Puerto Ricans React to Island’s Crisis

Antony Luna (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

Antony Luna (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

Antony Luna, 19, doesn’t know much about finance, but he is clear on what is happening in Puerto Rico, his island of origin. “It’s not worth it to live there. There is no work, there is nothing to do,” says Luna, who recently finished high school and lives in El Barrio in Manhattan. Occasionally, he travels back to visit relatives, but he says he would never stay there.

Because beyond this being a problem of budgets and taxes, Puerto Ricans in New York have known for quite some time that their country’s economic bubble was about to burst. “In Puerto Rico, the problem is simple: Politicians are spending more money than they receive and they have been doing this for a long time. Now they are paying the price,” says Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy and former Columbia University professor. “The problem is that I don’t think there is a simple solution,” Falcón continues.

Paul Justiniano Ruiz, 51, just moved to New York two months ago and says that life was very difficult for him in his home country. “The economy is in the gutter. There is no work and public housing is awful. The only thing you get there is coffee, corn, and tomatoes,” says Ruiz. “It is the governor’s fault. We have had enough help to move the country forward, but the politicians have not been efficient. Look at how the United States helped out when the hurricanes hit.”

Nonetheless, Falcón says that Washington’s role should be central to finding a solution to the crisis. “This has so much to do with the fiscal irresponsibility of Puerto Rican politicians, but Puerto Rico’s failure is also the failure of the United States,” says Falcón. “The federal government needs to take responsibility. At this time, there is a bill that would permit the country to declare bankruptcy, but Congress has done nothing about it.”

“All U.S. businesses that are being affected must work to make the government take action,” says Luis Miranda, founding partner at the MirRam Group and advisor to several New York leaders. “The more dialogue there is with the White House at all levels, the more likely a solution will be reached.”

Meanwhile, in El Barrio, Roberto Sarassa, 70, sitting among other Puerto Rican friends, also believes that Puerto Rico’s politicians are to blame for this problem. “The government itself has been dedicated to bringing everything in from the outside and it killed local agriculture,” says Sarassa. “The young people who are hopeful try to stay there to study, but after they graduate they don’t find any opportunities.”

In front of him, others like Reinaldo Zayas, 72, prefer not to comment, but later sum it up with a single phrase. “There, everything is expensive. Here it’s simply easier for me to earn a buck,” concludes Zayas.

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