Saturday, February 28, 2009

Banking in Puerto Rico

Unlike many of the banks in the mainland U.S, like Citibank and Bank of America, most of the local banks in Puerto Rico have not solicited the help of the federal government. The two exceptions are Banco Popular, which received $935 million, and Firstbank with more than $400 million. Banco Popular, which is the largest local bank on the island, recently announced it will be cutting back on salaries for its high-level executives, among other cost-cutting measures. It has also seen its stock price dramatically plummet over the past year.

One of the reasons why the banks in Puerto Rico have not been affected as badly is because they have not been heavily involved in the sub-prime mortgage disaster. In fact, the major U.S banks do not have a presence here in Puerto Rico. Besides Banco Popular, Westernbank, Doral Bank, FirstBank, RG Premier Bank, Banco Santander, Scotiabank and BBVA are the other major banking institutions on the island. Citibank used to be on the island, before it sold its retail banking division to Banco Popular in 2007. I do wish there was a major U.S bank here on the island, because it would make life much easier whenever I go visit the mainland. FYI: deposits made in the major banks on the island are also FDIC insured, just as they are on the mainland.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Common Spanish Expressions...

Spanish is a beautiful language. Unfortunately, I didn't discover this until I came back here to Puerto Rico, and while traveling to different parts of Latin America. When I lived in New York, I rarely demonstrated my Spanish-speaking skills. One of the advantages of living in other parts of the world is the ability to learn about other cultures and its people. Of course, this includes learning a different language. My Spanish is not perfect, it is still a work in progress. However, it has definitely improved a lot. Here are some of the most common (and some of my favorite) expressions in Spanish.
  • La gota que colmo la copa. This literally means "the last drop that emptied the glass." This is an expression used when something turns for the worse.
  • Te sale un ojo de la cara. This literally means "an eye popping out of your eye." This is an expression used when something is very expensive.
  • En mal tiempo, buena cara. This literally means "in bad times, good face." This is an expression used to encourage people to put their best foot forward, despite going through tough times.
  • Cuesta arriba. This literally means "something which costs above." This expression is used when someone encounters a very difficult task.
  • Matar dos pajaros con un tiro. This literally means "kill two birds with one shot," it is the equivalent of "hitting two birds with one stone."

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Inglehart Values Map

According to the CIA World Factbook, an estimated 85% of Puerto Ricans are Catholic and some 15% are in the "Protestant or other" category. Puerto Ricans will commonly refer to God in many instances. For example, if you've made an appointment with someone and say: "nos veremos la semana que viene" (translation: "we'll see each other next week"), a common response will be: "si Dios quiere" (translation: "God willing"). This was something which I was not accustomed to, since I was raised in New York City, in secular surroundings.

When I came across the Inglehart Values Map, and found Puerto Rico all the way on bottom of the fourth quadrant (obtaining a little over 1 on self-expression and below -2.0 on traditional values), I found some aspects to be true. Based on this values map, Puerto Rican society has a very traditional outlook. In most cases, this is true as most Puerto Ricans have high levels of national pride, are family-oriented, religious, and against abortion. However, the divorce rate in Puerto Rico is quite high as extra-marital affairs are quite common.

As for the self expression value, which is more characteristic of post-industrialization societies, people place a greater emphasis on things like economic and political decision making, as well as quality of life. Puerto Rico is the only Latin American country scoring above 1 on the self expression spectrum. Although politics is certainly something which Puerto Ricans are extremely passionate about, I don't think most place a huge significance on other "self-expression" values such as environmental protection and tolerance for diversity. I certainly can't imagine Puerto Rico legalizing same-sex marriages. Unfortunately, recycling is still not taking place on a grand scale either.

(Image obtained from

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big Problems for a Small Island

For a small Caribbean island of just under 4 million inhabitants, Puerto Rico certainly has its fair share of problems. Staggering crime, double-digit unemployment rate, political corruption, and a crumbling public education system are just some of the most troubling issues facing the island today. Almost every weekend, there will be an article about a fatal car accident or murder (often both) in the local paper. In fact, just last week a pregnant American tourist was killed while going out for a jog in Ceiba, which is located in the Eastern part of the island. Just two and a half months into 2009, as of today, at least 80 murders committed have already been committed in Puerto Rico.

