I just recently came back from my first overseas assignment since moving to Miami (not counting Lebanon). Our patch extends across the southern US into the Caribbean, so I expect this first trip to be the first of many.
We started off in the Dominican Republic for a few days to begin telling the story of how desperate people are to leave the island. In the last year there has been a huge spike in the number of migrants from Haiti and Dominican Republic risking their lives to reach Puerto Rico.
Many of them pay thousands of dollars to take off from the northern coast. The sleepy fishing town of Nagua has earned itself a reputation as a launching point for smugglers.
Yolas. That’s what they call the flimsy vessels that transport desperate migrants to Puerto Rico through the treacherous waters of the Mona Passage. They’re usually a bit bigger than the ones pictured here, but not often by much. The journey can take anywhere between 10 hours and three days.
After a couple days, we took a short flight from Santo Domingo to San Juan. Our first stop was a church where a priest offered shelter and support to Haitian migrants. He’s helped hundreds make it over to the US mainland.
We spent the following Sunday reporting all this to millions of people around the world. It was a good day, except for one long lasting technical glitch that prevented us from appearing live on our network’s newest channel.
As soon as we arrived to Puerto Rico, we started working on the other stories we were sent there to do – the notoriously high crime rate, the poor economy, and the island’s political identity. They air Monday through Wednesday.
Some of my colleagues in Washington and elsewhere were jealous that I was kicking it in the Caribbean… seemingly unaware that like most journalists we were looking for misery and squalor. Luckily for us, there was no shortage of that in San Juan. Abandoned buildings everywhere… some nicer than others.
It’s little wonder that tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island for the US every year. But despite the lousy conditions and bleak economic prospects, many of the migrants we spoke to told us it was better than where they came from… even if many of them were expecting to end up in Florida or New York.
For over a hundred years, Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States. Most of the island’s residents recently voted for a change in status, but we’re unlikely to see independence or even statehood anytime soon.
It was a good trip for me, and I feel like we basically accomplished everything we set out to do. I had my Fuji X-Pro1 with me every step of the way, even if I didn’t pull it out as often as I would have liked. I ate some good food outside the hotel. Despite having a view of the beach from my room, I wasn’t able to indulge nearly as much as I would have liked… but luckily I did make it out there once or twice.
Sometimes I really love my job.
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Why would PR want a change in status? They live off the US. Don’t pay taxes yet reap the rewards. Now I’m Cuban so please don’t get the idea I’m against hispanics. I left Cuba in 62 under cover of night. So I know what it feels like. However I travel to PR twice a year, every year since 1988 since I love the island and the people, and what you represent is NOT in any way indicative of the way of life there — especially in San Juan.
Thanks, but what I represent in this post is not in any way meant to be indicative of life in San Juan. It’s just a snapshot of my experience there, which I’ll be the first to admit was limited.
As for why PR might want a change in status, you should ask around on your next visit… Obviously many people are happy keeping things the way they are, in part for the reasons you mention, but after years of poor economic performance and rampant crime, there is a growing call for change.
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