Focus on Puerto Rico, an island tries to avert crisis

  • Maria Luciano works outside her home in Lajas, Puerto Rico.
  • A baseball field was erected on land that is part of Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Caño Martín Peña – a community land trust encompassing over 194 acres in the heart of the San Juan Metropolitan Area. Community volunteers from Barrio Obrero rescued the land and temporally use it as a baseball field before new housing units will go up to relocate families whose homes will be removed to dredge the El Caño Martín Peña.
  • Young boxers prepare to spar at a small gym in the Israel y Bitumul section of San Juan. Boxing is a major sport in Puerto Rico and almost every town has at least one gym aimed at active youth participation.
  • Kimberly Lopez Toro rides in the back of her husband’s pickup truck through farmland near their home in the Lajas Valley. During the past 100 years, agriculture in Puerto Rico has dropped from 71% of the islands GDP in 1914 to 1% in 2014. A reinvestment in local agriculture is essential to lowering food import costs and is capable of generating 90% of the population’s food consumption as well as creating new jobs in regions of the island with high unemployment and poverty.
  • Raphel Ocasio tends to a community garden in the Barrio Obrero section of San Juan. Community organizations such as Corporation Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña have been working with local volunteers to develop urban gardens around San Juan - educating residents about gardening and fostering community interaction.
  • A customer at a market in the Israel y Bitumul section of San Juan.
  • A tree with prayers carved into it, Comunidad del Sol, Ponce.
  • Art teacher Zaidy Volmar Claudio stands with her sister Lady Volmar Claudio on their rooftop trampoline. Zaidy and Lady live in the Buena Vista community of San Juan. Buena Vista is one of eight communities boarding El Caño Martín Peña that created the Fideicomiso del Caño Martín Peña land trust, resolving problems with land tenure dating back to the 1930s while averting gentrification after some residents were evicted by outside land developers and moved into public housing projects.
  • Diego plays on a farmland fence near his home in the Lajas Valley.
  • The backyard view of the Acosta farm in the Lajas Valley. It’s estimated that a reinvestment in local agriculture could replace 90% of Puerto Rico’s imports adding nearly $7 billion a year in locally produced food sales. This would greatly benefit Puerto Rico’s long term economic recovery plan.
  • Nixon Morales Rosado, a resident of Barrio Obrero, holds baby Derrick Jacob on their front stoop, San Juan.
  • Comunidad del Sol - once vacant land on the outskirts of Ponce - is now home to families who needed a safe and affordable community to live in. Residents of the community came together and took over the land building their homes from found materials.
  • The town graveyard above Jayuya where Nationalist Party members Carlos Irizarry, Griselio Torresola and Blanca Canales are buried. Griselio Torresola was one of two Puerto Rican nationalists who attempted to assassinate President Harry Truman on November 1, 1950 in order to gain attention for the Puerto Rican independence movement. Griselio along with other Nationalist Party members believed Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States, a sentiment shared today by many residents of the island.
  • A political poster for San Juan mayoral candidate Miguel Romero hangs riddled with bullet holes above a music concert poster, San Juan.
  • Orlando Gonzales, a community leader and champion boxer, sits with his sister Samantha in their bedroom in Aguadilla. They live in a section of Aguadilla city which has been totally abandoned by the local municipality. Residents manage their own community services such as the water and sewage systems.
  • Jenny Estrada runs her husband’s market as her son sleeps, Buena Vista, San Juan.
  • A Street Corner in Aguadilla.
  • A view down the street where the Ponce Massacre occurred on Palm Sunday in 1937. The Ponce Massacre took place when a march organized by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party turned violent when police under the command of Governor Blanton Winship were ordered to stop the march. The heavily armed police opened fire onto the crowd killing 21 and injuring over 200 unarmed people. The march was formed to protest the imprisonment of the Nationalist Party’s leader Pedro Albizu Campos as well as to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico.
  • Looking north across the mountains from Aguada.
  • Kite Festival, Aguadilla.
  • Jose Rodriguez stands outside of his home in Comunidad del Sol, Ponce. Jose travels weekly to a construction job he found in the center of the island. It was the only work he could find as full time jobs are scarce throughout Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate is 15% with some areas of the island facing nearly 50% unemployment.
  • An assortment of memories and gifts from friends in Maria Helena Martinez’s home, El Papayo, Lajas.
  • A wall in Barrio Obrero, San Juan.
  • Pascual Mulero and Tomasa Machuca sit in the home they have lived in for over 50 years along El Caño Martín Peña. El Caño Martín Peña is a section of San Juan home to an estimated 25,000 residents - the majority descendants of impoverished squatters who migrated to San Juan during the first half of the 20th Century. Longtime residents of communities along the channel have banded together to form a communal land ownership agreement - restricting the government and corporations from taking over land and forcing residents out. The communities along with Corporation ENLACE have been fighting to have the U.S. Corps of Engineers dredge the channel in order to improve living conditions.
  • Jesus Lebron, a lifelong resident of Aguadilla.
  • Children swim during a very hot day in Aguadilla. Local residents consider the canal’s water to be special as its origins remain unknown.
  • Mother’s Day flowers, Ponce.
  • Fernando, Barrio Obrero, San Juan.
  • Pedro Orsini Mendez rests with his daughter at their home in the Tres Hermanos community near Aguada. At 104 years old, Pedro talks about his past as an artisan and sugarcane field worker. Puerto Rico once had a thriving sugar industry second in output to Cuba from the 1930s until the 1950s. Most sugar mills were owned by U.S. companies and workers often lived in impoverished conditions. The industry began its decline in the 1950’s due to Operation Bootstrap which planned to industrialize the island. Currently the Agriculture Department is promoting a sugar cane growing revival project. The project is expected to grow 800,000 tons of sugarcane producing 20.5 million gallons of molasses worth $51 million.
  • Details of a Market, San Juan.
  • Felo Colón Guerra, a community leader and long time resident of Barrio Obrero, works for the G-8 community organization. The G-8 is made up of twelve grassroots organizations from eight communities adjacent to the Martín Peña Channel. The groups work together in the decision making processes associated with the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña and community land trust. The G-8 was born as a result of the most extensive and comprehensive city planning process ever conducted in Puerto Rico.
  • Paul shows off his race horse, Buena Vista, San Juan.
  • Emelindo Aviles sits on the beach during sunset in El Papayo, Lajas.

