Op-Ed: Puerto Rico’s choke-hold on Vieques commerce
Under the long-term, government enforced embargo, the shipment of goods and vehicles between Vieques and Isla Grande has been so constrained that our community is not economically viable. The extreme restriction of cargo services denies us the ability to live normal lives, start and run businesses, and grow the community as we see fit.
What we know:
- Our former governor decided to create a public-private partnership to operate the ferry systems for Puerto Rico.
- An RFP was issued about 8 months ago to 5 prequalified bidders, but not shared with the stakeholders. The winning bidder is currently negotiating with the Maritime Authority (ATM).
- The RFP is SECRET, but we know it is designed to relieve the PR Government of day-to-day issues, reduce subsidies, and eliminate long and short-term expenditures from dwindling budgets.
- Due to recent permitting and EPA violations in the construction of new, yet instantly obsolete, facilities, the $30M funding for capital improvements promised by the FTA (Federal Transportation Administration) have been placed on hold.
- The ATM is in crisis mode and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problems within the organization. They are just trying to hold things together long enough to dump it onto a private operator. Their desperation will most probably cause them to make a very bad deal.
- The accumulated deterioration of the improperly maintained boats has created a situation that is too difficult for them to solve. Director Mara Perez Torres has no real experience in the industry or best practices, and she relies upon personnel with years of misinformed operational and maintenance management experience: people who have learned the ATM way. Corruption at multiple levels has been documented. The solutions these incompetents try to implement are horrific and laughable to real professionals.
- While some managers may be trying to do a good job for the communities they serve, they are often ill-prepared, over their heads, and don’t realize how much they don’t know.
- Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced, as each new administration claims to be, is appalled by the disservice to the island communities. Each typically appoints a new director (or multiple directors) as the situation reoccurs ad nauseum. Each time, we start over with promises. Without exception, the directors are over confident, ignore the pleas of the stakeholders to be involved, and drink the Cool-aid fed to them by the ATM organization. Without exception, there is no long-term improvement, and the cycle repeats.
- ATM management has been so politically corrupted, incompetent, and/or delusional for decades that they use the same old arguments to justify holding back Vieques services. In April of 2018 the ATM published a criminally fallacious D&C study as a draconian preliminary to the RFQ process for ferry privatization. My personal response addressed the fraud they were attempting to wage. The actual official RFQ was improved still lacking. Nonetheless, the lies and misconceptions remain today at every level of the ATM.
- Many are in survival mode and still don’t care at all about their customers.
Requests by residents, as the primary stakeholders, to have a seat at the planning and oversight table have been denied. Local attempts to establish a cooperative to create, own, and oversee the operation of a ferry service have been rebuffed by Omar Marrero, who claims that the plea is too late and that proposals cannot be accepted during the period an existing RFP is pending.
Since the term of the contract he has crafted is 23 years, an entire generation of islanders is going to be sentenced to:
- Failed economic development;
- Inaccessible medical services;
- Severely constrained education;
- Limited commerce; and,
- Denial of the pursuit of happiness.
The ferry system required to sustain our island is key. If government can’t do the job, stop blocking us: quit! Give us time and support to set up a cooperative instead of denying us participation and preventing us from increasing our capacity.
Or, if you prefer, consider some innovative solutions that reach well beyond the ferry and provide economic development for Puerto Rico otherwise unachievable.