Wednesday, December 4-11, 2019 - // no. 032
Puerto Rico and the Caribbean
GOV’T SEEKS TO AVOID CRUISE CANCELLATIONS P6 NEW ORDER TO SPEED UP LOCAL PERMIT PROCESS P8 FIRST MUTUAL FUND IN P.R. REGISTERED WITH THE SEC P10
FOMB KEEPS ITS EYES ON THE PRIZE:
EXIT FROM BANKRUPTCY Progress on debt restructuring and budget sustainability translates to “progress on economic development”
T Rosario Fajardo
INTERNATIONAL TATTOO CONVENTION RETURNS TO SAN JUAN P20
he Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) for Puerto Rico is ending 2019 on a positive note and its outlook for 2020 includes moving forward on two key areas: the commonwealth government’s Plan of Adjustment and the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority’s (Prepa) restructuring support agreement (RSA). Natalie Jaresko, the executive director of the FOMB, sat
down with THE WEEKLY JOURNAL to explain the board’s vision and highlight the progress made this year on the road for Puerto Rico to exit bankruptcy. As Jaresko explained, the mandate of the board is twofold: restructure the debt in a sustainable and efficient way, and bring sustainability to the commonwealth in terms of budgeting. While she has pointed out that her role is not to be the economic development official for Puerto Rico, there is no doubt that the FOMB does play a key role in the island’s future economic growth. This is particularly evident in the GO TO PAGE 4
The Weekly Journal > Wednesday, December 4, 2019 >
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/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
A WEEK IN REVIEW FEMA AND COR3 OBLIGATE NEARLY $18M IN ADDITIONAL RECOVERY FUNDS FOR PUERTO RICO
>Gabriel López Albarrán
More than two years after Hurricane Maria hit the island, FEMA and COR3 are working together to develop strategies that advance recovery projects. To date, about $5.9 billion have been approved for Puerto Rico under FEMA’s Public Assistance program. The additional funds were obligated for 115 projects related to the recovery and reconstruction of Puerto Rico.
T-MOBILE LAUNCHES 5G NETWORK T-Mobile announced that they have already turned on Puerto Rico’s first and only 5G network all across the island, including Vieques and Culebra. With this launch, Puerto Rico becomes one of the first markets in the United States and the world to offer 5G technology. Jorge Martel, vice president and general manager of T-Mobile in Puerto Rico, said that 5G technology covers 3,200 square miles, divided amongst all of Puerto Rico’s towns. In the United States, more than 200 million people in more than 5,000 cities currently have 5G technology.
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TREASURY REPORTS STRONG REVENUE COLLECTIONS FOR OCTOBER The secretary of the Department of the Treasury, Francisco Parés, informed that the preliminary net income for the General Fund during the month of October reached $881.6 million. Net revenues were exceeded by $142.6 million, or 19.3 percent, when compared to last year. The secretary indicated that the Corporate Income Tax was, in great part, responsible for the increased collections.
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CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 board’s mandate on debt restructuring, as many economists have pointed out, with the island carrying a heavy debt load of $72 billion. “The bottom line is that as long as Puerto Rico is in bankruptcy, it is hard to create the confidence that folks should lend or invest, even to the private sector, let alone the government,” Jaresko said. “When the island is in bankruptcy, everyone demands additional incremental costs of the others. It affects publicly held companies, banks and others that are trading in the markets… There is a cost to that. Getting this debt restructuring done is very important for the commonwealth to enable economic development going forward.” In terms of its debt-restructuring mandate, the board reached two major milestones this year: in May it reached a “definitive” restructuring support agreement on Prepa that involved more than $8 billion in legacy debt, and, in September, they filed their Plan of Adjustment to restructure $35 billion of debt and other claims against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Public Building Authority, the Employee Retirement System and more than $50 billion of pension liabilities. Debt restructuring has also been completed for the Sales Tax Financing Corp. (Cofina by its Spanish acronym), Government Development Bank and the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority. Taken all together, and assuming that they all move forward, the debt restructuring is for $60 billion of the commonwealth’s $72 billion debt load, Jaresko indicated, pointing out that this is very important for Puerto Rico to regain access to the market. Jaresko said the process for the U.S. District
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Court to confirm the Plan of Adjustment should than 9 percent of revenues, never more than take nine to 10 months, in which case confirmation $1.5 billion a year. This is very predictable and should be achieved around the summer. There is sustainable,” Jaresko said. a court-ordered mediator in place, but Jaresko said She also highlighted that the plan brings she could not comment on the negotiations. compromises with three key stakeholders: groups The plan of bondholders, labor includes cuts for all unions and retirees. stakeholders, with a “Everyone is making blended cut of more a contribution to than 60 percent in bringing bankruptcy to total commonwealth an end.” liabilities. Jaresko As this newspaper continued to tout the was going to press, benefits for Puerto Rico, the mediation pointing out that the committee on the plan, combined with the Plan of Adjustment completed Cofina debt filed a report, stating restructuring, reduces that modifications the maximum annual could be on the way. amount of government For example, the net-tax supported debt stay could be lifted service from $4.2 billion on certain disputes to $1.5 billion. The on some revenue combined debt service bonds, such as those of the commonwealth of the P.R. Highways and Cofina debt also and Transportation falls from $82 billion to Authority. $44 billion over a 30With regard to Natalie Jaresko, year period, ensuring Prepa’s RSA, which executive director of the FOMB long-term sustainability, should also be she indicated. confirmed next “The $35 billion year, Jaresko said debt (in question) is reduced to $12 billion that transforming the electric power utility is and is sustainable… because the Puerto Rico essential to moving Puerto Rico forward. “Prepa government will never have to pay for Cofina and failed the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane commonwealth debt [service] will never be more [Maria]. We never want that to happen again. The
The bottom line is that as long as Puerto Rico is in bankruptcy, it is hard to create the confidence that folks should lend or invest, even to the private sector, let alone the government... Getting this debt restructuring done is very important for the commonwealth to enable economic development going forward. -
Transforming Prepa is essential for the island’s economic development. >Josian E. Bruno Gómez
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
transformational plan has several pieces. We need to get out of bankruptcy, you need to settle the debt. Otherwise you will never have the money to invest in this segment again,” she said. A private operator will be brought in for transmission and distribution, who will manage the utility efficiently, “without political tones and changes,” for a consistent and well-managed grid. The public-private partnership process is underway, with bids already in place. The most critical piece of Prepa’s transformation is electricity rates, as Jaresko said that 85 percent of Prepa’s costs are related to fuel expenses. “You can do whatever you want to do on debt. You can do whatever you want to do on the transmission system. But the biggest part of your rate is fuel. Puerto Rico generally uses the most expensive, dirty fuel. Bunker fuel. Diesel.” As such, there is a big focus on Puerto Rico using cleaner and less expensive fuel: liquefied natural gas and alternative energy. She also acknowledged the criticism of the Center for a New Economy and economist Ramon Cao, who specifically charged that electricity prices would jump significantly and jeopardize 124,000 jobs islandwide. However, she countered that the RSA is protecting consumers, particularly those who Natalie Jaresko, the executive director of the FOMB, pointed out that her role is not to be the economic development official for Puerto Rico but that there is no doubt that the board does play a key role in the island’s future cannot leave the grid. She also pointed out that economic growth. >Carlos Rivera Giusti electricity rates are what they are today because Prepa’s debt has not been paid for a while. In other being done across the commonwealth government said. words, without the stay on Prepa’s debt service, in terms of the central government, public In the case of the Department of Education, is rates would be higher. corporations, including the University of Puerto the priority administration or student services, “[Prepa’s] debt has not been paid for several Rico, and 10 pilot municipalities. for example, providing access and care to special years, so people have gotten used to not paying. The exercise involves providing more education students? Another issue was that of We were blessed to have this stay. That said, that transparency and in-depth analysis and detail to funding rape kits, which were not funded for 10 can’t go on forever. You either renegotiate, you reach budget sustainability. “The budget that we years, she indicated. “How did that happen? I don’t find a solution or the judge may release the stay. If certified on July 1, 2019 provides know. It’s only $3 million… It’s not that there’s no you release the stay, you have to more transparency and is more money. We need better management and we need pay the original contracted debt, encompassing than any of the better focus.” which would be substantially budgets in Puerto Rico’s history. In that sense, Jaresko’s recent letter to Gov. more,” Jaresko said. For the people of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez and top lawmakers, warning about With Puerto Rico’s population As Jaresko the legislators of Puerto Rico, pending legislation that could have an impact decreasing over the past decade, explained, the we’re looking at what really is the on the government’s coffers, is an example of the burden of payment would mandate of the commonwealth spending and this process. “That letter has two points. One is fall on fewer people, leading to board is twofold: how is it spending,” she said. a process point. Legislation should be discussed, a “demand risk” on the people’s restructure Puerto “This is really critical to get analyzed, managed and calculated before it’s Rico’s debt in shoulders, she indicated. With to a sustainable and balanced adopted. That is critical so we urge legislators a sustainable the RSA, debt service is also budget… so the people of to enable that process. The second part is that and efficient reduced by $3 billion and the Puerto Rico, the taxpayers and we cannot do things that cost money that we way, and bring demand risk is taken off the legislators, can start to make don’t have. That is part of this fiscal culture of sustainability to the table. priority choices that are the understanding your spending limits and that you commonwealth in Jaresko also reiterated that terms of budgeting. critical element of having a have to make choices… It’s not only about how the FOMB does not support balanced budget. We aren’t much money you have, but how you spend it, how hiring another revitalization in a situation anymore where you manage it.” coordinator for Prepa. “Our we can continue to borrow ad For these same reasons, the federal government position is that we are in the middle of hiring this infinitum. We’re not able to borrow right now and is highly involved in Education, because federal private operator [for Prepa]. What is that person the constitution requires a balanced budget.” funds were apparently not managed well, supposed to do? You are contracting [a private A fiscal culture that understands that you have she indicated. In that same vein, there is also operator], so why would you have someone else?” to make hard choices encompasses much of the greater federal oversight on Medicaid funds and she said. Basically, a revitalization coordinator FOMB’s work in this area, she indicated. “Here is Community Development Block Grant funds for would complicate the scenario further, she added. what is available and here are our priorities. This disaster recovery. “We need to build confidence fiscal year, because the budget is tight, people among all stakeholders. No one wants fraud, waste Creating a Fiscal Culture of Budget are having to make priority choices. This is about and abuse,” she said. Sustainability introducing a very helpful, very powerful positive In the coming year, Jaresko said she and the THE WEEKLY JOURNAL asked: What has the fiscal culture in having those discussions… That board will continue to push for the priority areas of FOMB achieved in terms of budget stability and dialogue is really critical because we need to have public safety, education and health in the budget sustainability? Jaresko pointed out that this effort is everyone focused on what our priorities are,” she process.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Gov. Vázquez to Meet With Royal Caribbean International After conflicting reports concerning future sailing cancellations and drops
