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I am tired.

I am tired of how the US mainland media continues to portray the island-territory of Puerto Rico with one broad brushstroke—that it is a new hotbed of violence and chaos. Recently, Fortune’s Cyrus Sanati told U.S. billionaires to “beware” of Puerto Rico, saying that the island “has a bevy of social and economic problems that appear to be getting worse by the day, making it an inhospitable place for a wealthy individual seeking safety and stability.” Sanati’s piece was criticized by many of the island, not because part of it was true, but because his conclusion was way too simplistic. Does Puerto Rico have problems? Yes? Is it a modern-day crime and murder war zone? Not even close. But if that is what the U.S. media wants you to believe, why not?

Sanati even admitted via Twitter that his knowledge of Puerto Rico is only cursory when he tweeted the following response to the Latino Rebels Twitter account:

Now a new story from HoustonPress called “Bloody Tide: How Puerto Rico Affects the U.S.” is painting too much of a similar picture that quite frankly does more harm to Puerto Rico’s perception. Written by Michael E. Miller and Casey Michel, the in-depth piece (it spans over seven digital pages) depicts Puerto Rico in such a negative light, you wonder why anyone would want to live there. As the piece states: “The “Isle of Enchantment” has become bewitched by violence. A crackdown on drugs coming across the Mexican border has only pushed contraband through the Caribbean, transforming the American commonwealth into the newest nexus for narcotraffickers.” (NOTE: Miami New Times also ran the piece.)

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Later on, the story continues:

Economic hardship begets drug-running, which begets violence, which begets a murder rate normally reserved for postcolonial power struggles.

Yet Americans who ignore the island do so at their own peril. As Puerto Rican politicians make an unprecedented push to become the 51st state, the commonwealth has become more central than ever to the United States’s drug and crime problems. [Police chief Hector Pesquera] estimates that 80 percent of the narcotics entering Puerto Rico end up in East Coast cities, particularly Miami and New York. Guns and money move in the opposite direction, and fugitives flow freely back and forth, frustrating officials. Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans are pouring into Florida, New York and Texas to escape the gunfire gripping their homeland.

The writers also want you to make sure that the violence in Puerto Rico was always Puerto Rico’s fault and never anyone else’s:

This isn’t the first time waves of violence have broken over Puerto Rico. Perched at the strategic entrance to the Caribbean, the Connecticut-size island has a long and bloody history. Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León slaughtered Taíno natives beginning in 1508. Over the centuries, slave uprisings and independence movements were put down with deadly force. By 1898, the colony had won a degree of autonomy, only for the Spanish-American War to transfer control to the United States.

When Puerto Rican politicians voted for independence in 1914, the United States responded by granting boricuas (anyone living on the island) U.S. citizenship — just in time to be drafted for World War I. Another 30 years passed before Puerto Ricans were allowed to elect their own governor.

Under U.S. rule, the island became a popular vacation spot. But by the 1980s, with Colombian cocaine flowing through Puerto Rico to south Florida, violence became endemic. Murders decreased in the 1990s as drug routes shifted to Central America and Mexico, but in 2006, newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared an assault on cartels. Two years later, the United States launched its own $1.6 billion Merida Initiative to combat gangs.

“That is why in the past three years, Puerto Rico has become increasingly visible in regard to drug scandals,” Bagley says. “This is an unintended consequence of the pressure being brought in Mexico and Central America.”

Today drugs from HaitiColombia, Vene­zuela and the Dominican Republic stream in on Jet Skis and go-fast boats. “Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, illegal contraband that makes it to the island is unlikely to be subjected to further U.S. Customs inspections,” U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, head of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said during a hearing last year.

Let’s step back for a minute: Are the writers actually connecting Puerto Rico’s current crime problems to Ponce de León, as if violence has always been embedded in Puerto Ricans? In addition, I am still trying to figure out what the connection is between 1508 to 1898 to 1914 to 2013.

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The real and only reason why Puerto Rico has a problem with murders and drugs is simple. The territory is part of the largest drug market in the world: the United States of America. Without demand for drugs from the mainland, the current activity on the island would be non-existent. Yet the Houston writers say nothing about that very simple fact. The colonizers need their pot and cocaine, and the colony is more than happy to deliver it to them, while shooting up people in the process.

