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I Promise...

By CB Staff

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

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in the CARIBBEAN BUSINESS series on the proposals of the two major candidates for governor—in their own words. Pedro Rossello Gonzalez of the New Progressive Party and Anibal Acevedo Vila of the Popular Democratic Party discuss their proposals for tourism development, the environment, the development of the island’s ports and airports (including the much-touted transshipment port), corruption, and the perennial issue of status.

We tried by all means possible to present the programs of all three candidates. For weeks, we attempted to interview Puerto Rican Independence Party President Ruben Berrios Martinez, to no avail. He simply didn’t make himself available to CARIBBEAN BUSINESS .

Acevedo Vila preaches a revolution to solve generations-old problems

CB: What is your vision for the development of the tourism industry in Puerto Rico during your administration and beyond?

AAV: Strengthening the tourism sector is key to developing an economy that is competitive on every front.

We will retain the tourism and transportation strategic plan developed by the current government and the private sector. We plan to add 5,000 new hotel rooms in the next four years as well as maximize the Convention Center district’s potential.

Puerto Rico needs to diversify its offerings to attract more visitors. We should exploit niche markets such as ecotourism, family travel, and corporate travel, which continues to be a strong market for the island.

We plan to develop new attractions such as a Caribbean Theme Park, an IMAX cinema, and an aquarium. We need to establish regional brands for Puerto Rico such as Porta del Sol in the western region. Now that Porta del Sol is up and running, we should do the same in the east. We are also proposing that port facilities in the San Juan area be designated for tourism, especially for cruise-line operations, and we will increase the number of cruise passengers booking hotel nights before and after their cruises.

In addition, Puerto Rico should develop two fundamental pillars in tourism: the west [and the east]. In the west, Aguadilla’s regional [Rafael Hernandez] airport could serve as a point of entry.

This airport has been a success. In 2002, it received 80,000 passengers. In the past fiscal year, more than 130,000 passed through its doors, and that figure could jump to 180,000 this year. This would translate into a 100% increase in passengers, which is a huge step for the tourism sector in the west. We plan to internationalize the Aguadilla Airport and will add another terminal.

The Port of Mayaguez also offers great potential for tourism and we intend to maximize it. The western region needs to strengthen its tourism increasing the number of tour operators and offering more transportation, for example. This move would translate into more business opportunities and job creation for the region. If a tourist is staying in Mayaguez and has no one to offer him or her tours to La Parguera in Lajas or to Mona Island or on scuba diving excursions, the vacation experience is limited.

The other pillar should be the eastern region because of its tremendous tourism potential. Natural gems, such as El Yunque, are there; it is the closest point to the U.S. Virgin Islands; and with Vieques and Culebra, the eastern region could become an ideal [tourism] triangle, especially for the booming nautical tourism industry. Plus, look at the area’s top hotels: [Wyndham] El Conquistador [Resort & Golden Door Spa], Westin Rio Mar [Beach Resort], and Palmas del Mar [Country Club].

For these reasons, we believe we can fully exploit the former Roosevelt Roads naval station in Ceiba by establishing mixed-use facilities on the base, which would include tourism. Roosevelt Roads is key for tourism because with it, we can strengthen the region’s tourism infrastructure. Roosevelt Roads’ airport could be a point of entry. It would be great for charter flights and its pier facilities could service cruises.

CB: How will your administration strike a balance between the need to preserve land and the island’s natural beauty and the need for further urban growth and economic development? How will you tackle the problem of solid waste?

AAV: Areas designated for conservation make up nearly 6% of land in Puerto Rico. That figure includes areas in the hands of the local and federal governments and the private sector. It is clear that 6% isn’t enough to protect our natural resources at a time when urban sprawl is putting a lot of strain on them.

I repeat, protecting the environment isn’t incompatible with sustainable development. Under no circumstances should Puerto Rico compromise its future economic development, including tourism. If we don’t protect our beaches and other natural attractions, for example, we risk compromising future development.

