During the last few years we have all been at times crushed by that uneasy feeling caused by this extended recession, and more recently by the passage of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (“PROMESA”) of 2016, both of which continue to hover over our daily life as an unwelcome guest that has prolonged its visit longer than expected, refusing to leave.
During these trying times, we have been reminded of the 20 year-long Japanese recession having heard — with a sense of shock from our respected economist Joaquín Villamil — forecasts that our island may start to recover from this economic downward spiral by 2020.
Both scenarios justifiably diminish Puerto Rico’s usual spirit of enthusiasm. But a closer glance at our history should give us all reason to pause and reflect and we may even start to regain some of our needed positive conviction for our future.
It may even permit us to recapture some of the lost spirit of confidence and hope that has accompanied us during times of peril, struggle and adversity.
I understand it is easier said than done, especially for so many whom face uncertainties on a daily basis. Nonetheless in an effort to add some perspective to the magnitude of today’s difficulties, as compared to those of the past, permit me to recommend a book by the renowned commentator and author, Alex W . Maldonado, “Teodoro Moscoso and Puerto Rico’s Operation Bootstrap,” Univ. Press of Florida, 1997.
The book recounts Don Teodoro Moscoso’s life and accomplishments (1910-1992), as a dedicated and committed public servant, and a principle figure of operation bootstrap and Puerto Rico’s industrialization.
I found this book of great personal interest and inspiration, having shared comments and opinions with Alex in the pages of the now defunct El Reportero and The San Juan Star newspapers in the 80’s and 90’s, as well as having had the privilege of working with Don Teodoro during his second stint as head of Fomento when I was a young aid to then Governor of Puerto Rico, Rafael Hernández-Colón during his very exciting, but difficult and trying first administration (1972-1976).
The publication initiates its voyage reminding us clearly that in 1934 even our good friend Franklin D. Roosevelt, when making reference to Puerto Rico, assessed our reality by simply stating: “…the place is hopeless, hopeless…” I sadly still hear today many referring again to our present situation with that same sense of despair, or worst of hopelessness, as we face the future. Read Alex Maldonado’s insightful book on our past tribulation and on our forebears, and how we, as a people gathered straight and recovered from what were certainly the worst of times.
Though our present fiscal situation at times seems as dire as 1899 and as devastating to our island as the passage that year of hurricane San Ciriaco, and some are even convinced today, as others were at the end of the 19th century that both the killer hurricane, as well as today’s fiscal predicament and for the coming fiscal board, have been brought upon Puerto Rico as a curse.
But it was not a curse, nor then, nor today. Our present burdensome and overwhelming fiscal reality is the result of many short-sighted public policy decisions by Puerto Rico, in addition to an excessive accommodation and false sense of comfort caused by our unfortunate and ever present colonial status.
We know we can and will do better, but not by repeating the same mistakes of dependence and subjugation, nor by insisting on using those same old tools that may have served us well half a century ago.
In the 40’s our grandparents and parents, as this very instructive and enlighten book demonstrates, never wept nor whined when confronted by adversity. Our predecessors forged an island by struggling, fighting and never giving up. A homeland was forged, though imperfect, with what little they had — they got up every day and faced their reality, no matter how dark their prospects seemed.
And they certainly had less, much less, than what we have today. If this book shows something worthwhile for today’s new struggles is that Puerto Rico’s most valuable assets are its People and it will again fall upon them, the responsibility of bringing Puerto Rico up from what seems at times the brink of an abysm and help us all recuperate our sense of pride, as a People.
Puerto Rico is once again called upon to show its true colors, and we will prevail, but this time we may all be required to confront adversity, not only with strength and determination, but with a sense of defiance. Yes, defiance, for we should have realized by now, as this excellent book reminds us, that passivity and comfort are not great tools for those longing for real change, progress, and prosperity.