The piece’s paternalistic tone continues, especially when it made reference to the recent boycott of La Comay, suggesting that the events surrounding the boycott “seemed to expose a newfound heartlessness, as if boricuas had become numb to the violence.” Instead of focusing on the positive that such an event produced, the Houston piece almost treated the boycott as an exception, while making sure to keep including words such as “bloody tide” and “carnage” central to its narrative. When you want to manufacture the perception of “chaos,” you need to give the readers what they want, right?

Nonetheless, the real issue about Puerto Rico is hidden deep in the piece, when the writers say the following:

Truth is, there’s little willpower in DC to spend heavily on an island of 3.6 million people whose ballots don’t count. Perhaps that’s why Puerto Ricans are debating louder than ever their identity as a U.S. commonwealth. Whenboricuas went to the polls last November, 54 percent rejected the status quo. But the vote was split among those who favored independence, statehood or remaining a commonwealth. [Luis] Fortuño — the governor who appointed Pesquera — was dumped out of office.

Yes, there is very “little willpower in DC” right now, and that is why many Puerto Ricans —both on the island and on the mainland— are working together to change that. There is no mention of that movement at all the Houston piece, because why try to present a full picture when your goal is to just promote fearful perceptions of Puerto Rico? Why would you want to include more information about the Comay boycott movement and what it did to connect boricuas even more? Why would you mention Parranda PR or new other organizations that are working hard to change the perception that the Houston story perpetuates? Because that would mean sharing more of the truth about what is positive about Puerto Rico and the truth sells less stories that the sensational ones.

I just visited the island last week, my third visit this year. Does Puerto Rico have serious problems? Yes. Is it a war zone riddled by “carnage” and a “bloody tide?” That is a bit too much, and it is unfortunate, since all the Houston story does is scare people away from the island and helps to promote a negative cycle of criticism that offers very little solution to the problem. If the writers of the Houston piece were truly sincere in helping to change the dialogue about Puerto Rico, they should be ready to follow up with stories that reflect that change. They had a great story to cover last week with what the Puerto Rican baseball team did during the World Baseball Classic, for example.

But I doubt that will happen because in the end, the colonizer needs to keep the colony in check, and it will use all possible means to accomplish that.

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So, this interview from Fox Business’ Varney and Co. with Puerto Rico Secretary of Commerce José Pérez-Riera is quite telling. The level of ignorance from the American media is sad. Let’s get this straight: you can disagree with Pérez-Riera, but the interviewers should at least respect the guy. When will Puerto Ricans wake up and demand that the US media be more respectful to Puerto Ricans? This has gone beyond politics, this should now be about Puerto Ricans banding together and saying that they will no longer be treated like the little colony that the US media has portrayed them to be.

Now, people laughed at me when I wrote the following piece last year called Why Puerto Rico Will Never Become the 51st State. My main argument is that there are many Americans (especially those in the conservative media) who have no clue about Puerto Rico and actually don’t want Puerto Rico to become a state.

Americans will never accept a flag with 51 stars in it

Well, this latest clip from Fox News Business just confirms my original thesis. Wake up, Puerto Rico, the United States media does not care about the status question. And Pérez-Riera is a pro-statehooder whose leader is a Republican governor. It is bizarre, but it does not surprise me any more.

By the way, the news has been spreading around the island.

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The US Department of Labor released the May employment numbers for Puerto Rico and the data confirms the following:

  • May’s 14.2% rate is the island’s lowest unemployment rate since February, 2009, when it was at 14.1%. The unemployment rate has fluctuated between 14.1% and 16.6% since Republican and pro-statehood governor Luis Fortuño, who is facing re-election in November, has been in office.
  • Right now, Puerto Rico’s civilian labor force is at 1,267,965—this is the lowest labor force on the island since October, 1995 (1,266,581). The following graphs show how Puerto Rico’s civilian labor force continues to decrease over the past 10 years. The graphs also show that there are fewer jobs on the island. So, even though the unemployment rate is now at 14.2%, the labor pool is shrinking and so is the total number of employed people. For example, in December 2011, there were 1,090,300 employed Puerto Ricans and the December 2011 unemployment rate was at 15.2%. In May 2012, there were 1,087,600 employed Puerto Ricans with an unemployment rate of 14.2%. Between December 2011 and May 2012, therefore, there has been a net decrease of about 2,700 employed people in Puerto Rico because the civilian labor force during that time has gone from 1,285,500 people in December 2011 to 1,267,965 people in May 2012. That is a loss of about 17,000 people in the labor force.
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  • Public sector government jobs are now at about 266,000 jobs, which is the lowest since October, 2011, yet ever since Fortuño’s big purge to have fewer public sector jobs on the island when he took  office in 2009, public sector jobs continue to increase.
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You can see all the latest statistics here.

