SAN JUAN – The decade-long economic slump has affected every corner of Puerto Rico, including the cemetery in the remote southwestern town of Guanica, where accumulated stagnant water provides breeding sites for the mosquitoes that spread the Zika, dengue and Chikungunya viruses.
The neglected cemetery has become a public health problem, Ismael Rodriguez Ramos, vice chairman of the Popular Democratic Party, or PPD, in Guanica, told EFE.
This is just one of the thousands of examples that illustrate how the economic deterioration ravishing Puerto Rico for more than 10 years spawns other crises in health, education and public safety.
The lack of municipal resources has led to neglect and deterioration of public infrastructure and public areas, turning into health problems on an island where a health emergency was recently declared due to the spread of the Zika virus.
“We have denounced the abandoned state of the cemetery. There is a problem with stagnant water and tombs that are open and damaged,” Rodriguez Ramos said, adding that a group of residents contacted him about the danger that puddles may spur the proliferation of the virus-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito.
The Zika virus, which causes fever, joint pain and rashes, has been linked to a neurodevelopment disorder known as microcephaly, in which babies are born with brain damage and a smaller-than-normal head size.
Zika cases have been reported in Guanica and officials should pay attention to the problem, Rodriguez Ramos said.
The majority of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities, located on an island of just 3.6 million people, are experiencing serious budget problems, and the island’s central government has been forced to stop repaying its debt while officials try to renegotiate terms with foreign bond holders.
Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s administration says the $72 billion debt cannot be paid and warns that unless an agreement is reached with creditors, Puerto Rico will end up with “massive defaults.”