Saturday, October 24, 2009

What a Week!

Two unprecedented events took place here on the island this past week. The first took place last Saturday, when a drug-related shooting incident in which seven people (including one unborn child) were killed. The second incident was yesterday's explosion of an oil refinery in which an estimated 17 of the 40 tanks went up in flames. It felt really strange to see Puerto Rico make it on CNN en Español twice in one week. News of both events even attracted the attention of the international media, such as the BBC and even NOS Journaal (a Dutch news broadcaster). The island is currently going through very trying times, and both occurrences do not bode well for Puerto Rico.

Yesterday, when I woke up, I heard the distant sounds of helicopters flying. I though to myself, well, maybe something's going on in the housing projects (caserios). A short while later, I found out about the explosion. Although it had occurred in Cataño, which is just outside of San Juan, I saw the black clouds from my house. The magnitude of the explosion registered a 2.8 on the richter scale. Thousands of people had to be evacuated. Law enforcement officials are currently investigating the causes of the explosion. I can't imagine what the environmental, health and economic consequences will amount to. Luckily, no deaths have been reported.

Latest update (10/26/09): the flames were finally extinguished as of yesterday afternoon. A total of 21 out of the 40 tanks were burned.

Note: the first photo was taken yesterday at around 10:30AM and the second was taken this morning at around 6:40AM.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Taking it to the Streets

This past Thursday, Oct. 15th, one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Puerto Rico took place in several different parts of San Juan, in response to Gov. Luis Fortuño's decision to lay-off nearly 20,000 government employees. An estimated 200,000-300,000 demonstrators took to the streets. Plaza Las Americas, the largest shopping mall in the Caribbean, decided to close for a day because of the decision of union leaders to hold demonstrations directly in front of their premises. Many businesses and schools were also closed, and hundreds (if not thousands) of commuters were also affected.

BBC Mundo (the Spanish version of BBC News) published an article, "Puertoriqueños contra despidos masivos" ("Puerto Ricans against massive lay-offs") about the demonstrations. Being a small island, Puerto Rico seldom receives attention from the international media. However, the events from this past Thursday proved to be an exception. For the past few years, Puerto Rico has seen its economy declining and its deficit increasing. Despite the resounding public outcry over the lay-offs, Gov. Fortuño stands firmly behind his decision. Perhaps he had no other choice but to do so, especially when he's trying to improve the island's credit rating. However, laying-off nearly 17,000 people in one shot was probably too much for most Puerto Ricans to take. According to a recent poll, the governor's approval rating is at a mere 30%.

FYI: The image above was the front-page cover of the island's major newspaper. It shows the thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of Plaza Las Amercias. "Consumado" means "consumed." (Image obtained from

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Electronic Failures & Inefficiencies

Several days ago, I came across an interesting statistic in the local paper. According to the article "Reintegros Más Rápidos," (translation: "Faster Tax Refunds) only 3% of the tax returns in Puerto Rico from 2008 were filed online. In comparison to the U.S, where nearly 60% of the tax returns from 2008 were filed electronically. Perhaps it's not fair to compare these two figures, due to the difference in economic development,cultural factors, internet connectivity, etc. There are many other reasons why the majority of Puerto Ricans do not use the Internet to do financial transactions, whether it be tax filing or payments.

The lack of trust in the local government is a serious problem here in Puerto Rico, especially now more than ever. From personal experience, when making payments to the local tax and revenue department (Dept. de Hacienda), or property tax (CRIM), it's much safer and efficient making them in person. When it's impossible for me to physically deliver it, I would send it via certified mail. One of my tasks at work requires me to make monthly tax payments, which I actually still do online. However, I've learned (the very hard and expensive way) how inefficient the electronic payment system at el departamento de hacienda is. Despite receiving confirmation numbers for the payments I had made, months later, I received a notice indicating that the transactions never took place. To make a long story short, the information technology systems used by the local government are not the most advanced.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Destination: La Placita de Santurce

A few weeks back, I stumbled upon La Placita de Santurce, a farmer's market known more for its bars than its produce. La Placita is not a place where most tourists go, as it's not located near the beach or any of the tourist areas. Surprisingly, the Puerto Rican Toursim Bureau hasn't really promoted this extremely popular local hangout spot. This is a great place for those who are looking for cheap drinks and interested in mingling with the locals. There are also live salsa bands! During happy hour on Thursday and Friday nights, from what I've been told, La Placita is packed to the gills.

On Sundays, as in most parts of Puerto Rico, nothing much happens in La Placita. We got there at around 1PM and it was already closed. There were a few bars and one restaurant open though. Unfortunately, I don't know what the exact opening hours are for the marketplace. Like most farmers' markets though, it's best to go early. From Mondays through Fridays, they are open during lunchtime. If you'd like to eat some authentic, and affordable, comida criolla (Puerto Rican food), La Placita is your perfect destination.

Check out this great New York Times article on La Placita de Santurce.