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What planet is FOX’s John Stossel on? This weekend, Stossel had Republican and pro-statehood Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño on to discuss the “economic miracle” or Puerto Rico. Stossel proudly stated in his fluff interview with Fortuño that the Puerto Rican economy was growing due to Fortuño’s austerity measures.

The fact that Stossel didn’t even address the fact that Puerto Rico under the Fortuño administration has been stuck at double-digit unemployment with a shrinking labor force is an issue with his lack of journalism. Just create a more balanced view the next time and stop the overhyping. Basic fact checking could take you far.

According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Puerto Rico’s GDP in 2010  was -5.8%(the last recorded year, which was worse than the island -3.7% in 2009, which was worse that the island -2.5% in 2008).

As the CIA says:

Puerto Rico has one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region, however, growth has been negative for the past four years, and unemployment has risen to nearly 16% in 2011. The industrial sector has surpassed agriculture as the primary locus of economic activity and income. Mainland US firms have invested heavily in Puerto Rico since the 1950s. US minimum wage laws apply. Sugar production has lost out to dairy production and other livestock products as the main source of income in the agricultural sector. Tourism has traditionally been an important source of income with estimated arrivals of more than 3.6 million tourists in 2008. Closing the budget deficit while restoring economic growth and employment remain the central concerns of the government.

Also this graph shows that the island’s GDP has been going down since 2005.

Another financial analysis by an independent group states the following:

The official PR Planning Board macroeconomic forecast for 2012 estimate a modest recovery of less than 1%.  US Stimulus funds received in 2008-2010 in the amount of $4.8BN have led to an increase in Personal Income within a period of reduction in GDP, exports, investment and credit concession.
Our main concern is that given high and increasing levels of debt, prolonged structural recession, reduction in pharmaceutical exports due to patent expiration and need to strengthen the banking system and credit flows while addressing real estate loan portfolios and market price adjustments, US financial regulatory institutions, private sector leaders and the Government of Puerto Rico need to aspire to and implement a comprehensive and high quality policy strategy, focusing on integrated macroeconomic, fiscal and financial system performance and proposing changes in structural impediments to optimal investment, labor market participation, reductions in operational costs and improved human capital investment returns.
Puerto Rico’s economy is climbing out of its marathon recession at a slighter quicker pace than expected this year.
That was the word Thursday from the Planning Board, which said the economy is on pace to grow by a modest 0.9 percent during fiscal 2012. That is narrowly ahead of the agency’s earlier estimate of 0.7 percent for the year, which ends June 30.
The upturn will mark the first annual growth in Puerto Rico’s economy since the onset of the local recession in 2006.
Puerto Rico’s economy contracted 1 percent in fiscal 2011 after shrinking 3.8 percent in fiscal 2010, 4 percent in fiscal 2009, 2.9 percent in fiscal 2008 and 1.2 percent in fiscal 2007, according to Planning Board numbers.
The island economy was last on positive footing in fiscal 2006, when it posted 0.5 percent growth, down from 1.9 percent the previous year.
The Planning Board said Thursday it expects the economic rebound to gain ground in fiscal 2013, projecting growth to edge up to 1.1 percent.
“We have seen the light at the end of the tunnel for some time,” Planning Board President Rubén Flores Marzan said. “But now we are essentially pulling out of the tunnel.”
So basically, the irony of all this is that Fortuño will take any sliver of good news spin, just like President Obama. The fact remains: Puerto Rico has been in the NEGATIVE for years. Any “growth” would be still keep you in a historical negative place. The challenge is true economic transformation that is bipartisan and works for everyone on the island. Let’s put the FOX NEWS pom-poms away. Fortuño’s legacy will be mixed, if that. All we ask is for better and true accountability, a true no-spin zone.
Will voters see the whole picture of the Puerto Rican economy? Will it be enough for another four more years of Fortuño? That is the question.

