Stars in TV ad promoting Puerto Rico move to US

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A Puerto Rican family that starred in a TV ad promoting investment in the island has joined an ongoing exodus to Florida, embarrassing a government trying to halt a deep economic malaise that has driven tens of thousands of people to seek opportunity in the U.S. mainland.

The move was revealed this week by a local journalist who posted on Facebook that the twin boys who appeared in the ad and their parents had been his neighbors for seven years but were forced to move after losing their home.

Hector Vazquez Muniz said the father, identified only as Jose Miguel, was a structural engineer who could not find “economic justice” in Puerto Rico.

“Ironic, isn’t?” he wrote. “They had no choice but to abandon their homeland for a better quality of life for their children.”

He did not respond to messages for comment on Friday.

Yanira Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, confirmed Friday that the family moved. “But we don’t know the conditions that led to their move or for how long they’ll be gone,” she said.

In a follow-up Facebook post, Vazquez said his former neighbor told him by phone that the family had relocated to Orlando, Florida for a temporary job contract and would return to Puerto Rico soon. “The important thing is they’re happy and healthy, exploring new challenges for the future,” the journalist wrote.

Some 4.6 million Puerto Ricans live in the U.S. mainland, surpassing the 3.7 million who live on the island.

Florida is considered the top destination for Puerto Ricans, with 840,000 forming the second largest group of Hispanics in the state. About 270,000 Puerto Ricans live in Orlando alone.

The news about the family’s relocation unleashed a debate in Puerto Rico, with some social media users joking that a boy in the ad, who is seen rowing a boat toward a bright star, was actually trying to leave Puerto Rico. Another person created a Facebook page called “Isla Estrellada,” which plays off the word “star” and translates roughly to “Shattered Island.”

The nearly two-minute ad is called “Isla Estrella,” or “All-Star Island.”

Economic development officials unveiled the campaign last month as the U.S. territory tries to emerge from its seventh year of recession. The island also faces a $1.2 billion deficit and $69 billion in public debt, and its general obligation bond debt is hovering above junk status.

Tamaris Fournier, spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, was traveling on Friday and did not return messages for comment.

Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has said the ad campaign seeks to re-establish Puerto Rico’s financial credibility and stimulate the economy.

“The strategic plan for economic development is ready to go,” Garcia said in a separate video released by the campaign. Alberto Baco, director of the island’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce appears in the same video.

Baco’s spokeswoman, Carla Martorell, said officials would not comment further on the family’s departure.

Baco earlier issued a brief statement about the departure.

“The economic situation that many families are going through, after nearly a decade of economic contraction, is a sad reality,” he said. “The government will not rest until that changes.”

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