26 November 2007

Foreign Matters

For years, I've been saying that We have four major obstacles in Puerto Rico: Ponce Cement, Verizon (the former Puerto Rico Telephone Company), El Nuevo Día and Banco Popular. All four were locally-owned behemoths strangling the local economy, whether by smothering it in concrete, stifling communication networks, sponging up ad dollars while palming off drivel as news or financing all that, the government and world-nadir personal debt.

But lo and behold, time passes and now what do We have:

---Ponce Cement, founded and owned by the Ferré family, purveyor of almost over 85% of the cement used in 90% of Our construction, is sold to Cemex, the huge Mexican-based concrete multinational.

---Verizon, after a lengthy period as Our fat-ass road hog of the Internet superhighway, sells its bloated self to América Móvil, a Mexico-based multinational. Still involved as a 13% partner: Banco Popular.

---El Nuevo Día, Our largest newspaper and newsprint conglomerate, owned by the Ferré family and vacuum of 64% of the $240 million newspaper ad market, is said to be in negotiations to be sold. The potential buyers are Chilean. My guess is that they will sell the top-heavy, fib-and-fiction monstrosity flagship paper and keep their lighter, better-positioned junior paper, Primera Hora. In any case, the sale would seem to place digital communications (wired phone, cellular and Internet), newspapers and television (the major local stations are owned by Venzuela's Univisión and Mexico's Telemundo networks) in the hands of foreigners.

Stop right there. Here's a basic, fundamental fact about a country's growth potential: The last thing, the very last thing a country holds on to retain any hope of growing is communications. Just look at history and see how many conquering nations--by either military or economic force--impose their control over media and communications. 

What does this mean for Us? Nothing good. We spend a lot of time moaning about the lack of local TV productions, but We don't give a tinker's damn about a daily newspaper with biased coverage, outright fakery, willful economic blinders and under-the-table business shenanigans that add up to piffle served as punditry.

We gnash Our teeth about the lack of affordable housing while a multinational continues a decades-long force-feeding of an overly-priced commodity cemented (pun very definitely intended) during the administration of the man who founded the damn company in the first place.

We dance like headless chickens in Our orgasmic use of cell phones, while a de facto monopoly slows down the development of a communications infrastructure that 15 years ago was deemed to be firmly on the path to world-class excellence (We had the first nationwide digital platform) and now is nothing more than an overpriced, mudslinging legal battle.

And now We don't even own the obstacles. Now they are "somebody else's problem," when in fact, they always were and always will be, Our problem.

To grow, We need to break past the concrete barrier and pave the way to lighter, less expensive and more effective building materials better-suited to a semi-tropical island. They already exist, but try building a house out of them right now.

To grow, We need a daily newspaper that doesn't play red-or-blue while hiding green, a paper that looks at politics as the system that needs redress instead of a sugar daddy with split personality.

To grow, We need a digital communications infrastructure that makes Our island a giant beacon of potential, instead of some dark hole where trolls with law degrees slurp avidly.

But now, to grow, We need to appeal to foreign powers, powers so foreign We don't even know who they really are. For all Our halitosis about status, how's that for being a stinking colony?

And don't think I've forgotten about Banco Popular, dominant force in personal loans, construction loans, mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and transaction (debit card) processing. (Third World economy, anyone?) Primary advertiser in El Nuevo Día. Primary user of digital communications. Primary beneficiary of higher-cost construction. (They bitch, but interest rates are sooo much better for a bank when the plucked geese have to borrow more money.)

Who's the single largest shareholder in this multi-billion dollar bank? Antonio Luis Ferré. Former owner of Ponce Cement. Soon to be former owner of El Nuevo Día.

Three guesses where he'll put his money, and the first two don't count.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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