News & Events

Our Founder Remembers Memorial Day in Afghanistan

Memorial Day is a great way to celebrate the kickoff to the summer, time off from work with friends, and maybe even a BBQ or two.  But lest we forget the reason behind this holiday, we thought it prudent to repost an older, but excellent piece by our Executive Director on the “personal battles, victories, enemy attacks, fallen buddies, and an eventual homecoming” that every veteran experiences.   Enjoy!  (Warning: It’s a tear jerker!)

Originally published by NBCLatino here.  


Memorial Day last year wasn’t the same as I remember growing up:  There were no backyard BBQs. There was no salsa music. There were no pool parties, or girls to chase.

Last year, my reserve unit and I took a “less traditional” vacation from work. Instead of packing up for a picnic, we packed our bags for Kandahar, Afghanistan, a place better known for relentless dust, open sewage (there is a literal “poop pond” on base), incomparable noise, and rocket attacks.

I’ll never forget my first night at war. There was no sleep that night. The first time I drifted off for a moment, I awoke to a barrage of artillery fire, gun ships,  attack sirens, and helicopters hovering so closely overhead that it shook the walls of my six-man bunk. I was hoping it was a nightmare.

“We’re under attack? I just got here!” Not this time…just training. I wasn’t sure my heartbeat would ever slow.

It did slow, however, as I became accustomed to the sounds of war. I even forgot about the constant 110-degree heat (FYI sewage smells worse as it heats), made hotter by full combat gear, and an M16 that I had to carry everywhere (yes, everywhere).

There is one thing I didn’t get used to, however. No matter how much we pretended to not let it bother us, I never got used to death.

Army Staff Sergeant Israel Nuanes provided my first introduction to this side of war. I was only in the country a few days, when his name came across my desk. Part of my job was to ensure the safe transport of the remains of my fallen brothers back to their final resting place stateside.

SSgt. Nuanes was killed by an IED on May 12, 2012. Rest in peace my brother. I will never forget you.

He was just the first of nearly 100 airmen, marines, seamen, and soldiers I personally had to send home after their premature deaths last year. At the time, I tried not to think too deeply about the task, but it was heartbreaking every time.

Every time one of our troops died, we would perform our best impromptu ceremony to pay our respects. At a minimum, a few of us would line up and salute our fallen brother as he was transferred to the aircraft that would carry him home. Sometimes hundreds of us would come out and shed a tear together. Some of the toughest, best trained, Special Forces war-fighters I ever met cried as much as anyone. Any one of us could have been lying in that coffin. This could have been me.

The best I could muster was a prayer and a kiss to the American Flag-adorned metal “transfer case” or body bag. I always tried to save my tears for later, but there’s something about seeing a typically-unemotional trained killer sob that can cause anyone to choke up.

Death was nearly an everyday part of life in Kandahar. We never got used to it and tried our best not to let it affect the mission.

Justin meeting his daughter for the first time on November 5, 2012. (Courtesy Justin Vélez-Hagan)Surprisingly, the threat of our own death was often the least of our worries. We all had issues at home. Some had sick family members; some had relationship or financial problems. Over the course of a few short weeks, four of my brothers’ wives had children. They weren’t allowed to help their wives through the birth, to cut the umbilical chord, hear their child’s first cry, or see their first smile.

I was one of them. My little girl was born on August 26, on what I call the worst and best day of my life. I felt horrible not being able to be there, but was ecstatic to know she was alive and well and that I would see her beautiful face one day. When I finally did, amongst the fanfare of friends, family, and strangers in the middle of a public airport, it made it all worth it.

(Justin meeting his daughter for the first time on November 5, 2012.)

Although that short tour in Afghanistan produced some of the most tragic and beautiful moments of my life, they were but brief, typical moments in the chaos of war. Every one of us has a story of personal battles, victories, enemy attacks, fallen buddies, and an eventual homecoming.

Rest assured, Memorial Day will be just a little different for me this year. I’ll remember that I was one of the lucky ones able to come home to hold my daughter for the first time. I will forever use the memories of SSgt. Nuanes, and the thousands of others who have died with him, to remind myself how sweet and valuable life really is and how great it is to have the freedom to enjoy it.

