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Editorial & Column


Focus On Vieques Again


April 29, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

A year after the Navy’s exit from Vieques, the time’s right for taking stock of what has–or hasn’t–happened in terms of improved economic and social conditions there.

In our front-page story a couple of weeks ago, we were the first to raise an alert on the deteriorating economic-development conditions in Vieques, with rampant real-estate speculation and hubs of antiforeigner radical groups–to them, anyone not from Vieques is a foreigner–jeopardizing the island’s economic development.

Today, in our special report, we break the story of a $150 million ecotourism project, slated to start construction in September and promising to create 500 jobs, that is facing the opposition of mayor Damaso Serrano and a group of Vieques residents who apparently would prefer to see their brethren stagnate in economic underdevelopment rather than open Vieques’ doors to "foreign" investment.

At the heart of the controversy is a sustainable tourism project whose first phase would involve the renovation of the historic la Casa del Frances Inn and the construction of a new boutique hotel, representing a $20 million investment. The second phase would involve the development of a hospitality and marina center in the Esperanza sector of Vieques, while a third phase envisions the development of ecofriendly attractions and other amenities.

The developer, Roberto Brambilla, an italian architect and president of Sunbay Co., along with a number of local partners from Puerto Rico, has spent 10 years acquiring the necessary lands, including la casa del frances and the beachfront Villa Esperanza Parador, which closed years ago. He has also obtained the endorsements of the planning board and the Tourism Co., signed up a renowned New York boutique-hotel operator, and secured financing from Banco Popular.

Now, Sunbay has received notification of the local government’s intention to expropriate the entire beachfront of the disappeared Villa Esperanza Parador–land critical for the viability of Sunbay’s project–in order to build a wharf solely for the 32-member Fishermen’s Association of the South of Vieques, headed by Vieques activist Carlos Ventura. The project was a request from Ventura to Mayor Serrano, who is seeking re-election amid criticism that his administration has done little to promote Vieques’ economic development since the Navy’s exit.

The controversy is being fueled by the contorted reasoning of a small but dangerous minority in Vieques who distrust, fear, and outright oppose any outside influence, even in the form of capital to develop private-sector-led economic development projects and create much-needed jobs. As we’ve reported, longtime Vieques residents and business owners who have for many years made great contributions to Vieques’ economic and social development, are feeling pressure from a group of <i>viequenses</i> for whom any foreign investment–including by stateside and foreign-born businesspeople who have lived on the island for decades–is undesirable.

This is absolutely ridiculous. Vieques needs much help in order to foster its economic and social development in a post-Navy era. And the best help it can hope for is private-sector projects, especially in tourism, that bring in capital investment and create jobs.

We have never heard of a city, state, country, or other jurisdiction, including Puerto Rico itself, that has developed economically without outside know-how and investment.

Now that the people of Vieques need them, where are our political leaders from the big island of Puerto Rico who were so active in the fight to kick the Navy out? Where are they to explain the importance of private-sector economic development projects that benefit all the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico?

Are they going to allow, again, a small minority to impose its will and decide what’s best for the people of Vieques at large? Are they going to allow what has happened over the past 30 years in Culebra, where only a few families have benefited from the economic windfall of acquiring the island free from the federal government?

We can’t allow this to happen. Vieques is more than twice the size in area as the island of Manhattan. Think of the possibilities.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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