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If the private sector thought it could find answers in its former heads of State to the economic crisis, it should think again, as said possibility vanished days ago at the Puerto Rico Conference.

The room was full to capacity of entrepreneuras. There were so many that the event was delayed for more than one hour. And when they announced former governors Rafael Hernández Colón and Carlos Romero Barceló as panelists in a forum, silence reigned.

Notwithstanding, what seemed to be the best opportunity to hear from the heads of State -- who served in office for 20 of the past 60 years -- alternatives to the island’s future, became the stage for more partisan politics. The environment was such that the only thing CEO for UBS Financial Services and panel moderator, Carlos Ubiñas, said was it was evident at the meeting that the rivalry between the two politicians still lingers.

Hernández Colón opted for giving a message admitting that Puerto Rico needs daring solutions to get out of the crisis.  

“A dangerous gap is now open between the rich and the poor,” said Hernández Colón adding that the island has become indebted at unprecedented levels and that it’s very unlikely it would end soon, unless we “develop a sustainable economy that allows us to incorporate a much larger part of the population into the working force.”

According to him, the next four years are going to be fundamental because the country’s ability to support the government as well as the government retirement funds is running out, and so the only way out is making the economy grow vigorously now.  

Hernández Colón noted that Puerto Rico would have to modify social welfare programs in order to promote work instead of discouraging people from working; it’s also imperative to pass of Section 933A of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, converting government agencies in avant-garde institutions and modifying the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which today “meets the needs of union members and managers more than the needs of the people.”   

As soon as Hernández Colón left the podium, Romero Barceló said that they had invited him to a dialogue, inferring that Hernández Colón had changed the format of the forum. The pro statehood leader described the speech of his former contender as “a message of fear” and warned entrepreneurs they wouldn’t like what he was about to say. And that is exactly what happened, judging from the gestures in the audience.

Romero Barceló brought up that it was he who advocated for establishing the U.S. minimum wage in order to increase the Income per capita and who put limitations to corporate tax exemptions.


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