Justin Vélez-Hagan is a Staff Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force, veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and the Executive Director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at or @JVelezHagan.

Veterans Small Business Event: Orlando

Please join us for our upcoming Veterans Business Seminar in Orlando on Armed Forces Day.  Honoring Veterans in Small Business, but open to all!  RSVP here or by clicking the link below.  

Saturday, May 16th, Armed Forces Day at the University of Central Florida.

Veterans Biz Seminar flyer FINAL

RSVP link

Supporting Economic Equality in Puerto Rico

Below, please find our letter of support for the Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act (H.R. 870).  You can also find an opinion piece by our Executive Director here.  

If you’d like to consider joining us in supporting this initiative, please find your elected representatives and voice your opinion here.

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NPRChamber Report on Puerto Rico’s Economy

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Washington, D.C., March 18, 2015 – The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce (NPRChamber) today released its report on Puerto Rico’s economy, which discusses its currently distressed economic status, as well as some of the historical factors that have led to its current state. 

Entitled “Puerto Rico’s Economy: A brief history of reforms from the 1980s to today and policy recommendations for the future,” the report further describes some of the structural reforms that have taken place over the last several decades, and concludes with a discussion of policy alternatives that should be considered for the present economy and into the future. 

“Over the last decade, Puerto Rico has undergone a number of policy shifts that have impacted its economy.  But these changes have been but a brief moment in the context of what really led to Puerto Rico’s current economy,” said Executive Director Justin Vélez-Hagan.  “Only through hindsight can we begin to understand what has led to the economic environment of Puerto Rico today, and what changes might be better suited to long-term prosperity.”

Puerto Rico’s economy has been stagnating or contracting for nearly a decade, while unemployment remains more than double that of the rest of the U.S., leading to migration from the island at a rate higher than in any state in the country. 

In addition, total debt has reached levels that many critics and economists now consider to be unsustainable, leading its legislators to recently ask the Federal Government for bankruptcy protections not currently afforded the municipality, as well as to push for Congressional action to permanently change Puerto Rico’s status from that of an American territory, objectives that will have nationwide ramifications.

The report can be downloaded at or can be forwarded upon request via


NPRChamber hosts Intro to Entrepreneurship event

Washington, D.C., October 29, 2014 – The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce (NPRChamber), along with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Alumni Association (HAA), recently launched a series of events to introduce entrepreneurship to Hispanics and other minorities in Washington, D.C.

The first event was hosted at HAA’s Dupont Circle office, and provided both an educational and networking opportunity to minorities interested in starting their own businesses, offering information on the requirements of starting a business as well providing a cadre of accessible mentors to encourage development.

“Given that our communities tend to have fewer economic opportunities, it is now more important than ever to promote and support small business development, especially knowing how entrepreneurial Latinos tend to be,” said Nicole Baltazar, Director of Development for the NPRChamber. “It is crucial for them to have the resources they need to foster creativity and fulfill their dreams.”

Realizing the need and desires of so many Hispanics, the NPRChamber was established to support the development of entrepreneurship within their communities. Given HAA’s long-established relationship with so many young, ambitious Hispanics and interns from all around the country, the first event was a natural collaboration, providing an opportunity to share resources with many future entrepreneurs living in the Washington, D.C. area.

The initial event was moderated by the NPRChamber, with a panel made up of a broad range of experts in entrepreneurship, including: Anthony Ruiz, District Director of the SBA, DJ Saul, CMO of the highly awarded ad agency iStrategyLabs, Eric Broyles, CEO of ExpertConnect and successful serial entrepreneur, and Jason Llorenz, Scholar at Rutgers University and expert in the small business startup process.

