University students organize press conference to discus economic and social crisis of Puerto Rico

By: Bianca Aponte

       On Tuesday November 5th 2013 a group of students from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez carried out a press conference to discus social inequality and economic crisis of Puerto Rico. Three panelists attended this event: Michael González, Javier Smith and José Guillermo Santiago; Edwin Irizarry Mora participated via e-mail. The main points discussed in the press conference were mostly centered on exchanging ideas on where the government should take action to improve the actual crisis, life of the marginalized sectors, activist movements and the panelist’s personal perspectives on themes of concern.

“The economic crisis and social inequality in Puerto Rico has retrogressed and has become the main problem this island has faced in recent years”, said Santigo. Orlando Sotomayor and Eduardo Kicinski, both economy professors at the UPRM, say that 20% of the population in Puerto Rico, who is considered the wealthiest, receives 65% of annual income stating that 80% of Puerto Ricans are living in poverty and in the middle class.

The discussion panel opened with the UPRM sociology professor Michel González, was asked questions and refused to respond or would respond with short words. Activist Javier Smith, stated that the major obstacle activist face while working on the marginalized sectors are when jobs are done in parallel with the government, whose work can have better and measurable results, however do not touch deeply and hide problems. In an article for USA Today Alan Gomez said, “the island of just 3.7 million residents owed a staggering $70 billion in debt and had run up a $2.2 billion budget deficit that led credit rating agencies to downgrade Puerto Rico bonds to near-junk status.” Puerto Rican government has much to do with the crisis.

Santiago is completing his master’s degree in democratic politics was asked if the government had the power to get Puerto Rico out of the crisis, why haven’t we seen that change? He answered that he thinks that the government doesn’t have the instrument to do so now because before doing so Puerto Rico has to be decolonized and we also have to “decolonize ourselves”.

Irizarry sent his responses via e-mail. Irizarry said Puerto Rico’s economy in the 80’s and 90s and Puerto Rico’s economy today has differed in dramatic reduction of productive capacity and the low participation of labor; serious increase in debt and very low tax. He portrayed a vision for the wellness of the island while he wrote about local small and midsize companies are the ones in power to improve the economy, and said, “The key for success is strongly related to identifying market opportunities within regions and municipalities.”

Through this press conference the audience can see how Puerto Ricans from different perspectives like sociologist, activist and students look at the social inequality and economic decline crisis while opting for a change and betterment of the island.

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(Left) Jose Santiago, Javier Smith and Michael González at the press conference.

Photo taken by Héctor Díaz

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The Brain down the Drain

by: Christopher Velázquez Meléndez

The “brain drain,” a serious situation affecting the Puerto Rican economy, was the reason to put together a panel on October 17th with sociologist Dr. Michael Gonzalez Cruz, economist Dr. Orlando Sotomayor, both professors at the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez and mechanical engineering student Bryan Rullan. This panel which took place at UPRM, put in perspective the reasons, possible solutions and the effects of the brain drain.

“Ninety seven out of 136 chemical engineers that graduated from UPRM two years ago left to the United States leaving an economic impact that I can define as 97 people who won’t spend money in the country, not just being a brain drain but an economic drain also.” said Gonzalez, showing the magnitude of this situation.

Puerto Rico’s grave economic crisis is showing no signs of improvement. According to a news article published by “El Nuevo Día on January 20th 2013” over half a million people have left in the last decade. But, there still are some who wish to stay even though they would have to go through the difficulty of the economic situation, “I’d rather stay and not be one of the people who leave, to be productive and form part of the solution, not the problem,” said Rullan, right after stating that the financial conditions keep deteriorating mostly because the people who can solve it are migrating to more promising states.

Although it seems that the source of this problem is in Puerto Rico and that its youth rather stay in their homeland they have to choose to move somewhere with better chances of economic growth. Sotomayor said, “people have in their minds “if I think I can generate a change, I will stay here. But If I don’t think my voice is being heard I will get out of here and leave,” basing himself on what people are actually doing.

Caribbean Business posted an article on its webpage this September 4th on its webpage about the governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla and his publicity campaign “Isla Estrella” which is supposed to raise the morale and give hope of improving this crisis, highlighting the talent that comes out of the country and how great we can be. But this reached to be nothing more than just an attempt since people keep leaving and apparently, according to various predictions from economists and discussion on the panel, it will continue to happen.

But Sotomayor argues that this problem is not unprecedented. He explained that back in the 1940’s people left the island to the United States in search for jobs in hard labor. This occurrence led to the migration of over half a million workers. Today’s migration however, is different explained Sotomayor. The people leaving are people with education at least a bachelor’s degree which is where the name “brain drain” meets its origin. These well prepared and educated individuals who leave take with them the economic progress that they can generate and could help improve the situation.

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Our panelist members on the “brain drain,” (in order of appearance left to right) Brian Rullan, Michael Gonzalez Cruz and Orlando Sotomayor.

“Puerto Rico’s social inequality is a direct result of the economic issues of the island.”

