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'Green Sheikh' visits Puerto Rico to promote ties

Published:Friday | September 9, 2016 | 9:00 AM

A member of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal family known as the 'Green Sheikh' for his environmental work is visiting Puerto Rico to help promote economic ties amid a dire financial crisis.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Nuaimi told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he sees a lot of depression and hopelessness in the United States territory. He urged the government to work with the private sector to build more infrastructure and address energy and waste-management challenges.

"People are suffering," he said. "There is no happiness. I feel sadness."

New trade opportunities

The sheikh spoke after giving an hour-long speech at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in Bayamon about lessening the world's dependence on oil and creating bilateral opportunities for Puerto Rico and the UAE.

The sheikh is on a weeklong trip to the island sponsored by Puerto Rico's Builders Association. He has met with business owners, students and environmentalists, as well as regular Puerto Ricans. He recounted a conversation with one Puerto Rican, living in an impoverished community, who pleaded for money.

Puerto Rico is mired in a decade-long economic slump and its government is seeking to restructure nearly US$70 billion in public debt with help from a rescue package recently approved by the US Congress. The legislation calls for the creation of a fiscal control board whose members were recently named. The board will oversee the Puerto Rico government's finances and has sparked protests in recent weeks in the island's capital.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Hinai of Oman, who is part of the group visiting Puerto Rico, praised the federal legislation and said during a speech on Wednesday that Puerto Ricans should view it as an opportunity.

"I don't want to go into the politics of Puerto Rico or your relationship with America, but I think ultimately, you've got a big brother there that can help you," he said. "Whether you accept it or you don't, in every worst situation, you need to look at the best opportunity."

Al Nuaimi said Puerto Rico officials should visit the UAE and tap into entrepreneurs there.

"This mission will be a bridge," he said. "There are many capacities in which the UAE can help."

- AP