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Subsequent events are expected to be scheduled in the coming months and are free and open to the general public. For more information, or to be added to the email list, please contact:

About The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce

The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce (NPRChamber) is a non-profit organization created to promote entrepreneurship and economic development amongst Hispanics and Puerto Ricans throughout the U.S.  Feel free to contact the NPRChamber at

About the HACU Alumni Association

The HACU Alumni Association (HAA) was founded in 1997 by individuals who directly benefited from HACU’s educational programs. Over 10,000 students have participated in the HACU National Internship Program (HNIP) and several hundred have benefited from other HACU student programs like the HACU Annual Conference Student Track and the HACU National Scholarship Program. Today, the HAA serves as a network hub for HACU alumni, provides mentoring to current HNIP interns, promotes HACU student programs, and fosters leadership and service for the greater Hispanic community.



NPRChamber Launches Nation’s 1st Hispanic Vetrepreneurs Training Program

September 3, 2014, Washington, D.C. – The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce (NPRChamber) today launched the nation’s first and only training program specifically for Hispanic Veteran Entrepreneurs.  A moving video tribute expressing the need for such services can be found below, or at

In conjunction with the International Council on Small Business (ICSB), and hosted by The George Washington University (GWU), the NPRChamber will invite approximately 30 Hispanic veterans who have entrepreneurial aspirations, or are in the beginning stages of running a small business, to participate in a three day training program surrounding Veteran’s Day.  The program will provide an introduction to the entrepreneurial process, as well as opportunities to meet with successful national entrepreneurs, legislators, investors, and federal agencies that assist in starting new ventures.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand how these veterans sacrifice their lives, as well as employment opportunities or the chance to start a new business, to serve our country.  They deserve an opportunity to learn the skills they need to put their expertise to good use,” said Justin Vélez-Hagan, executive director of NPRChamber and combat veteran of Afghanistan.  “The results will be a benefit to our economy and our overall society.”

Veterans from recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have higher unemployment rates than the general population, while Hispanic veterans, especially those from Puerto Rico, have the highest unemployment rates among all veterans, reaching as high as 30 percent.

Oftentimes, veterans have managed to save enough money to start their own business, but lack the real-world knowledge to do so.  With skills, training, and discipline not always found among other aspiring entrepreneurs, these ambitions can easily be converted and refined into independent and successful businesses, which in turn will contribute to others within their communities.

Applications for veterans interested in the program will be accepted until the end of October.  Those interested in helping to support our program can make a donation via Fundly here.

About The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce

The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce (NPRChamber) is a non-profit organization created to promote entrepreneurship and economic development amongst Hispanics and Puerto Ricans throughout the U.S.  Feel free to contact the NPRChamber at 866-572-5222, ext. 4 or via email:

About the International Council for Small Business

Founded in 1955, the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) was the first international membership organization to promote the growth and development of small businesses worldwide. The organization brings together educators, researchers, policy makers and practitioners from around the world to share knowledge and expertise in their respective fields.  ICSB’s international headquarters are located within the business school at The George Washington University and can be reached at 202-994-0704.



We Support the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act

The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce Supports Efforts to Limit Taxation of Online Goods and Purchases

UPDATE: April 10, 2014  The NPRChamber joins in supporting the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (H.R. 3086) and the Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act (S. 1431).  See the full pdf letter here.

August 2, 2013

The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce (NPR Chamber) applauds legislative efforts to enact a permanent moratorium that seeks to eliminate discriminatory state and local taxation of all online purchases and transactions.  When it comes to growing and expanding a business, the Internet is the premiere, go-to-source for all business owners.  The Internet Tax Freedom Act works to ensure a healthy and fair digital marketplace, thus safeguarding opportunities for Hispanic and minority-owned businesses to continue to grow and innovate.

Online business transactions are not limited to a given state or country. The Internet Tax Freedom Act takes the global and multifaceted nature of the Internet economy into account by preventing online sales from being taxed at a higher rate and ensuring that only one state is able to tax an online transaction.  The Act prevents the imposition of multiple taxes by states and municipalities, preserves small business’ ability to conduct online business, and protects consumers from discriminatory and costly taxation practices.

PDF Version here.

Promoting Economic Opportunity on National News

NPRChamber Promotes Economic Opportunity on Inside Story with Ray Suarez

What is the reason behind Puerto Rico’s economic crisis?  And, what can we do about it?