B Giovanna Garofalo
efore 2019 comes to a close, Gov. Wanda Vázquez will reportedly meet with Royal Caribbean International (RCI) to discuss the information disclosed last week regarding the company’s possible cruise stop reductions and cancellations in Puerto Rico between 2020 and 2021. The decision was revealed after conflicting information divulged in a joint statement—issued by the Public-Private Partnership Authority (P3), the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) and the governor—and declarations from RCI. In the joint statement, P3 Interim Executive Director Fermín Fontanés affirmed that his agency received a notification stating that RCI would cancel multiple sailings departing from San Juan between April 2020 and March 2021. “Royal Caribbean and the P3 maintain certain contractual relationships regarding the framework for cancellation processes, the benefits that the government of Puerto Rico provides Royal Caribbean and the minimum volume that Royal Caribbean committed to bringing to Puerto Rico in exchange for said benefits, among others. Based
on this notification, another communication will be sent to question the reason for these cancellations,” Fontanés wrote. After this official joint statement was publicized in the news and social media, RCI released a statement to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL in which the cruise line denied what it dismissed as “rumors.” “We have not canceled any of our ships’ visits or home porting in San Juan. Though we have not yet announced our full 2021-2022 deployments, we do expect fewer calls from San Juan for the 2021-2022 season and we will be able to provide more details once we have announced our itineraries. No decisions regarding deployment beyond those dates have yet been made,” the public relations team commented. In light of these seemingly contradictory accounts, social media has been ablaze with users demanding transparency from the government. However, the intricacies surrounding this issue appear to extend beyond a mere misinterpretation between the parties involved.
Context and Timeline Explained
To understand the situation it is necessary to put into context the precarious situation of the San Juan Port’s infrastructure. Given that the ports were designed decades ago and that cruise lines are investing in larger ships that would not have been able to be received, back in 2017 the government announced that RCI would invest $2.8 million on the Pan-American II Port in San Juan while the government invested $3.8 million. Moreover, the historical relationship between Puerto Rico and RCI and Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) indicates that these companies have preferential
Royal Caribbean International affirmed that its plans for 2021-2022 reflect a “significant drop” in the number of home port cruises and port calls in San Juan. >Courtesy
burden agreements with the Ports Authority, which is the public agency in charge of overseeing the space. In the case of RCI, for example, by investing in port repairs, they were assured preferential treatment, consisting of being able to select the port and dates before other cruise lines. In a leaked letter that PRTC Executive Director Carla Campos addressed to the governor on Nov. 19, the official details that Puerto Rico’s relation with RCI and CCL has been “of vital importance” to the cruise industry’s growth on the island. However, she noted that other cruise lines—such as Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), Disney Cruise Line and MSC Cruises (MSC)—who have less participation in the market presently, but have “the most aggressive sailings inventory in order,” placed them “in a privileged position to grow in the region soon.” “MSC has 13 sailings on order while NCL has ordered 17. However, the infrastructure limitations and the preferential treatments with RCI and CCL pose a risk to the lines that bring that new capacity to Puerto Rico when planning,” Campos wrote. In addition, the combined assignments between RCI and the government were only meant to be for miscellaneous or superficial improvements to the port. Various officials have observed that a full infrastructural makeover would require roughly between $15 million to $20 million in investments. Thus, the P3 issued a request for qualification (RFQ) so that a seasoned port developer and manager could take control of the ports’ operations while making the capital investment that is necessary to fix the outdated infrastructure. The company that will be in charge of this process will be Global Ports Holding (GPH), which has experience in other Caribbean islands. The move has been scrutinized by some public officials, such as Rep. Ángel Matos and Sen. Juan Dalmau. After the news that RCI was reportedly going to cancel some sailings, Rep. Matos blamed the P3 that has not yet been formalized. “All this is mainly the fault of the [P3]. The government proposes to privatize the operations of the ports of San Juan and Ponce, and knowing the opposition from the sailing industry, they still insist on granting it. Some important companies, like Carnival, have not issued statements yet, so the effect of these cancellations can be up to 500,000 passengers. The economic damage can exceed $100 million. I urge [Vázquez] to reconsider this privatization,” he said in a missive, a statement echoed by Dalmau via Twitter. This is not the first issue that GPH has had with cruise lines. Last March, the government of Antigua
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
and Barbuda made a concession agreement with the CCL President and CEO Arnold Donald, Holland company that resulted in CLL dropping Antigua from America Line President Orlando Ashford, and RCL its itinerary due to concerns over cost increases. Vice-Chair Adam Goldstein. Meanwhile, RCI alleged in a separate missive Both RCI and CCL had reportedly participated that it has been unable to discuss its concerns with in the RFQ for the P3 concerning the ports’ the Puerto Rican government. “All of our multiple management but did not meet the requirements. requests have been met with silence,” the company As such, their concerns had to be channeled reportedly wrote on Dec. 2 on the Facebook group through the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association Cruceros Puerto (FCCA) in order to Rico. In the letter, RCI maintain transparency denounced that GPH throughout the P3 advised the cruise line process. Alas, in that they would have Campos’ letter to to pay higher fees and Vázquez, she informed lose “multiple rights that the FCCA had and benefits.” been unable to reach “We have significant consensus between concerns about the its members and that very high capital and RCI and CCL would loan costs of the present their requests privatization project and separately. -Royal Caribbean International the subsequent costs “To date, here in being passed onto our the PRTC we haven’t customers, and the lack of engagement with Royal received any communication on behalf of the lines Caribbean in any dialogue,” the document reads. about that particular [issue],” the official wrote. However, a tweet published by Campos on A source told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that after Oct. 21 shows a photo of a meeting that the PRTC that letter was sent, the CCL reached out to the executive director—along with Vázquez, Fontanés, government, but RCI hadn’t, save for the missive and then-Port Authority Executive Director Anthony divulged on social media last Monday. Maceira—held with CCL Chairman Micky Arison, After the October meeting government officials
We have not canceled any of our ships’ visits or home porting in San Juan...no decisions regarding deployment beyond those dates have yet been made.
and spokespeople for the cruise lines, RCCL’s port agent, Continental Shipping, sent an email to the Ports Authority indicating that certain stops would be canceled. The government did not immediately delve into details because the information had to be confirmed and it could affect negotiations between the parties. It was then revealed that the supposed cancellations had already been documented and were the result of housekeeping activities. Regardless, the cruise line did state an intent to reduce the number of sailings, which have not yet been published but are essentially a negotiation tactic. “Regarding our upcoming May 2021 through April 2022 season, we will be communicating our plans publicly in the coming weeks. Our plans do reflect a number of deployment changes and a significant drop of home port cruises of call in San Juan,” RCCL wrote on the Dec. 2 missive, addressed to the then-interim executive director of the Ports Authority, José Roa. One day later, it was revealed that Roa presented his resignation on Nov. 9 and it became official on Nov. 30. The former official will now resume his work in the private practice. In his place, the governor designated Joel Pizá, whose nomination will be under consideration before the public agency’s board of directors. In order to quell these concerns, Vázquez affirmed that she would have a separate meeting with RCCL before the end of this month.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Conditional Single Permit Allows Businesses to Flow While Waiting for Inspections Administrative order seeks to accelerate permits process
G Giovanna Garofalo
ov. Wanda Vázquez and Manuel A. Laboy, secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) announced that a new administrative order is in effect to facilitate the permitting process for businesses. Administrative Order OGPe 2019-11 establishes the “Instructions for requests related to the issuance and renewal of the Single Permit,” after receiving delay complaints. With the enactment of
this regulation, which adopts the legal precedents established in Act No. 19-2017, businesses that need to renew certain permits—particularly those from Health and Sanitation or fire preventions— receive the Conditional Single Permit that will allow them to run for six months. During that permit’s validity, the corresponding government agency will conduct the necessary inspection. If, for reasons beyond the business owner’s reach, the Permits and Endorsements Management Office (OGPe by its Spanish initials) fails to complete the inspection process within the six-month period, the Conditional Single Permit will remain valid until said process is completed. Secretary Laboy explained to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that businesses that enter the request for renovation will automatically have the Conditional Single Permit approved. The law is also applicable to new businesses, as long as they fall under authorized activities.