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We must return to innocence,

create from nothingness,

survive on a thread,

overthrow burning fists

at sunset,

until the rose becomes a star,

until the star becomes a rose.

-Francisco Matos Paoli, Puerto Rican poet

WASHINGTON — Those who have been closely watching Puerto Rico’s economic decline and the reluctance for Congress or the administration to respond have been sharing an inside joke lately.

“Even though there are more Puerto Ricans in the states than in Puerto Rico, some people are joking that the Cuban government has had more relations with Washington than Puerto Rico lately,” said Federico de Jesus, a political and media strategist in Washington, D.C.

Puerto Rico is in the midst of what its governor, Alejandro García Padilla, pronounced to The New York Times is a “death spiral.” It faces $73 billion in debt, double digit unemployment and has been for several years watching many of its middle class leave the island for the U.S. to flee its economic woes. The commonwealth’s debt status is now graded as “junk” and deadlines for debt repayments are days away.

Padilla said over the weekend that the island country’s debt “is not payable,” the Times reported. He scheduled a 5 p.m. EDT Monday address on the crisis.

The crisis is not yet to the level of Greece, which has commanded far more attention in news headlines, but that nation has been getting assistance from the European Central Bank and other entities, unlike Puerto Rico.

“We do not have any lifeboat or financial partners that have been willing to step up,” de Jesus said.

The White House has urged Congress to take a closer look at allowing Puerto Rico to restructure its public debt using Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing, something that is not available to Puerto Rico as it it for U.S. states and has been used by cities such as Detroit.

In the daily briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stopped short of saying the administration supports giving Puerto Rico the ability to file for bankruptcy, repeating that its something its asked Congress to look at.

Earnest said that Puerto Rico is getting help similar to what the administration did for Detroit through a task force that has helped advise the commonwealth of what existing resources it can seek. The work done for Detroit is a template for Puerto Rico, he said, adding that what that city received from the Obama administration has been directly related to the city’s progress.

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