How to Save Puerto Rico

As I mentioned in my long forgotten last post, I'm going to take a little sample from Dave Pollard's "how to save the world" biography page (with a few substitutions):

"I believe [Puerto Rico (as we know it)] is in its last century. While we have a responsibility to do the best we can to make [Puerto Rico] a better place while we're here, and to help our descendants cope with the mess we are leaving them, it is really too late for [Puerto Rico] to be 'saved'."
Now I most certainly don't want to come off as a doom sayer, which I kind of tend to be, but if you'll bear with me, I'd just like to pull back the veil a little bit and show you what I see.

Before giving you a peek, I'd like to acknowledge that I understand that despite these obstacles and structural flaws, we must continue to do the best we can. By working around these issues, we will certainly gain some hope and make it seem like we're making "progress." Who knows, we may even be able to achieve 3% GDP growth at some point in our future, but I feel that it will short lived and illusory. I've been called an idealist, but I guess that's where the rub is. If we can't solve these fundamental issues, than anything we create will be blown away. Yes, just like the story of the three little pigs.

So just what are these fundamental issues that ultimately prevent Puerto Rico from being saved? For your co-miseration (it's cool to make up new words):
  1. A government that is too large, with no feasible way to reduce it.

    If there are, let's say 1 million people working "on the books" in Puerto Rico and 30% work for the government, that's 300K employees. If the government is reduced by half, where do those 150K employees find employment? (See number 2) If each worker is associated with a spouse and 2.3 children, how do those 650K people find something to eat?

  2. Insufficient "real" employment for existing population.

    Call it over-population, or whatever, there is just not enough jobs to support a middle class which is rapidly being displaced to a lower class.

  3. An "invisibly" (and forbideen to talk about) distinct separation of the classes.

    Why aren't our "leaders" horrified by the climbing murder rate, or for that matter a murder rate which has never really slacked off for the last 30 years? How many murders must there be until our "leaders" say enough is enough? Or how many of the "elite" must be affected by our criminal culture before they get "serious." Let's get real here, as long as the upper 5% is not affected by the vicious cycle of drugs and crime, those that are, are considered disposable, non-humans.

  4. Puerto Rico is a Kleptocracy or more plainly, a criminal state.

    What do you call someone who disobeys a law? (This is not a joke) They are a criminal. I bet, that if the next time you see someone run through a red light, you say to yourself, there goes a criminal, you'll immediately have a new perspective on how acceptable that action is. What is the difference between disregarding a traffic law and disregarding the murder laws? What! You say, those aren't anything alike, I mean for God's sake one is a victimless crime while the other ends a life.

    Now, just for a moment, place yourself in the shoes of a kid living in the projects who is surrounded by drugs, crime, and prostituation. Consider also that his parents, schools, government, and soceity have failed him and shown him he is expendable. Do you think he gives a damn about the distinction of the severity of a crime? For him, his lawless environment gives him no way to see any difference. And if he isn't gunned down, then by some miracle of police effectiveness, we'll just add one more to our exploding prison system.

  5. It's everyman and everywoman for themselves here.

    Call it zero-sum theory, or protecting what's yours. Consistently through all of the classes of society there is no sense of "we," as in "we are in this together" or "we are part of a global economy."

    Even the very organizations we create to "help" each other (unions, non-profits, chamber of commerce, detallistas, etc.), eventually decay into a self-fulfilling organism which is mostly interested in perpetuating itself, instead of actually providing any benefit to anyone other than the leadership of that organism.

    Where are the grass-roots organizations which create charters that limit the size of leadership size, limit the benefits of their leaders, and open themselves up for public scrutiny? Where are the user-groups which band together to share knowledge and advance their members? Name me one technology support group that still exists and regularly provides valuable and useful assistance to its' members. Where are the social entrepreneurs who recognize that our "government" is powerless to address many of Puerto Rico's core issues and devise a business to help? Or for that matter, why aren't there more organizations that are forming to combat our problems?

  6. Our inability to make a decision regarding status.
    In the end you have to ask yourself, "What is it called when the same status has been around for more than 50 years?" You call it a decision. If we wanted our status to be something else than we would have changed it. Making no choice is still a decision. While I believe that deep down, as demonstrated in the pride in our anthem, our folk songs, our celebration of any achievement, most Puerto Ricans want Puerto Rico to be independent. Even in people who say they are PNP, you hear them say I'm Puerto Rican first, then I'm an American citizen. Translation, I am and will always prefer to be an independent entity. But damn if my BMW, beach house, closed community, cigars, Dom Perignon, vacation in Tahoe or Disney, and mass consumption fine.

  7. We don't "own" any of these problems.

    By relegating the solution (and the underlying responsibility) to the government, our schools, and the resolution of the status issue, we essentially rationalize away our part or participation in the creation, sustenance, and acceptance of these problems. Hey man, just don't ask me to sacrifice or invest anything to actually work on these issues, I'm too busy and comfortable to become involved.
In the end, you have to conclude, that as a society we have no conscience. What's that? It's the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good. How else could you explain an island which has absolutely no strategy (or recognition as a problem) to manage it's solid waste? Where exactly are our children and grand-children supposed to dispose of their garbage when there's no place left to put it? Will they ship it to the Dominican Republic?

I know, wha wha wha. These are the problems that nearly every society faces. So why should Puerto Rico be any different? If other countries can't fix these problems, what gives us any hope that we can do better? Well I say, who gives a shit what any one else is doing in their country, I mean isn't that pretty much our attitude anyway? I'm just flipping that perspective on it's head and saying that if we don't care enough about our people, our culture, and our beautiful little island, then who will? We should only be concerned with how we are going to fix our problems.

Imagine that you're a doctor, and Puerto Rico is the patient. Can you hope to save the patient if we work around the fundamental cause of the patient's symptoms? Would that patient have any chance if we only treated their symptoms? Oh yes, I know it hurts, just tell them to drink these pain killers(alcohol, drugs, mass consumption) and it will go away. Never mind that they have Dengue Fever and will be dead in a week. At least they'll feel good on the way out! Then when they're dead, then I guess they're not your problem anymore, are they?

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TH Williams

11 de enero de 2009, 12:39
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Borinquen, as so many people called Puerto Rico when I lived there long ago, has a long history and strong family ties. Urbanization threatens this but declining incomes may in fact cause some families to grow closer. The links to New York and Chicago are not necessarily to be frowned upon, it gives the island outside sources of income and possibility. If Puerto Ricans living up north could put in a good word for the island itself more people of all nationalities would go there to discover the beauty and people for themselves.

In this piece I explore old Puerto Rico, there are hints to solutions for modern day issues contained within:

Puerto Rico and Puertoricanos have a long history and vibrant diaspora that carries a distinct set of traditions out into their world. Puerto Rico will never disappear or be completely absorbed by any other nation.