1.19.2007

Puerto Rico Governor Dithers While Murders Surge

One of the saddest moments of recent times was witnessing the utter incompetence of Governor Katherine Blanco's response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Watching her during press conferences and interviews you could see that she was shell shocked. She simply didn't have mental focus or courage to lead in Louisiana's time of need.

(BTW: Ray Nagin didn't have it either but unlike Katherine Blanco, he doesn't have the good sense to step down.)

While I don't have the benefit of watching Puerto Rico Governor Acevedo Vila, it appears to me that he too is immobilized in the midst of his island's man-made disaster: escalating murders.

Puerto Rico's murder rate was already sky high. Last year, there were 20 slayings per 100,000 residents, or 2.8 times the U.S. national rate (6.9) and 3 times New York City's rate (6.6).

And things are getting much, much worse.

In the first 15 days of 2007, island authorities report 46 murders in Puerto Rico, or double the number of killings during the same period last year.

And what is Governor Blanco--I mean Governor Vila--doing about it? Well, the AP reports that he's thinking may he will and may be he won't call in the national guard. Shouldn't the guard and every available police officer (including all of the desk officers) have already been deployed? I mean, it is Puerto Rico's single biggest challenge of potentially catastrophic proportion if it is not addressed immediately and effectively.

It's like having a field full of idle buses and while people are literally drowning in surging waters. Haven't we seen this picture before?

Also, are Puerto Rico's governors, politicians and police afraid of the criminals? This is a reality in many places and maybe that's the case in Puerto Rico. The authorities pretend to be cracking down on the drug trade, but they'll only go so far. However, even more tragically, in some instances the authorities are actually profiting from the illicit activity.

What accounts for Governor Vila's inaction? I don't know. What's clear is that he (as was the case with lightly talented Sila Calderon) appears clueless on ways to impose the rule of law on this island. Of course, Puerto Rico should've known what they were getting when they chose Vila as governor after presiding as mayor over San Juan's catastrophic rise in crime.

Unfortunately, too many Puerto Ricans have also come to believe that politics is just a game and that it really doesn't matter who wins elections. The game is less on civic progress and more on which group gets to dole out gobernment jobs and contracts. But as we've seen in New York City's turnaround, the quality and courage of real individual leaders makes all the difference in the world.

Having proven incapable of providing for the basic public safety needs of residents, Puerto Rico appears resigned to see a further erosion in its tourist trade, and a continuing emigration of its more talented residents.

Puerto Rico: Paradise lost.