A new Conditional Single Permit request will only be approved for retail stores, commercial offices, professional offices, medical offices, barbershops, beauty salons and small shops dedicated to sales and services that are not involved in selling or preparing foods or alcoholic beverages. >Carlos Rivera Giusti
Detailing how the administrative order came to be, Laboy stated that after the enactment of the Single Permit “many cases were piling up,” and a considerable number of these were simply waiting to renew their health inspections. “We already had plans of entering this phase of conditional permits, but because there was the issue that they piled up; we sped up that phase and, through the administrative order that the governor announced, now a business that requires a reseal can keep running once they presented their request for the Single Permit,” he said. However, there are exceptions to the types of businesses that are eligible to receive this conditional permit. A new Conditional Single Permit request will only be approved for retail stores, commercial offices, professional offices, medical offices, barbershops, beauty salons and small shops dedicated to sales and services that are not involved in selling or preparing foods or
The positive aspect of this, apart from allowing businesses to run conditionally or with that Occupation Authorization, is that the businesses do not have to request it. -DDEC Secretary Manuel A. Laboy
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
alcoholic beverages. Laboy informed that businesses that handle or make food are subject to other regulatory considerations, but there is another alternative called the Occupation Authorization that is also included in the permit law and the administrative order. Those types of businesses that deal with food may be authorized to occupy and run the business for 60 days and they would also receive the corresponding inspections. “The positive aspect of this, apart from allowing businesses to run conditionally or with that Occupation Authorization, is that the businesses do not have to request it,” Laboy stated, explaining that the business is immediately considered by entering the OGPe’s Single Business Portal, at http://.ogpe.pr.gov/freedom/. “Once you submit the application in the system, that is something that is automatically approved if you qualify. Eighty percent of all the cases that were on the agenda for inspection qualified and are automatically being granted the [Conditional] Single Permit or the Occupation Authorization, and then they are subsequently inspected,” the official added. There are specific cases that are not eligible to receive these temporary permits, such as dairy farms, pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, hospitals, daycare centers, mental health centers and nursing homes.
Hundreds of Cases to be Approved Faster
The DDEC secretary affirmed that ever since the government announced the administrative order on Nov. 25, the OGPe has been able to noticeably accelerate some case approvals. “At the time it was announced, which was last Monday, they were going to be able to move more than 800 cases that were in the pipeline within a matter of days. I can tell you that the day after this was announced, almost 200 cases went away, so every day they began to approve cases. Of course, the Thanksgiving break happened… but now this week we will take off again and all those cases that were waiting for qualified inspection will continue to move,” Laboy asserted. Moreover, the day after the announcement, Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera wrote on his Twitter account: “The administrative order to address failures of the new permit law is already paying off. Today, we were able to start working on 150 cases that were in waiting. Thank you to the governor and Manuel Laboy. This is the first step of many changes that the law needs.” The secretary clarified that businesses covered by the Conditional Single Permit or the Occupation Authorization are nonetheless expected to comply with inspection requirements. Therefore, if the corresponding officials determine that the business needs to make certain amendments or repairs, the owner must implement the necessary measures to meet regulations.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced that considering the concerns that arose in the past few days by some mayors and business associations, the Administrative Order was developed to issue a Conditional Sole Permit. >AP
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
X-Square Capital’s Success Story: Investing in Quality Companies Launch of first SEC-registered mutual fund in Puerto Rico
B Rosario Fajardo
y any measure in the business world, X-Square (X2) Capital, a young company founded in 2013, has been a success. The company has grown from managing a fund of $12 million six years ago to managing four funds
today, with total assets of more than $450 million. “We launched in the midst of Puerto Rico’s credit crisis. We have delivered positive returns. For over three years we have delivered 18 percent returns net of fees,” said Ignacio Canto, president and portfolio manager of the firm. “We are continuing to expand the business. We have plans for the U.S. mainland, we plan to launch a fund in Europe.” As a sign of its continued growth, X-Square Capital recently launched its latest investment instrument, X-Square Balanced Fund, the first and only mutual fund in Puerto Rico
registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The main objective of the X-Square Balanced Fund is to provide investors from Puerto Rico a long-term balanced investment alternative that seeks conservation of capital, current income and growth of capital. “For the first time, investors in Puerto Rico have access to a balanced fund, duly registered in the SEC. This represents a great step for Puerto Rico, which has been limited in recent years due to lack of local instruments. This fund breaks drastically with the schemes of the past,” Canto said. “Since we started operations six years ago, our company has
Ignacio Canto, X-Square Capital LLC. president (center) along Salvador Gómez, Gabriel Medina, James Rodríguez and Rubén Tapia. >Gabriel López Albarrán
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
focused on providing viable alternatives that could expand the range of funds and meet the financial objectives set for our clients,” he added. The legal requirement that a certain percentage of a fund’s portfolio must be invested in Puerto Rico has not applied since 2018, he explained to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL. “We have no direct exposure to Puerto Rico government credit, so the government’s bankruptcy procedures do not present a challenge. We have no stake in the Puerto Rico government. We do have bank stocks in Puerto Rico—Oriental—because they have been performing extremely well,” Canto said. “They have seen long growth, loandeposit ratios are positive; they have high profit ratios. They could strengthen further. There are lots of upsides in the local banking sector.” X-Square Capital has some indirect exposure to Puerto Rico government credit, through its ownership of Assured Guaranty stocks. Assured Guaranty has insured Puerto Rico government bondholders, including those owning general obligation bonds, as well as various public corporations, including the P.R. Highways and Transportation Authority and P.R. Electric Power Authority. Canto is confident about Assured’s prospects for the future. “Assured has been trading at a significant discount – low 90s to the book value. If we believe the [recent] Puerto Rico economic performance, tax revenues will continue to be positive. This is a much healthier panorama than the Oversight Board’s forecast. Revenues will continue to go up and losses to the monolines (i.e. insurance companies) will go down. There will be significant growth with Ignacio Canto said the X-Square Balanced Fund offers three main advantages for the investor: tax benefits, Assured,” he said. investment simplicity, and liquidity. Other companies that X-Square capital is bullish about include Marshalls, or the Contrary to other instruments, the fund is houses in Puerto Rico under the SQBFX TJX companies, and Costco. Both of these simple for the investor, he noted, since it does symbol. companies have a strong presence in Puerto not require the creation of legal structures “We are bullish on Puerto Rico. This is a Rico and are to enhance tax great place to export financial services and performing well, objectives. Another the financial ecosystem is excellent,” Canto Canto indicated. “We factor is the fund’s said to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL. “We are like Costco a lot. We liquidity, which seeing positive economic activity. When you like their shopping allows access to see the numbers, tax revenues are up. Credit experience and their the investment any metrics are up and bank deposits too. The excellent business business day of the metrics coincide with an economic expansion. model.” week when the New We are seeing this already in the midst of Canto said the York Stock Exchange bankruptcy.” X-Square Balanced is open. Puerto Rico is still waiting for a big Fund offers three The X-Square chunk of the Community Development main advantages Balanced Fund Block Grant funds for reconstruction after to investors: tax invests 60 percent in Hurricane Maria, and Canto said he believes benefits, investment shares of “large cap” the economy will see even more positive simplicity and companies and 40 signs once these monies are released, with liquidity. Because percent in high-grade capital expenditures and more construction the fund is a local —Ignacio Canto, president bonds, with an initial activity islandwide, as well as public-private instrument, Puerto and portfolio manager of X-Square Capital minimum investment partnership projects. Add to the mix the Rico’s tax benefits of $5,000 for Class A continued growth that is expected in tourism. apply, including and Class C shares, “No economy has been stimulated as exemption from and a minimum much as Puerto Rico’s since the Marshall Plan inheritance, property and municipal license investment of $100,000 for Institutional Class [for Western Europe after World War II],” he taxes, while being exempt from federal taxes. shares. The fund is distributed by brokerage said.
