Island of Enchantment or Island of False Promises?

Reblogged from Latino Rebels, Guest contributer: Marinda Hollar

Island of Enchantment or Island of False Promises?

I am a Boise State University student who went to Puerto Rico on an exchange program for a short year with the goal of improving my Spanish, learning about political processes in another cultural environment, and well, to enjoy a year in a tropical Caribbean paradise. It didn’t take long before I absolutely fell in love with the island; the beaches are so unbelievably beautiful, the people are so incredibly welcoming, the culture so vibrant and full of life. It certainly lives up to the its nickname—The Island of Enchantment. On any given corner on any given day, one can hear music floating through the air: it always seems to be either an infectious salsa rhythm or the pumping bass of the latest reggaeton song, (the local mix of reggae / rap that seems to be the music of choice for many young people here) and undoubtedly, somebody is dancing or singing or refreshing themselves with a nice cold beer while they share time with friends or family, or as is often the case, with both. The culture is so oriented in family, in sharing, in passing quality time with loved ones—whether it be at the beach, seated next to the river in the jungle, or even just hanging out at home. It is truly a delightful place to be.

However, I quickly also realized that Puerto Rico has its fair share of problems. They are currently faced with a stifling $73 billion debt, brought about by an unfortunate mix of unwise spending habits by the local government including corrupt politicians, failed privatization attempts and a plethora of unjust financial policies imposed by the United States government.

The most recent law forced upon the Puerto Rican people by the U.S. government with the supposed intention of helping Puerto Rico pull itself out of debt is the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (or PROMESA, a terribly frustrating pun which I will explain shortly). This law stipulates that a team of seven individuals, nominated by the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. federal government, in effect take control of the Puerto Rican government in order to restructure and repay the debt. They must approve the local government’s budget for the fiscal year, and they must additionally sign off on every law passed to ensure that it doesn’t worsen the crisis. This Oversight Board has the power to make demands of the Puerto Rican government, and has already imposed significant austerity manners.

It is important to note that the only purpose of the Board is to pull the country out of debt. It is not necessarily charged with the well-being of the Puerto Rican people. In fact, one could argue that there is motivation to continue to entrench the island in even more debt, as the president of the Board currently own at least $265,000 in Puerto Rican bonds, sparking debate over a possible conflict of interest, as an increase in debt would mean an increase in his wealth.

This oversight board is an uncomfortable concept. I want you to imagine this from the Puerto Rican perspective: giving up even more of your local government’s sovereignty, rendering your governor (the highest government office on the island) a mere puppet, with the country that has repeatedly mistreated and abused your people as the puppeteer. Putting your country’s future in the hands of a group of people chosen by a government that has a history of squeezing every last cent out of your people by passing such legislature as the Jones Act, which stipulates that Puerto Rico can only import goods from the United States, on a U.S.-based boat with a U.S.-baed crew, increasing the price of pretty much everything and doubling the federal taxes that Puerto Ricans have to pay. A government that makes a habit of sending your country’s young men and women to the most dangerous fronts during times of war so that your people are those who are dying en masse, and not the white soldiers. A government that has conducted experiments testing new methods of contraception on the women of your countryside in the name of not endangering their own people (even though people born in Puerto Rico are, technically, U.S. citizens). A government that has in the past gone so far as to make your own flag, the pride of the nation, illegal in public arenas. A government that is not representative of your people, your culture, your interests, or even your well-being. This is the government that chose the members of the group that basically have fiscal control of the island.

I know that I would be bitter. No, more than that—outraged. And I would most definitely be extremely dubious in regards to the true goals of the Oversight and Management Board. The PROMESA (the Spanish word for promise) from the U.S. government to “help the Puerto Rican people” by taking complete control of the local government has already been broken. In the short four months that the Board has had control of the islands finances, they have approved measures such as:

    • Increasing property taxes,
    • Increasing court fees,
    • Increasing traffic ticket prices,
    • A new internet tax,
    • Increasing the mandatory minimum car insurance,
    • Increasing the already tangled web of permits that one needs to drive a motor vehicle in PR,
    • Increasing the number of permits required for construction projects, and increasing the cost of said permits,
    • Cutting credits for projects that attract tourists (the island’s main source of income),
    • Cutting credits to revitalize urban living centers,
    • Cutting credits for investments that would develop the local economy, and the cut that personally pains me the most,
    • Cutting $603 million dollars of funding from the only public university system on the island, La Universidad de Puerto Rico.

