Looking at Dome's Beach from El Faro Park

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Understanding the Puerto Rico Situation

All crises have their backstory and the key to responding to and eliminating any crisis is understanding how these things came to be.

The news reports on the PROMESA act and "bailout" of Puerto Rico, focus on the size of the debt and some even urge the US Govt to act to help Puerto Rico. But the true story of #PuertoRicoCrisis is Puerto Rico's situation and how it has been for the past 100+ years.

To have an opinion of whether or not the US Govt should help Puerto Rico resolve it's financial crisis without understanding Puerto Rico's recent history is like a doctor prescribing medication without examining the patient.

A quick recap of Puerto Rico's recent history:
- In 1897, Puerto Ricans finally won semi-autonomous government representation in Spain after centuries of repressed rights and colony rule only to lose that semi-autonomous status one year later as Puerto Rico became a colony of the United States at the end of the Spanish American War, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.  The US allowed Puerto Rico to have a House of Representatives, but the Governor and Upper House were appointed by the US President, via the Foraker Act.

-The first Governor of Puerto Rico, appointed by President William McKinley was Charles Herbert Allen, a former secretary of the Navy and one of the most notorious robber-barrons of the last century.
 "The revenue for the island's government was raised internally, mostly from tariffs, sales taxes and property taxes. During Allen's tenure this annual budget equaled the 4.4 million pesos the Spanish had spent in 1897, but without expenses for a five-thousand man garrison or the former contributions to the Catholic church.  Due to this reduced overhead, the island should have had a substantial budget surplus, but Allen's administration did not provide many benefits for the people. He ignored the appropriation requests of the Puerto Rican House of Delegates, and refused to make any municipal, agricultural or small business loans. He built roads at double the old costs. 85% of the school-age population did not have schools. Instead of making needed infrastructure and education investments, Allen re-directed the insular budget to no-bid contracts for U.S. businessmen, railroad subsidies for U.S.-owned sugar plantations, and high salaries for U.S. bureaucrats in the island government" - Thomas Aitken, Jr.; Luis Munoz Marin: Poet in the Fortress, pp. 60-61; Signet Books/New American Library, 1965.
After resigning the governorship in 1901, and taking advantage of tax tariffs, water rights, railroad easements and foreclosures and land grants, Allen built the largest sugar syndicate in the world, now know as Domino Sugar.  This is the beginning of Puerto Rico exports going to the mainland, along with most of the profits, and being imported as a finished product, a trend that escalated throughout the next 100 years.

-In 1914, the Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted unanimously in favor of independence from the United States, but this was rejected by the U.S. Congress as "unconstitutional".

-In 1917 the US passed the Jones Act of Puerto Rico, whose effects are still with us today, granting Puerto Ricans US citizenship, allowing Puerto Ricans to elect their Resident Commissioner, and exempting Puerto Rican bonds from federal, state, and local taxes regardless of where the bond holder resides. "Through its passage, the Jones–Shafroth Act—via a combination of citizenship and the expansion of U.S. laws to Puerto Rico, including the aforementioned National Defense Act—imposed mandatory conscription into the U.S. military on Puerto Ricans, precisely at the moment that the United States entered World War I. As a result, more than 20,000 Puerto Ricans served in the U.S. armed forces during World War I." -

-This Jones Act should not be confused with the Jones Act of 1920 regarding merchant marine laws. It is this law that requires all good imported to Puerto Rico to come in on ships flying an American flag and built in the United States. It is this law that many argue has contributed to Puerto Rico's economic woes. It's hard to disagree.

-Operation Bootstrap was a plan to industrialize Puerto Rico by offering American business incentive to build factories on the island (low labor costs, no import tariffs and a promise of profits that could be transferred to the mainland free from federal taxation).  It succeeded in creating industry in Puerto Rico, however, as industry increased, the labor workforce decreased.  There were not enough jobs to replace those created by agriculture.  This resulted in a mass migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States.  Over 1 million people migrated to the United States between 1945 and 1970. (Carrión)  American business interests profited without taxation, funneling those profits out of Puerto Rico and into the US.