I am committed to developing a master development plan for Puerto Rico. A master plan is what developers, contractors, and the environmental sector need. For years, every project in Puerto Rico has been a struggle between developers, environmentalists, and the government because no development plan guides all the sectors. My proposal is that we have one single battle: one to create a master land-use plan. Once we agree on one, developers out to construct projects in restricted areas won’t have a chance. If, on the other hand, a project is in line with requirements for an area set aside for development, environmentalists and others won’t be able to challenge it in court. Most likely, drafting the plan will lead to disagreement among sectors—everyone will have to compromise to some extent probably—but these are the types of decisions we have to make.

Ever since I was in college, I have been hearing about that master plan. Now, it is time to put it into action, and we will help the municipalities complete their own land ordinance plans. There you have the first step toward protecting our environment.

The plan will also be useful for the environmental sector, which will know exactly which areas are to be protected. Developers, meanwhile, will know where to develop their projects. Our proposal aims to eliminate doubt. As things stand, developers buy land and wait several years to file development requests. That won’t happen any more if the [master] plan receives approval.

We are committed to protecting the environment. In our platform, we have a working agenda that will cover the next 8 years and short-term goals as well. Heritage 100,000 is one of our commitments. Its aim is to identify 100,000 cuerdas [one cuerda equals 0.97 acres] of land for conservation. This is vital because most of the land in Puerto Rico can be developed to some degree.

We have already created awareness among members of Congress on the importance of the karst region, which is located in the north.

The karst region is an important natural resource, and we need to protect it. For one, it is beautiful, but it also provides a natural filter system for streams. Without this region, we won’t have high-quality drinking water or pharmaceutical plants. We have requested government allocations for the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources to acquire some of the land.

We also need to address the problem of solid waste in an effective manner. We want to continue with the strategic plan prepared a few years ago and invest all that is necessary in infrastructure to strengthen the collection of solid waste. We have also made the commitment to recycle 50% of Puerto Rico’s solid waste within 10 years.

Other strategies to reduce solid waste include a recycling program for at least 100,000 residences. To do this, we will install recycling bins in special communities and public housing complexes.

Schools and government agencies will also see their recycling programs expanded. Education is key for waste management. As such, we will develop educational campaigns about recycling.

CB: What is the future of the Ports Authority and Puerto Rico’s insertion into the global transshipment industry?

AAV: The Ports Authority was financially healthy until the Rossello administration got a hold of it. As a matter of fact, the agency had to abandon the bond market during Rossello’s administration. My plan is to implement an aggressive development strategy for the Ports Authority’s facilities, and it is already starting to be noticed. At the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport you can see the changes along with a more business-like attitude and marketing that generates revenue for the Ports Authority.

There will always be operations that lose money, and we have to analyze them carefully. We need to separate the losing operations [from the Ports Authority’s profitable operations] and subsidize just the losing ones. This is key for making the remaining operations marketable.

Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla has great potential and the Ports Authority’s development plan for this airport is excellent. The changes already made have been favorable.

Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba is a window of opportunity, although only in the long term. Roosevelt Roads’ only facility is a runway, which in itself is valuable. But it will take time to develop it, because first, we have to decide how we want to use the runway and then we have to invest in infrastructure.

Ponce has my full backing to receive the transshipment port. We have already done a lot there, and it would be a mistake to pull the rug out from under Ponce once again. The port is an example of a joint venture between the municipality and the central government, which is the kind of decentralization model I believe in.

It isn’t just that I believe [Ponce] is the right place to develop a port; [the idea of moving the transshipment port] Roosevelt Roads is ludicrous. First, federal agencies have already identified environmental problems in the transshipment port plan. Second, establishing a transshipment port in the area with the most tourism potential in Puerto Rico would be absurd. I am not against a port and cargo area being developed [in Roosevelt Roads], but not to such an extent that it destroys the area’s tourism potential.

We are also committed to a joint venture with the municipality [of Mayaguez] to develop a port in that municipality. In San Juan, we will continue converting the north side of the bay into a tourism venue and relocate what is left of the port’s cargo activities to the south side of the bay.

CB: What specific actions would you pursue to reduce corruption in government and the private sector?

AAV: We need to understand that this doesn’t involve polls; this has to be a government initiative.

