Don Teo has lived in Houston since 1959. He still maintains a slight Puerto Rican accent, but his life -- now in retirement, five years after selling the Tex-Chick restaurant he founded 33 years ago -- is here in Texas.
But even Teo, much like the employees still working at Tex-Chick, cannot escape the violence still rampaging Puerto Rico, which is the subject of this week's cover story. The island sees one of the highest murder rates in the world. With nearly 150 murders in the first two months of 2013, it appears that this year will see as much bloodshed, as much violence, as the Isle of Enchantment has recently experienced. And Teo knows this as well as those who've just arrived, as those who've recently turned Texas into the third-most popular destination for educated puertorriqueños fleeing the island.
One month ago, Teo received a phone call from his family. Their house, the one with barred windows to protect the belongings inside, was targeted by ladrones -- the thieves and robbers that have become a cog in the island's burgeoning drug trade. Everyone was fine, but the parts the thieves could reach, less so.
Solar panels were lifted. Wiring running outside the house was stripped. The car remained, but the carburetor was somehow missing. These ladrones made off with enough to resell -- to presumably find some money to help expedite the flow of marijuana and heroin along the island's myriad passageways, greasing the paths that funnel nearly 80 percent of the eastern seaboard's cocaine stock.
Again, no one was injured. But that makes Teo's family one of the fortunate few to escape with only material damage. They didn't suffer through the random, haphazard, and increasing violence besetting a nation. They didn't experience the worst of the gangs and pistol-whippings that have seen New York's and Florida's and Texas's ranks of puertorriqueños swell over the past few years. They weren't tried and convicted by a questionable police force that has played a role in flipping Puerto Rico from a destination spot to a point of departure.
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There has to be a breaking point, soon. Because with nearly 40 percent more individuals of Puerto Rican descent living Stateside rather than on the island -- and with the recent referendum demanding a shift to statehood -- there's only so much longer those on the island can suffer through this territory-wide post-traumatic stress disorder. While the federal government attempts to clamp the Mexican tide of drug-running, a new, third border continues to pry open. The War on Drugs has stuck its finger in one dyke, only to ignore the gush coming from within its own borders.
And as more puertorriqueños come to Houston, it's only a matter of time before that violence begins to trail behind. It's happened in New York. It's happened in Florida. It's natural that the gangs running Puerto Rico into the ground will look to expand their network, and to find their contacts elsewhere.
US Representative Michael McCaul, while claiming a bit speciously that such networks could allow infiltration from Hezbollah and like-minded terrorist organizations, seems one of the few politicians concerned with the porous borders leaking drugs from Puerto Rico northward. After all, the votes of the 3.6 million islanders are all but meaningless in Washington. That, however, could change -- the US Congress has never denied a petition for statehood.
But until that decision comes, it only seems like it will get worse. Sequestration will cut federal aid; politicians seem like they'll continue ignoring the problem. And while Teo was fortunate to see only his carburetor and solar panels lifted, others -- and more -- will not be as fortunate.