The current governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló, has said that the Oversight Management Board requested that $603 million be cut from some part of the Puerto Rican government’s budget. He has also said that other than the university system, there is simply no other source of funding, except for the public health program. However, he also refuses to release an official list of how the public funds are being spent, and refuses to have the massive $73 billion-dollar debt audited by an economic board to determine how much of it is “legal debt” (used on projects that served to benefit the citizens of Puerto Rico), and how much of it is “illegal debt” (exactly the opposite: used for corrupt purposes, often in the form of useless projects, i.e. “bridges to nowhere,”, etc. This kind of debt does not have to be repaid, as the people should not be punished for bad decisions made by their government). The debt that Puerto Rico has accumulated over the years, legal and otherwise, is so substantial that the annual interest on the debt has reached $6 billion. With a population of 3.4 million people on the island, that means that every man, woman, and child would pay about $1,500 yearly, just to cover the annual interest. This amount becomes much more significant when one considers that the average annual income for a Puerto Rican is just $15,000. This number is bound to decrease even further if the latest round of proposed cuts by the oversight management board are approved. Without access to a quality, affordable education, the cycle of poverty on the island is bound to continue downward.

Keep in mind, the country has been in crisis mode for a while now, and the university has already seen about $300 million in cuts in the last three years. The resources are already stretched thin, with overly crowded classrooms in need of upkeep, professors’ benefits and salaries that have already taken substantial hits, and funding for research at an all-time low. The result of these proposed cuts would be disastrous: it has been stipulated that 8 of the 11 public campuses in the UPR system would be forced to permanently close their doors, leaving all the students registered in those unlucky eight branches of the university to scramble to either try to enroll in one of the three universities that remain (which will overnight become extremely crowded, and also have to take cost-reducing measures to be able to continue), or give up on receiving a higher education and settle for trying to find work in the struggling Puerto Rican economy. By the way, those that choose (or are forced, by lack of resources to pay the higher tuition) to take the latter path will potentially soon only receive a minimum salary of $4.25 hourly if they are under 25 years of age, compared to the continental U.S.’s $7.25 national minimum, another change proposed by the Oversight Board. It is also very possible that the UPR would lose its accreditation if the proposed cuts are approved, because the education will simply be unacceptable. In this case, all the time and money that the students currently enrolled will have been for nothing, as other universities and employers don’t accept credits earned in a non-accredited organization.

The options are grim for students who are already struggling to pay the relatively low tuition. The country has an astounding 46% of the population that lives below the poverty level, that is about twice as poor as the poorest state in the U.S., and faced with these new cuts to social services and increases in expenses, the whole island has troubling times ahead. The Oversight Management Board is not thinking about the future of the Puerto Rican people—they are tying their hands behind their back, blindfolding them, kicking them in the gut and asking why they don’t get up and fight. The U.S. government seems to make a pattern of setting Puerto Rico up for failure and then blaming them when the inevitable happens. They are unable to declare bankruptcy (like all U.S. states have the ability to do) because of their “commonwealth” status, (codename for colony, which is illegal according to a resolution 1514 of the United Nations- “All peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory, [the UN] Solemnly proclaims the necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations”). And they are equally unable to declare bankruptcy as a country, because they are technically not an independent nation and are therefore considered “dependent” on the U.S. for financial support.

Now is when I make my plea to you. Before I came here on exchange, I had no idea what was going on in Puerto Rico. I am a Political Science and Spanish student at Boise State University, and I like to think of myself as a well-informed person. I make it a habit to read the news daily, but I had no idea about the status of Puerto Rico. My knowledge was basically, “They’re almost like a state, right?”. And from what I have gathered based on the reactions of my family, friends and university colleagues back in the states, many U.S. citizens share that same level of very limited information. Puerto Rican news is simply not broadcasted in the states, and I don’t remember ever learning anything about this small beautiful island in any part of my public-school education. Because of the unfortunate collective ignorance of the American people, the U.S. government basically has free reign to continue to pass oppressive policies against the Puerto Rican people, and the country will continue to be at the mercy of their great dictator.

