The Macondo Diaries I: Does It Even Cross Their Minds?
Many years ago, I realized I had to begin writing these Macondo Diaries. The inspiration for the name originated from the notorious town in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The need to write this series emerged from a desire to tell my friends living outside of my Island about the bizarre — yet real — things that happened here, in Puerto Rico, USA.
I once read that a Puerto Rican professor by the name of Marcia Rivera — daughter of my late father’s dear friend Luis Rivera Lacourt — told the story of how she met Garcia Marquez in London at a dinner on Christmas Eve in the year 1969. After what had to be a most memorable night sharing stories, also in the company of acclaimed writer Mario Vargas Llosa, Garcia Marquez declared that “…I could not go, or write about Puerto Rico, because reality there surpasses fiction and I would be left without a craft…”
With the passing of time, either my sensitivity has grown or the magnitude of the outlandishness of events around me has expanded. Hence, what I once entertained as what could become a fun pastime has become a necessary outlet to channel the frustration that the absurdity of it all sometimes produces in me.
Not intending to remotely imitate Garcia Marquez’s genius, but with an honest desire to communicate the hilarious-albeit-sometimes-tragic magic realism that characterizes everyday life in Puerto Rico, I humbly present you with these Macondo Diaries.
Does it even cross their minds?
Hurricane Maria opened a Pandora’s box in Puerto Rico whose contents will continue to impair the lives of many for years to come.
The greatest evil to come out of the box was the shattered state of the electric grid. Thousands of professionals have had to come down to PR to assist PREPA, the state-run utility, to rebuild it. Seventy-six days after the disaster, more than seventy percent of Puerto Ricans still have no power in their homes.
The government asserts that power generation is at a sixty-six percent capacity. The power generating plants are so old, obsolete and unreliable, that is has been a struggle to get to that level of generation. PREPA expects to reach a 95% generation capacity by December 15th but every time they push the system to meet its goals, it collapses across the board.
The repair of the grid connecting neighborhoods has been excruciatingly difficult. When new sectors are connected, the increased demand for power causes transformers to explode and the system collapses within minutes.
It is thus an understatement to say that if there is a time that calls for prudence as it pertains to the consumption of electricity in Puerto Rico, the time is now.
Fed up with the lack of electricity, a community in the town of Mayagūez last week went up in flames and formed violent riots, throwing stones and destroying property. As a result of this, a senator from that town claimed having reached an agreement with PREPA for the prompt connection of electric service to the sector.
On Saturday -after the riots but before the Senator’s intercession- Mayagüez’s municipal government held the “Encendido Navideño” — the traditional lighting of the Christmas decorations in its town square. Paid for with public (municipal) funds, it is an activity for everyone in town, to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season and light up the over-the-top display of bright holiday lights decorations installed at the town square. This year’s image depicts in the center a huge figure of Jesus with angel wings spreading from his back, the Three Kings to his left and Joseph, Mary and Jesus in the manger to his right.
“Encendido Navideño” in Mayagüez
The celebration also included music, fireworks and even a carrousel.
The excitement in the mayor’s cheering over the loudspeakers, the crowd, the shouting, the fireworks, the carrousel and the festive music is not compatible with a town where two days before its residents were rioting to obtain service from the utility. Yet, they are the same.
Do not take me wrong- I could be Whoville’s ambassador to the world. In Puerto Rico, the holidays are a particularly fun and exciting time. The holiday celebrations start right after Thanksgiving and end after the famous San Sebastian Feasts, on the third weekend of January. The warm weather, the music, the food, the dancing, the partying, the nature of the people blends into an enchanting alchemy that undeniably make any holiday celebration in Puerto Rico a tough act to follow.
This year, however, things are different.
Most of Puerto Rico’s residents have not had electricity in their homes for 76 days, as of today, December 5, 2017. Some even for 90 days, since hurricane Irma. Despite the government’s promises, it is my educated estimate that more than half of the population will not have power way past the holiday season. Hence, it is a tad insensitive to be lighting up such exaggerated decorative public displays, unnecessarily gobbling up the scarce or inexistent electric service in Puerto Rico.
Perhaps the most important reason for avoiding the superfluous consumption of energy this holiday season boils down to the fragility of the system itself. Given the dire conditions of the power plants at the time Maria hit, it has been practically impossible to piece their parts together and get the system to work in a cohesive manner. The plants themselves are constantly collapsing, just like a toddler learning to walk.
Excessive use of electricity in a time where power generation is in intensive care is unwarranted. The use of public funds in a time of economic scarcity is not prudent. The exaggerated celebration of the holiday season in the midst of so much suffering still so prevalent around us is insensible.
I can’t decide which of the three options above shock my conscience the most. I do know however, that most persons in Puerto Rico would not give my concerns the time of day. Mayagūez’s mayor certainly did not.
One thing I am certain of: this story is worthy of being included in my Macondo Diaries.
In spite of it all, I can assure you that with or without holiday lights decorating every imaginable corner of our towns and front lawns, there is no better place than Puerto Rico to spend the Holidays.