Op-Ed: Painted into a corner

Written by  //  March 18, 2016  //  Biz Views  //  No comments

Author Ada Torres-Toro is president Full Circle Communications.

Author Ada Torres-Toro is president Full Circle Communications.

So, here we find ourselves. A mere eight months away from the general elections, with a cast of characters in the local ballot (at least the ones with chances of winning) that offer absolutely no chance of a solution to our insurmountable problems.

We find ourselves, for the first time in generations, with the most crystal clear message from the U.S. about our political reality: we don’t govern ourselves, but they have no interest in rolling up their sleeves and doing so themselves.

We find ourselves being like a bothersome mosquito to the U.S., but one that won’t go away, though. In the course of the U.S. presidential campaign we have been called irresponsible, unwilling to work, incapable of managing our own finances, dependent on welfare, among many other degrading descriptions.

The problem with the U.S. Congress, candidates and opinion-makers calling us irresponsible is the same as the pot calling the kettle black. Since, as they have clearly pointed out, we don’t govern ourselves, then it stands to reason that they would be responsible in this task. This seems to be a clear, logical conclusion. You cannot have it both ways.

But therein lies the problem: but both the U.S. and Puerto Rico want to have it both ways. The U.S. calling Puerto Rico “irresponsible” after their own Wall Street disaster and its shameful bailout is almost funny, were it not so tragic. U.S. calling Puerto Rico “incapable of managing its finances” is laughable, since they participated actively and with gusto in the making of our debt, one of the presidential candidates included (golf, anyone? Trump left one hell of a tee here).

The failure of all the candidates, and President Obama himself, to accept the enormous responsibility the U.S. has in the making of our current disaster is simply amazing to watch. Let’s look at one obvious, and hardly new, example: forcing us to use their merchant marine, via the obsolete Jones Act, has contributed to the island’s dire fiscal situation, but a change in this law has been repeatedly met with angry resistance from the U.S. shipping industry. And so, we pay at least double for everything than in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is not covered by this law.

As in this example, it is possible to analyze many of our fiscal problems, scratch the surface a little, and find U.S. interests lying in almost plain sight.

Now, with an enormous debt that we have no way of paying, almost no liquidity, a historical migration phenomenon, no credibility, a roaster of presidential candidates (with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders) that care very little about our crisis, and many candidates of our own that offer cero chance of steering the sinking ship in the right direction, it seems we have painted ourselves into the proverbial corner.

Change of public discourse
So, what are we doing now? We have changed the public discourse from “economic crisis” to “humanitarian crisis,” to very little effect. We have knocked on every door in Washington, only to see most of them slammed in our faces. Worst of all: we have reverted to politics as usual, idly entertaining ourselves with shallow candidates that, if they were to win, would no doubt enter Fortaleza and scratch their heads with no idea what to do, or worse, keep on making bigger mistakes (because, albeit my arguments here, I have no doubt we bear much of the responsibility in this mess, as does the U.S.)

You do not paint yourself into a corner and just walk out. It took us years to arrive at this precarious point, and it will us take generations to recover. Most likely Puerto Rico, as if the survivor of a train wreck, will bear the scars and never be quite the same again. Nevertheless, we have to take a hard, long look in our collective mirror and accept that without the power to define and solve our problems, we will never get out of this corner. We cannot build the ship without the tools.

The current system is broken beyond repair. We have to stop trying to glue all this shattered glass, and start to envision how to build something new. And for this we need serious and incorruptible leaders. We need to stop the political fanaticism that is eating us away like a cancer and seek answers beyond the worn out Catch 22 that we have put ourselves into, jumping from the red political party to the blue one, and back again. The Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party are both responsible for the island’s role in this Rubik’s Cube of a crisis, hence it stands to reason that they cannot solve it. They are intricate parts of it.

It will take years, generations even, but I feel a glimpse of hope that we have begun. We are looking at other options for leadership, options that have no chance of winning in eight months’ time, but we have to start being brave enough to vote for whomever we think is best, not for “the lesser of two evils.” And we are starting to look at ourselves in that mirror, little by little. We are shy, because we don’t like what we see…but we are looking, and there, in the opening of our eyes, lies our future.

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