By: Natalie Castro

The uneven income distribution, unemployment, and school dropout rates are some of the factors that contribute to the social inequality in Puerto Rico, said Natalia Vilá, University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez student and president of the Student Association in Support of the Puerto Rican Communities, during a press conference on October 29, 2013.

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Natalie Castro, moderator, facing the audience during the press conference held in the Carlos Chardón Building on October 29, 2013

Among the panelists, there was Agent Carlos Ruíz, former policeman in the Narcotics, Drugs, and Illegal Arms Division of Mayagüez, Dr. Wilfredo Ruíz- Oliveras, founding member and ex- professor of the Economy Department at the UPRM, and Natalia Vilá.

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The press conference included three panelists: Natalia Vilá, Dr. Wilfredo Olivera, and Agent Carlos Ruiz.

The press conference was held in the Carlos Chardon Building of the UPRM, at 10:30 a.m. They discussed issues related to the economic crisis and social inequality in Puerto Rico, as well as topics related to the underground economy, the current state of the Puerto Rican economy, and the special communities of the island.

“Damn politics! That’s the main factor that contributes to the social inequality here,” said Agent Ruíz. “Politicians forget about the people of Puerto Rico and do not know how to manage the people’s money.”

On the other hand, Dr. Ruíz- Oliveras added that “Puerto Rico’s social inequality is a direct result of the economic issues of the island.”

A Huffington Post article published on September 7, 2013 notes that Puerto Rico’s homeless population is on the rise. Dr. Ruíz attributed this to the economic instability of the island but added that “many people are homeless by choice.”

Throughout the press conference, the panelists gave some tips on how to improve the economy and social inequality in Puerto Rico.

In order to improve Puerto Rico’s economy Ruíz recommends creating “a national plan that identifies the most lucrative sectors of the economy.” He added that “the government should encourage the well-educated to stay on the island.”

On the other hand, for Vilá, the solution is for the government to invest in projects that have long-term effects, such as education, which could have wider, multiplying effects.” “To provide money to people for spending on food, energy, and water is not bad, but it’s not the best way to invest in the future.” Vilá said.

According to John Mario, in an article published by the Caribbean Business of February 18, 2013, another solution would be to create an equitable economy. “Societies with high levels of economic inequality are more likely to fall into financial crisis…”

Panelists also addressed the role of the underground economy in Puerto Rico’s current economic situation. Agent Ruiz and Dr. Ruíz- Oliveras both noted that this is one of the aspects that drives the country’s economy. “The underground economy includes all economic activity that isn’t registered under the Gross Domestic Product, such as drug selling, contraband, and piracy,” said Dr. Ruíz.

The factors that influence a person’s entering the underground economy were also addressed.

“Economic inequality and the urge to acquire material ‘things’ are the main reasons for entering the underground economy,” said Agent Ruíz. “It is unfair to judge someone by the way he looks or by the music he listens, a person’s entering to the underground economy has more to do with the economic instability of a person, he added.”

However, as Agent Ruíz, said: “Without the underground economy there wouldn’t be a lot of jobs in the judicial branch of Puerto Rico. The use of drugs pays the jobs of many. The government pays the cops to investigate the crime, the prosecutor to imprison the person, the judge to make the final decision, and the attorneys to defend the criminal. It is a cycle, therefore it is not convenient to legalize any drug.”

Panelists highlighted during the press conference that an alarming 45 percent of Puerto Ricans live under the Poverty Index. Also, 322 of Puerto Rico’s communities are being marginalized. Vilá explained that “A marginalized community lives under the Poverty Index, depends on government aids, has a high rate of unemployment, and people with little education.”

To help the marginalized communities in Puerto Rico, the UPRM community suggested the foundation of the Student Association in Support of the Puerto Rican Communities, which Vilá presides. The association goals are: provide access to a better education, help address the problem of school dropouts, and create community programs that a have a lasting impact.

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Above, from left to right, Ruth Meléndez, Eduardo Carlo, Natalie Castro, Cristian Soto, and Marilis Rodríguez. Below, from left to right, Natalia Vilá, Dr. Wilfredo Ruíz- Oliveras, and Agent Carlos Ruíz (three panelists).

Rights and Struggles of the LGBTT movement in Puerto Rico.

By: Stephannie Guzmán Piñero

Past Thursday, October 24 2013, a press conference was called in a classroom of the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez to discuss the obstacles that the LGBTT community faces to obtain equity in Puerto Rico.

Other topics like how people have changed the way to express their sexual preferences has changed since when they were studying to present.

The panel was compound by the Psychology Professor, Bernadette Delgado; an Anthropology Professor, Dr. Rafael Boglio; Roberto Rivera, Gay-Straight Alliance spokesperson and Gaddiel Ruiz, a poet, activist and sub-graduate Hispanic Studies student.

Claudia Irizarry who was the interviewer, asked the panelists how gay-friendly they consider Puerto Rico; “Puerto Rico is a more gay-friendly territory, I don’t know if you have an idea but in Dominican Republic politics are traditionalist and they don’t have groups who support LGBTT community.” Roberto Rivera answered. “I differ in how gay-friendly we are.” Gaddiel Ruiz added.

