Rep. Gutiérrez to Pres. Obama: Take the Lead on Puerto Rico Debt Crisis

Sep 1, 2015
9:50 AM
(Björn Söderqvist/Flickr)

(Björn Söderqvist/Flickr)

Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez has just published an open letter from Puerto Rico calling on President Obama to intervene personally on the island’s current economic crisis:

I ask you, Mr. President to play a deeper, personal role. Wall Street power brokers, Puerto Rico’s beleaguered government, disengaged members of Congress, and especially the people of Puerto Rico need to see someone step up and take charge.

Specifically, I want you to call on Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to convene the major stakeholders – financial, political, and social – to come together in a summit to resolve the immediate Puerto Rican debt crisis, but also to set the stage for the renewal of Puerto Rico’s economy.

As Gretchen Sierra-Zorita wrote here in July:

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.

Gutiérrez has been one of the lone voices in Congress calling for government action, speaking from the floor of the House of Representative last month not once:

…but twice imploring his fellow congressmen to help the island through its tough economic times:

His most recent letter makes his stance much more personal, comparing his visit to his father’s homeland to Obama’s visit to Kenya:

I am in the homeland of my father, and if I may borrow a phase you used to describe your recent visit to Kenya, Puerto Rico is “deeply personal to me.” We are spiritually connected to the birthplaces of our fathers in profound ways.

Remaining with the family references, Gutiérrez finds important parallels between his parents’ and the current generation:

Just as during my parents’ generation, there is a great exodus to the United States of those seeking futures and prosperity unavailable in their homeland. Each Puerto Rican carries with them a bit of the island and its unique culture – which enriches the United States – but diminishes hope for those who remain here to cope in Puerto Rico.

However, his parallels to Kenya don’t remain at the level of family relationships, but Gutiérrez also talks about both nations’ colonial histories:

This colony of the United States is afflicted with many of the same burdens of colonialism as your father’s native Kenya. But unlike modern Kenya – and the United States – it does not have the independence and freedom to determine its own destiny.

As the colonial power, the United States of America has a responsibility to see that the current crisis is resolved, but more importantly that Puerto Rico has a stable and self-sustaining economy moving forward.

Left to their own devices, the billionaires, bondholders and hedge funds on Wall Street will surely take action, but it will not be action that benefits anyone but themselves and will exact a huge cost on Puerto Ricans.

Some presidential candidates have visited Puerto Rico and made their usual campaign promises. Jeb Bush led the charge in April, Martin O’Malley followed suit in August, and Hillary Clinton plans to visit this week.

What Gutiérrez calls for is not campaign promises but actions, and with a Congress that has been very hesitant to act he is passing the responsibility on to the executive, who has taken the initiative on important issues.

Gutiérrez makes this clear, stating that the type of leadership and diplomatic acumen used in the Iranian negotiations is what is needed to address the Puerto Rican crisis:

It is just the sort of financial diplomacy that Puerto Rico needs. The Treasury Secretary, under your guidance, is no less qualified than your Secretary of State to negotiate delicate multilateral agreements where competing interests must compromise to resolve a crisis of major proportions.

Let’s see now if this “unincorporated territory” is as relevant to the president’s agenda as the other issues in which he has decided to take the lead.