Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Matter of Inequality

"Truthfuly, we need a social transformation that comes from the bottom-up" said Gov. Fortuño, in response to the wave of violence in which almost 100 people have been murdered in the first month of the new year. In January 2010, there were a total of 76 murders. The government alone cannot solve the issue of crime, according to Fortuño. The root of the problem, said the Governor, is the lack of values. In order to come up with a solution, the Governor has organized a gathering of representatives from non-profit organizations, religious leaders and government officials. Dialogue certainly does no harm, but if Fortuño is serious in attacking many of the island's societal ills, he must pay closer attention to something more consequential: income inequality.

An article published in ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, it is estimated that the top 15% of the wealthiest households control 60% of the island's income. This egregious disparity is comparable to those of other Latin American countries. On the cover article of the latest issue of The Economist, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor is cited as "one of the main global risks" in a survey conducted at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. An obvious solution, as mentioned in the article, is to invest in education and other programs which would help lift low to middle income households up. It is no secret that the island's public education system is in tatters. At a cafeteria which I often frequent, on many occasions, I have seen a boy of about 12 years old managing the cash register during lunch hour. I asked him why he wasn't in school, and he said because the teacher didn't show up.

I simply can't imagine anything more important for a country's future than Education, which has always been a tool for upward social mobility. Unsurprisingly, the countries with the highest math and reading test scores are found in Asia and Europe. These countries have obtained the greatest economic growth and achieved higher standards of living. Perhaps, as Gov. Fortuño says, government should not be seen as a panacea. However, when 58% of the island's criminals are high school dropouts, the government must re-evaluate and re-direct resources to areas in which a true "social transformation" can take place.

(Image obtained from The Economist)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Destination: Guavate

People always looked at me incredulously when they find out that I have never been to Guavate. Well, after nearly five years of moving back to Puerto Rico, I can finally say that I have been to the island's quintessential gastronomic mecca. Mention Guavate, and lechon (roast pork) is what automatically comes to mind. Located in the town of Cayey, Guavate is only about 30 to 40 minutes south of San Juan. It attracts hordes of people, especially on weekends, and it's best to get there before midday. As you take exit #32 off of highway #52, bear left and you'll immediately find a number restaurants. Continue on this road for another 20 minutes or so until you see Los Pinos, which a friend of mine swears has the best lechon in Guavate.

Just a little further away from Los Pinos is El Rancho Original, where we had lunch. Turns out this was also where the Travel Channel's Samantha Brown had lechon when she came to the island. Guavate is a wonderful place to experience Puerto Rican culture. Not only is this mountain town a great destination known for its delectable lechoneras, but practically all of them have live salsa and merengue bands. The ambiance is lively and fun. Just remember, when visiting Guavate, go hungry and be prepared to eat your heart out! Buen provecho.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More Guns, More Crimes

In the aftermath of Saturday's fatal shooting in Arizona, where six people were killed and 14 were wounded, the U.S is now reflecting on how and why this deranged individual committed such a horrendous crime. The left accuses the right of using hateful rhetoric, nudged on by the likes of Sarah Palin. Perhaps what is most worrisome is the ability of someone with psychological problems to purchase a gun. As it turns out, Arizona is a state with lax gun control laws. In fact, the state does not require a permit to carry concealed weapons. As with the Colombine and Virginia Tech shootings, what occurred in Arizona has brought up once again a perennial topic of debate, and one which will never be resolved: gun control.

While practically anyone can carry a gun in Arizona, the same can be said in Puerto Rico. According to an article published by El Nuevo Día back in October, a record number of people applied for a gun permit in 2010. This is largely in response to the rising crime levels, mostly drug-related cases, on the island. People feel safer having a gun in their possession. However, this has not resulted in a lower incidence of crime. There were 982 murders registered in Puerto Rico last year, making it the second most violent. In 1994, the most deadliest, 995 people were murdered. The homicide rate per capita in Puerto Rico is higher than in any other state in the U.S. What's most troublesome is the large number of people on the island who own firearms without the proper documentation. In Puerto Rico, purchasing a gun is almost as easy as purchasing a gallon of milk at a grocery store. For those gun rights activitsts who adamantly believe that owning a gun results in lower crime rates, Puerto Rico proves you wrong.

(Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)