Those were the questions posed by award-winning host Ray Suarez this week on his new show, Inside Story.  Finding answer to these questions is the reason The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce was founded.

By now, you’ve probably all seen the dozens of high-profile news stories discussing the poor shape that Puerto Rico’s economy is in.  Yes, Puerto Rico has high unemployment, a low labor force participation rate, a shrinking economy, the worst form of “brain drain” in the country, and debt so high that the nation’s credit-raters all gave a thumb’s down to its economic outlook.

Our founder, Justin Vélez-Hagan, had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mr. Suarez on Inside Story this week.  During the show, he suggested that boosting incentives for entrepreneurship is one of many ways in which Puerto Ricans can begin participating and contributing at a greater rate.

In our opinion, there’s no reason for Puerto Rico’s economy to remain in a seemingly endless recession.  There is so much that can be done, especially with a resilient and entrepreneurial population that seems to have no options left and nothing but the will to improve.

“Programs, including grants and training programs, are ways in which entrepreneurship can be boosted,” says Justin, citing some of the resources that The NPRChamber offers.

But, in some of his other writings and interviews, he’s often quoted as saying that reducing the difficulty of navigating the business environment, eliminating the disparate tax treatment towards domestic employers, and even targeting very specific, and high growth, industries for residence in Puerto Rico are other great ways that other, similar countries have successfully bolstered their economies.

There’s so much that can be done, that frankly, we’re overwhelmed.  We can’t possibly do it alone anymore.  We need your help to continue marketing to the companies and individuals who are willing to make the long-term investments needed to turn Puerto Rico around and we need to continuing letting the world know that Puerto Rico really is the best place in the Caribbean to visit, so that they can experience falling in love with la isla del encanto like the rest of us!

We’re tiny, but productive . . .

We’ve been able to make tremendous strides with miniscule resources to date.  In two examples, we’ve helped establish a luxury resort in Culebra and are in the process of bringing a billion dollar private equity firm to the island, not to mention the dozens of other businesses and hundreds of jobs that we’ve helped establish.  Due to our unique experience and established expertise, many potential investors from Puerto Rico, the mainland U.S., and even from around the world are turning to The NPRChamber for help.

What can you do to contribute?  Well, might you consider Puerto Rico for your next vacation spot?  Even if you’re from the island, chances are there are quite a few secluded jewels tucked away you haven’t seen before.  If you aren’t from PR, our [very biased] opinion will tell you that there are few prettier places on Earth!

But there are a few other ways you can help.  Of course, we can use as much financial assistance as we can get so that our own resources aren’t stretched so thin.  We quite literally receive more requests for assistance than we can possibly handle at this time.  Many who attempt to self-navigate the bureaucratic waters of the Puerto Rican government, turn to our experts instead, to insure a smoother, happier start-up experience.

Some of our experts on the island are overworked professionals themselves, others are simply out-of-work volunteers who’ve decided that they can at least try to help others to turn their island around!  There are so many touching stories we can tell.

But, we also need your expertise as volunteer advisors, your connections in government and your own businesses, and your own fundraising brilliance to give us the jolt and edge that we need to serve the people who deserve so much more.

Alone we can only do so much, but as the old adage goes, together we can do anything.  For us, we will do everything we can.

–The NPRChamber Staff

NPRChamber Helps Convince FCC to Create More Jobs

As part of MMTC’s Coalition for Broadcast Investment, the NPRChamber has helped to influence the FCC to vote on changing a policy that will help to grow the economy!  


Broadcast Industry News - Television , Cable, On-demand -

FCC To Vote On Foreign Ownership Change

By Staff
TVNewsCheck, October 24, 2013 3:36 PM EDT

The FCC announced today that at its Nov. 14 open meeting it will vote on a declaratory ruling concerning a request by the Coalition for Broadcast Investment that the FCC consider on a case-by-case basis proposals for foreign investment in broadcast companies in excess of the de facto 25% limitation.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said the action “clears the way for increased access to capital and potential new investors for the broadcast sector. Approval of this item will clarify the commission’s intention to review, on a case-by-case basis, proposed transactions that would exceed the 25% benchmark that restricts foreign ownership in companies holding broadcast licenses. I look forward to working with my colleagues toward a final commission vote next month.”