Unless you do something. I truly believe in the American system. Further, I truly believe that if we can rally enough people to call their senators and tell them that this issue will not be silenced any longer, we can make real change. I propose that we raise our voices, and demand that we treat Puerto Rican (technically fellow American) citizens with the respect and decency that they deserve, do away with the law PROMESA and all the false promises that accompany it, and most urgently, most immediately, demand that the $603 million not be cut from the university, because a nation without education is a nation that will be trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and an inability to bring about change.

During my time here, I have made some of the most solid friendships of my life. I have met people that are truly amazing. Their struggles to attend university despite the fact that their family is barely scraping by are truly awe-inspiring, accepting loans and graduating with thousands of dollars in student debt in order to get an education and have a shot at a better life for themselves and their families. The UPR system educates thousands of students every year that are often recruited by U.S. companies because it produces such driven and competent workers. If the funding is cut, many students won’t be able to afford to travel to other parts of the island to study, as the only campuses that will be able to remain open are on the far east and west sides of the island, and they would either have to pay for an apartment near campus or pay the approximately $40 in gas daily in order to be able to go to class. Please, help me bring attention to this issue so that the people of Puerto Rico that are trying to better their situation are able to do just that. Please, help me to put pressure on our government to stop these disastrous cuts from being made. I thank you so much for your time, and sincerely ask that you spend five more minutes to have a conversation with your local representative to show that this issue is important to their constituents.

Below I have written a brief statement that nicely summarizes the main points that the Puerto Rican people want YOU, as an American, to tell your state representative that the people here don’t have. I know it can be intimidating to pick up the phone and call, but it truly is the most effective way to make your voice heard in these troubling times. Below I have also included a list of senators and representatives on the Natural Resources subcommittee, which oversees all things Puerto Rico, that you can call to apply pressure. Please, an extra five minutes of your time has the power to make all the difference for the beautiful island, and the American citizens, of Puerto Rico.

Hello, my name is ___________ and I am a constituent of (CITY, STATE, ZIPCODE) and I am calling to talk about the situation in Puerto Rico. I don’t need a response. I believe that:

  • Before any further austerity measures are taken, it is necessary that the public debt be audited, to determine how much of the debt is actually legal, and therefore, necessary to repay.
  • The Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) unfairly imposes an undemocratic regime on the people of Puerto Rico and its government.
  • It is also trying to implement policies that will cripple the economy and the people of Puerto Rico, most notably cutting the $603 million from the UPR system. This would kill the university system as it is known here and prevent many people from studying. It must be stopped. The university needs that funding and the island needs the university.

The American people have a sense of justice and this repression of the people that are supposedly under our care will not stand. Please, raise your voice, help the people of Puerto Rico avoid the looming educational crisis that will ironically be brought about by the group of people sent to improve the economic crisis on the island. Please, let your government know that false promises are NOT tolerated in our political system, and that we demand better.

***

Sources
Bury, Chris. “Is This 1917 Law Suffocating Puerto Rico’s Economy?” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

“Directory of Representatives.” United States House of Representatives. US House of Representatives, n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

Pr, Telemundo. “Obama Nombra Integrantes De La Junta De Control Fiscal.” Telemundo Puerto Rico. Telemundo Puerto Rico, 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Soledad Dávila Calero, María. “Professors Argue Against Further Cuts to UPR Budget.”  Caribbean Business. Caribbean Business, 10 Mar. 2017.

“The United Nations and Decolonization.” United Nations. United Nations, 1 Dec. 1960. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Original article:

http://www.latinorebels.com/2017/05/01/island-of-enchantment-or-island-of-false-promises/

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Guest Post: Norma Burgos Vázquez on Puerto Rico, PROMESA, and Oscar López Rivera

“Give Us Our Mandela Moment: Free Oscar Now! So the World Can Witness ‘Invictus’ of Puerto Ricans by the Power of One”

“If I am standing here today, it is not because I lack the courage to fight, but rather because I have the courage to fight. I am certain, and will reaffirm, that Puerto Rico will be a free and sovereign nation.” 

