Saturday, June 27, 2009

Farewell, Michael

"Michael Jackson se ha muerto esta tarde en un hospital en Los Angeles," (translation: Michael Jackson died this afternoon at a hospital in Los Angeles) was the first thing I heard as I turned on the radio late Thursday afternoon, while leaving work. I was shocked, it was something which took me by complete surprise, especially since Farrah Fawcett had died on the same day. It was one of those moments where you'll always remember where you were when you first heard the news. Although I'm not the biggest Michael Jackson fan, I truly admire his talent. Despite all the controversies he was involved in, he was and always will be an icon.

Sadly, Michael never made it to the island for a performance but he sure has plenty of fans here. People have been talking about his passing, some radio stations dedicated the entire evening to his career and he has also been the main subject (as in most parts of the world) of the news media. Right now, I'm listening to some of his most famous hits, from "Billy Jean" to "Don't Stop 'till You Get Enough," and I've sure got a long list of songs to go through. There surely is no other Michael Jackson in this world.

(Image obtained from, front cover from 6/26/09)

Monday, June 22, 2009

La Noche de San Juan

Huge masses of people will be heading to the beaches tomorrow night in celebration of "La Noche de San Juan," which literallly means "The Night of San Juan." At the stroke of midnight, people will throw their backs into the water for good luck, and to chase away bad omens and spirits. Some people take three, seven and up to twelve plunges. This annual ritual is observed on June 23rd, and is held in honor of the patron saint John the Baptist, who was born on June 24th. Spain, Portugal, and Venezuela, amongst other countries, also celebrate it with their own traditions and customs.

Here on the island, La Noche de San Juan is an immensely popular event, especially since the capital city is named after its namesake patron saint. Tomorrow night, there will be fireworks, concerts and cultural events held not just in San Juan, but also throughout the island. It also marks the arrival of the summer solstice, the start of the Summer season. Unfortunately, tomorrow night will also be a busy night for the police though. During La Noche de San Juan, people tend to get just a bit carried away with alcohol consumption.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Made in Puerto Rico

A few weeks ago, I was browsing through the duty free shop in the Luis Muñoz Marin Airport and came out empty handed. We were looking to purchase something unique from the island, but besides Bacardi rum, I couldn't find anything worth buying. Then, I started thinking to myself... Well, what does Puerto Rico manufacture? After some Googling, I came across the Website of the Puerto Rican Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO), which contains some interesting information. For instance, it turns out 16 out of the 20 best-selling pharmaceutical drugs (Viagra is made in Barceloneta) in the mainland U.S are manufactured here on the island.

Low and behold, Puerto Rico is actually the world's fifth largest pharmaceutical manufacturing location. Microsoft (an optical media plant) and Hewlett Packard (manufactures printing and computing equipment), amongst other major companies, also have manufacturing facilities on the island. The local government is also trying to lure biotech companies to the island. One of the reasons why Puerto Rico is such an attractive place for many foreign companies is due to its low tax rates and easy access to the U.S market. In fact, many enjoy the benefit of not having to pay any federal taxes. Although Puerto Rico is officially part of the U.S, it is considered to be a separate jurisdiction. The island has its own tax structure. Case in point, the corporate tax rate in Puerto Rico is around 7% while the top corporate tax rate in the U.S is around 35%. Recently, Pres. Obama has called for the curbing of tax havens. If his proposal is enacted, it'll be sure to have a devastating effect on the Puerto Rican economy, which has been in a recession even before the financial crisis took place.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Puerto Rican Coffee

Can you guess which are the top three coffee exporting countries in the world? Well, according to the U.S National Coffee Association, it's Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. Unsurprisingly, Puerto Rico doesn't even make it to the top 10. The island's coffee growing region is located in the mountainous central region, the Cordillera Central, in the towns of Adjuntas, Ciales, Yauco, just to name a few. Coffee was introduced to the island back in the 18th Century and it was once a major coffee exporter, the sixth largest, during the late 19th Century. Nowadays, Puerto Rico actually has to import coffee since demand exceeds supply.

Shortage of labor and the general lack of interest in the agricultural sector are two of the main reasons why the island does not produce enough coffee. If you've never tried Puerto Rican coffee, you should. It's quite mild and smooth, and many coffee connoisseurs consider it to be of really good quality. Yaucono, Café Rico and Café Crema are the major brands, but there are also many smaller roasters, such as Finca Cialitos and Café Real. When visiting the island, unless you're at a Starbucks, don't expect to find flavored coffee. Puerto Ricans drink cortaditos and café con leche. FYI: the photo above was taken at Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce, a former coffee plantation. Look closely and you'll actually see unripe coffee beans, which are green.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Puerto Ricans in the U.S Military

Back in April, during a quick trip to Washington DC, we came across a monument in the World War II Memorial honoring the Puerto Rican soldiers who served in this war. I've met quite a few veterans on the island who have fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In fact, Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S military since 1898. The 65th Infantry Regiment, aka "The Borinqueneers," was an all-volunteer regiment of the U.S Army which participated in both WWI and WWII. They actually made the first shot in WWI, and they will be celebrating their first commemoration at the end of this month.

Currently, there are thousands of Boricuas serving in the U.S military stationed all over the world. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan has caused much uproar here on the island, since nearly 100 Puerto Rican soldiers have died while on duty. I've come across Madres Contra La Guerra (translation: "Mothers Against War") on many occasions while driving by the National Guard station on Roosevelt Avenue. They're anti-war activists on the island that have been spoken out against the war in Iraq from the very beginning. Some are simply against the war, and some say Puerto Rico should not be involved in this so-called "war against terror."