Why Is Washington Saying Very Little About Puerto Rico?

Puerto Ricans are crestfallen this week, walking around “con el moco caído” as they say. Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced that the island had finally run out of cash. In response, Washington just shrugged its shoulders.

Last Sunday the governor informed The New York Times that Puerto Rico’s $72 billion dollar debt was unpayable. The following day García Padilla laid out his plan to restructure the debt, produce a five-year budget, and create a non-partisan “junta fiscal” to guarantee that the government keeps its commitments no matter who is in power.


Gov. Alejandro García Padilla (YouTube screen grab)

News of the governor’s plan spread like wildfire. Overnight, stateside reporters and commentators became Puerto Rico experts. Even USA Today, which rarely covers the Puerto Rican economy or politics, had something to say.

With all this press and the threat of the largest municipal bond default in U.S. history, Puerto Ricans expected Washington to respond. Except it didn’t.

The White House reiterated that there would be no bailout for Puerto Rico. It did endorse, however, pending Congressional legislation to enable Puerto Rico’s municipalities and government-owned corporations to restructure their debts under Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy law as allowed in all 50 states.

Major editorial boards rose in support of federal bankruptcy for Puerto Rico. “Pero del dicho al hecho hay un trecho.” Whether the White House will push for passage of legislation, which faces some stiff Republican opposition, remains to be seen.

Congress is for the most part indifferent to Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican Democratic congressional delegation on the mainland —consisting of Representatives Luis Gutiérrez, José Serrano, Nydia Velázquez— and Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative Pedro Pierluisi have been very outspoken. In addition, there has not been even a tweet from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or the more conservative Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, which makes one wonder what is the Latino agenda outside immigration.

Presidential candidates have been slightly more vocal than Congress.  Out of 14 Republican and five Democratic presidential candidates, only three have acknowledged the economic crisis.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who visited in April, supports Federal bankruptcy for Puerto Rico consistent with his pro-statehood position.  “In order for Puerto Rico to eventually become a state, it must begin by being treated as a state,” he said in April. This past week, when speaking with reporters in South Carolina, Bush added this:

I think if Puerto Rico can make a compelling case that they’re prepared to alter the social contract with their extraordinarily large number of state workers and in return for allowing for a reduction, you know, dealing with the debt load that’s unsustainable where they can start growing economically again, they’d have to do all three of those things at once then giving them that flexibility would be important. That’s why I’ve suggested it about a month ago. I think Puerto Rico has a responsibility now to come up with a plan that makes it serious, a serious plan that people could look at.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley took a step further by endorsing both Federal bankruptcy and health care equity for Puerto Rico, which has been shortchanged in Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare programs. The Democratic candidate may be trailing in the polls but he did do his homework on Puerto Rico.

Hilary Clinton, however, issued a tweet so vague that it could have applied to any debt-ridden nation in the world:

This is shocking coming from a former New York senator who represented the largest Puerto Rican community in the country and who won the Puerto Rico democratic primary by almost 70 percent in 2008.

Clearly Washington politicians, particularly those running for the highest office, do not want to be associated with a federal bailout of a U.S. territory. But there is more to the story than political prudence.

Washington’s passivity in the face of an emergency that impacts 3.6 million U.S. citizens is reminiscent of the recent Donald Trump debacle. Official Washington brushed aside Trump’s derogatory comments about immigrants. To them it was Trump being Trump. This silence fueled outrage in the Latino community, which ultimately grew so strong that Univision, NBC, and Macy’s severed business ties with Trump.

Official Washington is also brushing Puerto Rico aside. But this narrow thinking could have real consequences in the 2016 election. In 2012, Puerto Ricans emerged as the new swing voters in Florida. Obama won the state by less than 1% and attracted 86% of the Puerto Rican vote.

Puerto Rico is important to the almost 900,000 Puerto Ricans who live in Florida because the majority is island-born. They will not look kindly at candidates who are indifferent to Puerto Rico’s predicament.


