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The Sad State of Puerto Rico

This past month has been fun. Univision declared a celebration for Puerto Rico's independence, an event that hasn't happened. And the Huffington Post shared a racist tweet from the adviser to the speaker of the Puertorrican House of Representatives.

In other news Canada has the same crime rate as Puerto Rico. No, no, I mean the BBC reports Canada has less number of murders (598) for a population of around 35 million that Puerto Rico has with just 3.5 million (around 1,000). But what's a factor of ten between friends?

Yet friends of mine on Facebook still defend Puerto Rico as if it wasn't that bad. It was bad in 1993 when I finished H.S. and we had almost 1 murder per day. Now it's at over twice that.

What's going on?

From afar you have a different perspective that from inside. But all I'm seeing is the fulfillment of trends that have been a long time going.

1. Brain Drain. This was a problem 15 years ago, but it was pretty much ignored. Now it lands with such strength that it's near impossible to find certain medical specialists in Puerto Rico.

2. Poor Education. However nostalgic graduates of the UPR are, the average graduate now is nowhere near the proficiency that an average graduate back in my grandfather's time was. And that's just an example of decay, education is bad all over the island. The value of normal scholarship plummeted. I worried about this when friends of friends had not read any book for pleasure in their lives and I found myself only being able to talk to an older generation about literature. There is a huge gap between generations here.

3. Complacency. I wanted to say denial but it's not denial. It's a complacency, almost as if all the disorder in the island was the result of a divine providence. For all their pride in the island, people don't take ownership of its problems. They'd rather say it's not that bad, and keep themselves isolated. This leads to worst thing going on: the feeling that only someone else can solve the problems; someone else like "the government" or industry.

4. Industrial Model in a Post-Industrial World. The world has gone through a mayor shift recently, from an Industrial model that supplanted the agrarian one before it, to a post industrial one. Many jobs of today like software design didn't exist before. There is a new type of economy here, one that depends not on industrial production but on design and research. Yet Puerto Rico is still looking for that industrial revolution breakthrough when it needs to build a post-industrial one. From not building a tech-driven industry like Israel, to not building renewable sources of energy, Puerto Rico is stuck in the world of the 50's.

5. Chasing the Money not the Value, and budgeting to the wrong priorities. I keep hearing this: "And where is the money going to come from?" I wonder if money is so scarce how come government building have AC? (This is a trivial example, but it just shows that it's priorities not absolute money at stake. If it was absolute money there'd be no money for AC either.) How come an adviser can earn over half a million dollars in three years? There is money. There is no will to use it for the important things.

6. Government beholden to public-sector unions. While Republicans over here wage an unnecessary war against unions, in Puerto Rico unions wield such power that the government is not just afraid of them but paralyzed by them. This wouldn't be a big deal if the government wasn't the biggest employer in the island.

7. Decaying infrastructure. This one fortunately is being dealt with (as with the addition of the urban train) but its pace and priorities seem skewed. Hearing that there is a power blackout in Puerto Rico is common. This is horrible for industry on the island. And the lack of affordable high-speed internet crippling. We don't need more roads and bridges. Where we're headed we don't need roads...


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