sad. Inconceivable!

To the people back on the island, I urge you to continue the fight and to march to protect your rights and country. Get educated, go out into the streets and lobby for what is correct. Don’t think someone else is going to do it for you. The Island was deemed a Colony, not autonomous and subjugated to the motherland’s whims. Don’t be fooled, they will squeeze every last cent out of the citizens to pay themselves and line the foreigner lender’s pockets. That minimum wage of $4.25 for any adult under 25 is a slap on the face. Fight for the future generation that will be paying for their elders’ mistakes for the rest of their lives! Rage, rage, against the dying of the light!

To my fellow tourists, including those Boricuas that see themselves as exiled folk and now live abroad, don’t stop visiting. This is history in the making. Become a part of it and engage in dialogue with those living in this beautiful Caribbean jewel. The passion these people possess is not only bold but very contagious. Enjoy the island before it is pillaged and plundered. Take in the sights of the civil movement. If this doesn’t result in a plea for independence, nothing will. Consider the alternatives; there aren’t many.

¡Despierta Boricua!

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