We are seeing positive economic activity. When you see the numbers, tax revenues are up. Credit metrics are up and bank deposits too. The metrics coincide with an economic expansion. We are seeing this already in the midst of bankruptcy.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Congressman Fitzpatrick: “We Stand by Puerto Rico” Discusses disaster relief funds, statehood and infrastructure challenges on the island Giovanna Garofalo
ongressman Brian Fitzpatrick (RPA-01) visited Puerto Rico last week for the third consecutive year to discuss the island’s hurricane recovery process with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operation center in Guaynabo, as well as to join the Salvation Army’s charitable Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter and a children’s orphanage. Rep. Fitzpatrick shared a one-on-one interview with THE WEEKLY JOURNAL last Wednesday, the day after his arrival, to offer his insight on Puerto Rico’s most pressing issues two years
after Hurricane Maria devastated virtually every sector of the island, prompting the U.S. Congress to appropriate billions of funds to alleviate and rebuild. The most recent data offered by the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3) indicates that Congress approved nearly $48.1 billion in disaster relief funds through FEMA and the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief program (CDBG-DR). Of these, however, some $21.4 billion have been obligated and only $14.7 billion have been disbursed. Moreover, two top officials in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) acknowledged last October that they knowingly missed a legally-required deadline to issue a notice that would have enacted a process for Puerto Rico to access more of these funds. This was revealed less than two months after HUD announced that it would delay $9 billion in disaster relief funds to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were also devastated in Sept. 2017. In both scenarios, federal officials cited corruption concerns, pointing to the federal investigations that led to high-profile arrests earlier this year, as well as Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s resignation last
Wanting to get a firsthand look at Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery process, Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick has visited the island every year over Thanksgiving since Hurricane Maria struck in 2017. >Gabriel López Albarrán
summer after weeks of protests. When asked to respond to this latest development, Fitzpatrick stated that he was unaware of the missed notice, but that he would discuss the situation with Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González to “figure out what’s going on.” “My understanding is that the funding goes through the Department of Homeland Security. If there are concerns about corruption at the local level, that should be vetted when they award contracts,” he said. He added, “but I gotta tell you, I’ve been checking up on FEMA for the third year now and I come out here so that I can have them tell me what you need from us in the federal government because I work closely with Jenniffer González.” Having experience as a former member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Political Corruption Unit, Fitzpatrick stated that political corruption undermines people’s confidence in their government, but it requires action from both law enforcement and voters to hold elected officials to “the highest standards.” Although some federal officials, including President Donald Trump, have denounced corruption on the island, Fitzpatrick affirmed that last summer’s historic political developments did not have a negative impact on Congress’s perception of Puerto Rico’s capability to manage federal funds. “We stand by Puerto Rico and we’re glad that that situation resolved itself,” he said. The Republican congressman did acknowledge that Puerto Rico’s status as an unincorporated territory, or commonwealth, hinders its access to funding parity compared to states of the nation. Thus, he asserted that he supports Rep. González in her quest to achieve statehood for Puerto Rico, claiming that annexation would lead to both equal representation in Congress and an equal number of benefits. “I’m a close sponsor of the [statehood] bill. Anything Jenniffer needs me for, I’m here for— anything that can support the people of Puerto Rico, because I am very close to the Puerto Rican community in my home state, in my home district, and I made a commitment after Maria that we were going to make sure that Puerto Rico is taken care of,” Fitzpatrick said.
< The Weekly Journal > Wednesday, December 4, 2019
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Venezuelan Capital as a Way to Improve Local P Economy
Puerto Rico’s geographical location, a mere 45-minute flight away from Caracas, and our cultural similarities give us an advantage when it comes to winning over Venezuelan entrepreneurs Inteligencia Económica
uerto Rico has spent too much time trying to catch the eye of American investors; the focus has always been on trying to be part of the largest economy in the world. However, the strategies implemented by Teodoro Moscoso and Rexford Tugwell during the 1940s have already had their time. Puerto Rico’s economic development strategy, “Manos a la Obra” (Operation Bootstrap), is no longer an option. Since 1996, when the U.S. Congress
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Venezuelan Entrepreneurs are Eligible for Acts 20 and 22 Act 20,
or the Export Services Act, is focused on promoting the island as an export business hub. The law provides incentives to companies that export services, such as a 4 percent corporate tax rate, and 100 percent tax exemption on dividends from business earnings derived from export services.
or the Act to Promote the Relocation of Individual Investors to Puerto Rico, is focused on motivating wealthy individuals to move to the island, and provides a 100 percent tax exemption on all interest, dividends and longterm capital gains.
eliminated Section 936, we have been unable to develop a new industrial and economic model. Our biggest challenge has been to devise a plan that takes into account the current geopolitical and economic statuses so that we may become part of this new reality.
Gustavo Vélez, founder of Inteligencia Económica, said Puerto Rico should start marketing the Incentives Code to other countries with problematic economies and establish as an international center of commerce and investment. >Carlos Rivera Giusti
led to its collapse. The socialist rule imposed during the 21st century by Hugo Chávez in 1998 and continued in 2014 by his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has driven Venezuela straight into the ground. Over three million Venezuelan millionaires have had to leave their country in search of better opportunities.
Puerto Rico as an Alternative
The political crisis that occurred at the beginning of 2019 when Juan Guaidó was Refocusing Our Efforts recognized by other countries, including the It seems like we forgot that our geographical United States, as president of Venezuela, has location and our relationship to the United led to a more complicated economic crisis. States grants us a coveted advantage that can Venezuela is currently suffering from enable us to attract not only North American unprecedented hyperinflation, a massive investors, but also those in Central and South shortage and accelerated decline of its America. productive apparatus. Without any shortThe macroeconomic stability and lack of term solutions in sight, more and more internal turmoil, in combination with the entrepreneurs and fiscal autonomy and businessmen are judicial warranties looking to relocate that being part of the and invest elsewhere. U.S. federal system Puerto Rico affords Puerto Rico, should take makes the island an advantage of these attractive investment facts to attract destination for Latin Venezuelan capital. America. Our geographical One of the location, a mere countries Puerto 45-minute flight Rico should away from Caracas, -Gustavo Vélez, economist market itself to is and our cultural Venezuela. For the similarities give us better part of two an advantage when it comes to winning over decades, this country, which used to lead the Venezuelan entrepreneurs. petroleum industry and possessed one of the Venezuelan entrepreneurs are eligible for foremost economies in Latin America, has Acts 20 and 22 as well as other statutes from been subject to socialism, a doctrine that has the Department of Commerce and Economic
Venezuelan entrepreneurs are eligible for Acts 20 and 22 as well as other statutes from the Department of Commerce and Economic Development.
Development. Under Act 20, Venezuelan companies can establish in Puerto Rico and export their services to any part of the world while enjoying a tax rate of 4 percent and dividend exemption. Act 22 offers a preferential treatment that, when combined with Act 20, reduce a company’s and entrepreneurs’ fiscal obligation. Three sectors that could be marketed to Venezuela are the International Insurance Center (CIS by its Spanish acronym), international banking (IFE by its Spanish acronym) and manufacture. As a matter of fact, Puerto Rico has an emergent entrepreneurial and professional Venezuelan community. Their presence is evident in the auto, banking, insurance, real estate and food industries. There is immense potential for growth due to the fact that Miami and Panama, two of their preferred destinations, are already showing signs of being saturated. The local private and public sectors should work together to market Puerto Rico so that Venezuelans become an active part of our economic restoration. We need to diversify our sources of foreign capital and it is imperative to do so with nearby countries. We should start marketing our Incentives Code to other countries with problematic economies, like Colombia, Chile and Argentina, and establish ourselves as an international center of commerce and investment. It’s time to think outside the box. Puerto Rico must start to look at the world and think big.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Credit and Bankruptcy Improvement Outlook
It could have a greater flexibility in lending
Brenda A. Vázquez Colón
he result of the difficult economic situation has resulted in Puerto Ricans being more informed about financial issues, since they are aware that with a better credit history they could obtain better financing
alternatives. This behavior is reflected in the data provided by the Association of Banks of Puerto Rico, which indicates that the empirical or “credit score” of the Puerto Rican is good and that it is concerned with maintaining it to obtain economic benefits. “The Puerto Rican has been educated about credit. The percentage of the client ‘super prime’ with an empirical between 781 and 850, is 20.29 percent; the ‘prime plus’ of between 721 and 780 is 24.72 percent; the ‘prime’ between 661 and 720 is 21.82 percent; ‘Near prime’ between 601 and 660 is 18.5 percent; and the ‘subprime’ of between 300 and 600 is 14.63 percent,” said Zoimé Álvarez, executive vice president of the Association of Banks of Puerto Rico. In the island there are a total of 1,444,000 active accounts in the credit and each of these people has an average of 3.6 accounts open, while the average in the United States is 3.1. These figures warn that the Puerto Rican consumer spends more than its counterpart, so it has a higher indebtedness that often culminates in a bankruptcy process.
