Restoring the rule of law in Puerto Rico

As I have written repeatedly, I believe that Puerto Rico suffers from the "Broken Windows" theory. For example, have you ever noticed when you're stick in a tapon that no one uses the emergency lane until that first person breaks the law and accelerates across the solid white line. You do remember it is illegal to cross a solid white (or yellow) line painted on the street, right?

Well after that first car zooms by, then you'll see them whiz by in droves. That's a simple example of "broken windows" in action. Everyone usually obeys the law until someone breaks it, then it's "Okay," because someone else did it first. Or perhaps they think "They can't catch us all." Anyway you look at it,

Following the theory, if we can catch enough drivers and fine them accordingly, we should drastically reduce the use of the emergency lane. Raising the fine to $250 worked, a little. Unfortunately, when you have Senators breaking the law and the government reducing or eliminating traffic fines, well it's a little hard to convince anyone not to break the law.

A simple solution?

While I'm against any increase in unauthorized surveillance and the ever closer reality of "Big Brother," why don't we install cameras along the primary toll roads and capture the license plate numbers for anyone who uses the emergency lane? The cameras could be motion activated, so when an invisible threshold is crossed, the camera snaps a picture, and a computer scans the picture for the plate number and sends the owner of the vehicle a ticket. Simple, right?

But you know, that really wouldn't be any different then it is right now. Follow with me as I break this down using deductive reasoning. In this exercise, we'll start with the following assumption, we already have a "system" in place that should force a payment for every parking or moving violation.

  1. Every year we must pay any parking tickets we receive in order for us to buy our "marbetes." Then every six years, in order for us to renew our license, we must pay fines for any moving violations we receive.
  2. So let's now continue by asking why our government would be tempted to grant amnesty for all or part of the tickets we receive?
  3. If our system is working correctly, those fines would HAVE to be paid in order to continue driving legally (which is another BIG assumption, I know). Right?
  4. So there must be a loophole somewhere in the system that allows people to renew their marbetes and their license without paying those fines. Right?
  5. Of course, it should be obvious, that the only loophole possible is that someone who works within the system permits people to obtain their marbetes or license without passing go, and without paying $200 (or $2,000 in the case of Evelyn Vázquez).
  6. Which leads us back to the rule of law. Most of our systems are based on the assumption that we will follow the rules. When we allow people to break the rules and escape punishment, then we negate the rules.

    Unfortunately, our society is based on the assumption that if you break the rules you will receive punishment. Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time. Right? When you eliminate the threat of punishment, then rules cease to exist. When rules cease to exist for "some" people, then the theory of broken windows implies that the rules cease to exist for more and more people.
Pop Quiz

What do you call some one who breaks the law? Yes, we call them a criminal.

While I know it seems a little totalitarian, but I think we should, to the best of our abilities, follow the rules (laws). Some rules are widely known, while some we've just become oblivious to their existence. Some crimes are harsher than others, that's why they carry stiffer penalties, but in the end, the more we all break the law, the more we empower others to break the law (again broken windows).

So it becomes a slippery slope between a little corruption in your local CESCO office and someone committing a drive-by shooting. The slipperiness comes from our different boundaries. While you and I might think that a traffic ticket is no big deal, others might believe that rules that govern "street respect" or "street cred" outweigh the threat of any punishment for murder. And with a very low percentage of arrests and convictions for murder in Puerto Rico, the threat of punishment for murder is uncomfortably low.


From corruption, to running red lights, to assassination, to driving in the emergency lane, to operating a cash-based business, and not paying for licenses or taxes, unfortunately, too many of our citizens live in a state of criminality. They live beyond the rule of law, they live in direct defiance of the rule of law.

I know I seem like a starry-eyed idealist who believes in the importance of concepts like truth, honesty, integrity, fairness, and duty. If so, then I'm guilty as charged. What I do know, is that no matter what I think, no matter what you think, we all share one thing. We all live on this rock in the middle of the ocean. That means that we are all connected and intermingled within a cobweb of systems and relationships. Very little can happen to anyone without it having direct or indirect influence on each our lives.

What I'm hoping for, what I'm calling for can not be better expressed than in the infamous lyrics of Michael Jackson. He too was sometimes ostracized for being an idealist, but in the wake of his passing, I was struck with how those ideals are what most people remember. So in his honor, I offer you these lyrics:
"I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message
Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change"
Flickr Creative Commons Contributor: Diane M. Byrne