Tomorrow on November 8, 2016, I am speculating that it will have been the Hispanic vote which was a major factor in providing the firewall, especially in toss up states like Florida to deter Donald Trump from prevailing in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. They have now become a power house for the democratic party. This is the time for them to exact some concessions on behalf of Puerto Rico.
Over previous blogs, I have covered numerous factors which have contributed to the 10 year development of Puerto Rico’s current depression. Puerto Rico is over $70 million dollars in debt to where they cannot pay their bills. Although, there are a number reasons for the current financial chaos, the proximate cause is due to U.S. Wall Street entities overselling Puerto Rican municipal bonds even though many U.S. financiers were well aware that the islands debt load was at a point where government officials could not honor paying back investors while having to maintain essential services such as health care and schools.
The bond traders sold this investment as being safe because Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory was not in a position to avail themselves of U.S. bankruptcy laws like Detroit did. And unlike a sovereign country such as Greece, it is barred from seeking emergency monetary assistance from the International Monetary Fund.
Overtime the other causes include; the U.S. closing a major naval base around 2004; the ending in 2005 of the U.S. Section 936 tax breaks for U.S. companies doing business in Puerto Rico; the U.S. continuation of the 1917 Jones Act which forces its peoples to buy goods from an American-made ship with an American crew which limits business owners from competitive shopping while jacking up prices. All of these were contributing factors along with some poor governance and financial planning by Puerto Rican government officials who of course, had U.S officials’ stamp of approval.
During the past decade, the repercussions have become devastating. Unemployment is in the double digit range; good paying jobs are scarce; home values have plummeted; tourism is down (Zika Virus); businesses are closing; electrical power outages are now routine; those who are of working age are in the minority; almost half the population is living in poverty; the island is poorer than any one of the U.S. states. Now, Puerto Ricans’ taxes have been increased to 11.5%.
The 6/1/16 NY Times article by Mary Williams Walsh and Liz Moyer reports: “But the lack of statehood status is hurting the island at its time of need. Health care is a large and growing part of its economy, but the federal government reimburses its doctors and hospitals at lower rates than if it were a state. That prompts its doctors to leave for the mainland.”
Because of the island’s declining economy, 440,000 Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens, have moved to the U.S. and in particular, Florida. About 100,000 have moved to Florida after 2012.
Due to current recession type dire straights that Puerto Rico is dealing with, the recent U.S. congressional legislated solution as spearheaded by Paul Ryan came a little too late. The PROMESA Bill with the required Control Board focuses mostly on austerity measures which will not fare well for the peoples’ well being. In the prior two blogs, I have offered ideas on how Puerto Rico’s economy can be revitalized because I am convinced that the PROMESA Bill, as the only solution, will not be effective.
Solutions to be:
However, there are two things which the legislators can do which will reap both immediate financial and morale benefits:
1.) The immediate repeal of the 1917 Jones Bill as the U.S. did with the Virgin Islands.
The following discussion regarding the Jones Act is from the PBS News Hour by Chris Bury on 8/13/15:
2.) The release of a long time political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera.
The source for the following information is from The 6/10/16 Guardian write up by Jaquira Díaz, “Puerto Rico’s last political prisoner: is it time for Oscar Lopez Rivera to walk free:”
“People in Puerto Rico where a crippling debt crisis is currently unfolding, have much to say about political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. All over the city, young people are wearing “Free Oscar” T-shirts, and a few days before my arrival, activists hit the streets with makeshift signs, calling for his release.”
“Last May (2016), while campaigning against Hillary Clinton in advance of Puerto Rico’s June 5th caucuses, Bernie Sanders addressed voters during a town hall in San Juan. He promised that as president, he would pardon Oscar López Rivera.”
“However, although there’s a growing movement calling for López Rivera’s release, the US government has classified him as a terrorist.”
“No evidence was ever found tying López Rivera to any of the bombings (FALN group), and although he was not convicted of any violent crimes, he was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison. Later, an additional 15 years were added to his sentence for an alleged escape attempt. He is now the longest-incarcerated Puerto Rican political prisoner, currently serving 70 years, including 12 in solitary confinement, even though the UN has condemned solitary confinement in excess of 15 days as a violation of human rights.”
“However, to most Puerto Ricans and human rights advocates, López Rivera represents much more than just the sum of these charges. Because of his refusal to end his fight for Puerto Rico’s independence, even after almost 35 years in federal prison, he is often compared to Nelson Mandela, who was once also denounced as a “communist terrorist”. He is a decorated war veteran, having been awarded the Bronze Star medal during his service in the US army.”
“Oscar Lopez is now 72 years old. He has spent more than half his life in a US federal prison. His future is uncertain. This is why his supporters are not backing down.”