According to Álvarez, although in Oct. 2019 the number of bankruptcies increased to 762 compared to 2018 when there were 687 - she understands that this has not been the trend, according to the statistics of the Bulletin of Puerto Rico. “In 2010, there were 6,711 Chapter 13 filings - a payment plan is allowed, based on your income - and in 2019 this figure was 3,928. For Chapter 7 - liquidation - in 2010 there were 3,447, and this year 2,435. The same happened with Chapter 11 - restructuring - with 138 in 2010, and 76 in 2019. Chapter 12 - specifically designed to meet the needs of farmers and fishermen - had 27 filings in
2010 and 12 this year. I do not validate the premise of that have increased,” Álvarez said. For Chapter 7, 4,099 cases were filed in 2015; in 2016 there were 3,645; in 2017 a total of 2,783; in 2018 there were 2,768; and in the current year, a total of 2,435. As for Chapter 13, the last three years have been maintained with figures of 3,789 cases filed in 2017; about 3,578 cases in 2018; and a total of 3,928 in 2019. Applications for Chapter 11 have dropped, with 111 in 2017; a total of 95 in 2018; and 76 in 2019.
Different Landscape in Legal Offices
These statistics are not reflected in the dayto-day life of lawyers who specialize in this type of case, where the reorganization of finances is sought when the client cannot assume their debts. Lawyer Juan Santos Berríos, specialized in foreclosures, collections and bankruptcy cases in Humacao, who explains that the scenario he sees in his legal practice is an increase in this type of management. The lawyer services about 15 clients a month who request this option to solve their economic problems. “After Maria, there was an increase in bankruptcies, which was then stabilized by bank moratoriums. In the last six months, 79 percent of the cases I have had are for Chapter 7 and 21 percent for Chapter 13. I have seen about a 20
percent increase of bankruptcy cases in the last year,” said Santos, who has been operating since 1998. According Santos, the priorities of his clients have been changing. At present, they value tranquility more, rather than conserving a residential property that is worth less than its mortgage. “10 years ago people did anything to keep their home ... but not now, especially in homes that are worth less than they are mortgaged for. I am seeing an upward trend in my office in the cases of Chapter 7, in which the houses are surrendered, which is a total liquidation. Before we saw more Chapter 13 cases, which is a debt payment or adjustment plan, “ said the lawyer, adding that another determining factor has been the complexity of the banks’ mitigation programs. Santos confirmed that after the residential properties that are protected by a mortgage guarantee, the debts that debtors seek to assume are credit cards and personal loans that are not insured. “The difference is that houses and cars are paid 100 percent, while loans and cards are paid based on a percentage. A proportion distributed among all unsecured creditors is paid,” he explained about bankruptcy alternatives that are determined by the client’s ability to pay, after paying attention to their ordinary expenses.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
>Courtesy El Mercado de Juguetes
Three Generations of Women at the Helm of a Toy Store El Mercado de Juguetes quickly became the foremost toy store in northern Puerto Rico
Christian G. Ramos
ometimes, in moments of uncertainty, the best ideas are born. This is precisely what happened to Gloriana Ramos Jiménez, who decided to face adversity after Hurricane Maria by channeling her energy into keeping her family unscathed through the endeavor of running a business, El Mercado de Juguetes. Soon after coming up with the idea, she enlisted the help of her mother, Gloria del Carmen Jiménez, and her grandmother, Gloria Mercado, so that together they could turn an empty property in Barrio Cocos, Quebradillas into the toy store that would eventually become the largest one in northern Puerto Rico. “It took over six months for the power in Quebradillas to come back. Because of this, many of the local toy stores had to cease their operations. While working at my family’s pharmacy, I took note of the fact that many people were looking for toys that the whole family
could enjoy together,” said Ramos. The entrepreneur went on to say that the period after Maria was the perfect opportunity to provide kids with a toy store that would promote family unity through the use of traditional games, reading, crafting, learning toys and workshops. “We wanted a toy store that had something for kids of all ages. We wanted a place where people could come to touch, play and try the toys; not just buy them,” stated Ramos. The 1,500-square-foot toy store designed by architect Julio González Feliciano, Ramos’ father, opened on Oct. 2018 and immediately won over the customers. Once the store was up and running, Ramos started thinking about expanding the shop. “Why not develop a play room where kids could learn about a toy and try It before buying it? Why not offer crafting, art, slime and reading workshops?,” wondered Ramos. Months after its opening, El Mercado de Juguetes was expanded into a 3,000-square-feet shop that offers innovative toys from all over the world. Ramos offers toys from places like Sweden (Viking Toys), France (Corolle), Ireland (Lottie), London (Adora), Puerto Rico (books like Por Ahí Viene El Huracán and Ricitos de Onix), and Spain (Famosa), among others. “We also have brands like Melissa and Doug, SpinMaster, Lego, Mattel, L.O.L Surprise!, Fisher Price, Little Tikes, Playmobil, Hatchimals, Hot Wheels and much more, “ said Ramos. The young entrepreneur went on to comment on
how she’s continuously upping the ante at her store. “During the summer, we knew we had to do something to keep kids coming so we established a summer camp. We had over 100 children enroll during June and July 2019,” she stated. In order to provide an invaluable experience, Ramos brought in occupational therapists, teachers and other professionals that she thought were essential to the further development of campers. Ramos also mentioned how she changed the store’s décor so they could include a map of Puerto Rico which features all 78 municipalities. “When people come in they immediately go to the map and look for their town; they take pictures, selfies. It has been a hit! It’s educational, fun and great for social media,” added the entrepreneur who assured THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that the shop has been visited by people from 74 of Puerto Rico’s municipalities. Gloriana was quick to point out that Christmas is just around the corner and that, as such, kids should drop by and take a look at all the toys they can ask for in this year’s lists to Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men. “El Mercado de Juguetes has everything that kids want this Christmas, at the best prices,” she stated. El Mercado de Juguetes is located on the second floor of the Gloriana Building on state road 2, km. 96.8 in Barrio Cocos, Quebradillas. Their hours are from Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Re:Colecta, a Contest to
Empower Small Coffee Farmers Domenico Celli and Eduardo Trabada hope to incentivize coffee picking within the specialty coffee industry and promote better coffee picking methods
Claudia Guerrero Negrón
n an effort to incentivize coffee picking within the specialty coffee industry in Puerto Rico and motivate farmers, Eduardo Trabada from Baraka Coffee Co. and Domenico Celli from Sandra Farms Coffee have joined forces to create Re:Colecta. The contest, lasting up until the end of harvest season in February, will be rewarding the three farmers who collect the most ripe coffee cherries with prizes of $500, $300 and $200. All the coffee collected will be inspected for quality and logged into a daily report. “If we want the specialty coffee industry in Puerto Rico to be sustainable, we need to start treating the workers better,” said Celli. The contest started Nov. 1 and Celli and Barada have already raised half of their projected goal in fundraising for the prizes due to a collaboration with local artist Carlos Dávila Rinaldi, who will be creating art pieces to sell to the public. All funds collected will be used for the prizes to be given to the winning farmers. So far, around 10-15 pieces have been sold. The two pieces, which are $55 each, can be found on the Baraka Coffee Co. website, http:// barakacoffee.com. Both pieces are inspired by the work of coffee pickers during harvest in Puerto Rico. As part of the pilot program of the Re:Colecta project, the first participating farm is Sandra Farms in Adjuntas, where 12 pickers are currently competing. Eventually, Trabada and Celli wish to turn this initiative into an official non-profit organization, allowing them to receive larger donations from corporations and institutions. Due to the long withstanding misconception that coffee picking is a poor job choice and that it leads to no true economic wealth, Trabada and Celli are hoping to motivate farmers and other individuals to come back to the coffee fields and
get their hands dirty. Incentivizing coffee pickers by treating them with the respect they deserve, according to Celli, is an important step in revitalizing the industry. By promoting better picking practices, the quality of the coffee is elevated as well as the farmers’ skills. Sandra Farms, owned by Israel and Sandra González, pays their workers three times as much as other farms. Domenico Celli, as part of his senior project in college, traveled to Sandra Farms to help the farm prosper by implementing and experimenting with different coffee picking and processing methods that he hopes will become the norm within the industry. “What we are trying to do is create awareness around this issue and help farmers. This is a significant amount of money that will help a farmer maybe buy one or two appliances that they need in their home and that way help them sustain themselves. We want them to know that there is reward in coffee picking, especially such a valued coffee like Puerto Rico’s” said Trabada. The three winners will be announced at the end of the harvest season at a celebration hosted by Sandra Farms on Feb. 22, featuring local artists and chefs, with a suggested donation of $15.
