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Too soon to party? San Juan pushes ahead with street festival despite aftershocks

Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Defying earthquakes along with the governor and the Catholic Church, the city of San Juan said it will hold its annual raucous festival this week that draws hundreds of thousands onto the narrow streets of Old San Juan.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said Monday that the San Sebastian Street Festival will not be postponed despite concerns that aftershocks from last week's magnitude 6.4 earthquake might lead to panic.

Cruz said the event -- which will run from Thursday to Sunday -- is one of the economic motors of the island and canceling it would only compound Puerto Rico's pain.

"Of course I'm worried, but if we shut down the country we're not going to have the resources we need to recover," she said during a news conference. "The country's economy cannot collapse. We cannot let that be the next disaster that occurs."

The annual event draws thousands of local and international tourists who come to listen to music and drink on the cobbled streets of the historic center.

But Cruz has been under pressure to pull the plug on the party, or at least postpone it. On Saturday, Gov. Wanda Vazquez said she was "recommending" that the celebrations be delayed, saying citizen safety should be everyone's "top priority." San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves also said that Cruz should consider postponing the festival.


But Cruz suggested that politics was at play during a time when she and Vazquez are both running for the governor's seat in November. Cruz questioned why she was being told to cancel her signature event but officials weren't asking pop star Ricky Martin to suspend his shows Feb. 7-9 at the coliseum, and the church wasn't planning on canceling its San Sebastian religious procession on Sunday.

"We can't close the country for some people and not close it for others," she said. "How can they ask me to shut down the San Sebastian Street Party and not shut down the coliseum? And I love Ricky Martin."

The debate over whether it's time to party or pray for the victims of the earthquakes runs deeper than San Sebastian.

While the earthquakes and damage have been concentrated in the south, the private sector has groused that the media coverage makes it look like the entire island is a disaster zone. Hotel owners in San Juan say cancellations are skyrocketing. And at least one business convention and one big-budget film shoot have been postponed.


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