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Puerto Rico: “Such is Life”

The executive director of the government project Portal del Futuro (created to organize the redevelopment plans for lands of the former Roosevelt Roads US Naval Base in Ceiba, in the eastern zone of Puerto Rico) defended the construction of the luxury mega-resort Riviera del Caribe in an area of those lands by telling residents of neighboring communities that they had to realize they would not have access to this kind of project because “such is life.”  Jaime González made the statements in a forum with residents last month, (most of these residents live in socially and economically disadvantaged communities) but they have recently garnered much attention, to the point where a video about it is now posted on YouTube:

González said his words were taken out of context, but also recognized that he may have been offensive and insensitive towards the residents of the eastern zone of the island. The governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, has fired González, even though he first said he would not.  To get a sense of what Puerto Rican bloggers are reacting to, here are excerpts of González's remarks:

Vamos a hacer unas tiendas, que algunas de las tiendas tendrán productos que no los van a poder comprar, pues ‘such is life’. No todo el mundo ha sido tan agraciado. Pero no hay exclusión aquí de nadie (…) Y el que no tiene ni siquiera 50 chavos pa’ comprarse un límber por lo menos puede disfrutar de caminar libre de costo por esos paseos peatonales frente al mar y ver los cruceros llegar y ver a los pasajeros, los pasajeros con chavos, bajarse del crucero y verlos meterse en las tiendas y verlos comprando cosas caras y al que le cree eso complejo, pues lo siento mucho por ustedes, porque la vida es así, no todo el mundo nació tan agraciado…

We are going to have some stores, some will sell products you can’t buy. Well, such is life. Not everyone is so fortunate. But there is no exclusion here…And the person who does not have 50 cents to buy a limber (a typical Puerto Rican dessert), at least you can enjoy and go out for a stroll in those walks by the sea and see the cruises come, and see the passengers, the passengers with money, get off  the cruises, and see them go in the stores and see them buy expensive things, and whoever has an inferiority complex because of this, well, I feel sorry for you…such is life. Not everyone is so fortunate…

Erika Fontánez writes in Poder, Espacio y Ambiente [ES]:

Estas comunidades han estado batallando para que los terrenos de Ceiba respondan a aliviar el abandono que han tenido por décadas, a propiciar verdaderos proyectos de desarrollo para lograr mejorar su calidad de vida y atender sus necesidades. Después de todo, estas comunidades han sido las que han sufrido por décadas la falta de recursos, como por ejemplo el agua, y la pobreza producto de que su territorio ha respondido a fines militares. Ahora con el cierre de la base, luego de que los movimientos civiles lograran desmilitarizar el área, ven una ventana para que se les haga justicia, pero el gobierno, tanto el central como el municipal tienen otros planes: el llamado “Plan del Portal”que dirige quien vergonzozamente les habló. Nuevamente se les da la espalda. Este funcionario les dice que si son pobres…pues, “Such is life”.

These communities have been struggling so the development of the lands of Ceiba alleviate the abandonment in which they have been for decades, to promote real development projects that respond to their needs so they can have better lives. After all, these are the communities that have suffered during decades of a lack of resources, like water, and have lived in poverty, caused by the military use of their lands. After the base was closed, and the civil movement achieved the demilitarization of the area, they finally see a window of opportunity that may bring them justice, but the government, the central and municipal, have other plans: the so-called ‘Portal Plan’ directed by the person who has spoken to them so shamelessly. Again, they have been abandoned. This government employee has told them that if they are poor…well, such is life.

In Tinta Digital [ES], Eugenio Martínez Rodríguez comments:

Lástima que este nuevo gobierno con el ñe ñe né venga a desarticular la única propuesta social que pienso que tiene potencial en la actualidad: los movimientos de autogestión comunitaria que han logrado combinar esfuerzos de líderes de base, intelectuales de la academia y hasta grandes empresas privadas. Primero Río Piedras, después el Caño, ahora Ceiba. La tendencia es clara.

It is a shame that with its ‘ñe ñe ñe’ (baby talk) the newly elected government has dismantled the only social projects that I believe have the most potential in these times: self-reliant grassroots movements that have been able to combine efforts of community leaders, academics, and even the private sector. First, Río Piedras, then el Caño, now Ceiba. The pattern is clear.

Blogger Angelica Giselle says [ES] she felt ashamed:

Me apena, me da verguenza y me siento sumamente indignada por estas expresiones. Cómo es posible que entre nosotros mismos, los puertoriqueños, nos aplastemos mutuamente??? Es una falta de respeto hacia los recidentes de Ceiba y hacia la comunidad pobre de este país lo que el Sr.González dijo. Aunque más tarde pidió disculpas por sus expresiones me molesta. Me molesta que hablemos así y que nos despreciemos de esa manera. Yo como puertoriqueña no puedo quedarme callada y dejar de informarle a las personas lo que este gobierno quiere hacer poco a poco. Quieren ir privatizando todo y cada vez ir echando a los pobres a un lado. Porque en vez de crear cosas para los millonarios, no se ponen a crear centros públicos para que la comunidad pobre tenga sitios de entretenimiento gratuito??