-In 1996 after many corporations exploited this loophole to funnel may of their profits through Puerto Rico, President Clinton signed legislation that phased out the incentive over 10 years, causing Puerto Rico to spiral into a recession starting in 2006.

 -Throughout the 20th century, Puerto Rico has been subjected to harmful environmental American military operations, government experiments including sterilization, and brutal oppression of free speech.

Which all leads us to its status.

Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States when they are residing off their island, but on the island of Puerto Rico they do not have the same rights.  Puerto Rico does not have a voting representative in either the Senate or Congress, Puerto Ricans cannot vote in the Presidential Election, only in the primaries.  For further clarification of the inconsistencies and outright unjust situation the United States has placed upon Puerto Rico, I suggest you read Juan R Torruella's speech in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice from April 2016.  As a Puerto Rican born federal appeals court judge, sitting on the second highest court in the US, his knowledge of the law and the precedents for colonial rule and citizen rights offer meaningful insight.

And John Oliver has a nice way of pointing out the obvious;

The status of the island needs to be addressed as part of any bill or recovery plan.

PROMESA Promises to take Puerto Rico back in history to an even more oppressive status than it has enjoyed in the last half century.  It is carte blanche for the hedge funds and banks to get whatever they are owed without a balance of power or a consideration of the Puerto Rican people. Schools, healthcare and natural resources are all on the table for cuts and outright takeover.  Once again I suggest you read the bill to make your own judgment.

I am not overlooking the fact that the Puerto Rican government mismanaged its resources and has not made the necessary adjustments to prevent this crises.  Indeed, the ease at which they could borrow from the banks and the lack of support for any government cuts has only deepened the problem, but once again, as Hon. Torruella states,
"Although Puerto Rico's political entities have necessarily played a role, theirs has not only been a limited, parochial one, but, most importantly in my opinion, not a decisive one. Any distraction from that ultimate truth, that our colonial condition is the primary cause of the debacle we now face, detracts from efforts to find a solution"
So where is the solution?
- I believe, as I have stated before, that the solution starts with the status of Puerto Rico.  A U.S. congressionally-sanctioned and binding referendum where the Puerto Rican people decide on whether to become a state or an independent country needs to be the founding base of any plan.
- Should a territory with more than 45% poverty rate and childhood poverty rate at a staggering 56% with official unemployment more than 12.5% be forced into austerity measures?
- A forced negotiation of compromise and repayment that is fair to both sides or allow Puerto Rico public utilities to declare bankruptcy, a right allowed to all stateside "municipalities" of which public utility companies have long been included.
- As Senator Bernie Sanders has suggested, auditing Puerto Rico’s debt to investigate whether it was incurred legally. If any debt was issued to creditors in violation of Puerto Rico’s Constitution, it must be immediately set aside.

Puerto Rico is a beautiful country with considerate, hard working people who deserve to be treated with respect.  Puerto Rican soldiers have fought in every major U.S. military conflict during the past century.  In the United States, they are educators, business leaders, entertainers, scientists and even a Supreme Court Justice.  We cannot allow the current conditions to fall into humanitarian crisis and civil unrest, the United States owes them more.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Workshops in Rincon

The fairly recent trend of shared workplaces and workshops has begun to take hold here in Rincon, a couple of new businesses have opened recently that will try to make shared business and work spaces available to those seeking less rent and overhead while fostering a creative environment.

The Cube has been in operation since May this year.  It is above the La Paz yoga studio near the Rincon Plaza and functions as a workspace for those who need an office space, but prefer to rent on a daily or weekly basis and save money on overhead and other business services by sharing the load with others.  It's a great addition for Rincon residents, seasonal inhabitant and tourists.  787-464-2952

Taller Caribe "offers work and gallery space for artists and artisans looking for commercial storefront exposure, without having to invest all the time and resources required of opening a shop in PR."  It is located on the Rincon plaza and will officially open October 5th.  It's a great opportunity for artists to share the costs associated with having a studio and it's in a great location, another great addition to the Rincon plaza and art scene. If you’re interested in forming part of this project in any way, or want to get more information, feel free to contact Anthony Smith Rodríguez, or 787-407-1940.

