Friday, December 7, 2007

The Growing Divide

Please note: the photo on the left was obtained from Flickr

We often avoid talking about issues that may open wounds, or perhaps may seem controversial. Obviously, we also skirt certain topics in order to avoid shame and embarrassment. Poverty is one such topic in Puerto Rico. Based on the findings of Linda Colón Reyes, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, income inequality in the Island of Enchantment is the fourth worst in Latin America. Brazil, Nicaragua and Paraguay obtained the first three spots, respectively. Unfortunately, Latin America is notorious for having a huge gap between the rich and poor. However, I was quite surprised to find out that Puerto Rico came in fourth, or perhaps I shouldn't be. It just never occurred to me that the wealth distribution is so unevenly spread here, much worse than in other Latin American countries.

The pictures above illustrate the tremendous divide between the haves and have-nots. On the left is La Perla, a poverty-stricken area in Old San Juan. On the right is Palmas del Mar, located in the Southeastern part of the island, which is filled with million-dollar homes and yachts. In many areas of Puerto Rico, one will find public housing projects (known as caserios) located close to upscale neighborhoods. The other day, I was taking a stroll in one such neighborhood, called Condado, I took a left turn on one of the main streets (Calle Loiza) and found myself in a whole different world. According to my late father, this form of city-planning was an idea from the 1950's, of the island's first governor Luis Muñoz Marin, who believed that the poor can be inspired by the wealthy to do better.

These days, the rich seem to be in a mad sprint to get away from the poor. The past ten to fifteen years, Puerto Rico has been constructing countless number of exclusive gated communities, something which continues today. This time, they are located nowhere near the caserios. Sadly, this growing divide is rarely mentioned in the newspapers, and politicians don't bother talking about it either. I commend Professor Reyes for bringing to light this serious issue in her book, Pobreza en Puerto Rico, radiografia del proyecto americano. As citizens, we each have a responsibility to be aware of what goes on in society. It's dangerous to have a nonchalant attitude, such as foolishly believing that what doesn't affect "me" directly isn't considered to be "my" problem. We live in a world where things come in full-circle.

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