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Today, Puerto Rico’s online news portal, primerahora.com, ran an article in Spanish confirming that the island continues to face a decreasing population, according to the 2010 US Census and new 2011 figures. In fact, when compared to all 50 states of the Union, Puerto Rico would be ranked by far as the place to have suffered the largest population loss.

Here is a quick translation of the original Spanish article:

Puerto Rico’s population continues to decline and lost another 19,100 people between April 2010 and July 2011, according to estimates offered this week by the United States Census Bureau.

The first estimates published by the agency since the 2010 Census set the population of Puerto Rico as of July 2011 at 3,706,690. This figure is 19,099 fewer people than the estimated figure for April 2010, the month that was used as a basis for comparison.

The document estimated that around 35,000 inhabitants left the island and migrated. Interestingly, the study classifies migration between Puerto Rico and the U.S. as “international.”

For this same period, the Census Bureau estimated an increase of 2.8 million for the U.S., representing an increase of 0.92 percent. The U.S. population was estimated at 311.6 million for July 2011. Only three U.S. states reported a population decline during this period of 15 months and all well below that of Puerto Rico’s loss: Rhode Island (1,300), Michigan (7,400) and Maine (200).

The “natural growth” of the population of Puerto Rico during those months was 16,370 people, as a result of more births than deaths. The large number of people who left the country far exceeded the “natural growth,” casting the negative balance that highlights this report.

Product of Depression

“What has happened in Puerto Rico is that the depression has been loud and long, which is generating a strong migration to the United States,” said economist Jose Alameda.”Furthermore, the pattern of net births is declining,” he said.

“What worries most is that the people of Puerto Rico are usually educated … human capital has been reduced by migration,” he said. “That started between 2005 and 2006 as part of the depression. As there are no jobs for anyone, people migrate,” he said.

The economist expressed concern that as these figures show is that Puerto Rico’s economy is shrinking. “There is less human capital, shops close, and it also creates the problem that property has seen a decrease in value,” Alameda said.

The demographer Raúl Figueroa agreed that the economic situation is causing a negative migration in the country. “There are push factors right now,” he said. “Puerto Rico does not have many pull factors. There is no job or no crime situation that makes it attractive for people to come back, we’re seeing that people (who left the island) are not coming back,” he added.

“We must work for these people to return to Puerto Rico. People who are leaving are many young people under 40 years old, which causes a reduction in the workforce,” said Figueroa.

He noted, moreover, that the increase in migration is also “very particular situation of Puerto Rico, because we can travel freely to the United States.”

He predicted that “the population will continue to decline for several years. Migration is very high and the natural growth has been declining over the past 20 years. Births have been reduced,” he said.

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Press Release (Spanish Version Here)

Monday, December 19, 2011 San Juan, PR: Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño, along with the Presidents of the House of Representatives and the Senate, announced tonight that after receiving input from the different sectors that have participated in public hearings held at the Legislature that fostered greater participation of the island’s residents in a fair, reasonable, and inclusive manner, agreed to amend the island’s plebiscite status process.

“The amendments discussed and we are announcing today will permit that on the day of the vote, the first phase of the the plebiscite will consist of two questions on the same ballot. We decided that the questions that our constituents will be able to vote on will be detailed as follows:

First: Do you want to maintain the current territorial political status?

Second, voters will select from the following non-territorial options: statehood, independence and sovereign commonwealth, Fortuño said.

“The agreed process includes the main recommendations of the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico. It also addresses the concerns of various groups and members of all parties who participated in the discussion prompted by legislative bodies, which have requested that this process is a simple, fair, and inclusive,” the Chief Executive said.

“This way, all formulas will be represented on the same ballot and in the same query. Similarly, the agreed amendments result in savings for the people of Puerto Rico and will foster a fair and equitable distribution of public funds to the entitled parties or groups who choose to participate in the Consultation,” the Governor added.

Finally, it was noted that the Legislative Reform Consultation for the country will be held on August 19, 2012.

