Ricardo Alvarez.jpg

While most citizens learned the importance of positive disruption and saw the 2019 “gap year” experience as an opportunity for growth, it seems apparent that our leaders did not.

Nevertheless, all the way to Guánica, without fanfare in bumper to bumper traffic, WE the people did.

As I sat and pondered about 2019 and the year that was, I kept thinking in terms of a “gap year”. A “gap year” is an academic year, taken as a break by a student between high school and college. It serves as an opportunity for the student to mature, learn to take responsibility and develop real life skills that can be useful for entering college. It forces them to be less dependent and more socially and politically aware. In short, a “gap year” is a positive disruption that leads to a mature positive outlook.

2019 was our Puerto Rican “gap year”. It was the year we found out that federal funding was not readily available and that we couldn’t depend on others, even if we thought we deserved it. It was a year to go outside of our comfort zone and learn the importance of planning and the true meaning of resiliency. We also learned the power of democracy and what can happen when people in an organized society demonstrate peacefully to get desired results. The importance of transparency was highlighted as we learned about fear, citizenship, civility and our expectations within society. But most importantly, last year we learned that aside from being able to survive a physical storm, we could also survive a political or economic storm.

By the end of 2019, Puerto Rico, for the first time in years, saw its population grow and projects trickle in. There was reason to be cautiously optimistic about 2020. There was hope in the air. We had all seemingly learned and were ready to positively move forward.

Those hopes were put to the test and then shattered in the early morning hours of Jan. 7 when the unexpected happened. A 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked the southern municipalities of our island. This wasn’t the first one or the last. We've been hit since late December with over two thousand tremors. Nevertheless, this one hit us the hardest. As night became day, information started to filter, the earthquake was severe. Puerto Rico was hit again with a natural disaster not unlike what all of us experienced two and a half years ago. People lost power, they lost homes and schools. Uncertainty and fear began to overcome us again and emotionally we all went back to 2017. Still, we assumed that this time the emergency would be managed differently. Perhaps even better.

It was not.

The lack of transparency and accountability shown during this latest emergency has made the situation worse. Diverting attention did not work in 2019, and it will not work in 2020 either. People are watching and paying attention now.

The inexplicable mismanagement during the aftermath of the earthquakes forces us to ask ourselves the question: Did they learn anything from our forced "gap year"? Maybe they didn’t, but we, the people, did. All the way to Guánica, without fanfare in bumper to bumper traffic, we all did.

Architect and Vice Chairman Board of Directors of Invest Puerto Rico

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