More cruise ships bypass San Juan, hurting local businesses

  • Workers and business owners say they’re taking a financial hit from the mass protests demanding that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resign.
  • More cruise ship operators canceled scheduled trips to San Juan on Monday, citing the political unrest.
  • “All week we have had no customers coming in,” one local bartender said.

The mass protests sweeping Puerto Rico demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló are taking a toll on the economy, with some cruise lines avoiding San Juan and fewer tourists visiting the island’s capital. 

Thirty-one-year-old Cryant Gonzalez, a bartender at Aureola Mexican Cantina, located less than a 10-minute walk from the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan, said the restaurant is located in a “party area” that brings in most of its business on Friday and Saturday nights. But since the protests started last week, neighborhood has felt “like a ghost town,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Gonzalez typically earns between $200 and $300 a night in tips on weekends, but pocketed just $18 last Saturday. He supports the protests, as long as they are peaceful, and blames Rosselló. 

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“All week we have had no customers coming in. The cruise ships have already turned around, and most of our customers are tourists,” he said. “I support the protests, but they are hurting us from a business standpoint. But it’s not the people’s fault, it’s the fault of the government.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló says he won’t seek reelection, but won’t step down

Rosselló announced Sunday that he won’t seek reelection, but stopped short of resigning. A political crisis has swept the Caribbean island — home to 3.2 million U.S. citizens — since a non-profit journalism group published a trove of messages in which Rosselló and his top lieutenants mocked political opponents, talked about retaliating against journalists, and made sexist and homophobic remarks.

Unsafe harbor

Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises have both cancelled scheduled stops at the port of San Juan, citing the unrest. That has cost the island $2.5 million in lost revenue, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (CTPR) said in a statement Monday.

MSC’s “MSC Seaside” and Royal Caribbean’s “Celebrity Equinox” ships were both diverted from San Juan on Monday after they were scheduled to arrive in the afternoon, according to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (CTPR). Local tour companies contracted to provide excursions for the boats’ passengers also cancelled scheduled onshore activities, including kayak and ATV adventures.

“The safety and security of our guests and crew is our No. 1 priority. Due to the current situation in San Juan, Puerto Rico we have made the decision to cancel MSC Seaside’s scheduled call in San Juan today,” an MSC Cruises spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Passengers would instead remain in St. Maarten for longer than originally scheduled, while the company continues to monitor the situation. 

Royal Caribbean told CBS MoneyWatch the company had no ships in port on the island Monday. Last week, the company cancelled two ships’ stops in San Juan. The “Empress of the Seas,” with 1,718 passengers aboard, and the “Harmony of the Seas,” carrying 6,546 passengers, both diverted from San Juan, resulting in a loss of more than $650,000 in spending, according to CTPR. 

“Merchants in old San Juan aren’t making ends meet,” said Karen Clark, spokesperson for the Association of Old San Juan Merchants. “They are having to cut employees’ hours short during the day — especially in restaurants — because of the protests.” 

CTPR said it is looking for alternative ways for the ships to reach the island. But there are concerns that the piers at other ports are either already occupied or are too shallow to accommodate larger ships. “Thus, the alternative is not viable for some of the boats that have experienced cancellations,” the company said. 

Business owners blame Rosselló

Despite the economic hit, some small business owners also put the blame firmly on Rosselló.

“As a merchant I understand the concern of others, and while you worry about your inventory, I understand that we have suffered more at the hands of the governor,” a shopkeeper named Rodolfo, who remained open during the protests, told Puerto Rican news outlet NotiCel

A local hat maker, who declined to be quoted because she did not want to be “politicized,” said she was closing early Monday in anticipation of growing protests. She said she’d seen less traffic in the store since they began last week, heightening her frustration that the governor still hasn’t resigned.

“It affects everybody. We wish he would just resign,” she said.

Protestors pressure the governor of Puerto Rico to resign

Despite the turmoil, businesses will rebound, experts said. “I don’t think there will be a permanent loss to the economy,” said Juan Lara, an expert on Puerto Rico’s economy. He is more concerned about the broader implications of widespread political upheaval. 

Political instability could affect investment in Puerto Rico’s economy, which is already in danger of slowing unless more federal funds are allocated to the island. Congress has allocated $42.5 billion in disaster aid for Puerto Rico, but the funds have trickled in slowly, stoking fears that the economy could stall.

“We need to get the political outlook stabilized. We need to know whether the government is going to leave or not. The longer it takes for the political process to normalize, the longer the protests will continue, and the longer the economy will be affected,” Lara said. 

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