– Oscar López Rivera, at his trial for seditious conspiracy, 1981

Oscar Part 2: “The Perfect Storm”

The Winston Churchill words “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” often touted by President Obama on the dais, to steer Americans on the path to righteousness, ring very hollow today.  The PROMESA passage on June 29, 2016 will go down in history as a day of infamy for the United States of America. And the buzz word from every corner of the island is“indignation.”

  COUNTDOWN TO COLONIAL TAKEOVER:

BACK TO THE FUTURE

May 27, 2016
Juan González, co-host of Democracy Now, Daily News column, “A Colonial Takeover Proposed Puerto Rican Debt Bill to Give ‘Dictatorial’ Powers to Unelected Board.” “The bill has provoked a furor among many island residents because it imposes a seven-member oversight board with dictatorial powers that hearken back to colonial days, and because it is geared to protecting bondholders and paving the way for massive cuts in the island’s public services.” read more

May 31, 2016
Matt Peppe, Global Research, “Obama Continues to Ignore Pleas to Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Oscar López Rivera.” The mega star Lin Manuel Miranda uses his coveted invitation to the White House to put in a good word for the release of political prisoner Oscar, to which President Obama made the reply, “he had the case on his desk.” read more

The Puerto Rican tragedy couldn’t get any worse, you might think. But it does for me. The catharsis that followed this email was the 16-year build-up of outrage, frustration and anguish. I froze before my closet mirror sliding doors, my eyes on the floor, afraid to see the woman in the mirror.  Tears were staining my face like the forlorn stepchild, unloved and mistreated.  I prayed, God, in our darkest hour don’t let President Obama turn his back on the people of Puerto Rico he made a promise to back in June 2011.  When the eyes of the world were on us for a whole 3 ½ hours!  And Obama won the hearts and minds of islanders enjoying the Puerto Rican hospitality, “El Sandwiche Media Noche” surrounded by jubilant locals for lunch.

Obama’s ‘Visita Flash’

To the outside world, beyond our island’s shores, Obama’s historic presidential visit all boiled down to just another pit-stop along the campaign trail, and his courtship of the State of Florida Puerto Rican voters.  But from my view (a loyal and I mean loyal Obama supporter) Air Force One was packed with hope.  The Fortuño years of unbridled austerity had ruined confidence in local government. Obama represented the “Great Black Hope for Brown Folks” coming to the rescue of his adoring fans.

Obama’s top advisers to the 2010 White House Task Force on the Status of Puerto Rico were also aboard, to follow-up on the President’s mandate to island political leaders: To set a date for the 2012 referendum on the resolution of the island’s political status that he promised to honor, endorse and take before the US Congress. This Task Force Report revealed President Obama is a friend and ally of the Puerto Rican people and our cause for self-determination, economic and sustainable recovery and prosperity (unlike his predecessors who are most remembered for their policy of lip-service):

“The Task Force recommends (consulting) all relevant parties – the president, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico – statehood, independence, free association, and commonwealth- and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.” (NILP: “The White House Task Force on Puerto Rico,” March 16, 2011) 

Five years later…Nada que ver.

What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. 

For full article: 

http://boricuafreedomwriterspeaks.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

About Norma Burgos Vazquez

Norma Burgos Vazquez

A DiaspoRican returnee, residing in Puerto Rico since 1999, the forty-year veteran of the wars on poverty in NY, the SF/Bay Area and Comunidades Especiales (PR) has worked for federal, state and municipal island governments.  She’s a Writer’s WellLiterary Competition Winner, former public affairs writer KCBS News Radio (SF), her personal vignettes and essays appear in The Rebeldes Anthology: Bolder (Latino Rebels e-book),Border-Lines Journal, Latino Research Center, University of Nevada, Reno; La Respuesta; Mujeres Talk; Latina Lista News; Somos Primos. The Bronx Science alumna, holds a BA in Black and Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (NYC) and education courses, La Universidad Interamericana, Guayama. And lives in Vega Alta with her daughter where she is editing her back-to-roots memoirs.