But to be taken seriously as voters in 2016 the 4.9 million Puerto Ricans residing in the 50 states, not just in Florida, need to do more now. They need to put their Boricua pride into action and demand that the Island’s needs be met. Of immediate concern is passage of federal bankruptcy legislation and equal treatment in federal health care programs. All it takes is phone calls to their two Senators and one Representative.

Whether it is by choice or necessity, the Puerto Rican diaspora is growing at an unprecedented rate.  Migration is fraying the socioeconomic fabric of the island. It is upsetting to all Puerto Ricans, particularly those who grew up in its heyday. But as the diaspora grows so does the island’s power. It is up to Boricuas to choose how to use it.


Gretchen Sierra-Zorita is a public policy and advocacy specialist working on media diversity issues for the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. She is curator of Puerto Rico En Serio, an online community :dedicated to sharing news, information and opinions that contribute to the well-being of the Puerto Rican community and to the progress of Puerto Rico.”

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Excellent article, but I would like to point out two things: the governor did not present- nor has presented in the past two years- a plan to deal with the fiscal crisis. The governor, once again, talked about setting up a committee, made up of the same people who are dealing with the fiscal crisis, to present a plan in several weeks. Also, there is no such thing as "the Puerto Rican Democratic congressional delegation". Representatives Serrano, Gutierrez and Congresswoman Velazquez are not Representatives of Puerto Rico since we do not have congressmen or representatives. They are Puerto Ricans that represent their districts, in this case, Illinois and NY.

Franklin Lopez
Franklin Lopez

On July 25, 1979 the Carter Administration, pressed by Puerto Ricans who supported his candidacy in 1976, ignored the pressures from The White House and the State Department and crossed the street into the United Nations to denounce the colonial nature of the “commonwealth status!” As a direct result the White House issued the Alternative Future Presidential Executive Order. This was the beginning of a path to be followed by future presidents to maneuver the status question into abridge to nowhere. But it was a beginning on the end of “commonwealth” colonial status. It was also the 1st time that the presidency made an official policy statement “guaranteeing” the right self-determination to choose between independence, statehood or the so called commonwealth.

President George h.W. Bush issued a memorandum on November 30, 1992, to heads of executive departments and agencies establishing the current relationship between the Federal
Government and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This memorandum directs all Federal departments, agencies, and officials to treat Puerto Rico administratively as if it were a State insofar as doing so would not disrupt Federal programs or operations.

On December23, 2000, President William J. Clinton signed executive Order 13183, which established the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status and the rules for its membership. This executive Order outlines the policy and functions of the Task Force in identifying the options for Puerto Rico’s future status and the process for realizing an option. On April 30, 2001, President George W. Bush amended executive Order 13183, extending the deadline for the Task Force to forward a report to the President until August 2001.

President George W. Bush signed an additional amendment to executive Order 13183 on December 3, 2003, which established the TaskForce co-chairs and instructed the Task Force to issue reports as needed, but no less than once every two years.

President Barack Obama validated the Executive Order en a Task Force was
re-appointed an issued a report.The Obama Administration Inter Agency Committee on Puerto Rico clearly stated that Puerto Rico’s economic quagmire is tied to it’s political status. On March 11, 2011 it released its report and the first recommendation made was the following:

“The Task Force recommends that all relevant parties—the President, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico—work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.” Obama in multiple letters to the colonial governor and political leader said “is to to you to decide. You vote and I will act.”

All of these carefully planned intervention by presidents from Carter to Obama, even though they are better than nothing, were hollow policies initiatives with great sound bytes and lip service labels!
There more things “change”…the more they remain the same.

Soon there after on November 6, 2012 the People of Puerto Rico in a historical plebiscite voted on two questions:

1- Whether to remain a colonial territory under the “commonwealth status.” For the first time in its history the People spoke clearly with 54 per cent rejecting the present non incorporated colonial territory. So the United States has a territory that has rejected the colonial status and does not have the consent of the governed.

2- The second question asked the People’s preference in favor of independence, statehood (political equality) or free association. The People again expressed their preference by voting for statehood with 61 per cent of the vote.