Living in Puerto Rico, from my experience, has had its highs and lows. This is an island full of complications, hipocrosy and one which faces many different challenges. For someone who is from the mainland U.S, many things in this island will seem irrational. Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a railway system, el tren urbano, which does not reach the most heavily transited areas, such as the airport, Plaza Las Americas (the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean) and Viejo San Juan? Recently, in order to help finance the 2010 Central American & Caribbean Games (they're scheduled to be held in Mayaguez), a local politician suggested sending a search team to find a treasure chest hidden underneath the ocean. Believe me, I'm not making this up.

Luckily, the highs which I've experienced living here outweigh the lows. However, I would love to see the quality of life in Puerto Rico improve. This will not happen until everyone gets their priorities straight. The current governor suggested trimming down the government payroll, by laying off thousands of public employees. This was met with fierce opposition. From my perspective, I think many people are out of touch with reality. The government does in fact employ too many people who are not quite the most productive workers. Unless Puerto Ricans are willing to make some serious changes, things will never change and the island will never make any economic, political and social progress.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Big Mac Index

Buying a single Big Mac, not in a combo, costs almost $3.00 here in Puerto Rico. According to the chart I found on the Economists's Website, published on Feb. 4th, 2009, Puerto Rico's cost of living should be below the mainland U.S., as it costs an average $3.54. If you have ever lived or visited the Island of Enchantment, you know this is not true. In fact, I would say most of the basic necessities, such as milk, bread, medicine, etc., cost about the same (if not more). For example, a gallon of low-fat milk is about $5.60. Cheap? I think not.

Housing prices are probably not as low as you think either. Of course, it all depends on which area of the island you're looking at. Construction of luxury condominiums have been rampant over the past few years, and many of these condos start at around $325K. The price of electricity is a whole other issue. To sum things up, it's a foolish idea to think of Puerto Rico as a cheap place to live. Perhaps, if you're coming from either Western Europe or New York City, you'll probably think the island is a steal. Otherwise, do not be surprised at Puerto Rico's high cost of living. The only two things which I found to be cheaper on the island are movie tickets (an average of $6.50) and gas prices (as of today, an average of $0.45/liter).
(Image obtained from

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Destination: Barranquitas, Puerto Rico

Visiting the smaller towns in cities around Puerto Rico is something which I enjoy very much. It has been quite a while since our last roadtrip, and there are still many places in Puerto Rico which I have never been to. A family friend of ours had recommended a restaurant in a small town near Cayey, and so we decided to check it out for ourselves. As we were approaching the restaurant, I saw the sign Luis Muñoz Marin Ruta Panorámica. Curiosity took over me.

I had been on the panoramic route, which runs through the middle of the island, before but have never quite driven through much of it. After looking at a map, and seeing that Barranquitas was not too far away, I decided to just go. Although I was born in Puerto Rico, I was not educated here and I do not know much about Puerto Rican history. For this reason, I thought it would be an interesting place for me to visit, as it is the birthplace of one of Puerto Rico's most important political figures, Luis Muñoz Rivera. He helped negotiate the autonomy of Puerto Rico from Spain, and was subsequently elected the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in 1909.

Luis Muñoz Rivera was also the father of Luis Muñoz Marin, the first democratically elected governor of Puerto Rico. Barranquitas certainly did not disappoint. In order to get there, we had to drive through a long series of winding roads. Once we got to Barranquitas, we quickly found ourselves in the town's pretty and charming plaza. We visited La Casa Luis Muñoz Rivera, the house which Muñoz Rivera grew up in, and the Luis Muñoz Rivera mausoleum, which was just two blocks away from the museum. Both were interesting places to visit. The former is a tiny little wooden house, which contains a small exhibition with information on Muñoz Rivera's life. The mausoleum is the burial site of Muñoz Rivera and his son, as well as their respective wives. Just beyond their resting places, is a small exhibition commemorating the lives of two of the most important political figures in Puerto Rico. Please note: both exhibitions are in Spanish only. If you're going on a Sunday, all the shops and eateries in and around the plaza will be closed. However, there are many restaurants and kiosks along the panoramic route which will be open.