Norma Iris Lafé is her pen name

Read Part One here:

http://boricuafreedomwriterspeaks.blogspot.com/2016/07/memoir-ll-unmasking-colony.html

 

 

 

Guest Post: Boricua Freedom Writer Speaks

I am very happy to welcome fellow Borinqueña, Norma Burgos to The Writing Life Blog. I hope you will enjoy Norma’s heartfelt and informative piece on what is most dear to Puerto Ricans–our homeland–la Isla del Encanto. Parts 2 and 3 will be posted during the next two weeks, so please check in again.

Norma Burgos Vazquez

Norma Burgos Vázquez is a DiaspoRican returnee residing in Puerto Rico since 1999.  The forty-year veteran of the wars on poverty in NY, the SF/Bay Area and Comunidades Especiales (PR) has worked for federal, state and municipal island governments.  She’s a Writer’s Well Literary Competition Winner, former public affairs writer at KCBS News Radio (SF), and her personal vignettes and essays appear in The Rebeldes Anthology: Bolder (e-book), Border-Lines Journal, Latino Research Center, La Respuesta, Mujeres Talk, Latina Lista News, Somos Primos.  The Bronx Science alumna, holds a BA in Black and Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (NYC) and education courses, Universidad Interamericana, Guayama. She currently lives in Vega Alta with her daughter where she is retired and editing her first back-to-roots memoir.

Give Us Our Mandela Moment: Free Oscar Now! So the World Can Witness ‘Invictus’ of Puerto Ricans by the Power of One

“If I am standing here today, it is not because I lack the courage to fight, but rather because I have the courage to fight. I am certain, and will reaffirm, that Puerto Rico will be a free and sovereign nation.” 

– Oscar López Rivera, at his trial for seditious conspiracy, 1981

Oscar-López-Rivera

Every year, for 35 years, on May 29th, the face of “The Last Prisoner” has symbolized “Unity” in the ongoing struggle to liberate the last colony standing of the Americas, before the world community of free sovereign nations, on the floor of the United Nations. That, sadly, has been a painful reminder, much as, an army of compatriotas and worldwide supporters, 5 Nobel Peace Prize winners among them, UN delegates, illustrious journalists, scholars, lawmakers, celebrities, athletes, civic leaders and human rights and legal advocates of the Free Oscar Campaign, have been relentless in demanding his presidential pardon and release, Puerto Rico’s National Hero Oscar López Rivera, the victim of a miscarriage of (Empire) justice, still remains behind bars. At 73 years of age, his yearning for his homeland in the letter “Where the Sea Breathes,” written from prison to Karina, his granddaughter (he’s only seen through iron bars) is a heart-wrenching sign of the urgenthumanitarian imperative to bring Oscar home, sooner than later:

“…It has been 35 years since the last time I saw it. But I have painted it many times, both the Atlantic and the Caribbean, the smiling foam in Cabo Rojo, which is made of light mixed with salt…Here in prison I have often felt nostalgic for the sea; filling my lungs with its smell; touching it and wetting my lips, but right away I realize that many years may have to pass before I can give myself that simple pleasure… I always miss the sea, but I think I never needed it as much as when they transferred me from Marion prison in Illinois, to Florence, in Colorado. In Marion, I went out into the yard once a week, and from there I could see the trees, the birds… I heard the sounds of the train and the song of the cicadas. I would run over the earth and smell it. I could grab the grass and let the butterflies surround me. But in Florence all that came to an end… Did you know that ADX, which is the maximum-security prison in Florence, is designed for the worst criminals in the United States and is considered the hardest and most impenetrable in the country? There the prisoners have no contact with each other, it’s a labyrinth of steel and concrete built to isolate and incapacitate. I was among the first men in this prison (…) (source:Global Voices) read more

In the days leading up to the final Congressional approval of the PROMESA Act (HR 5278) on June 29, 2016 that purports to “rescue” Puerto Rico from total economic collapse, and falls dismally short of island expectations, analyzed the locally-vested Center for a New Economy.  position paper As I was writing this blog, deeply disturbed by the catastrophic prognosis: that our beloved Borinquen is a dying colonial nation hooked to US life support, La Junta-Fiscal Control Board of the Republican Congress would administer lethal austerity transfusions, I marveled that Oscar Rivera, the political prisoner for far too long, was in the eye of the Perfect Storm of anti-colonial forces and island and Diaspora events that would vindicate him before the entire world.