When it comes to how much influence do the religious groups have over the legalization of gay marriage and same-sex partners adoption, they all agreed that the church is a powerful controller and mobilizer of masses. According to a Huffington Post article a group name Puerto Rico Pro Family assured that legalizing both issues is not negotiable because is an attempt to change puertoricans families moral values.

Also, Global Voices reported the case of Angeles Acosta and Carmen Milagros Vélez, a couple of lesbians that had their petition of adoption denied by the Supreme Court, who declared it unconstitutional. They even tried to penalize anal sex or “sodomy” in 2002.

On the counter part, LGBTT groups have been growing since the last four years, making the different political parties consider and support them; “Political parties are recognizing our importance.” Roberto said.

Topics as bullying, homoerotic poetry and equality rights were touched but when patriarchy questions were served, “We all end falling into the traditional patterns in the sexuality issue […] One of the reasons used to condemn homosexuals is that they cannot reproduce, but when I was about to marry nobody asked me if I was sterile or not, then why they use this as a reason?” Boglio said.

The traditional view of marriage changes through the perspective of same-sex partners because they swap and share the same gender roles. “I asked my students how many of them come from a traditional family and no more than 10 raised their hands in a group of 30.” Prof. Delgado added.

UPRM counts with an association named Gay-Straight Alliance which serves as support for those students who haven’t come out of the closet, victims of bullying, or as intermediary between a student and his/her parents to discuss sexual preferences with them.

Even though the “Colegio” had have another associations of this nature in the past years, they all ended disintegrated but this one in special is different because of the fact that they encourage the participation of the straight community in the LGBTT issues.

The conference ended with a question of one of the spectators about how people and schools should prevent bullying. To what Bernadette Delgado answer “The first thing to do is to inform and educate people about it.”

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“I believe that we are going to be successful when we learn to respect individuals.” –Bernadette Delgado

Should I Stay or Should I Go?: Brain Drain in Puerto Rico

By:Minerva Santiago

Since the recent recession and Puerto Rico’s declining job market, there are more students being faced with the dilemma of staying in Puerto Rico or moving to the United States. More than 225,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to the United States in the last seven years, most of them have no choice but to leave the island where they were raised, seeking a better future for themselves.

As of August 2013, the unemployment rate was at 13.5 percent, worse than any state in the United States. “I can see it in my students’ eyes, they’re thinking if they should stay or leave to the United States,” said Orlando Sotomayor, an economics professor at University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez at a panel held at UPRM on October 17, 2013.

This decision isn’t always up to the student. The harsh reality is that once people graduate college it’s hard for them to find a job in their specific field. As Sotomayor said, “In Puerto Rico there are approximately 150 jobs for chemical and mechanical engineers, that is about the size of one class at UPRM.”

One influencing factor is that many companies based in the United States come to Puerto Rico to recruit undergraduate students for internships and early job offers. “UPRM is like a filter that tells people who are the best students,” said Michael González, a sociology professor at UPRM who also spoke at the panel. Some of these companies offer internships to students as early as their second year. By the time students graduate from college, they might already have a job with the company.

Sometimes the only choice students have in order to work in the field which they prepared themselves is to move to the United States. “Out of 136 chemical engineers that graduated UPRM two years ago, 97 of them moved to the United States,” said González.

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Left to right: Bryan Rullán, Orlando Sotomayor, and Michael González at the panel held on October 17, 2013 on the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez campus.

Some of the students who leave wish to return to Puerto Rico after gaining the work experience from top ranked companies in the United States. Mechanical engineering student Bryan Rullán, a student speaker at the panel, feels this way. “I plan to gain experience working in a company based in the United States, and then move back to Puerto Rico and use that experience to help my family’s business, Sun Boricua,” he said.

Another reason people choose to move to the US is the quality of universities in Puerto Rico versus universities in the United States. In a survey conducted on September 3, 2013 to five students in the UPRM campus, 60 percent of students said it doesn’t matter in which country you study, what matters is the university’s quality. Most of the students agreed that the quality of a university doesn’t depend on its location, but the individual college. “Good professors are what make a good university,” said Sotomayor.

Puerto Rico had a similar wave of migration from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. About half a million people moved to the United States between these years. The main difference is that, “the people that left between the 1940’s to 1960’s weren’t educated; and most of the people that are leaving now are educated,” said González.

Quality of life and cost of living are also a deciding factor. “Utilities are more expensive in Puerto Rico that in the United States; and that influences a higher cost of living in Puerto Rico than in the United States,” said González. “In the United States the cost of living is lower and there are more opportunities.”

A study conducted by the Institute of Statistics quoted in El Nuevo Día stated that of about 76,000 people that left the island in 2011, there were 2,000 teachers, 300 doctors and 170 lawyers. Sotomayor suggests the solution to the brain drain problem, “It is not enough to tell people not to leave; we have to make Puerto Rico a country where people don’t want to leave.”