Mrs. Clinton Goes to San Juan

Former New York senator, secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Former New York senator, secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

On Friday Hillary Clinton, the lady out front in the race for her husband’s old job, went to Puerto Rico to snag campaign funds from cash-strapped islanders who can’t even vote in presidential elections anyway.

First she attended an hourlong roundtable discussion at a hospital, armed with a pen and notepad, trying her best to appear attentive. The event was invite-only and included eight other panel members along with an audience of 120 local officials and healthcare industry types.

She said she was there to learn about Puerto Rico’s looming healthcare crisis. As a colony, Puerto Rico receives lower federal reimbursement rates for Medicare and Medicaid, which together provide health care to two-thirds of the Puerto Rican population. The Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition reports that the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates are 40 and 70 percent lower, respectively, than any U.S. state.

Lower payments have caused the island to lose 400 of its 11,000 doctors every year, and the crisis will only deepen once the feds cut payments to Puerto Rico’s Medicare Advantage program by 11 percent in January, a move which will cost the island’s healthcare system about $500 million. Considering health care represents 20 percent of the Puerto Rican economy, the planned cut could be the coup de grâce to the already staggering colony.

“You can’t solve the health care crisis without addressing the economic crisis,” the former secretary of State said when asked for her two-cents on the issue. (If the whole president thing doesn’t work out, Mrs. Clinton, you might have a promising career as Captain Obvious.)

After her perfunctory powwow, Hillary met with around 200 donors at the Condado Plaza Hilton for close to 90 minutes, where the donations ranged between $1,000 and $2,700. Moments later she was on a private plane back to the real United States.

According to campaign aides who spoke with CNN, Mrs. Clinton was looking to raise somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000 during the course of her little stop-and-chat on the island.

Just to be clear: in only an hour and a half Puerto Ricans coughed up half a million dollars, not towards lifting the Puerto Rican economy, but towards propping up the Clinton campaign.

Ever the politician, Hillary was sure to spit out a few shibboleths about the question of Puerto Rico’s political status. She talked about the unequal treatment of Puerto Ricans under U.S. rule and how the colonial municipalities should be allowed to file for bankruptcy like Detroit did in 2013.

“This comes down to the basic rights,” she said. “Puerto Ricans have the right to form a government of your choice that is representative at all levels of government, just as you have a right to equality as American citizens.”

I never thought I’d say this about a neoliberal jingo like Hillary Clinton, but I agree with the former senator from New York. (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s twice in two days that I agree with someone I thought I’d never agree with.)

Still, you can’t be a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States and not know what democracy is or that Puerto Rico doesn’t have it. Hillary’s half-hearted sympathy proves an even bigger point: it isn’t that North American leaders have been unaware of how much Puerto Rico has been getting screwed over the past century; it’s that they simply want it that way.

Hillary dangled the carrot of debt relief and potential statehood during her visit to the island only to garner support from mainland Puerto Ricans who can actually get her elected. She’s expecting few of them will realize that her campaign is largely funded by the same Wall Street bankers who stand to lose the most should Puerto Rico seek bankruptcy protection.

While Hillary was glad-handing in Puerto Rico yesterday, Alice Ollstein at Think Progress published an analysis of campaign financing documents which shows that Hillary and GOP candidate Jeb Bush have “have both benefited from honorarium fees, donations to their super PACs, and contributions to their campaigns from the executives of Puerto Rico’s hedge funds creditors — investment funds which contributed to and are profiting from the island’s financial crisis and inability to declare bankruptcy.”

As Ollstein writes:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, has received the legal maximum donation of $2,700 from bankers at Fortress Investment Group and four-figure contributions from bankers at Perry Capital, Blue Mountain Capital, and Angelo, Gordon & Co., according to Federal Election Commission filings.

A banker with Apollo Global Management also donated the legal limit to Clinton, and that hedge fund paid her $250,000 for a speech in May, according to her personal finance disclosure.

All of these hedge funds have been deeply involved in the Puerto Rican debt crisis. Several of them, including Blue Mountain Capital, the Managed Funds Association, and Angelo, Gordon & Co., have spent big this year lobbying Congress not to give the island bankruptcy protections.

Given who’s backing her campaign, expecting Hillary to be genuine in her push for bankruptcy relief is like believing a Mexican politician backed by El Chapo is sincere in her efforts to take down the Sinaloas.

At the end of day, Hillary seems willing to do and say anything for power. Maybe she gets it from her husband.


Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.

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