Saturday, July 25, 2009

Questioning the Status Quo

El Estado Libre Asociado (ELA) de Puerto Rico, aka the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, was officially established on July 25th, 1952. On this date, with the consent of the U.S Congress, the Puerto Rican Constitution was born and the island formally obtained its status as a self-governing territory of the United States. In essence, Puerto Ricans elect its own governor and local representatives. The island's legislative structure is similar to that of the U.S' where it has a Senate (el Senado) and a House of Representatives (La Cámara de Representates). However, the Head of State of Puerto Rico is the President of the United States. In the end, the island is subject to U.S jurisdiction.

Puerto Rico's political status has always been subject of much debate. Yesterday was the 57th anniversary of ELA, and there were celebrations on the island, especially for members of the Partido Popular Democrático (PPD), which favor the status quo. Recently, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierlusi, proposed a plan dealing with the political status of Puerto Rico, known as HR 2499, which proposes a two-tiered plebiscite. Pierlusi is in favor of statehood, who is from the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), he believes Puerto Ricans should have the right to participate in the U.S presidential elections. His plan, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, would first ask Puerto Ricans if they wish to change the island's political status. If the majority votes in the affirmative, then the second referendum would ask the people whether they want the island to become the 51st state of the U.S, or "become a sovereign nation, either fully independent or in free association with the U.S."

The island has had four referendums dealing with its status, the last one was in 1998, and it has always been a dead heat between those ELA supporters and those who are pro-statehood ("estadistas"). Personally, I think the majority of Puerto Ricans are satisfied with the status quo. It would be wonderful to have the issue resolved once and for all, but I'm afraid there will never be a consensus reached.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The 48th Artisans Festival of Barranquitas

Unlike many other Latin American countries, Puerto Rico is not known to have large open-air markets, like those you would see in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Nowadays, Puerto Ricans prefer the large American-style malls, like Plaza Las Americas. Yesterday was certainly an exception. We headed to Barranquitas for the 48th Artisans Festival, or the 48va Feria Nacional de Artesanía de Barranquitas. There were many people browsing through the different kiosks, drinking beer, and eating. There was also a salsa band playing. The atmosphere was great! The festival began last Friday and ends today, Monday. During my previous trip to Barranquitas, the plaza was desolate.

The only other event which I've attended in Puerto Rico, where I found even more artisan work, was the San Sebastian Festival, which is held every January. Artisans in Puerto Rico actually have to register themselves with the Instituto de Cultura Puertoriqueña (the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture), and they'll usually display their registration at their kiosk. Unfortunately, visitors to the island will not normally find a lot of local hand-made artifacts in the most popular tourist areas, such as Old San Juan. The island's biggest shopping mall, Plaza Las Americas, is often the gathering place for most artisans to display their work.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Puerto Rican Tourism

The Yunque Rainforest, which is one Puerto Rico's most popular tourist attractions, is being nominated as one of the New 7 Wonders of nature. The Puerto Rican Tourist Company (PRTC)has been enthusiastically promoting El Yunque by launching a marketing campaign to garner more votes. As with most Caribbean islands, the tourism industry is extremely important to Puerto Rico's economy. A few months ago, when Pres. Obama decided to loosen travel restrictions for those wishing to travel to Cuba, many in Puerto Rico saw it as a threat to the island's tourism sector.

Over 80% of tourists who travel to the island, according to one of the local papers, come from the U.S. Unlike Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico has failed miserably to attract visitors from Europe. I suppose many Americans come here because a U.S passport is not required when visiting. Ironically, many Puerto Ricans themselves travel to the Dominican Republic because it's simply a lot cheaper. In recent years, this neighbor island has actually received more visitors than Puerto Rico itself. There are actually many areas in which this island needs to work on if it wishes to remain competitive in the tourism industry.

Service is one of the issues which Puerto Rico needs to address. For example, ferry service to Vieques and Culebra is atrocious, to say the very least. One of the areas which I believe the PRTC has also neglected are the smaller villages and towns. I am a huge fan of Spanish colonial cities and it saddens me to see the slow decay of so many of Puerto Rico's plazas. Last Sunday, we visited San Germán, an incredibly quaint, cozy and pretty town on the Southwestern part of the island. Unsurprisingly, the local tourism office was closed and there weren't many people walking around at all. Puerto Rico has so much potential to develop itself as a major international tourist destination, but it will certainly require much initiative and effort.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Feliz 4 de Julio

Happy 4th to everyone! One of the things which I miss about living in the mainland U.S is the 4th of July celebration. When I lived in the Big Apple, I was able to see the Macy's fireworks from my window. As a kid, and even as an adult, I was always in awe when I saw and heard the huge displays of colors exploding into the air. Although the 4th is officially a holiday here on the island, it's just not celebrated with the same fervor as you'd see on the mainland. This, of course, is no surprise. Just ask any Puerto Rican on the island if they're American and they'll most likely say: "Yo soy Boricua, papa!" (translation: "I'm Puerto Rican."). On a side note, "papa" is an affectionate way to refer to another male.

Anyway, it is a long wikén for many people here and most will be heading to the beaches. There are some festivities planned at the Hiram Bithorn stadium, where some local politicians are scheduled to appear. American flags, which one would usually see in any Federal building or infrastructure constructed with Federal funds, are not normally seen around the island. To most Puerto Ricans, the 4th of July is also observed along party lines. Most from the blue party (aka Partido Nuevo Progresista) who are pro-U.S will most likely attend tonight's festivities. Unfortunately, like most every issue on the island, the celebration of the 4th is a politicized one as well.