NAB President-CEO Gordon Smith issued this statement: “NAB applauds Acting FCC Chairwoman Clyburn for proposing that the commission should consider foreign investment in U.S. broadcast properties the same way it considers such investments in other telecommunications properties. This is fundamentally fair and will serve the public interest. Permitting new potential sources of capital for American radio and TV stations will  strengthen our ability to continue providing compelling news, entertainment and sports programming and to remain competitive in a multichannel digital world.”

In response, Mace Rosenstein, a Covington & Burling partner who advises the Coalition, said: “We are gratified that the commission is taking this significant step, and we appreciate Chairwoman Clyburn’s leadership on this important issue. The proposed ruling would enable broadcasters to access capital on the same terms as their cable, wireline, wireless and online counterparts, and could be especially important to minority and women broadcast entrepreneurs.  We are pleased the commission will consider the request from a broad array of diverse stakeholders to clarify its existing statutory authority to permit broadcast foreign investment that is consistent with the public interest and our national security,” Rosenstein said.

The Coalition includes many community and civil rights organizations including the League of United Latin American Citizens, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce; and broadcasters including Entravision Communications Corp., Bustos Media Holdings, Hearst Television Inc., CBS Corp., The Walt Disney Co., Univision Communications and Clear Channel Communications.

Copyright 2013 NewsCheckMedia LLC. All rights reserved. This article can be found online at:



NPRChamber Founder Co-Authors Economic Report


NPRChamber Founder Co-Authors Politic365’s “Blueprint for Universal Economic Inclusion”


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Washington, D.C. September 27, 2013 – The National Puerto Rican Chamber’s founder, Justin Vélez-Hagan, recently co-authored a report highlighting the economic and social concerns of minorities in coordination with Politic365, a leading digital magazine.  

The report, entitled Blueprint for Universal Economic Inclusion, has a two-fold purpose.  First, it was written as “a call to action for young people” and minorities to leverage their growing political and economic power that has resulted from demographic shifts in the U.S.

According to the Census, African Americans and Hispanics now make up more than 30% of the population, while the total percentage of minorities is expected to surpass 50% by 2042.  This demographic shift demands an even greater level of civic engagement by our future leaders.

Second, the report intends to “begin the process of engaging policymakers and other relevant stakeholders about removing barriers, amending laws, modernizing regulations, and otherwise recalibrating existing policy structures that are impeding further progress by young people and people of color.”

The Blueprint report was released at Politic365’s annual Game Changers event, with members of Congress and numerous other local and national leaders and entrepreneurs in attendance.  Speaking at the event, Mr.Vélez-Hagan summarized his concerns by stating that “the problem is a lot simpler than so many of my economist colleagues like to make it.  The problem is that our kids aren’t taught the basics of basic economics and their parents don’t have jobs.”  The solution can be found in renewed curricula, more entrepreneur-friendly economic policies, and increased local engagement, he contends.

The U.S. is currently in the longest period of high unemployment and the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, while Hispanics and minorities have been impacted the most.  The median household wealth of Hispanics has fallen to less than 5% of Whites, while their overall unemployment rate remains at more than 10%, at least 2 percentage points higher than the national average.  Meanwhile Hispanic spending power has reached nearly $1.5 trillion while maintaining stronger than average interest in entrepreneurship.

About The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce

The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit organization created to promote entrepreneurship, economic development, and economic freedom amongst Puerto Ricans and other minorities throughout the U.S.  Feel free to contact the Chamber’s Public Relations Department at 866-572-5222, ext. 4 or via email:

About Justin Vélez-Hagan 

Justin Vélez-Hagan founded the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and serves as its current executive director.  He also works as an economics researcher at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and is a former adjunct professor of economics within the University of Maryland System.  He is the author of the forthcoming book The Basics of Basic Economics.



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