A polarizing figure in Puerto Rican politics, Jorge Santini is currently serving his third term as the Mayor of San Juan. During his years in office, Puerto Rico's capital has faced plenty of tough challenges that affect the entire island – slow economic growth, rise in crime, the ongoing drug wars, more homeless people living in its streets, and more.
There are, however, very specific issues that affect San Juan's residents and business owners, administrative issues, for example, that slowly take their toll on the day to day lives of voters and leave them wishing for better leadership. Such is the case with Giancarlo González, born and raised in San Juan, and currently residing in the historic district of Old San Juan. Giancarlo runs the blog JorgeSantini.com [es], dedicated to improving the life of sanjuaneros by reporting on the particular issues that affect him and his neighbors, as well as those who visit the district.
Poor administrative handling of issues such as traffic, city planning, and energy conservation are all discussed in JorgeSantini.com in an effort to form a discussion between fellow residents, businessmen – and of course, their mayor. Global Voices sent some questions over to Giancarlo in order to learn more about his experience with the blog.
Global Voices (GV): When did you acquire JorgeSantini.com and what did you intend to do with the URL in the first place?
Giancarlo González (GG): I first acquired JorgeSantini.com in 2005, after noticing that for the 2004 elections it pointed to the opponent's website (Puerto Rican Senator Eduardo Bhatia of the Popular Democratic Party). I found it funny and showed it to different people when the subject came up… One day, I checked the domain and found that the opposing party had let the name expire, so I bought it.
I had no plans for it initially, but I did have ideas for San Juan, so I thought it was a good URL name to have in case I had an opportunity to talk to the mayor.
GV: What motivated you to start the JorgeSantini.com blog?
GG: I wanted to get the mayor's attention. I ran into him several times and mentioned that I had the name, and he always said that “he would get in touch with me in regards to some ideas he had.” He also left me some contacts – which I called, but never received a response…
One day, I just decided to start blogging about the situation with JorgeSantini.com and the fact that the mayor didn't care enough about the name nor the potential opportunities that we could develop [through it].
During the 2008 elections, his ad-agency (Publicidad Tere Suárez, which I am familiar with) contacted me in regards to the blog, and requested that we redirect the name to the official election site – santinialcalde2008.com [no longer online] – which we did. But the relationship never went beyond that, so after the election was over, I reactivated the blog.
GV: Have you always lived in the municipality?
GG: Yes, born and raised in San Juan. This past year, however, I moved to Old San Juan.
GV: Has the blog allowed you to get closer to your neighbors? How has it impacted your community?
GG: Unlike the suburbs, Old San Juan has a lot of issues – traffic, the homeless, construction, commerce, activities, etc. After experiencing numerous traffic and parking issues, I decided to focus the blog on Old San Juan issues, reporting situations that I considered important for every resident of the area.
People email me their concerns and complaints, and I post them on the blog. In many cases, it's as simple as noticing a “closed street” that is currently open [es], and cars keep going in, only to have to back up because the street has no exit. Visitors encounter issues of poor guidance and the municipality does a bad job of keeping order with incoming traffic. This is my number one concern. If a resident of Old San Juan has a medical emergency on a Saturday or Sunday, there is a high probability he will not have aid arrive on time [es] (or he will not be able to leave fast enough) because of the log-jam traffic.
GV: What do you think is the role of citizen journalism? Do you consider yourself a citizen journalist?
GG: Peole say “the world is smaller” in terms of technology connecting remote places and allowing people to communicate easier. This also means that there is a lot of “news” that happens in specific areas, that is much easier for individuals to report on – the major newspapers can't cover every single issue that is ocurring in specific sectors of Puerto Rico. For example: Santurce, Hato Rey, Ocean Park, Viejo San Juan, Condado, Miramar – each particular neighborhood or district within the municipality of San Juan has issues affecting the residents of that community. How do you get the message accross to those who can do something about it?
I think the role of citizen journalism, at least on my end, is to try and make the life of those around you better by reporting and proposing solutions to daily situations that may be improved. Why should Old San Juan residents feel like they live in a prison, when it takes them twenty minutes to exit their home, spending time in eternal traffic jams, or having to hear a “symphony orchestra” of car horns every Saturday and Sunday?
I consider myself part of a problem that has a solution – but the municipality is too inept to implement the necessary rules and restrictions to solve the problem. If this means I am a “citizen journalist” then I guess I am, but I don't consider myself to be one. I just want to solve a problem that affects all of us in Old San Juan.
GV: Have you received any communication from Jorge Santini or his staff? Do you think he has read it?
GG: Not from Mayor Santini, but people within his circle have read it. I also report on positive news related to Old San Juan.
GV: Would you consider ceding the URL to the mayor's upcoming campaign efforts?
GG: Probably not. I already did that in 2008 and the advertising agency that handles the campaign hasn't expressed any interest in providing access to the municipality for us in order to be able to present issues that need to be solved, so I don't think they deserve it.
I'll probably step up the content and promotion of the blog during his campaign – if it results in more efficient management of the insane traffic jams around “La Puntilla” on weekends I'll be happy.
Maybe the blog provides fuel for the mayor's opponents, resulting in controversy – which would drive attention to the issue. Think about it: Jorge Santini cannot provide for decent traffic management in Old San Juan… How come? Isn't the role of a mayor to provide efficient administration for the city?
GV: What are some of your favorite spots in San Juan?
GG: In Old San Juan: Cuatro Sombras [es], Baccaro, Fefo's, Cafeycultura, Antonella's (best pizza in town!) and a new Waffle Place on Tetuan St. Very nice!
GV: What is the biggest challenge facing your community right now?
GG: The lack of a leader who truly cares about his residents’ and businesses’ particular situations. A great leader would make the entire municipality proud by implementing efficient handling of access to Old San Juan.
Those in government expect this traffic mess and don't care to make it better – while those who do care, end up running into issues with people who stand in the way. For example, local businesses set up in areas where they end up contributing to limitting traffic flow, and there are local restaurants who have managed to close down access to specific streets, etc. Taxis in Old San Juan need to make inefficient turns on Paseo Covadonga because Tetuan Street no longer pulls up to Fortaleza St. This was made to please the restaurants in the area, but it affects the traffic flow.
How can the municipality continue closing and fixing streets without avoiding the monumental collapse of the local economy due to limited access and the insane traffic to enter and exit the city?