We must have a clear understanding about why we go into public service. It isn’t to have justice for yourself, but to give justice to others.

We will create a law to eliminate privileges. This would call for an Examining Board of Safe Administration to watch over the government’s contracts with the private sector; it would also examine cases in which a company is found to be in violation of the law. Contracts would be examined to decide if they should be cancelled.

In addition, we will reinforce the Department of Justice Public Integrity Office by creating an elite team of prosecutors and investigators specialized in finances, accounting, and other areas. They will attend seminars given by the Federal Department of Justice Public Integrity Division.

We will also reinforce the Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office and the Government Ethics Office. The agencies fighting corruption must be integrated, so personnel from the Department of Justice, the Comptroller’s Office, and the Government Ethics Office will rotate among the agencies to improve their collaboration efforts.

Another key element of corruption is favoritism. We plan to eliminate it. When someone requests a permit from the government, at times favoritism plays a role in the permitting process. To eliminate potential favoritism, we will digitalize the permits process and will try to extend the digitalization process to all government bidding processes. In addition, we will speed up the payment process for all contractors; those who pay late will be fined.

CB: What specifically is your proposal to solve the island’s status issue?

AAV: I don’t believe in having any more plebiscites, because they have solved nothing in the past.

Let me tell you about my experience in Washington. Contrary to what everybody says when they come here for a fund-raising event, no one in Washington—no one—has told me there is a problem with the Commonwealth.

Since the defeat of the Young Bill, no one has expressed any interest in tackling the status issue. Another problem is that there is no desire in Washington to address the status issue. Therefore, Puerto Rico has to take the initiative on the matter of status.

The time has come for a Constitutional Assembly. It is the only mechanism that has worked for Puerto Rico; it was how we drafted the Constitution of the Commonwealth and Washington knows it.

I will consult the people within six months of taking office to see what mechanism they want to solve the status issue. I believe in the Constitutional Assembly but I don’t want to impose it on the people of Puerto Rico.

While the government runs [Puerto Rico], delegates would work on organizing the Constitutional Assembly.


Rossello is committed to putting Puerto Rico back on track on every front

CB: What is your vision for the development of the tourism industry in Puerto Rico during your administration and beyond?

PRG: The tourism industry is vital for Puerto Rico and is the biggest and the most promising industry in the world.

We can compete [in this sector]. People like to vacation in Puerto Rico. Tourism is also environmentally friendly. In fact, the industry depends heavily on having an attractive, healthy, and good environment. Puerto Rico needs jobs, and tourism is a labor-intensive sector involving a whole gamut of different occupations. We need both skilled workers and specialized professionals in this sector.

I believe the tourism industry fits Puerto Rico like a glove. That is why we believe it should be the spearhead of the island’s economy, and we will once again make that a commitment of our administration.

Puerto Rico has some work to do in the tourism sector. First, we need to diversify our products in the hospitality industry. For years, the island has competed as a relatively expensive, sun-and-beach destination.

During our [past] administration, we developed the Puerto Rico Coliseum and Convention Center, which will give us the opportunity to compete in the large groups & conventions market. We also promoted the all-inclusive product through Sol Melia’s Paradisus Puerto Rico, which opened recently. Many European visitors look for all-inclusive resorts, and now we compete in that arena. But we also need to develop ecotourism; it is a relatively small market, but we can expand it.

To increase the number of visitors, we need to widen air access to and within Puerto Rico and simplify the transportation system. For example, if a visitor comes to the island and needs to travel to Vieques, we need to make direct flights available from [Luis Muñoz Marin] International Airport.

Creating a road network would also contribute to tourism. One of the reasons we proposed Route 66 was to serve a series of hotel projects that were developed in the eastern region. Now, guests from hotels in the area get stuck in buses for who knows how long because of traffic on Rd. 3. This is very inconvenient.

Another important aspect is to develop Old San Juan, our historic gem, and to connect Condado, Isla Grande, and Miramar. Now it is virtually impossible to go from one to the other. That is why we proposed the Golden Triangle.

