Travel agents and their employees say they face harassment, threats and extortion after Puerto Rico’s tourism industry started to collapse.
Maria’s impact on the island has already had an impact on their business, said Luis Diaz, president of the Puerto Rican Tourism Association of America.
It’s now hard for agents to get permits to fly because of the island’s severe economic downturn, and many are worried that it could impact the entire industry.
He said he had received threats to the owner of a travel agency in his home town of San Juan, and to his office staff.
Diaz said he believes the problem goes beyond the government.
“It’s the same for the tourism industry, it’s the hotel industry, the airlines, all the businesses,” he said.
“They don’t want to see that they’re vulnerable because the government doesn’t want that.”
The island’s tourism sector is in shambles.
The government declared a state of emergency on October 6 and imposed a curfew that banned travel for three days.
Tourism officials say there’s a problem with overbooking and that people are scared to go.
The island is struggling to get around the island.
There are no power plants, water pipes or power generators on the ground, and it’s not uncommon for generators to be empty.
The only source of power for the island is diesel generators.
The situation has forced some people to make their way to other parts of the world, including China, where there’s also a shortage of diesel fuel.
Many people in Puerto Ricans capital city of San Cristobal are desperate for food and money, which is also needed for the crisis, said Miguel Herrera, director of tourism at the Tourism Development Institute in San Cristóbal.
“People are trying to get to other countries, but they’re going to face discrimination and violence,” Herrera said.
Herrera said he’s received threats from people in the tourist industry and that he’s also had people ask him for money.
“I am a human being.
I can’t pay for it, so what can I do?” he said, adding that he would like to be able to fly back to Puerto Rico.
“But unfortunately, there are some agents that are in danger because of their business,” he added.
“And the more the government puts pressure on them, the more they’re doing.”
Herrera said it’s up to tourism companies to keep their staff safe.
“You can’t force them to do something, because they’re not the ones that are doing the things that are going to make it easier for them to go home,” he explained.
Some travel agents have received death threats, and some have received threatening phone calls, according to the association.
“There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty in the air, but we have to stay focused,” said José Gonzalez, director at the tourism association.
But the government is doing everything it can to ease the situation, including building new airports and bringing in more workers.
“We’re doing everything we can,” said Herrera.
“Some agents are in fear, some are in the danger zone, but it’s only a matter of time.”