I hope these ideas take hold.  Rincon is a seasonal town and it is difficult for businesses to make it on their own here, having like minded people around to support and help carry the load could help Rincon grow through individual ideas, strengthened by community.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This Small Town Just Got Smaller

It's been awhile since my last post, but it's always great to hear from readers who have read this blog and made it down to Rincon.  A few months ago, our friends told us of a couple they met who moved here after reading the blog and I just met a nice couple who were vacationing here who had read the blog.  The emails asking for more information are welcome too, I really feel like we were helped by so many people when we got here that I need to pay it forward.

So it is with a heavy heart that we attended a memorial ceremony for our friend, Carlos Martinez, who along with his wife Erica owned the Boarding House.  Carlos passed away last week at the age of 36 from cancer.  I think I first mentioned Carlos in a blog post from 2010 titled The Surf Brought us, the people keep us...Then I wrote,

 "Carlos, who runs the Boarding House Surf school and rentals really epitomizes the Rincon attitude as we have found it to be. When Cyndi was looking to buy a board he offered up a few to try out so she would know what she liked and when I expressed some interested, he pulled out a big 11 foot board and shoved in my hands and told me to get out on the waves with my wife. When I got my hands on a nice longboard that needed a few fixes, he took care of it and found a cheap used fin for Cyndi's board, all the while not worrying about how he would get paid, more interested in us getting out on the waves. Not everyone in Rincon has this esthetic, but the more people we meet, the more nice things we have to say."

And he really did, a few months ago when my wife Cynthia had just bought her horse and managed to  find a piece of land for him to stay on, the horse got out and went searching for a mare.  It was Carlos who found the horse and made a quick lead and tie out of an old surfboard leash, then let us know where we could get him, also offering to help repair the fence on the land where he was boarded. 

At the memorial, organized by his wife, who has been so courageous and strong, we heard many similar stories, stories of Carlos' never-ending smile, unselfishness and welcoming spirit. There was a sunset paddleout, a prayer circle,  a short slideshow and then we lit Thai lanterns that sailed into the Rincon sky above the ocean.  A beach bonfire and music went deep into the night. And the small town we live in came together to share it's sadness and loss, but I think we also connected to the possibilities of a life, and how  spirit can transcend mere mortality.  It was one of those moments that maybe could only happen in Rincon, maybe only for a person like Carlos.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Live Music In Rincon

The music scene in Rincon is an interesting mix, lots of local and Caribbean influences with the gringo, surfer crowd thrown in makes for a lot of good musicians creating great soundtracks to the sunsets and the full moon parties on the beach. 

Calypso Cafe at Maria's Beach stands out as a great place to hear and see live entertainment.  They have regularly scheduled musicians during the season at least 3 nights per week.  Sundays, Tito and Fito are a duo who play mostly instrumental versions of classic rock, with a bit of a flamenco twist, great musicians who play very well together.  Fernandito is another Calypso regular who plays mostly reggae.  He has a great voice,  his versions of the Marley classics are beautiful and make me wonder how we are so lucky to have such a  talented singer playing at our local bar.

Calypso also has regular Bomba nights with a band called Taller de la Isla.  If you haven't experienced Bomba before, it is not to be missed.  Bongos and drumming with rhythmic dancing and a chanting and yelling, very tribal and down deep, primal.  Add some rum punches and you've got the picture...

Los Hijos de Puntas have been playing locally for the last few months, they have a bongo and loud guitar with Spanish and English songs, I really like them, more than just soundtrack music.

Calypso, Pool Bar and the Rum Shack have live surf music, the Superstereos and other East coast based surf bands come down during the season.  Rincon is also lucky to have Predator Dub Assassins play around town once in awhile, a great reggae band, check out their video, filmed in Rincon,

We have a friend who plays in a band called Trio Experimental, they play jazzy, latin influenced music, with a great singer and sound that suits this town very well.  They play at Das Alpen cafe and have played at some of the galleries and other restaurants around town.

