SAN JUAN – Old San Juan, one of Puerto Rico’s main tourist centers, is disappearing economically – with 10,000 local jobs at risk – because of the closure of local businesses due to the lack of electricity and damage in the area after the passage of Hurricane Maria more than 40 days ago.
When evening comes, this part of the capital, heretofore a bustling district, is now dark – with the exception of a few nightspots where the lights are on due to the use of generators.
“What embarrasses me is that I don’t see how I can get back in business,” said Juanra Fernandez, the manager of the Nuyorican Cafe, which remains without electricity but for years was one of the area’s most popular bar featuring salsa music and assorted artistic performances enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.
But given the current situation, after 20 years in business, Fernandez’s “life’s project” could be about to come to an end because of the serious damage suffered by the building, which also houses another business, the Hotel Da’ House.
“We don’t think that the (cafe) will return, at least not here. The social and cultural displacement that’s happening in the city is horrible. Here, what’s going to come in is a lot of speculators to open ‘air B&Bs’ and the area’s going to lose a lot of its charm and its soul,” she said.
With that hanging over their heads, Fernandez and a dozen other San Juan businesspeople gathered on Wednesday on the Plaza Colon and demanded that the authorities accelerate the work to repair power lines and poles, some of which collapsed onto local structures, to that they can resume their business activities.
“I feel a part of a community of young people who wanted to get started, and not with a lot of capital, but just with their sweat to give their best,” Fernandez said of the social and cultural work that the Nuyorican Cafe undertook to provide a venue for musicians lke Pirulo, Willito Otero and Kalani Trinidad to pursue their careers.
“Everyone has to push to get Old San Juan to get on its feet, because (it) represents Puerto Rico in the world,” Fernandez said.
Joel Pierluisi, a local resident and the owner of the La Mala Vida and Stuffed Avocado Shop restaurants, along with the ladies’ clothing store Collective Request, told EFE that the tourist zone must be the “priority” for the government in terms of getting the power back on.
“When you have a disaster, you have to find where you can help the most people most quickly. Obviously, without that, you have a lot of people affected, with no money and with no work,” he said.
At present, he added, La Mala Vida “is unrepairable” and the Stuffed Avocado Shop is facing the problem of “what equipment is even going to work” when the power comes back on.
“Old San Juan is the economic engine of the metropolitan area,” Jose Torres Trujillo, the authorized insurance representative for several restaurants, jewelry stores and gift shops in the area, told EFE.
“Here, there are offices that are very important that people don’t even know exist, like those of judges and federal attorneys. So, it’s important to ‘power up’ this area here,” he said.