Visiting Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan on Monday, Democratic challenger Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) laid out the current crises ravishing the island and called on Congress and the Obama administration to take action.
The people of Puerto Rico should not and cannot provide colonial-like treatment of its citizens. The people of the United States cannot continue a colonial-type relationship with the people of Puerto Rico. It is unacceptable to me for the United States government to treat Puerto Rico like a colony during a time when its people are facing the worst fiscal and economic crisis in its history.
Sanders began his remarks (after excusing himself for speaking in English) by referring to the situation in Puerto Rico as a “humanitarian crisis,” explaining:
Since 2006, Puerto Rico has lost 20 percent of its jobs. About 60 percent of Puerto Rico’s adult population are either unemployed or have given up looking for work. Over the last five years alone, more than 150 public schools have been shut down, and the childhood poverty rate has shot up to 57 percent. At a time when the rich are getting richer, Puerto Rico now has more income inequality than any U.S. state.
Sanders then went on to blast the “vulture funds” whose managers have greatly inflamed the fiscal crisis and condemned the GOP’s proposed financial control board as “a move in exactly the wrong direction” that “must be rejected.”
Bernie added the Federal Reserve to the list of potential saviors, saying that “if the Federal Reserve could bail out Wall Street, it can help the 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico improve its economy and lift its children out of poverty.”
The crux of Sanders’ economic plan for Puerto Rico lies in job creation through infrastructure projects and a commitment to shifting the island’s economy toward the burgeoning green-energy industry:
It makes no sense to me that 99 percent of Puerto Rico’s energy comes from fossil fuels.
Puerto Rico is blessed with abundant solar and wind resources, and has great potential to expand biomass and geothermal energy.
We must give Puerto Rico the tools it needs to aggressively move towards a clean energy economy, instead of being dependent on importing dirty fossil fuel that is bad for the environment, bad for the Puerto Rican economy, and bad for the planet.
Not shying away from controversy, Sanders vowed to pardon and release political prisoner Óscar López Rivera once in the Oval Office:
He has been in prison for more than 34 years — longer than Nelson Mandela. He is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana, in solitary confinement.
This man is 73 years old and his health is deteriorating rapidly.
We are talking about a Vietnam War veteran, who was awarded a Bronze Star, and a respected community activist. …
I say to President Obama: Let him out! Free Oscar Lopez Rivera. He has done his time. He must be given a chance to enjoy his freedom as we enjoy our own.
And if you do not do this, I will.
Other topics covered in Sanders’ remarks include illegal weapons testing by the U.S. military on the island of Vieques and Puerto Rico’s foundering healthcare system, which is currently facing an added menace in the form of the Zika virus:
At a time when more than 120 pregnant women in Puerto Rico have been infected by the Zika virus and one elderly man has died, we must do everything we can to find a cure for this disease. …
We need to join every major country on earth and provide high quality health care to every man, woman, and child – and that includes Puerto Rico. My Medicare-for-all plan would apply equally to states and territories. It’s time to get this done.