Rincon's most famous band is probably the Disfunction, they play a kind of updated version of 80's post punk pop.  Lots of energy and a big following here in Rincon, they play the east coast of the US and play at Brisas Bar or Pool Bar when here in Rincon.

I've seen some great live music at the Cocktail Club, located near the Edwards Co-op.  They have local bands on Friday and Saturday nights.  Tamboo Tavern, The Black Eagle, Pool Bar, the Uncharted Studio, Kasa Vieja and Casa Verde all have live music occasionally.  The best way to find out where the live music is Upcoming Events Page or El Coqui of Rincon's Events Calendar or Facebook and like the Tourism Association of Rincon.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reducing Single Use Plastics in Puerto Rico

I've written about a few of the problems of waste on this island;  landfills filling up, more waste per capita than mainland US, recycling rates far below US and other countries, no bottle deposits and not enough equipment to recycle the amount of bottles and glass discarded, plastic being shipped off island to be recycled and an unwillingness of municipalities to tax or increase the cost of waste disposal, but all of these things pale in comparison to the overwhelming problem of single use plastics.

Everywhere plastic bags are being used as if they grow on trees, very low lying, high yield trees. A trip to the market of a small cart of groceries and you can come back with 20-30 bags, that is if you don't use re-usable bags, and very few people do here.  Ley 38, passed in 2010 was drawn up to require every retail establishment that used plastic bags to provide, carry out and document recycling og those plastic bags.  It also required those establishments to provide alternatives to plastic (re-usable bags for sale).  The law was in response to a "Ban the Bag" proposal that supposedly would have placed a burden on consumers and retailers alike by forcing them to provide other means to transport their purchases.  But Law 38 isn't being enforced.  Our local Econo used to have a bag recycling station, but that is gone, they used to sell re-usable bags, but those are gone too.  I see these bags on the streets everywhere, floating in the wind or spilling over the public trash cans at the beaches, installed by Surfrider Rincon.

Reduciendo la Huella Plastica Rincon is a group of concerned volunteers, myself included, who are working to reduce single use plastics in Rincon.  Their activities include raising awareness, increasing enforcement of anti-littering laws, educating the public and meeting with government officials, ministers and local business owners to work out solutions.  Key in this process is Ernie Alvarez, who circled the island of Puerto Rico on a stand up paddle board to raise wareness of the plastics problem in our ocean with a group called Plastic Free Oceans.  Ernie recently spoke to over 200 Rincon school kids as part of the Rincon Recycling Club, telling them that the plastic water  and soda bottles they discard are assassins, killing marine life at an alarming rate.  It is up to them to change the habits of their families and recognize the problems their generation will face if changes aren't made, immediately!

The plastic problem certainly isn't confined to Puerto Rico, but this is where I live and where I can make an impact.  I'd love to hear about things you've done to reduce your plastic imprint or if you have any ideas to expedite the process of reducing the use of single use plastic in Rincon.  Thanks!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Puerto Rico Surf History

