If there’s one thing that bothers me about Puerto Rico, it is its incredibly wasted potential.
The island has a tremendous wealth of natural resources that, with a properly motivated workforce, could provide a lot of people with jobs and a stronger sense of nationalistic pride. Currently, there is a severe lack of forward thinking that prevents the island’s potential to be fully realized. Something like 30% of the jobs on the island are government jobs. When the government starts slashing budgets, that number suddenly becomes a huge burden on the rest of the tax payers on the island. Additionally, if the average person in Puerto Rico wasn’t so hellbent on getting money for doing absolutely nothing, and if the exceptionally corrupt and incompetent Puerto Rican government could get its head out of its ass, it wouldn’t take much to make Puerto Rico a center of innovation and growth in the Caribbean, particularly because of its history of economic ties to the United States.
In an ideal world – and let’s be real, the likelihood of this happening is practically non-existent because of the bureaucratic nonsense the government has all but trademarked – there are three main areas into which Puerto Rico could really re-invest its energies to get back on top: tourism, agriculture and green technology. They may not solve all the problems plaguing the island, but they would be a step in the right direction.
Tourism – the island is already a hot spot for tourism in the Caribbean, but it’s primarily for the cruise ships that come into San Juan. The majority of the island remains untapped for tourism so much so that it takes an especially intrepid vacationer to venture out to the rest of island, braving the winding country roads and kamikaze drivers. Investing heavily in tourism would provide a solid foundation for economic growth and could turn Puerto Rico into a tropical destination to rival Hawaii. A lot of the same draws are present – beaches, tropical weather, hiking, watersports, etc. – but the apathy towards ecological preservation prevalent in the local culture has prevented many of those activities from being fully exploited. Were the government to emphasize the importance of bringing in a larger quantities of tourist traffic (rather than blatantly ignoring the large quantity of drug trafficking), there would be an influx of cash from abroad.
Agriculture – At one point, Puerto Rico was a huge agricultural hub in the Caribbean. The sugar cane fields fed the rum manufacturers and the rum manufacturers made huge amounts of money. Castillo Seralles in Ponce is a perfect testament testament of how that one single crop could bolster the economy of an entire region. Sadly, the days of large agricultural plantations are long gone and there is a stigma – particularly among younger people – about working in the fields. The climate in Puerto Rico is perfectly suited for a variety of high-end agricultural products – sugar, coffee, specific types of tropical fruits, spices, rum – that if properly regulated and subsidized, could help bolster the local economy and reinvigorate communities that have dwindled since the decline of the agriculture industry.
Green Technology -There are large swaths of land in Puerto Rico that would be perfect for the development of solar energy companies. Likewise, there are uninhabited hills and mountains that are prime real estate for wind farms. The island gets TONS of sunlight and its fairly windy, so after taking into account the occasional hurricane, it has more than enough land area for it to successfully transition into a country that would benefit greatly from the advent of companies focusing on Green Tech. The island also has a large workforce of trained engineers that work at the many pharmaceutical factories so it stands to reason that the intellectual capital required to jumpstart the industry is already in place and would just need to be re-targeted. Unfortunately, Green Tech would probably be the hardest area of economic development to gain traction in Puerto Rico because of the government’s involvement. Since so many officials are so unbelievably corrupt, it would take an act of God to get the ball rolling on this one. Changing the prevalent views on recycling (which is practically non-existent on the island) would likely be the first step to change.
I’m sure there are many other areas of development that could pull Puerto Rico out of it’s seemingly bottomless economic downward spiral, but these three are the ones that strike me as the most plausible. They have the infrastructure in place and frankly the biggest hurdle is simply the mindset of the local people. The sad thing is that unless there is a drastic shift, the island’s natural resources will all be squandered on greed and it will just end up as a massive land fill.