Thursday, January 28, 2010

Los Fondos Federales! (The Federal Funds)

President Obama's decision to freeze spending on some domestic programs, in order to trim the burgeoning U.S budget deficit, does not bode well for Puerto Rico. Although the island is not a state, as a U.S territory, it does receive a considerable amount of federal money (including nearly $6 billion in stimulus funds in 2009). Much of these funds are used in areas such as health care, infrastructure and education. The local economy and government see federal funds as a panacea. The standard of living in Puerto Rico would certainly be much lower without it. Some local economists have been warning on the dangers of depending too heavily on money coming from DC though. Instead of relying on federal funds, Puerto Rico should restructure and create a more dynamic economy.

Nevertheless, one of the key figures in making sure that the island gets a piece of the pie is the Resident Commissioner, who serves as a non-voting member in the U.S House of Representatives, Pedro Pierluisi. The inclusion of Puerto Rico in the healthcare reform bill is something which Mr. Pierluisi has been actively seeking. Yesterday, I came across the following article in the El Nuevo Día: "Freno en las asignaciones federales discrecionales" (translation: "Brakes on Federal Discretional Assignations"). The article lists a number of federal programs, such as the $2 billion Nutritional Assistance Program, which are unlikely to receive an increase in funds. At a time when the U.S is facing a national debt in the trillions, the Puerto Rican government needs to be more savvy in terms of stimulating its economy and stop looking to Washington as its life raft.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fixed Utilities Bills

Not many people have the privilege of having a fixed water and electricity bill each month. However, those living in the 68,586 units, which constitutes Puerto Rico's public housing system, (residenciales públicos or caseríos) now have this precise luxury. Public housing residents now have the option to pay between $30-$50 each month (depending on the size of their apartment) for electricity, and between $10-$19.71 monthly for water. Those who agree to these fixed monthly bills must also agree to pay at least $10 per month to pay off what they owe in their outstanding utilities bills. This new law introduced by Gov. Luis Fortuño has provoked a huge public outcry.

Puerto Rico's water and electricity companies are both government owned and are both incurring budget deficits. At a time when oil prices are not on the lower end of the spectrum, it doesn't make much sense at all for the governor to offer fixed prices for both water and electricity. Critics have accused the governor of attempting to buy votes from public housing residents come election time. It also goes without saying that those of us who pay our utilities bill on time will end up paying for those who don't, and also for those who pay way below market prices. Households "stealing" water and electricity by tampering the meters are rampant. Thus, utility bills on the island are quite expensive. The irony is that almost 90% of those who live in the island's public housing system don't pay their utilities bill at all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Aid & Relief to Haiti from Puerto Rico

The outpouring of humanitarian aid and relief from all corners of the world in response to the devastating earthquake, which occurred this past Tuesday, in Haiti is remarkable. Perhaps it's a sign of the inherent goodness of humanity, despite all the havoc and chaos created by mankind at the same time. Although it was a 7.3 magnitude earthquake, and Puerto Rico is not extremely far from Haiti, about 407 miles (605 km), we didn't feel anything here on the island. I found out about the earthquake via Twitter, my primary news source nowadays, where I also read about the tsunami warning for the Caribbean.

As I searched for news on the situation in Haiti, I read about the numerous hurricanes which have traversed this poor country of 9.7 million inhabitants. Since 2008, Haiti has been hit by three hurricanes, which brought about the deaths of 800 people. I read with utter disbelief. Furthermore, back in 2004, Haiti was also hit by Hurricane Jeanne, which left over 3,000 people dead. The next morning, I found out (also through Twitter) about the relief center set-up at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium, where people can drop off donations for the victims. In fact, such relief collection centers can now be found throughout Puerto Rico. The island is also preparing a team of medical professionals, engineers and other aid relief workers to send to Haiti. Unfortunately, it seems as though the lack of infrastructure is preventing most aid to enter the country. Life can be so cruel. My heart goes out to all the victims and their families. For those who wish to make a donation, here's a list of some charities helping Haiti recover from this disaster.

Update (1/28/10): On January, 22nd, the Puerto Rican government hosted a radio-telemarathon "Abracemos a Haití," (translation: "We Embrace Haiti") which helped raise over $3.3 million.

(Map obtained from

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Destination: Lago Dos Bocas, Utuado

It was a national holiday, Three Kings Day (Día de Reyes), today and we decided to go on a road trip! Although Puerto Rico is not a big island, there just always seems to be a new place to be discovered. About two months ago, when we visited Hacienda San Pedro, we had passed by a sign which said "Lago Dos Bocas" (it literally translates to "Two Mouth Lake") in Utuado. I thought to myself then, we'll have to go sometime. Lago Dos Bocas is generally a place where people go to eat fish. Today, we had no problem getting there, since the roads were clearly marked. From San Juan, we needed to head west, it took us just about an hour and fifteen mintues or so to get to the dock. There are two public ferries, and most restaurants have their own private boats to shuttle customers back and forth.

During the ferry ride, we saw several restaurants, most of which serve comida criolla (Puerto Rican cuisine). As it was a holiday, I called in advance to see which restaurants would be open. I would highly recommend visitors to do so, since many of them only open on weekends. The place we ended up eating at is called Restaurante Otoao, where the food was excellent and the service was superb! (Note: I am not affiliated with Restaurant Otoao). I ordered a mofongo relleno de pescado (mashed plantains with fish) and it was delicious. Most people who go to Lago Dos Bocas are not tourists but Puerto Ricans who come from all over the island to eat great food and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The lake is surrounded by mountains and lush vegetation. I highly recommend a visit to Lago Dos Bocas!