On Thursday morning, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois took to the floor of the House of Representatives once more to blast the U.S. Congress for perpetuating its colonial policy in Puerto Rico, which has created and fueled the various crises currently ravaging the island:
Mr. Speaker, I come with a humble message from the Puerto Rican people to the House of Representatives: Free Puerto Rico.
Free Puerto Rico so she can solve the problem of her crushing debt without being handcuffed by Congress, its distant and inattentive colonial master.
Free Puerto Rico so that her hospitals can stay open for sick moms and dads and her schools stay open for children. Nobody should fear that their house will burn down because the firemen have not been paid.
So far, the response to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis from Washington — the one place that Puerto Rico is forced to rely on, has been very little.
Greedy bond-holders and hedge-fund managers only care about Puerto Rico as a wager – a way to make money whether Puerto Rico sinks or swims.
Right now, Puerto Rico needs serious, sustained attention from Washington to find a path forward such that Puerto Rico is neither absolved of her obligations nor mortally wounded by them.
Because, Mr. Speaker, here is what it comes down to: When the US Supreme Court said that Puerto Rico belongs to, but is not part of, the United States, the responsibility to care for her and her people came along with that judgement.
Congress must take responsibility for the fact that we expect Puerto Rico to pay its obligations, but we force her to play by a particular set of rules.
Puerto Rico cannot declare bankruptcy because Congress passed a law saying they cannot.
Puerto Rico is under the chokehold of the Jones Act – a law passed right here in this room without any consultation with the Puerto Rican people – that says, by law Puerto Rico cannot shop around for the best deal on shipping. No, they must buy the most-expensive, which means double the import costs and an estimated $500 million extra on Puerto Rico’s food bill alone.
Oh, and when it comes to producing for themselves, a large chunk of the best agricultural land – the land that sustains and feeds a nation – that land is taken from them for military bases with no compensation — 13 percent of the land – gone.
Puerto Rico is a tropical Island, but a lot of its fruit and food and vegetables and almost all of its food is imported. We must allow Puerto Rico to create agricultural economy that allows Puerto Ricans to feed themselves.
The economy produces goods the people do not consume and the people consume goods they did not produce.
Even when the U.S. is caught red-handed stealing water from Puerto Rico’s fresh-water supply — not paying a dime for it – what happens? The U.S. Government is not held responsible or made to pay.
When the military pollutes Vieques or Culebra, does the U.S. government feel any obligation? Not really.
So, Mr. Speaker, when Congress talks about Puerto Rico’s debt, I say we look at the totality of the debt; the part owed to Puerto Rico, not just the part Puerto Rico owes to Wall Street.
Every soldier she has sent to war, every time the U.S. has stepped in to override her courts or her government – these debts add up but are not accounted for.
And now, what is the solution that everyone in Washington is lining up behind? A Federal Control Board.
Imagine that. An Island that cannot determine its own destiny, that has to play an economic game with a stacked deck and all the rules rigged against them – what is the solution in Washington?
Take away what little autonomy they have left and add a new layer of Washington control over the colony.
If Congress were smart, we would find a way to get out of the way.
Free Puerto Rico’s people to unleash their inherent hard-working character, spirit, and dedication.
Free Puerto Ricans to work and toil and build and create. Free Puerto Rico so that she can build a sustainable economy that keeps her people at home, in the land of their birth and their heritage.
And we cannot get side-tracked by seeing Puerto Rico’s economic health exclusively through a lens of Food Stamps, Medicaid, government programs and further dependency on Washington.
We must make the conversation about jobs for Puerto Ricans. Jobs that build the economy and the tax base and the self-sufficiency of the Island.
Mr. Speaker, Puerto Rico’s problems were a long time in the making, but I have utter confidence in the Puerto Rican people’s ability to solve them, if we in Congress begin listening to them, working with them, and recognizing them as equal partners.
We must free Puerto Rico so that the Puerto Rican people can free themselves.