The Golden Triangle projects were designed for tourism. The Port of San Juan would be dedicated to tourism. As such, cargo operators would be moved to another port; the development of the Convention District and the World Trade Center District are also part of the Golden Triangle.

Our projects also include changes to the existing roads to simplify access to Old San Juan. In the eastern part of the Condado Lagoon, for example, we proposed a connection from Baldorioty Avenue to Condado, and the project has made no major progress.

We also want to exploit the San Antonio Channel to combine ground and water transportation. We plan to build a waterfront with kiosks, restaurants, and other establishments.

San Juan is a fortress city with 500 years of history. We propose to transform La Fortaleza into a museum and to create a museum network within the historic district that will offer a unique experience to visitors.

That is just the beginning, because Puerto Rico hasn’t even started to exploit its potential as a tourism destination.

CB: How will your administration strike a balance between the need to preserve land and the island’s natural beauty and the need for further urban growth and economic development? How will you tackle the problem of solid waste?

PRG: First, we need to redefine a basic premise. There’s a perception that development and the environment are opposing forces. This just isn’t true. Rather, there is synergy between the two...By improving one sector, we can also improve or protect the other.

Our proposed isla-ciudad (island-city) concept is based on the development of a master land-use plan for the entire island. By drafting a roadmap, we will identify specific uses for the land, which will be divided into urban, rural, tourism, and minimum impact areas. Other areas would be protected and conserved—the karst region, for example. To protect the environment, we will need to redevelop some areas, increase density in urban areas, and stop urban sprawl.

Our problem isn’t construction per se, but how we carry it out. If you fly over the island in a helicopter, you see houses spread all over the place. Such sprawl isn’t compatible with protecting the environment. It also puts a strain on infrastructure and lowers its performance. Disorganized construction planning creates problems as the government ends up having to travel to out-of-the-way locations to offer basic services such as waste collection and water service.

When it comes to planning and development, we need to see Puerto Rico as a whole, not as 78 municipalities, because we need to use its infrastructure wisely and efficiently.

We have proposed the creation of the Great Park of Puerto Rico, which will be an expansive ecological corridor running throughout the island. It will take up at least 15% of Puerto Rico’s land. We will clearly define what types of development activities will be allowed in the corridor. We also plan to protect the island’s watersheds, the karst region, beaches, and estuaries.

We will also create an environment database that will be an essential planning tool. It will help people determine the impact of environmental projects right from the start of their design and planning phases.

Municipalities will continue collecting waste in their own residential and commercial areas. However, we are also proposing that regional waste collection systems be created. We need a network, especially for out-of-the-way communities. Waste from there would be transported to its final destination.

Traditional landfills aren’t technologically adequate for [our needs]. We need to implement new technology to manage solid waste. To do this, we have to work on implementing recycling and waste-to-energy programs and developing and promoting industries that use recycled material.

Waste-to-energy plants are a viable option to handle waste, but some people are opposed to the idea. It’s natural, especially because it’s something new. But new and safe technology for waste disposal will create a more efficient system; one that is even more efficient than filling landfills. These proposals also require educating people because we need innovative ways to handle the problem.

CB: What is the future of the Ports Authority and Puerto Rico’s insertion into the global transshipment industry?

PRG: Puerto Rico is located in a geographically privileged area and plans for our maritime and aviation ports are compatible with running this agency under an island-city concept. To maximize the efficiency of our maritime ports, we will create a network of specialized supply ports in Ceiba, Ponce, Mayaguez, Guayanilla and Peñuelas, Guayama, Yabucoa, Arecibo, and San Juan. These facilities will be guarded by a special Ports Authority security force.

Ceiba’s Roosevelt Roads will be developed as a world-class transshipment port with an intermodal cargo system and a dry dock. We will also promote the transfer of the National Guard from Carolina’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport to Ceiba. Meanwhile, the Port of San Juan will be gradually converted into a tourism port and San Juan’s current container cargo will be handled from Ponce’s Port of Las Americas and the ports of Guayanilla and Peñuelas.