Zafra, artist series print by local artist Carlos Dávila Rinaldi, who will be creating art pieces to sell to the public. All funds collected will be used for the prizes to be given to the winning farmers. >Courtesy
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
By Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz
By Teresita Fuentes, CPA
Architect and vice chairman of the board of directors of Invest Puerto Rico
Cost Versus Value: Investing Instead of Spending
esilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty and the ability to bounce back by overcoming challenges with resolve. The historic moment we are living in Puerto Rico justifies the importance of long term planning and the need to develop and implement an enduring islandwide design vision; one that ignores short term fixes and the usual politics and instead focuses on resilient design investments and policies that will provide long term value for generations to come. This long-lasting resilient design vision needs to recognize several chronic stressors such as poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, acute shocks, including earthquakes, flooding, severe storms and hurricanes, plus the importance of social, economic and environmental resilience. Resiliency is a multifaceted lens which balances proactivity and reactivity to inform solutions to disruptions. Resilient Design is taking that lens and using it to rethink the built environment while creating economic sustainability. At various levels, as individuals, communities and municipalities livable conditions can be maintained when investing in permanent resilient designs occurs. Relative to climate change, resilience involves adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with more intense storms, greater precipitation, coastal and valley flooding, longer and more severe drought, warmer temperatures and power outages. Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities and regions in response to these vulnerabilities. Resilient investment can be achieved at three scales: building scale, community scale and regional scale. At a building scale the intent is to invest in design for both renovations and newly constructed buildings to better handle acute impacts based on potential future climatic conditions rather than past data. This will allow for better planning solutions and
shorter recovery time. In the event of extended loss of power or lack of water availability, it is important to also invest on vernacular design practices that were prevalent before the advent of air conditioning. The combination of passive survivability strategies and active ones, like investing on redundant electric systems that include back up solar systems, plus water conservation practices that rely on annually replenished water resources, ultimately not only benefit the building’s user but also enhances its property value. At the community scale, education is key. Community leaders always serve as first responders. Investing and fostering strong community education programs will build a greater understanding of energy, water and other natural resource systems as well as the functioning of buildings and their community infrastructure. Investing on community facilities or resilience hubs that can serve as gathering places during emergencies and interruptions in services, and outfitting such facilities with access to key services, including water and electricity. Such capabilities could be integrated into schools and other existing community facilities. At the regional scale, it is essential to invest in community-owned critical infrastructure like water, sewer and renewable energy co-ops, to ensure a more stable distributed regional infrastructure. This has proven to work very well both in Belgium and Germany. Finally, investing on both, regional transportation networks and regionally manufactured goods, can foster greater reliance on regionally manufactured goods and can achieve a more diverse regional economy. As the immediate promise of federal funds continues to be reduced, both, the government and private sector, need to be more aware of the importance of resilient long-term investment instead of short-term spending. As federal funds begin to trickle in, we should be conscious of the incredible sustainable investment advantages of resilient planning and design and how they positively impact our continued potential economic value.
Technical Amendments to a Technical Tax Reform: Third Time’s the Charm?
ou wouldn’t ask a cardiovascularsurgeon to change the spark plugs on your car, just like you wouldn’t ask an automotive expert for psychological advice. So then, why the heck wouldn’t our legislature use tax experts to work on tax legislation? Some of the most recent technical amendments to this administration’s tax reform are yet another attempt at fixing a problem that many didn’t view as a problem to begin with. Some would argue that we are now putting a bandage on a wound that was created only by placing a bandage on something that many didn’t think was a wound to begin with. The current technical amendments, being evaluated in conference between the Senate and the House, come on the coattails of a Tax Incentives Code that already included amendments to the original tax reform approved on Dec. 2018. The fact that the bill is subject to a legislative conference process is proof positive that this bill is the product of closed door negotiations and political mumbo jumbo to ensure passage. As it stands, the legislative proposal would increase the threshold for the business to business exemption from $200,000 to $300,000 in order to offer small businesses a greater relief from the sales and use tax. Definitely a positive amendment. Additionally, the legislative language requires web merchants to collect the sales and use tax and subjects web marketplaces to the sales and use tax. One of the hits of the 2018 tax reform was the optional tax computation for individual service providers, who were allowed to choose taxation at a preferential tax rate without claiming any deductions against their income, essentially implementing a “flat tax” of sorts for professionals in this tax sector. There are unanswered questions in the 2018 tax reform and in the subsequent technical amendment legislation. This last round of technical amendments to the bill only clarified that you must derive at least 80 percent of your revenue
from services in order to qualify. What about those who derive revenue from a one member LLC? Or those who receive passive income such as retirement funds or investment income? This was a lost opportunity to promote a simpler and cleaner tax system, something taxpayers and the government have always talked about. What has really raised eyebrows in the tax community professionals is the last minute change that was introduced to increase the threshold that business need for audited financial statements from $3 million to $10 million. Now, I question the need for such an amendment if not for looking for votes? From a government perspective, the Puerto Rico Department of the Treasury is strapped for resources and cannot initiate enough tax audits to administer the tax system while the general fund is looking for more revenue to comply with all of its needs. When you throw in this type of venom into the equation, this is simply the concoction of a poison pill that we will all pay for dearly. From a taxpayer perspective, a business with $3 to $10 million in revenues usually will need audited financial statements for banks and financing purposes as well, so I wonder what the savings are to the business? The biggest loser here is the general fund. We all know that Puerto Rico has a longstanding history of tax evasion and some very aggressive tax planning that some unscrupulous accountants will sell to their clients. With no supervision or oversight, the government will have to accept whatever a tax return without audited financial statements wants to say. Why is the government changing this threshold? Why not grant business what they have been asking for a long time, elimination or a reduction in the property tax on inventory? Does that not make more sense? This, my friends, is the third round of changes to a tax legislation that not only impacts the government’s revenues but does little to promote the economic development that everyone has been requesting from the government.
To ink or not to ink? That is the question
Over 160 tattooists from around the world will gather in San Juan this weekend for the International Puerto Rico Tattoo Convention
Cynthia López Cabán
n the beginning, it was considered a mark of subversion or deviance reserved for rebels and outcasts. But over time, the tattoo has evolved into a popular form of self-expression and art. Any doubts? Check the calendar.
A few years back, July 17 was declared National The craze over television shows like Ink Tattoo Day to recognize the history and the artists Master, Tattoo Fixers, Inked, Miami Ink and Epic dedicated to etching ink permanently on the skin. Ink also demonstrate how tattooing has broken Almost a month later, through the threshold on August 14, National of taboo into the Tattoo Removal Day is realm of popular celebrated to support culture and everyday the men and women life. Even the prime interested in removing minister of Canada, their unwanted ink. Justin Trudeau, While they aren’t has a Haida raven paid holidays, tattoo on his left these observances shoulder; American -Jafet Santiago, acknowledge a lawyer and diplomat head of Sparkof Entertainment practice that has Caroline Kennedy grown by leaps and has a butterfly on her bounds over the past arm; and couples are few decades. Look around. You can’t walk a block getting wedding ring tattoos to pledge their love without running into somebody adorned with a and alliance. tattoo. About three in 10 Americans have a tattoo,
We have tattooists from Australia, Italy, Spain, Mexico, New York, Los Ángeles and Puerto Rico.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
according to the international research company IBIS World. However, this number climbs to nearly five out of 10 among millennials. In the United States alone, the tattoo artist industry is expected to generate close to $2 billion in revenue this year and grow 4.6 percent. It also generates 54,400 jobs in 47,832 businesses around the country. In Puerto Rico, statistics about this emerging sector are scarce. Data from the Health Department shows that 550 tattooists are enlisted in the Dermatograph Artists Registry. Only 350 are active. Ninety tattoo shops are registered (more than the 78 municipalities that divide the island). Sixty are in operations. Estimates of boricuas with ink don’t exist, but influential figures like the senator and Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Juan Dalmau, Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, the director of the women’s organization Matria, mixologist Nicole Fas and singers Kany García, Ileana Cabra, René Pérez and Ricky Martin have eyecatching tattoos. Three years ago, event promoter Jafet Santiago noticed the trend and decided to put Puerto Rico on the map creating the International Puerto Rico Tattoo Convention,