Cindie Rice Collection
I've recently come across a great Facebook group, Aviones Boys, that has an amazing collection of photographs of Rincon and Puerto Rico from the sixties to the present. The page is dedicated to Puerto Rican surfing and seems to grow with added posts daily.  Of particular interest to me are the pictures of Rincon in the 1970s, pictures showing, palm lined beaches with very few structures, even the hills above the beaches are incredibly bare of development.  The surf pilgrims in the pictures are staying in ramshackle places and beachfront shacks, climbing the trees for coconuts and catching their own fish and lobsters.  We still do this here in Rincon, but mostly for fun, not for sustenance, the paved roads and well stocked colmados make life a bit easier, but when I hear people complain about the long drive from San Juan or poor cell phone coverage, it really makes me realize how spoiled we are here now.
The 1968 World Surfing Championships held in Rincon was the door that opened to bring the first wave of surfers to the island, but Puerto Rico already had a growing surf culture.  Jorge Machuca is the man most consider to be the first great Puerto Rican surfer and his legend started as a 14 year old boy in those 1968 World Championships in Rincon. He was featured in all the advertisements and articles leading up to the contest and did not disappoint, amazing the crowd and his fellow competitors with moves they had never seen,  floating on waves before anyone knew or even thought of doing it.  Jorge went on to be sponsored by Hobie and surfed around the world, but also influenced a new generation of Puerto Rico surfers including Edwin Santos and Carlos Cabrero.
Around the island, the surf culture has grown and the Aviones Boys group has great pics from Aviones to Jobos to Gas Chamber and Tres Palmas.   Photos showing Maria of Marias beach, cockfighters in Rincon, old pictures of the Rincon town plaza, the nuclear reactor being built, Surfer's Beach in Aguadilla with a sign stating that surfing was "only allowed under the auspices of the Surfer's Club Association by order of the base commander".  Looking at the size and shapes of the surfboards, the shorts and bikinis the people wore, it was a different world.
Nostalgia is often used as an argument against progress and I can see why as I look into the lives of the people who came to Puerto Rico in these days and found a place that was in a time warp when compared to the 1970s US.  The beaches were undiscovered and underused, the locals were kind and eager for contact with others, surfing had already happened in the states but here it was still a novelty, there were only a couple surf shops on the entire island.
Some may see a negative impact on Rincon from these tourists to what Rincon is today, but I believe it's been positive.  I would say most of the Puerto Ricans in Rincon have come to respect the old timer gringos who have been here awhile and made it their home.  The ones who have come and gone have brought their love of Rincon back to the states.  An unchanged Rincon is impossible, but a true appreciation of the beaches and water that are the lifeblood of this town is what these old timers brought and that has remained here and grown.  To the ones who stayed, Cindie Rice of Calypso, Dennis Rich at the Pool Bar and others who have the memories to look back upon, thanks for sharing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Puerto Rico Street Dogs - Satos

Today was the annual ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation) Rincon Dog Health Day.  For those of you not aware, ARF is Rincon's non-profit Animal Rescue and Education Organization, they have an office in the Balneario park that is open MWF 9-12pm.  Their office does great work such as these dog and cat health days offering low cost vaccinactions and neutering services for Rincon residents, as well as creating a network of fostering dogs and cats for adoption.  We adopted our dog, Uno after first fostering him in the ARF program.

It's important to know that ARF doesn't have facilities to house any animals, so it's fostering program is key and they could always use more foster volunteers.  We have 3 dogs and do no/cannot have any more, but we are willing to foster puppies that get in the ARF program because they will get adopted, either here or sent off the island for adoption.
My wife, CC has worked with so many great people outside the ARF organization to do things that ARF cannot, including fundraising to send dogs off the island to new homes and gaining access to donated food and supplies for the fostering families to reduce the burden of fostering homeless pets. 

The animal population problem in Rincon is relatively minimal relative to the rest of Puerto Rico and its because of ARF and many other folks around toen who have worked to keep puppies off the streets and to get them neutered and adopted into good homes,  Calypso Cafe, Mango Beach Shop, Green Room Surfboards, Pools Beach Cabanas are just a few of the local businesses that have taken in strays (satos) and either found homes for them or adopted them themselves. 
The amount of dogs and cats run down that you encounter while driving is disturbing.  On a recent rip 10 miles away to Aguada I saw 2 dead dogs and a dead cat dead in the road.  It may be one way to control the animal population but it certainly isn't a humane one.  Laws protecting animals have recently been enacted and they are enforced where possible, but it still is a society as a whole where cockfighting is celebrated and animals are seen more as working tools than as parts of the family.  So it was rewarding to see so many local Puerto Ricans at the Dog Health Day today, spaying and neutering their pets, doing the right thing to keep the animal population down and keeping satos off the streets.  Gracias ARF and all those who volunteer!
For more info: