Saturday, May 28, 2011

Stopping the Violence

As we reach the midway point of 2011, if the homicide rate in Puerto Rico continues at its current trajectory, this will yet again prove to be another violent year. There have been a total of 419 official murders reported just two weeks ago. This number surpasses, during the same period, 2011's statistics by 88 murders. Remarkably, last year was the second most violent in the island's history. Police Superintendent José Figueroa Sancha has attributed this dramatic increase to the law enforcement community's combat against drug traffickers. Nevertheless, the police chief insists that there has been a decrease in burglaries, robberies and sexual assault cases. For most people on the island though, Figueroa Sancha seems to have lost touch with reality. As if to add insult to injury, the Police Department has been mired in yet another controversy. They have reportedly been involved in fudging crime statistics, so as to make "the numbers look pretty," as one police officer puts it.

Meanwhile, in the mainland U.S, criminologists are baffled by the seemingly pretty numbers as violent crimes have hit a 40 year record-low. Crime has been cited as one of the reasons in which Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island for the mainland in droves, especially in the past decade or so. Most people are simply fed up with this wave of violence, which has even led an increasing number of people to apply for gun permits. Most recently, a hair stylist was hailed for being "daring" when she fired her gun during a robbery attempt at her beauty salon.

Violence is, of course, not solely restricted to guns and drug traffickers. Domestic violence is also quite rampant on the island. According to some mental health experts and criminologists in Puerto Rico, a large percentage of the island's population suffers from depression, as well as other psychological illnesses. This in turn has led to an ever-growing litany of societal problems, one of which is violence. In response to this situation, a group of concerned citizens have organized a march ("Marcha Alto a La Violencia") tomorrow to speak out and raise awareness over this issue which just seems to be exacerbating.

Note: The image above was obtained from the Facebook page of "Marcha Alto a La Violencia."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Destination: Pet Park, Condado

Located on a quiet street in one of San Juan's most high-priced real estate areas is Puerto Rico's one and only public dog park. Opened back in 2008, the pet park in Condado has drawn people from all over the San Juan metro area who are aware that dogs (just like humans) need to exercise and interact with one another. Back in March, when I was in New York for a visit, I noticed quite a few public parks with a fenced-off area for dogs. I lamented to a friend, also a dog-owner, the unfortunate fact that there is only one dog park in Puerto Rico. This certainly isn't something earth-shattering, as public parks are few and far between on the island.

Studies have shown that the prevalence of city parks can help improve the health of its local residents. I would venture that the same could be said for dogs. In Puerto Rico, the lack of open space for both humans and canines indicates how public health issues have been shoved to the back burner. As I've mentioned in a previous blog entry, the mistreatment of animals is notorious on the island. In addressing this issue, San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini opened El Centro de Control y Adopción de Animales (The Center for the Control and Adoption of Animals), which offers affordable vaccination and sterilization services. Hats off to Santini as well for opening the island's only public dog park, which is open everyday (except for holidays) from 7AM to 7PM. It's a wonderful place for dogs to roam and play off-leash. The park has a water fountain, benches, an agility course and even plastic bags for picking up your dog's poop. The park is very clean and very well maintained. All canines are welcome, as long as they are at least four months old and completely vaccinated.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thou Shall Not Covet

In an attempt to beef up its coffers, and strike a blow at tax evaders, the Puerto Rican government introduced the IVU Loto (its acronym stands for impuesto sobre las ventas y uso). The premise behind this idea is to have consumers demand retailers for a receipt, and money would be the natural incentive. The IVU tax was introduced back in 2007, and is levied on all purchases (except for essentials such as bread, water and milk) at 6% islandwide. Ever since its introduction, the amount received by the Department of Treasury (el Departamento de Hacienda) has been much less than what the government had projected. Tax evasion is the culprit, according to Treasury officials, as only half of the island's businesses are said to remit IVU tax payments. According to the government, the solution to this conundrum is to implement a lottery receipt system. Perhaps the folks over at Treasury were inspired by some Latin American countries, and some as far-flung as China, that have successfully implemented their version of an IVU Loto. In China, tax revenues from businesses have reportedly seen a significant increase.

On the island, the IVU Loto has already gotten off to a rocky start. Although it was supposed to roll-out in the beginning of this year, very few businesses have the IVU Loto system installed in their cash registers. One of the reasons for this long delay is due to the legal battle involving one of the contractors hired to implement the IVU Loto system. As I dig out a bunch of receipts from wallet, including from the major chains such as Walgreens, Bed, Bath & Beyond, among others, none have the 10 digit IVU Loto number. It wasn't until last week, when I finally got a receipt from a restaurant, that I was reminded of my shot at winning some hard cash! Come to think of it, if I hadn't paid with a credit card, I probably wouldn't have gotten a receipt. In any case, I didn't get lucky this time.

Aside from the government's failure, thus far, to fully implement the IVU Loto system, religious leaders have also cried foul. Their argument is that Tenth Commandment clearly states "thou shalt not covet." Participating in the IVU Loto is considered to be a form gambling, which is against their religion. Other critics contend that the IVU Loto will not incentivize underground businesses to emerge from the shadows. The root of the problem is the inefficiency and lack of trust in the local Puerto Rican government. In the meantime, at least some of us sinners will have a shot at winning $1000 every week. That is, of course, if we should actually get a receipt with the IVU Loto number on it. At the moment though, it doesn't seem as though people noticed or care much for it, as some of the IVU Loto winners haven't even bothered to claim their prize money.

To check and see if you have a winning IVU number, click here, and be sure to select "Ganadores."

(Note: The IVU Loto logo was obtained from the website of el Departamento de Hacienda)