a venue where artists and ink aficionados could meet. This year over 160 tattoists will turn the Convention Center in Miramar into an alluring tattoo shop. The list of artists includes Big Meas, Juvel “Fibs” Vázquez, Jen Carmean, Jennifer Trok, Megan Hoogland, Josh Payne, and locals Juan Salgado, Carlos “Skills” Rivera, Gerardo Marzan, Yanka and Luiyi, among others. “We have tattooists from Australia, Italy, Spain, Mexico, New York, Los Ángeles and Puerto Rico,” Santiago told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL. “People interested in getting a tattoo can schedule the appointment prior to the event contacting the artist through social media. We also have walk-ins.” Fans interested in participating in one of the 20 competitions can purchase a daily pass for $20 or a threeday pass for $35. Some of the contests include crowning the best traditional, neo-traditional, new school, best lettering or best Biomech tattoo. Last year, a survey conducted by German-based firm Dalia Research discovered that Italy has the highest percent of tattooed people at 48 percent. Followed by Sweden with 47 percent, the U.S. with 46, Australia and Argentina with 43 percent. >Courtesy Yallzee Quiñones
The global study also found that tattoos are also more popular among those with higher levels of education (32 percent) than those with lower levels (26 percent). And contrary to popular belief, more women (40 percent) than men (36 percent) have tattoos. Commenting on the convention’s demographics, Santiago remarked that he’s observed an increment in women attending the event to get inked as well as a spike of women followers in social media. “This was an industry dominated by men, but we have seen the change. I think that women’s interest in tattoos has helped the industry become mainstream.” But they are more than an expression of art or an exercise to reclaim the body, tattoos are also leaving a dollar mark. “This event is undoubtedly a very important one for the Puerto Rican economy, with an impact on hotel and Airbnb reservations estimated at half a million dollars ($584,000),” indicated Santiago, head of Sparkof Entertainment. This number, according to the promoter, only contemplates the artists’ stays on the island during the event. It doesn’t add up the people that fly-in to get tattoed or other ripple effects.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Spice Up Your Holidays With El San Juan’s Cabaret and
Burlesque Show New nightlife programming at the legendary property
E Rosario Fajardo
>Courtesy El San Juan Hotel
l San Juan Hotel, one of Puerto Rico’s premier luxury lifestyle properties, is offering new nightlife shows and other events, just in time for the holiday season. One of the headliners at the Isla Verde property is a cabaret and burlesque show at its Chico Cabaret venue. Experience mystique nights at El San Juan’s Burlesque Fridays, featuring two shows, one at 8 p.m. and one at 10 p.m., by Miss Dakota’s Ran Can Can Cabaret and Burlesque. Ran Can Can Cabaret and Burlesque, created and directed by choreographer and dancer Dakota Ferreiro, features talent from Puerto Rico. In this intriguing and sophisticated show, Moulin Rouge meets Copacabana with Las Vegas style and, of course, with the Puerto Rican soul. The show features a new twist on old vaudeville, mixing classic styles of trained dancers with striptease, and the sounds of Latin musicians capturing the special beat of the island, with a touch of song and comedy. About two years ago, El San Juan Hotel featured
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
another cabaret and burlesque show dubbed travelers alike. SIN, featuring local entertainer Stephanie “Fefa” Featuring a selection of curated Mercado. That show was just as fun, provocative entertainment, including solo singers, musical and classy as Ran Can. groups and comedy shows, El San Juan Hotel’s My husband and I also have been to other new nightlife programming showcases the burlesque shows in Paris and evolution of music on the Las Vegas, and the El San island over the course of five Juan shows hold their own centuries. against these other top-level “El San Juan Hotel’s lobby attractions. The cast and venue was made iconic by the are smaller, and the dancers entertainment that defined Ran Can Can are professionally trained in Cabaret and San Juan nightlife in the 1960s,” ballet. While they may not make Burlesque is a playful said Martin Smith, managing and seductive show it to the top of their league, the director of El San Juan Hotel. that injects a new shows are fun, entertaining, sexy “Today, we honor its timeless spin on vaudeville, and racy—as well as tastefully past with fresh and innovative mixing classic styles done. entertainment, unique to of dancing with the Tickets for the shows are $40 the hotel and reflective of sounds of the island. per person. The shows are on Puerto Rico’s vibrant culture every Friday night until Jan. 3, and nightlife. With this latest 2020. schedule of events, we are excited to welcome back a new generation of guests, along with those who have New Nightlife Programming made the hotel a tradition over the last 50 years, The cabaret and burlesque show is but one of to create new memories worth cherishing.” the many nightlife options locals and tourists alike will find at El San Juan. Long considered a social Guests can enjoy the Chandelier Bar, a symbol epicenter, El San Juan Hotel is paying homage to its of Puerto Rican nightlife, positioned beneath musical legacy this holiday season by introducing a the hotel’s iconic centerpiece, a Czechoslovakian lineup of weekly entertainment, creative mixology crystal chandelier and the third largest of its kind experiences and innovative cuisine, creating an in the world; The Rum Bar, which houses one of atmosphere of great camaraderie for locals and the finest rum collections in the Caribbean; the
Wine Bar, offering an incomparable selection of fine wines and champagnes by the glass; and Chico Cabaret, San Juan’s secret hot-spot featuring captivating live entertainment in an intimate setting. The weekly programming includes: Wednesdays: A showcase of popular Puerto Rican sounds such as salsa, rumba and Caribbean rhythms, allowing guests to discover why the island is known as the creator of multinational genres.Thursdays: World music tunes by a variety of disc jockeys complemented by a live ensemble of “bomba and plena” musicians and dancers. Fridays: A playful and seductive burlesque show that puts a new twist on vaudeville, mixing classic styles of dancing with the sounds of the island. Saturdays: A rotation of the island’s best disc jockey’s spinning eclectic beats – everything from Samba and Bossa nova to Eclectic House and Intelligent Techno. Following, the hotel’s residency band – Tropicalia – features Puerto Rico’s top rumba musicians performing salsa, ballads and mainstream hits with a Latin flavor.“In Puerto Rico, music has played a historically crucial role as a means of cultural expression where musicians have been a pivotal factor in forging and enriching concepts of identity,” Smith said. “Each of these performances showcases the evolution of music on the island over the course of five centuries and reflects a great diversity of genres ranging from folkloric, classical music to contemporary hits.”
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
A Vegan Culinary Venture
Mama Pacha is a weekday lunch spot for local professionals
Damian R. LaPlaca
iguel Villalobos has a degree in architecture, but he has never practiced as an architect. He fell in love with photography and 8 years ago founded Buena Mesa, a quarterly magazine dedicated to promoting the restaurant industry in Puerto Rico. He takes all the photos, the mouthwatering kind that drive you to the best table to sample the featured dish.
He and his wife, Elisa Liberman, have now started Mama Pacha, a vegan restaurant in Hato Rey. Miguel is an entrepreneur. “When I was studying architecture, I was an assistant to commercial photographers, this was before digital photography. I learned everything related to commercial photography from working with clients of advertising agencies to developing slide films for large format cameras, that was when I thought I wanted to do that for the rest of my life; but I had to finish my studies,” said Villalobos. In 2011, after being a freelance photographer for more than 15 years, Miguel wanted to reinvent himself by creating a magazine because the photography work was scarce. He founded Buena Mesa with the knowledge that he had acquired as a food photographer, designer and freelance photographer for other publications. Miguel had intended to open a pizzeria or
burger restaurant, but he learned from his doctor that he had developed health conditions caused by the poor diet he’d had while leading a stressful life publishing a magazine. His doctor recommended a vegan diet and he lost more than 20 pounds. His health conditions disappeared. He and Elisa had always enjoyed cooking at home and they turned traditional Puerto Rican recipes into vegan dishes. They decided to create a vegan restaurant offering the dishes they cooked at home. Elisa chose the restaurant’s name, Mama Pacha, which is Pachamama inverted. It means the highest divinity of the indigenous people of the Andes. The name Pachamama is translated into English as Mother Earth. Elisa is the food stylist for the pictures Miguel uses in ad campaigns. She designs the daily menu at Mama Pacha. Her passion is cooking.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
The menu sometimes sounds like that of a comfort food restaurant; meatloaf, soup, cheesecake, but there is no meat to be found, no sugar in any dish, only natural ingredients. Mama Pacha makes meatloaf with red beans, potatoes and natural seasoning topped with an Argentinian chimichurri sauce. His veggie burger ingredients are chickpeas and beans seasoned with paprika, onions and garlic. Potato flour is the base of his homemade veggie burger buns. His cheesecake has the consistency of your mother’s homemade cheesecake and is created with almonds, dates and cashews, topped with sliced fresh strawberries and agave syrup. Miguel does not disclose all of his natural ingredients. If you crave recipes, Miguel publishes them in Buena Mesa. Mama Pacha operates on Domenech avenue in Hato Rey. The small location seats just 19 customers at 7 different tables. The smallness gives Miguel and Elisa the freedom to try new dishes. They do not have paper menu, choosing instead to display a large chalkboard that lists the daily menu. Mama Pacha currently opens for lunch but Miguel is hoping to open for breakfast soon. With all of this, Miguel still has time to sail on the weekends on his 33’ sloop out of Puerto Del Rey Marina in Fajardo. Sailing is his freedom, his escape. He discovered sailing when he was on a vodka photoshoot aboard a sailboat headed toward Icacos. He felt the boat move only with the wind, no engine noise or diesel smell, and he found strength in the peace and tranquility of the sound of the water. Sailing has become Miguel’s way to connect with nature. Mama Pacha opens Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is located at 271 Domenech Ave. in Hato Rey.
