Depending on whom you ask, the economy in Puerto Rico, after a long recession, is either recovering or headed toward disaster.
While the Puerto Rican government says its economy is expanding, residents of the Caribbean island say the only growth taking place is in the number of people fleeing because of economic distress.
Puerto Rico's Secretary of Commerce, José Pérez-Riera, says the government has been working to improve the economy. Throughout Gov. Luis Fortuño’s term, Puerto Rico jumped from the worst budget deficit ratings in the U.S., to weighing in at number 20 in the deficit rankings, according to the government.
“We are now in a position to, after a year and a half of a stabilization phase on the economy, start seeing the first signs that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that on a year over year basis we’re going to start seeing growth in the next few months,” said Pérez-Riera in a recent interview with Fox News Latino. “That’s obviously a very heartening indication in terms of economic development and the unemployment rate has followed suit as well.”
Pérez-Riera also said Puerto Rico can expect significant growth in the coming months.
“We will be broadening the base of the economy,” Pérez-Riera added. “We will be providing for new and better opportunities for the people of Puerto Rico. And that should be enough for the people of Puerto Rico to feel that Puerto Rico is taking care of them in the way that they deserve to be taken care of.”
Despite Puerto Rico’s apparent budget deficit improvements, some activists say they see nothing but economic disaster. Nothing is improving for them, they maintain.
For many young people, for example, Puerto Rico no longer factors into their plans for the future. With tuition costs on the rise, and the scarcity of jobs, many Puerto Ricans say their only hope is to abandon the island.
Pedro Colón-Alemanas, a member of the Puerto Rico Solidarity Network, said the island is going through a brain drain.
“Sadly, those people that are graduating from college in Puerto Rico, have been leaving to the southern United States," he said. "Places like Orlando and Texas are filled with Puerto Ricans because, sadly, Puerto Ricans are leaving us.”
The government, though, has privatized many of Puerto Rican businesses to stabilize the economy.
“There’s the efficiencies that you get through a private public partnership program as Puerto Rico has created, which has been ranked and rated as one of the best in the nation,” said Pérez-Riera. "And we have a program of private public partnerships where the private sector will be able to carry the day in terms of growth and taking risk, but [by] the same token, the people of Puerto Rico remain owners of the assets that they have.”
Some Puerto Ricans say, however, this strategy is bad for the country’s economy. They say it creates jobs in large U.S.-owned stores that pay the minimum wage, but they can barely afford to shop in the stores. They say this stops financial progress among the common people.
“The economy is on its way to becoming an industry where Puerto Ricans work and labor building what they don’t consume, and consuming what they don’t produce,” Colón-Alemanas said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate in March was 16.9 percent, the worst it has been since 1993. Puerto Ricans say that the crisis is hitting them hard.
“Whoever says that the economy in Puerto Rico is growing is living at Disneyland,” Colón-Alemanas added. “They’re not living in Puerto Rico.
"It’s time for the creators of the crisis," he added, "to pay for it."
Wil Cruz of Fox News Latino contributed to this story.