By: Von Diaz
Originally published on the Latin America News Dispatch on December 4, 2010.
NEW YORK—The Puerto Rican Government and tourism bureau have launched simultaneous campaigns intended to overcome economic challenges by sparking tourism and private investment.
“Discover why Puerto Rico does it better,” reads the tagline for the joint tourism campaign launched by the Puerto Rican Governor’s Office and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company in New York on Tuesday.
The new tourism campaign launched alongside an aggressive tax incentive plan meant to alleviate economic challenges caused by years of recession, and to encourage private business investment in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has been in an economic recession for the past five years, which has been exacerbated by the U.S. economic recession. In the summer of 2009, Governor Luis Fortuño initiated austerity measures to help the government stay afloat, which included laying off 30,000 public sector employees.
Drug smuggling and corruption charges have also contributed to a tumultuous political environment in Puerto Rico. In October, 130 people were arrested, including many police officers, in an FBI anti-corruption operation.
While elected officials from Governor Fortuño’s leading political party, the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), have not been directly implicated in the corruption, overall public opinion has suffered.
Beginning in January 2011, income taxes in Puerto Rico will be reduced by 50 percent for individuals, and 30 percent for businesses. The Puerto Rican government is also granting a five-year property tax holiday.
According to José Pérez-Riera, Secretary of the Puerto Rican Department of Economic Development and Commerce, the recession — which has been difficult for businesses and individuals alike — is not the only cause of economic downturn.
“Decades of high taxes are as much to blame for stagnation as the recession,” Pérez-Riera said.
In addition to the 2011 tax cuts, the government has granted a retroactive 7-15 percent tax break by cutting all income taxes in December 2010.
The Puerto Rican government hopes become “a hub for global trade in the Caribbean and beyond,” by developing public-private partnerships, Pérez-Riera said. Through pro-growth policies, the Puerto Rican government hopes to turn Puerto Rico into a “private sector oasis.”
“Puerto Rico,” said Pérez-Riera, “ is open for business.”
To compliment economic and infrastructural reforms, the Puerto Rican Tourism Company is launching a bold advertising campaign, most visible in a dynamic advertisement in Times Square that features colonial Old San Juan, and Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest, “El Yunque.”
The campaign advertises Old San Juan as a historic gem (“the oldest city in the United States”) and El Yunque as the “only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service.”
“Visitors should feel they are welcome to history, and welcome to paradise,” said Mario Gonzales-Lafuente, Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Tourism Company.
Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State, Kenneth McClintock, agreed that the attractive destination and tax incentives are a winning combination for new private investors.
“Puerto Rico is one of the most attractive business environments in the world,” said McClintock.
The campaign launch, held in the Nasdaq MarketPlace in Times Square, was a fanciful affair. After the campaign launch, rum cocktails were served, and festively clad dancers circled the room playing guiros and maracas.
The party contrasted sharply with the sad state of the Puerto Rican economy.
But Secretary McClintock is optimistic that this campaign will improve the island’s economic outlook, and said that change is already on the horizon. While the original austerity measure proposed by Governor Fortuño estimated that 30,000 jobs would be lost, only 12,656 jobs have been cut to date, and no additional layoffs are anticipated.
“In the private service sector alone, 12,300 jobs have already been created,” McClintock said. “So as the economy recovers, private sector jobs are replacing lost public sector jobs.”
Images by Von Diaz.