These expressions have made me feel sad, ashamed and extremely indignant. How is it possible that we, Puerto Ricans, squash each other like this? What Mr. González said is disrespectful towards the residents of Ceiba and the poor communities of this country, even though he later said he was sorry. It bothers me that we speak to each other like this and despise each other. As a Puerto Rican I cannot remain silent by not informing people what this government wants to do little-by-little. They want to privatize everything and marginalize the poor. Why don’t they create public spaces for poor communities so they can have places of free leisure instead of creating things for millionaires?

In Blogueando [ES], the journalist Julio Rivera Saniel also had an opinion about the incident:

Las declaraciones de González han abierto de par en par las puertas a las ideas que son la raíz misma de las actuaciones de estos funcionarios. Los pobres son prescindibles si sus terrenos son necesarios para promover capital privado. Y como esa parece ser la máxima del gobierno, la disculpa es solo un tiro al aire para desviar la atención.

The declarations made by González have opened the doors to the ideas that are the foundation of the actions of these officials. The poor are dispensable if their lands are necessary to promote private capital. And, since that seems to be the objective of the government, his apology is just a bullet in the air to deviate the public’s attention.

Perhaps adding fuel to the fire is that Jaime González made his remarks during a period of difficult times for the island. The secretary of economic development, José Pérez Riera, publicly stated recently that the private sector “owns Puerto Rico.”  There is also a pending eviction order to remove 200 families from the Villas del Sol community in Toa Baja. The government dismantled the innovative collective land ownership project  Fideicomiso de Tierras del Caño Martín Peña designed by the community (the case is in court). And, most recently, there were riots in the streets of Río Piedras (where the main campus of the University of Puerto Rico is located) when a specialized police force arrived after midnight to remove a student who was illegally drinking on the street. The police tear-gassed the students, who responded by shouting and throwing objects at them.

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Such is life”, is by Felinux – Cogito ergo boom!, used under a Creative Commons license. Visit Felinux – Cogito ergo boom!'s flickr photostream.

This post was also tranlsated by the author.
  • http://reflexionypsicologia.net Dr. Jose Angel Gandia

    La VIDA NO ES ASI… no, no, no. LA VIDA LA HACEMOS SER DE UNA U OTRA MANERA LOS SERES HUMANOS QUE COMPARTIMOS UN LUGAR Y UNA HISTORIA COMUN. LA INJUSTICA SOCIAL QUE PRODUCE Y SE NUTRE DE LA ESTIGMATIZACION, MARGINALIZACION Y VIRTUAL OPRESION QUE DE ESTAS SE DESPRENDE. HEMOS DE CAMBIAR NUESTRA FORMA DE MIRAR, IMPLOTAR LAS ESTRUCTURAS INSTITUCIONALIZADAS QUE SON TIERRA FERTIL A LA REPRODUCCION DE VALORES QUE NOS DESHUMANIZAN CADA VEZ MAS. SUCH is LIFE… NO, NO, NO. LA VIDA LA CONSTRUIMOS NOSOTROS. LOS POLITICOS, SUS AYUDANTES Y ASESORES ES TIEMPO DE QUE SE FUNDAMENTEN EN TRES ELEMENTOS BASICOS: HONRADEZ, SENSATEZ Y SENSIBILIDAD EN UN CONTEXTO DE AFIRMACION NACIONAL QUE ES PIEDRA ANGULAR EN TIEMPOS DE LA GLOBALIZACION.

  • http://Facebook Marisol

    It is deplorable the manners in which the government has little regard and value for the people. A government, who stands up for the rich and demoralizes the poor. They speak to the people as if we have no value. Money continuously is been poured into tourism with the rich in mind, yet poverty, homelessness and drug infestation continues to plague Puerto Rico. Go into the small towns like El Duque in Naguabo and others like it, to see the deterioration that exist, lack of proper house, lack of job and inadequate education. The statement made “Such is Life” clearly says “who cares what you feel or think to the people of Puerto Rico

  • bermu
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  • Harry

    The government of Puerto Rico, even though it taxes the middle class (which is actually a working class) to death.
    This happens so the government can pay the salaries of tens of thousands of redundant public employees.
    The result is that the central government has no public funding-but federal transfers- to promote social projects and job creation. Thus the need to attract “foreign” and private investment to create some jobs- even if they want to create stores for high-end merchandise innacesible to the majority of Puerto Ricans- including myself- as they are intended to lure very affluent tourists.

    I’m for social reform, and I’m on the left but for me, social justice is about everyone sharing the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities. Even in Cuba the economy survives on turists going to places where Cuban can not go, shop or eat.

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