Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupying Beyond Wall Street

From the streets of Athens to those of New York, an increasing number of people are voicing their anger and frustration over the economy, the lack of jobs, and a mounting sense of injustice as the rich continue to get an even greater share of wealth. In a recent PBS Newshour story, it was found that the median salary of CEOs have quadrupled over the last four decades while average salaries for most workers remain stagnant. A torrent of fury was unleashed when it was revealed that Miguel Cordero, now the former Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), took home $400,000 in salary and bonuses last year. This revelation came at a particularly infelicitous moment when most island residents saw their electricity bills, which are already astronomically high, skyrocket even further. PREPA, a government entity, has also been operating at a loss for the past few years.

In Puerto Rico, there never seems to be a governmental agency not subject to corruption. The latest involves the Department of Education, where a number of officials have been charged with bribery and money laundering. Another controversial case involves the Fortuño administration, which has yet to receive final approval on the construction of the gas pipeline but has already assigned millions of dollars to contractors (many of whom are buddies of the Governor). Meanwhile, Medical Card Systems (MCS) has accused the government of falling back on its payments under the Mi Salud health plan, which is the Puerto Rican version of Medicaid. Government officials have emphatically denied such accusations. In the end, thousands of beneficiaries (mostly low income and the elderly) under the MCS plan of Mi Salud were temporarily left without coverage as the finger-pointing ensued.

On Oct. 15th, the island will be joining the Occupy Wall Street movement to express their indignation over a litany of issues ranging from governmental corruption to the demise of societal values. Critics of the Occupy Wall Street protests argue that the demonstrators lack a unified message. Nevertheless, there are indeed commonalities in all these demonstrations whether it be in San Juan or Madrid. Perhaps the most pronounced is the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots, and the urgent need for the latter (and the shrinking middle class) to collectively raise its voices. Let's hope that those in office are listening and will pay heed to this ever-growing movement.

(Note: the image above was obtained from

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