Our plans also call for the Port of Mayaguez to specialize as a food-and-bulk-products supply port with a tourism component. Guayanilla and Peñuelas’ ports will become supply ports for petroleum and natural-gas products; Guayama for petroleum products and carbon; Yabucoa for aggregate products and scrap iron; and Arecibo for scrap iron and related products.

The island’s airports will also receive special attention. A new general cargo area and the careful negotiation of commercial space contracts are scheduled for Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. As to Aguadilla’s Rafael Hernandez Airport, it will be converted into Puerto Rico’s second international airport.

Vieques and Culebra must also receive special attention. Free transportation will be given to bona fide residents of both offshore municipal islands. In addition, we will establish new maritime transportation routes between Fajardo, Vieques, and Culebra to reduce travel time. New and more modern ferries will be acquired to transport passengers, and cargo volume transport will be increased by 30%.

CB: What specific actions would you pursue to reduce corruption in the government and the private sector?

PRG: I recognize this is a problem that really concerns people now, and that wasn’t the case before. Just as I focused on those problems people signaled as important in 1992, which were crime and drug trafficking, I will be implementing similar measures to deal with them effectively.

The issue of corruption will be a priority issue. You will see this clearly demonstrated when we deal with the problem just as we did with crime. I used to meet on a weekly basis with all the law enforcement agencies. I will handle the corruption issue in the same way, along with the help of an anticorruption council. I want to personally attend to and follow up on all agencies that oversee corruption issues.

I have had the opportunity to study why corruption occurs. We need to analyze its causes and decide how we will handle them. Part of the problem is that we need to strengthen law enforcement agencies. Right now, their focus is on punishment, meaning that we have to wait for corruption to take place before really cracking down on it.

We want to establish mechanisms to allow early detection and thus prevent potential corruption cases. An example of this is what some police departments have done in their internal affairs divisions. Part of our solution is an anticorruption office that would investigate suspicious acts that could involve corruption while avoiding the red tape involved with Department of Justice procedures. This will let us nip the problem in the bud.

We will also set up a page on the Internet to handle the employee-selection process. There, they will have access to all job requirements, so job seekers will know what they will face, including constant investigations. This innovative tool will give me direct control over the matter and allow us to find problems early on—before corruption occurs.

CB: What specifically is your proposal to solve the island’s status issue?

PRG: We will carry out initiatives through the legislative and the judicial branches.

I believe this is the first time in history where everyone agrees, including Commonwealth supporters, that there has to be significant change and that the chosen status should be nonterritorial and noncolonial.

With this in mind, we propose to carry out a referendum during the first six months of our administration to let the voters decide if they want to ask the U.S. Congress to define nonterritorial and noncolonial status options for Puerto Rico. Once Congress responds, those options will be presented to the people of Puerto Rico for them to finally choose a political status.

I see great possibilities of success for this option because it will be based on the voters’ demands for defined, nonterritorial status options.

Another way is to go to court to demand our rights. We will request a judicial review of the jurisprudence established for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories [in the Insular Cases] regarding the recognition of our full rights as American citizens. It isn’t an issue of whether we are Puerto Ricans or not, but an issue that any American citizen coming to live here doesn’t have his or her rights fully recognized.

The prevailing judicial rulings (or jurisprudence) [under the Insular Cases] were established by the same Supreme Court that established segregation, which it later overruled. I believe it is likely that, just as in the case of segregation, the court will say that you can’t have jurisdictions under the American flag where the rights of American citizens aren’t recognized.

We aren’t asking the court to give us a way out. When the judicial branch said segregation was unconstitutional, it didn’t hand over a solution; the legislative and the executive branches had to come up with an answer. What we will go for, is for the court to tell us that what is happening can’t continue under the federal Constitution; i.e. the rights of American citizens in a U.S. territory have to be fully recognized. This decision will force the U.S. Congress to come up with a solution, to fully recognize our rights as outlined in the American Constitution. We believe the only way to achieve this is under statehood.

CARIBBEAN BUSINESS Associate Editors Jose L. Carmona, Marialba Martinez, and Taina Rosa; Reporter Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez; and PuertoRicoWOW News Editor Proviana Colon Diaz contributed to these stories.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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