We all learned this week, with considerable shock, that the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico has spent, during the course of just 10 months, the incomprehensible sum of $31 million out of our sad pockets.
Money, which by the way, we don’t have, yet our government is forced by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) to shell out $2 million a month to keep the Board working in style.
To add insult to injury, at the same time the Board published this absurd chapter in this horror novel that we are living in, they suggested to Congress an exemption to Puerto Rico in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Section 8 of the Housing Act, undoubtedly hitting children, the disabled, and elderly hard.
They added, with a straight face, that the purpose of this baffling idea is to create an “earned income tax credit” to stimulate labor participation in Puerto Rico.
So, let’s summarize this mind-boggling — almost “Trumpian” scenario (yes, that is now an adjective) — the Board wants to cut funds for the neediest in Puerto Rico to promote productivity and austerity, while they themselves have very little to show for a year’s work, and have blown more than $31 million while at it out of the pockets of people living on a bankrupt island. Did I leave anything out? The Board is telling us: “Do as I say, not as I do.”
The Board is tragically mistaken if its members are thinking that they can exorcise a history of 119 years of domination by the U.S. that has, in fact, created the exact problem that they now are trying to solve by simply slashing funds.
I want to remind the Board that the U.S., out its own volition, invaded Puerto Rico, imposed a colorful parade of American governors that robbed the island blind, then “allowed” a Constitution with a local governor with whom they felt comfortable, while using Puerto Rico as a playground for their war games practices, and our people as guinea pigs in a story that, to this day, still is waiting for closure.
They nurtured a “welfare” mentality (in the U.S. as well, to be clear) in generations of people. This mentality cannot be unlearned with the stroke of a pen. It took over a century to take a hold on the way of life of many families, and it will take a while to change.
The Board is not alone in this primitive, uninformed view of this complex problem. The local governments (yes, all of them, from both parties) are just as guilty of turning a blind eye to the roots of the problem. They have been (and still are) partners in crime, babbling about the virtues of entrepreneurship, self-employment, and productivity and then doing the exact opposite by disincentivizing it.
The Board and our local government (with whatever little power it has left) have to understand that this is a vital project that requires a studied and solid plan to create an economic model that promotes wealth and productivity.
This is a serious problem that requires serious people to start the path of solving it. Improvisation and ignorance have no place here.
We need a complete re-engineering of our economic outlook, laws and philosophy, and it has to start by teaching our children to rely on themselves, to aspire to entrepreneurship, to create jobs for themselves and others, and nurture this new paradigm until it starts changing the way we see the world: not through the lens of “what can you give me,” but through the lens of “what can I earn for myself.” This you don’t do in a year, or even 10. But it’s imperative that we start.
The idea that Puerto Ricans are “lazy” is a myth. We are not lazy: our politicians and leaders are. They are lazy, superficial, self-entitled and looking for answers that satisfy “the vote” mentality.
We are guilty of having trusted them, and of being afraid of aspiring to better leadership. Now they, along with the Board, look at the monster they created in the eye, and wonder what to do, while meeting in luxury hotels and flying first class to Ukraine. “Do as I say…”