And it all happened between the dates May 27 (my birthday) and June 29, 2016. These fast-moving chain of events compelled me to put my life on pause, to document, eat, sleep and pray the night away.  Inspired, as I was, to capture the living history unfolding at my laptop.  To share with my readers this cruel dichotomy, how it feels to be, at once, a “colonized subject” and an American born in the USA, on the receiving end of the Anglo Supremacist message:  Puerto Ricans are incapable of governing themselves, as if the US government had no culpability whatsoever in the debt crisis debacle, and could get away with blaming the victim, for being the victim of colonial abuse.
Not while journalist educator Ed Morales is on the case, breaking down the debt crisis en arroz y habichuelas. America’s colony was set up to fail by the very hand that feeds us:  YouTube.

Adding insult to injury, on the day the US Congressional House Speaker Paul Ryan reaches PROMESA bill bipartisan approval, the US Department of Natural Resources, that profits from total jurisdiction over Puerto Rico’s national treasures, posts a racist and offensive tweet that ridicules and humiliates Puerto Ricans online, reported Caribbean Business News.  read more
Now, I’m no political pundit. I’m a chronicler of events on a quest to make well-informed decisions about Puerto Rico’s future. Your everyday news junkie hooked on CNN, ABC, Univision, Telenoticias, El Nuevo Dia, Primera Hora, NotiUno Radio, the weekly local newspaper regionals (and even, the pro-statehood propagandist freebie, El Vocero daily). The various blogs worth reading of progressive-thinking and like-minded individuals of good conscience. I’m also an avid follower of NiLP National Institute for Latino Policy in New York. And, as of 2014, I am connected to the San Juan-based DiaspoRicans l DiaspoRiqueños network that’s a Who’s Who in the Puerto Rican progressive movement. In essence, the view (for the wizened me) is a split screen of happenings, both here and there.

The United States of America is trampling on the human rights and collective pride of our Puerto Rican people, “El Orgullo Boricua.”  The immense pride we all share in our  long trajectory of notable achievements. Harnessing the exceptional talent, capability, creativity, ingenuity, generosity, dignity and humanitarian passionthat originates from a tiny Caribbean island in the center of God’s green earth and is a force of nature in the world.  read here.

Yet…we have been brought to our knees.

cropped-cropped-el-morro11.jpg

“El Orgullo Boricua

Boricuas have climbed the steepest steps to the highest court in the land in the person of the Honorable Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, born and raised in the Bronx. We have flown on the NASA Discovery Space Shuttle and walked in Space with the daring astronaut Joseph M. Acabá, from Inglewood, California. We have had the first Latino to serve as Surgeon General of the USA in Dr. Antonia Coello Novello, born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Produced the most beautiful women in the world (second to Venezuela) boasting five (5) winners in the history of the “Miss Universe” Pageant, and the People Magazine “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” distinction bestowed upon Jennifer López, the diva from the Bronx.  We have fought America’s battles in the Borinqueneers65th Infantry, President Obama decorated with the Congressional Gold Medal for bravery.  We can win MVPs sports championships, Presidential Medals of Honor and Freedom, Oscars, Tonys and Grammys, rise to the top of the music charts and crossover; show theatrical, literary, philosophical, environmental, business, hi-tech and STEM scientific genius; lead armies, set laws in Congress, rise out of poverty and rise to the exalted status of Sainthood in the Vatican (which is no walk in the park). And have recently taken Broadway by storm in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Hamilton” sensation Lin Manuel Miranda.

And STILL…Puerto Ricans get no respect from the US Congress, the US Supreme Court or the US Executive Branch, for that matter.

Something is wrong with this picture.

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