Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Other Cables

Most of you may have heard of Wikileaks, the Website which has published troves of classified U.S State Department diplomatic cables. It has released documents dealing with countries (and U.S territories) from around the world, including Puerto Rico. The local papers didn't really cover much of what was said about the island, perhaps because it wasn't newsworthy. What was published mostly dealt with the status issue. According to the documents leaked by Wikileaks however, there was also talk of having U.S territories that receive U.S federal funding pay federal income taxes. If this were to become reality, it would certainly provoke massive demonstrations and mayhem. Given the crisis already taking place at the University of Puerto Rico, and the island's weak economy (it has been in recession for the past five years and 2011 GDP growth forecasts look bleak), it would lead to an explosive situation.

What Wikileaks published about the island was nothing scandalous, and nothing surprising. I can't help but wonder what (if any) those other classified documents would contain. So, I'll just put in my own two cents about what these possible cables might say. After all, for such a tiny island, Puerto Rico does generate quite a bit of news (mostly ignored by the U.S mainstream media though). Let me begin with corruption. This past Monday, Hector Martínez, a senate politician, was found guilty of taking bribes from a businessman and was indicted by a U.S federal court. Mr. Martinez joins a long list of cronies, from small town mayors to a former Department of Education secretary who was accused of stealing millions in federal funds. Corruption is a serious issue on the island and the most effective weapon to fight against it has been the presence of federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI.

On the topic of corruption, let's now move on to the local criminal justice system. It has been exactly a year since the mysterious death of Lorenzo González, who was 8 years old when he was murdered. No charges have been filed. However, the local Justice Department has stated that the mother, Ana Cacho, is the principal suspect. As with most crimes perpetrated on the island, it looks as though local law enforcement officials will once again let this case fall through the cracks. One of the most egregious examples is the so called "masacre de Pájaros," where 12 individuals were accused of murdering three people. Although some were indicted by a jury on conspiracy charges, the judge decided to absolve all of the accused. In a strange turn of events, one of the defendants' lawyers was allegedly seen celebrating with the judge at a nearby restaurant afterwards. In the end, some of the accused were arrested by DEA agents and are now sitting in a federal prison.

Corruption and the criminal justice system on the island are not the only areas in which the U.S federal government is closely monitoring. The U.S Department of Education has also been keeping close tabs on the island's public schools, as a majority of them (86% to be exact) have not met the testing requirements set forth by the "No Child Left Behind" policy. In terms of higher level education, it has been nearly a year since the student strikes at the University of Puerto Rico began and there is no end in sight. In fact, the strike has taken a turn for the worse. The chancellor of the Rio Piedras campus was violently attacked this week while emerging from a meeting at the university.

Violence is a matter of utmost concern in Puerto Rico. Most murders are drug-related but robberies and other types of crimes are on the rise, especially since the economy continues to stagnate. According to the latest findings in the 2010 census, there was a 2.2% population decline on the island in the past 10 years. This is mainly attributed to the migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland in search for jobs, and not a decreasing birth rate, especially for some of the most well-educated. If the economic and social conditions continue as they are, and as the U.S economy improves, there will be a further contraction of the island's population. In the political front, the two main parties seem to be mired in perpetual bickering, both internal as well as against one another. These are tough times for Puerto Rico, and the future looks grim, but without the presence, aid and oversight of the U.S federal government, things would be in much dire shape.

In conclusion, it's unlikely that the island truly wants to become a sovereign nation, given the significant amount of federal funding it receives. The chances of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state don't look very promising either, given both the resistance to this idea on the island and in Washington DC. The majority on the island seem complacent with the commonwealth status though. However, there's another possibility which should be taken into consideration. Given the increasing national debt and its decreasing stature as a world economic superpower, perhaps the time has come for the U.S to free itself of Puerto Rico.


Anonymous said...

Yes - all scary thoughts. If/when the University loses accreditation, the population ages and there are no workers paying taxes, federal money goes away and so does water, power, food...Puerto Rico will not be the place to be. So how do we prepare? Stockpile food and supplies and defense for this time or be ready to cut and run? It seems the majority here would rather perpetuate the bad behavior than change it. It could be an amazing place here - it is currently full of lots of missed opportunities.

Anonymous said...

Yay! maybe then we will learn how to fend for ourselves, and, at the same time, have the power to make our own decisions instead of being foolishly led by a country that only has it's own interests in mind.

Sadly, no matter how low the US falls, it will probably always have a great political and economical power over the world. For that reason, even if "freedom" is finally gained it is unlikely that the island will prosper.

Either way, I doubt the US will "just let go" of the island, no matter what.

It is because of that way of thinking you are expressing- the harsh past beind those words, the lack of national confidence caused by the very same USA- that people feel that the island will always remain the same way, or that nothing will ever improve.

More and more I feel people are becoming more aware of our political and economical situation.

For that reason, I can't agree with your opinion, that "people seem to be okay with the current status"

You seem to be seeing the wrong people.

And this is not just my opinion. Ask any puerto rican and he will present a different course of action. Whether in his words o the way he acts, you can tell that there is an opinion.

Remaining stagnant and unchanging is not what is happening. The events you describe just go to show how things are changing. Oppresed people cannot remain oppresed forever.

And saying the US is the only thing that's holding this place together- well, in part, you may be right. Once that ends then will we be able to move forward. Likely, it will not be in a direction you (and those who share your opinion) would like it to be.

Action is not far off. Your post- and the many others that people who live in the island are writing- just reflects that.

barcalunacy said...

Extremely interesting article.

I intend to read more of your blog, however, I wanted to let you know that I discovered you as following me on twitter and from there I am here.

I am most interested in what you have to say and I will be back.


Anonymous said...

I wish the US would cut its ties to PR. After working here for two years and seeing the dishonesty and "take care of the panas" attitude, this place is on a one way path to oblivion.

Funny that Puerto Ricans look down upon Nuyoricans and Dominicans. Perhaps that is a strategy that prevents them from introspection. This place is bad news, and my time here is almost over (thank god).

Anonymous said...

If the US cuts PR off it will become like Dominican Republic or Cuba or Haiti. If they opt to be a state it will be 50 years before things really change. Right now there are probably 3 generations of kids who have never seen parents go to work (it is not the governments job to give people work). There are plenty of enterprising people and smart people around but many more smart ones get the free (basically) UPR education and leave. The people left are old, sick and not going anywhere. 95% of food is imported but the choices of what is imported are killing people -the high fat, carb diet accounts for the highest diabeties rate and obesity rate anywhere. Kids put on masks and do damage to their only hope - University of Puerto Rico - the cheapest quality education anywhere. They whine about the 800 fee when the reality is that their private elementary education cost more than UPR does. For the many who cannot afford it the PELL grants more than cover expenses. How can anyone rational put on a mask and destroy things and think it is ok? Murder rate - over 100 a month? You can try to blame it on the big bad US (which has indeed had a part in this) but a lot of it is just bad behavior, not "culture" as I am often told. For the many hard working, reasonable people here it is unfortunate that they will age and die here. Puerto Rico is a love/hate kind of place in need of change. This won't ever happen though when Puerto Ricans defend the garbage, mistreatment of animals, murders, corruption by calling it "cultural." You cannot defend things that need changing or it will never happen...and so we are at this place right now.

Eliezer Cancel said...

I loved it... Wow.. Someone that thinks like me in this island...Oh... and what you said last es lo que va a pasar.. U.N. been urging the US q acabe con el estatus de colonia.. And US wouldnt want a burden like PR... California got their cheese, Idaho got their potatoes, Florida got their oranges, and we, PR, have nothing...