>Photos courtesy Mama Pacha
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Artisanal Pasta Made Fresh to Order
A pasta delivery service for those who like to cook at home and enjoy a fresh alternative
W Claudia Guerrero Negrón
Natasha and Gabriel Garratón created Massa, an artisanal, freshly prepared pasta service. >Photos by Gabriel López Albarrán
hen Natasha and Gabriel Garratón decided to create their first business venture together, it seemed like the natural thing to do given his expertise in business administration and her culinary experience working in restaurants. The brother and sister duo created Massa, an artisanal, freshly prepared pasta service, out of the comfort of their own house and create around 23 different pasta styles every week. Tortellini, bucatini, cappellacci, ramen, gnocchi, trottole; the list goes on. Using locally sourced eggs and other local ingredients, their pasta dough is made fresh to order, which sets them apart from the pasta you may find at the supermarket. Regular pastas that are packaged in unsealed containers don’t contain eggs in their recipe and are made with semolina, a coarse flour dough that produces a tough texture. The Garratón duo use semolina only for their vegan customers, or for pastas that are made with their Monferrina pasta machine that is manufactured in Moncalieri, in the Piedmont region of Italy. The pastas made with the machine contain semolina flour to avoid breakage, as the machine is used to create intricate shapes like rigatoni, lumache and mafaldine. The flour that they use is a fine flour that when mixed with eggs produces a silkier, softer, more artisanal pasta, ideal for the handmade stuffed raviolis and gnocchis. Their artisanal pasta takes around one to three minutes to cook, whereas the pasta found in the supermarket can take up to
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Massa artisanal pasta takes around one to three minutes to cook, whereas the pasta found in the supermarket can take up to eight minutes to prepare.
eight minutes to prepare. A different menu is prepared every week, featuring creative infusions like plantain stuffed gnocchi; pumpkin ridge tubetti; beet mezzaluna stuffed with Gorgonzola and apples sautéed in sugar compote; and wine and beet agnolotti, stuffed with goat cheese and prosciutto. The doughs are mixed with vegetable broths or products like spinach, pumpkin and beet to create unusual pasta creations. They also have gluten-free options on the menu. You can also find burrata on the menu, a cheese ball that has an outer layer of hardened mozzarella and a creamier interior, as well as pizza dough, ideal for a cozy night in. The pasta-making duo also deliver to restaurants like Mario Pagán Restaurant, where Natasha worked for a few years before moving to New York after Hurricane Maria. The chef, who is now 29, was no stranger to New York, having studied at the French Culinary Center, now named French Culinary Institute,
The brother and sister duo create around 23 different pasta styles every week.
where prestigious chefs like Bobby Flay and David Chang, from Momofuku, trained and graduated. “When I traveled to Florence, Italy, I was inspired to create my own pasta, and I figured it wasn’t something that a lot of people were doing, so we thought it was ideal” said Natasha. Toying with the business name, the siblings settled on Massa, the Portuguese name for pasta, which also means dough in Spanish. It takes the team an hour to prepare each batch of pasta, preparing 15-20 orders a week, what makes their weeks labor-heavy as they’re only a
two-person team at the moment. Their father, Guillermo Garratón, a graphic designer, helped them with their logo, which is an egg yolk centered on top of white flour. “We split all the tasks evenly, I have even had to learn how to make pasta, but I focus on the business side. We are currently creating a business plan for the restaurant we wish to open in the future,” said Gabriel. According to his sister, he’s a fast learner. Orders can be made by private message through their Instagram page, massa.pr, or by text at (787) 402-8944 and (787) 246-2138.
When I traveled to Florence, Italy, I was inspired to create my own pasta and I figured it wasn’t something that a lot of people were doing, so we thought it was ideal. -Natasha Garratón, chef
and co-owner of Massa
The flour that they use is a fine flour that when mixed with eggs produces a silkier, softer, more artisanal pasta, ideal for the handmade stuffed raviolis and gnocchis.
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Something for Everyone at The Outlet66 Mall
Brand new dragsters, a bowling alley, zip line, sky trail and go karts await at SectorSixty6 Melissa M. Cruz
espite all of the many fun things there are to do in Puerto Rico, more often than not, Boricuas end up strolling in shopping malls enjoying the air conditioning. Taking advantage of the free air conditioning has turned out to be the best excuse to window shop and Highway 66, which extends from Carolina to Rio Grande, offers a great spot for families. Ever since the opening of Sector Sixty6 at The Outlet 66 Mall in Canóvanas, the shopping center has been regarded as the foremost entertainment and retail center on the island. Last year, Sector Sixty6 inaugurated the first
>Courtesy Sector Sixty6
indoor electric go-kart track in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. The center also boasts an arcade, virtual reality simulators, a sky trail and a zip line. However, still hoping to offer more familyfriendly activities, the mall recently inaugurated the first and only drag racing track on the island, Top Eliminator Dragster Puerto Rico. This new attraction consists of six covered parallel tracks that measure 190 feet in length. The dragsters are screwed into a channel as to never pop out of their track. “Visitors to the track will experience the best in automobile acceleration when they go from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds.” The vehicles are propelled by a 300-hp propane motor that produces 2.8 g’s of force. “The dragsters were specially built to simulate real race cars. Drivers can control the gas and the brakes, but not the steering wheel, from start to finish,” said Ramón Figueroa, the track’s marketing director.
Once the driver sits in the dragster, he is quickly strapped down with a harness. The vehicle is placed in front of the traffic light and, as soon as the light turns green, the drivers take off. “Once the drivers get to the finish line, a
computerized breaking system immobilizes a hook inside the underground channel so that the cars stop in less than 120 feet. After the ride, drivers are taken back to the prep area,” said the executive. After the race, drivers can take note of their speeds and times on a board placed above the track. “The trick to this is the reaction speed once the light turns green,” said Figueroa. Aside from this new track, there’s an area with video games, simulators, a waiting room and a snack bar. There will soon be an outdoor terrace which will house food trucks. Top Eliminator Dragster Puerto Rico is the last entertainment addition to the mall. However, Figueroa stated that they are open to expanding their operations. The Outlet66 Mall at Canóvanas has something for everyone, from those who like to hunt zombies, to those who enjoy roller coasters. Sector Sixty6 offers birthday packages and can host corporate activities. They open seven days a week during the mall’s business hours: Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information please call (787) 696-1107.
29 < The Weekly Journal > Wednesday, December 4, 2019
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/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Ballets de San Juan: Holiday Season Ballets de San Juan is celebrating its 65th anniversary. Join them for their Holiday season performances at Puerto Rico’s premier performance center— the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center. When: Friday, Dec. 6 – Sunday, Dec. 8 Where: Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center, Santurce
Nők Nights: The L Word Premiere Party Since 2017 a queer women’s collective has been hosting women-only parties. By women and for women, Nők Nights have become a safe space and a can’t miss event for the island’s lesbian community. This year, they’re closing out 2018 with a premiere party for The L Word: Generation Q. When: Sunday, Dec. 8 at 8 a.m. Where: La Respuesta, 1600 Fernández Juncos Ave., San Juan
Especial Navideño featuring Los Maratón de la Guadalupe Rivera Destino It’s time to get into the holiday spirit! Celebrate with Los Rivera Destino and Dj Hec!
Ponce’s yearly marathon. There will also be a 5k run for those interested in participating but not ready to commit to a fulllength marathon.
When: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 9 p.m. Where: Hotel La Concha, Condado
When: Sunday, Dec. 8 at 5 a.m. Where: Ponce Fire Station at the town square, Ponce
/ Wednesday, December 4, 2019
City Night Dives
Join Scuba Dogs for their weekly Thursday night dives at Escambrón. When: Thursday, Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. Where: Escambrón beach, San Juan
Miramar Vive Miramar is hosting its annual culture festival. During the festival, the community’s main street will be closed to traffic and taken over by the area’s restaurants. There will be artisans, live music, family activities and much more. When: Saturday, Dec. 7 - Dec. 8 Where: Juan Ponce de León Ave., Miramar
Family Sunday Movie: The Happy Holidogs! Nutcracker
The Karma Honey Project is actively looking for volunteers to help with projects to help repopulate the world’s bees. More info: (305) 501-0308 karmahoneyproject.com When: Sunday, Dec. 8 at 8 a.m.
Enjoy The Nutcracker movie and have a fun evening with your loved ones. Free admission When: Sunday, Dec. 8 at 4 p.m. Where: Estudio 21, 1851 Fernández Juncos Ave., Santurce
This special holiday event for you to enjoy with your four-legged best friend will include a doggie market, fun contests, a Holiday-themed photo op by Tukas Pets, delicious bites and special cocktails. When: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. Where: Surf Caffé, 1043 Ashford Ave., San Juan
Ranger-Guided Program: El Morro, Keystone to the Spanish Empire Understand the pivotal role that the Castillo San Felipe del Morro played for the Spanish Empire during the colonization era. The tour is offered in English and starts at the fort’s Main Plaza. The guided tour is free of charge but the entrance fee to the fort is $7.00 for visitors aged 16 years old and over. When: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 10:30 a.m. Where: San Juan National Historic Site, 501 Norzagaray St., San Juan