Crisis Scenario: What to do when your government runs out of money

The headline is just embarrassing: "Puerto Rico Runs out of Money, Closes Down Schools." How a U.S. protectorate in the Caribbean, a supposed haven of opportunity in the poverty and corruption-afflicted region, has simply run low on cash is not only a question that will be kicked around by leftist groups on the island, but a public relations nightmare that no tourism board is prepared to handle.

And so we go back to PR 101: The government of Puerto Rico must ask itself: Who are we? What do we stand for?

In-fighting between the island’s governor, Anibal Acevedo Vila, and the legislature’s ruling party Puerto_rico_1 have halted the incorporation of a spending plan that would address a $740 billion budget deficit. While the powers-that-be duke it out, some 200,000 government employees will ride the wave of bureaucratic ineptitude with no pay. This on the Island of Enchantment…what gives?

Bubbling beneath the quagmire that is Puerto Rico’s current economic situation is an identity crisis 500 years in the making. Like a red-headed stepchild who feels no true filial connection to either his parents or himself, Puerto Rico’s government is acting out against itself and its people. The island itself has had only one day of independence, in 1898, when its ownership was being transferred from Spain to the U.S. Since then, talk of Revolution and independence has always spiced up many a Bacardi-fueled evening, but the prospect of riding around in Model T Fords and losing access to the world’s largest and richest democracy (without having to pay taxes for it) puts that kind of talk in check.

Still, the restlessness of a "neither here nor there" spirit in Puerto Rico (are we Latin? Are we American?) informs a laziness in government that is now front page news around the world. It would seem the answer right now is "We’re lazy, reckless and much like our third world neighbors, unable to do anything for the benefit of the people."

This, however, won’t do. In the spirit of saving face, the island’s government must open its schools immediately and must make sure the trash is taken out. Next, the governor must reach out to the people and engage them in a dialogue that will not only enlist their support for sweeping changes in government, but will change the popular mindset from that of victims of government to partners in change. A blog is definitely in order. Come on, Anibal, Puerto Rico is wired! Not only should he shout-out those in the government who are stalling progress, but he should ask the public what their real concerns are and get their feedback in real time.

But before the schools open and before the blog comes up, a formal apology is owed to the people of Puerto Rico by the governor who simply closed shop because he couldn’t make change. That’s another PR 101 tactic: admit fault and make amends.

Hat tip to David Perez for his thoughts on this.

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