Questions Multiply About Implications of P.R. Govt-Imposed Curfew
Last Sunday morning, Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced she signed administrative bulletin or executive order EO-2020-23, to implement the total closure of businesses, except for essential services, and a curfew that includes a house lockdown during the day, with exemptions for those traveling for food, healthcare or work, and a full lockdown from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. until March 30.
While many have applauded the move as a way to control the spread of the coronavirus disease Covid-19, some are concerned the curfew was implemented without the proper economic protections for those who are most vulnerable, such as people without sick pay or small businesses. One of those voices is the president of the Puerto Rico Economists Association (PREA), Heriberto Martínez Otero, who argued people can understand the need to establish a curfew given the state of emergency, but there also needs to be economic relief for low-income families, freelancers and small businesses.
“When you have emergency situations, when you have periods of exceptions, national interest clauses are generally activated, and the national interest usually collides with what we understand as liberal democracy and free market capitalism. But that’s where the public interest analysis comes in,” the economist said.
But Martínez Otero warned that this executive order came after the governor failed to implement precautionary measures and, if poorly managed, the curfew period could “increase the social temperature.” Among the reasons mentioned by the economist are household tensions from families being cooped up, economic strain for lack of paycheck or the perception that the Covid-19’s threat is not being properly managed.
The economist went on to argue that although the curfew is important to reduce the spread of the virus, the government cannot ignore that they are also practically bringing the Puerto Rico economy to a screeching halt for 14 days.
Martínez Otero added that because 88 percent of the gross domestic product is produced through household purchases and because small and midsize businesses are major employers on the island, not providing some economic cushion could lead to a negative economic impact that far outlives the Covid-19 crisis.
To address the situation, the economist proposes the governor and Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB) agree on a relief package for workers and small businesses.
“As president of the Economists’ Association, I am urging the governor to request an emergency meeting of the fiscal oversight board to release the millions [of dollars] that are necessary to provide a direct incentive to families and small businesses in Puerto Rico,” Martínez Otero said, pointed out that the FOMB has shown openness to provide funding to manage this particular crisis because the board freed $160 million for the government’s use to manage the crisis.