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Maybe the current GOP public relations lovefest for the Vice Presidential campaign of Puerto Rican Goveror Luis Fortuño should start subscribing to elnuevodia.com, the island’s largest newspaper, and hire Spanish-speaking readers. Their one-sided glowing reviews of the Fortuño administration might actually be more balanced.

Case in point, today’s news out of Puerto Rico includes a report that suggests that Puerto Rico is quickly spiraling into another Greece. Here is the link in Spanish, but for our English readers, we have provided our translation of the article:

Puerto Rico’s indebtedness of and the insolvency of its pension plans have become so large that there is no alternative but to restructure the debt with its bondholders.

That’s the conclusion of a detailed report prepared by the firm Wasmer, Schroeder & Company (WSC), in which the firm specializing in fixed income assets contends that the status of Puerto Rico is so bleak that the island is closer to the crisis in Greece, Spain, and Portugal than to the 50 states of the Union.

In financial terms, restructuring means that Puerto Rico would not pay the entire principal that it has borrowed, the interest it agreed to pay or a combination of both.

The firm, which manages about $ 4 billion in assets, circulated the report to several of its customers and financial advisers last month.

The President of the Government Development Bank (GDB), Juan Carlos Batlle, sharply disagreed sharply with the report.

Two Drops of Water

According to the firm, there are many similarities between Puerto Rico and Greece, Italy, and Spain, which the report describes as “weak European economies, among them: insolvent pension plans, high unemployment, and poor management in the collection of revenues into the treasury.

Of all the similarities, however, the debt level would be the most alarming indicator, according to the report.

WSC estimated that is one were to divided the central government debt by the population of the island, every Puerto Rican owes about $ 7,837. Meanwhile, the island’s per capita income would be at about $ 13.675. Percentage-wise speaking, this means a debt ratio of 57.3% to income.

If the calculation considers other $ 28 billion of debt issued by public corporations and municipalities, each Puerto Rico would owe about $ 17, 265 in debt.

As Indebted as Portugal

“(The figure) aligns more with Portugal, near to that of Spain, and well above the lowest per capita income in Puerto Rico,” said WSC.

The per capita debt of Portugal, as WSC states, is about $ 16,402. In Spain it is estimated to be $ 17,539.

However, this indicator in states like New Jersey would be about $ 3,669, in Hawaii it would be around $ 3,996 and in Connecticut, the debt per capita would be in the vicinity of $ 4,859. Percentage-wise speaking, the debt of these states in proportion to income per capita would be 7.2%, 9.6% and 8.8%, respectively.

The firm estimates would be higher if one considers that WSC did their numbers based on a total debt of around $ 64 billion

On November 20, El Nuevo Dia outlined that public debt was about $ 65.5 billion.

That figure, as a proportion of Gross National Product (GNP) could be equal or exceed the size of the local economy. This means that the debt of the Island in relation to GNP, could range between 92% and 100% or more, something that the research identifies as a serious economic burden for the development of any society.

Poor Reputation

“Despite having a conservative governor in fiscal terms, the history of Puerto Rico is tainted by cronyism and irresponsible fiscal decisions,” the firm said.

He added that unless the debt is reduced or the island’s economy grows faster than debt, Puerto Rico is aimed at a “critical moment” for its finances before the end of this decade. At this juncture, in light of fiscal conservatism “rampant” in the federal capital, it would be “unlikely” that the US Congress would help the island. So, if the situation does not improve “materially and fast,” the island would be in serious trouble and the U.S. municipal debt market may face “a significant credit hurdle,” said WSC. Puerto Rico’s debt has grown at a rate of 9% annually in recent times. Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican economy has shrunk almost 12% since the start of the recession.

The BGF Refutes Findings

“It is clear that we have to keep working,” Batlle said when asked about the report.

“In 2009, we indeed were on the path to being Greece,” admitted the banker. “But we have succeeded in keeping Puerto Rico from falling off the cliff,” Batlle said, referring to the period when the island lost access to capital markets by the growing fear of degradation.

Batlle preferred to emphasize that the report acknowledges the progress of the fiscal reforms that the Fortuño administration has implemented. In response to questions about the possibility of restructuring the island’s debt, Batlle said it will not be necessary if they continue to apply that fiscal discipline measures have already been implemented.

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