We voted two and half years ago. Even though, President Obama issued the Lexington Doctrine of Nation building first for his second term PuertoRico is seating in the back of the bus. Washington through its web of control and “persuasive perversions” maintains out of the political discussion agenda the issue of the right of self determination of 3.6 millions American citizens. This is no longer benign neglect of a Nation sequestering the final destiny of a People. It is gross negligence and violations of the Charter of the United National, the United States’ Constitution and the right to pursue its final status.

The present crisis facing the territory is a massive un-payable public debt together with high unemployment, real estate deflation, the largest non performing loans portfolios of all colonial banks in recorded history and a massive population exodus. Today PuertoRico is the place in all of the Americas with the highest cost of living and taxes. Maintaining a policy of passivity and non intervention, while the Island’s family structure is dismembered by the massive population exodus, is a crime against humanity!

The U.S. Census projected that by 2050 the population of Puerto Rico will decrease to 2.3 millions. The same amount when “commonwealth” and the Constitution were adopted in 1952. The number of American citizens leaving the Island for 2015 is 120,000. The tax base and government revenues is shrinking fast. Jet Blue has increased their flights from the Island to Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey. All “battle ground states!” Therefore if Washington does not react PuertoRicans will give a bankrupt and nearly empty archipelago to the United States.

The Gallup Organization made two polls in Puerto Rico in 1990 and 1991 and asked the American citizens living in the territory, what would they do if the Island was granted Independence or Free Association (Associated Republic). Ninety two per cent said that they would move to the United States. This is not surprising. Polls made by Frank Luntz for the campaign for Governor of Dr. Pedro J. Rosselló revealed that 97% treasured their American citizenship the most. So, those states that PuertoRicans love the most should be prepared for the tidal wave of population from the territory to a neighborhood near you.

The United States owes the People of Puerto Rico reparations for all its colonial abuses and for extending it’s regime of apartheid and segregation for 117 years. Giving us billions in welfare and subsidies programs is not a substitute for our right to be equal. We have paid a very high price of 117 years of colonial rule. There is an admission bill introduced by Resident Commissioner Pedro J. Pierluisi to sponsor Federal plebiscite asking for a vote on statehood yes or no. That’s the democratic path to follow to resolve this American Paradox! Latin America, the Caribbean and the World are watching how the United States treats this issue affecting the lives of 3.6 millions American citizens of Hispanic origin. It will reveal if the United States has changed its policies of force and imperialism and has truly become a beacon of democracy, liberty and equality. Passivity is not an option

The reparation is to grant political equality and end the racist, segregated and apartheid colonial territory to American citizens that pays more Federal taxes than 6 states of the Union; to the thousands of American citizens who gave the ultimate sacrifice defending democracy and freedom and to the 275,000 who have served and are serving with honor and distinction in the U.S. Armed Forces. The time to act is now. History will judge the decision makers. Equality is the soul of liberty. Denying it is a human right violation!


Puerto Rico has been in financial crisis for a very long time. Bad choices of Government Officials and politicians looking out for themselves are at the crux of the matter. Jobs, housing, medical care and in general, the cost of living has risen dramatically in the last three decades, not to mention the rising crime rate, making it impossible for those people who chose to stay, many of whom are elderly.  In many instances the medical care is that of a third world country. Both my parents were born and raised on that island (Mayaguez) My mother almost died there , had I not bought her back to the states she would have from inferior medical care.  My sister wasnt that lucky. After being sent home from a hospital, she died the following day of a massive heart attack. I have never understood why water  or electricity would cost so much on an island. It boggles my mind. I also dont get the fact that condominiums and houses in San Juan are going for a million dollars or more, yet most of the population is living in poverty. Why is there still opposition to making PR a st

ate? What is the rationale behind that? As a Puerto Rican born and raised in New York City, I never felt a direct tie to the Island, however, I do to my people. I support in any way possible the abolishment of the Jones Act and the passing of Federal Bankrupsy Regulation. I think we should once again propose that it become the 51st State with all the rights and priveleges that are afforded as such. If Im being naive or missing the point, please feel free to school me.