Here is what Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) said earlier today about the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) bill and what House Speaker Paul Ryan said about the bill:
As we were reminded yesterday by the Speaker of the House, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to “make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the U.S.”
And treating Puerto Rico as property is just what is being proposed by the Republicans in addressing the Puerto Rico debt crisis.
My friend here, King George of England, would be proud.
I will say, the Governor of Puerto Rico has been working hard to help move a bill forward. He and his staff have been honest and tireless brokers, trying to resolve a crisis decades in the making.
The Governor should be commended for his efforts.
But what the Governor and the people of Puerto Rico need are the same protections that any U.S. citizen has when their local government is in crisis and bond-holders are circling and demanding payments.
Puerto Rico needs the ability to restructure her debt so that the bond-holders get something instead of nothing on their investment, and the local government is not crippled, and the people are not faced with a collapse of basic services.
Congress, the colonial power, took away the ability to declare bankruptcy, so that was never an option. A move worthy of King George himself!
Yes, in the bill the Republicans put forward, there is a restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt. There is even a temporary stay of debt payments for a short period of time.
But at what cost?
As I understand it, the debt restructuring for Puerto Rico would only take place if two-thirds of the bondholders on Wall Street approve.
So Wall Street fat cats can literally veto what the Republicans are proposing.
Wall Street the fat cats know their Maserati’s and yachts are safe, even if Puerto Rican school buses, hospitals, and roads fall further into disrepair.
They will live like Kings, just like my buddy here.
They even bragged about it at the hearing yesterday, saying that the market “responded positively” when the Republican bill was introduced, because it signaled that Republicans will have Wall Street’s back. I guess that is what Republicans mean when they refer to “New York values?”
I simply do not see things in the Republican bill that justify relinquishing what little sovereignty Puerto Rico has left to an unelected federal Control Board.
It is a new level of colonial rule on top of what Washington already has; what Washington already misuses; what Washington would usually rather ignore.
King George of England would be pleased to know that even after 250 years, the U.S. Congress – created to replace his tyrannical rule – has so fully embraced colonialism for distant territories.
As Speaker Ryan said yesterday, the fact that Puerto Rico’s government is “ceding…its authority to the financial control board is a huge, but necessary move that will ensure Puerto Rico will learn fiscal discipline from a board of experts.”
Oh yes, those poor Islanders, the uncivilized Puerto Ricans will see how it is done. Up close and personal.
The Board will have the power to reduce the minimum wage, block overtime rules, and block laws, regulations, and government contracts approved by the Island’s democratically elected government.
It can overrule the legislature and the Governor if doesn’t like the budget and it can fast track energy projects at the expense of the environment.
Does that sound familiar, Your Highness?
Get this: Congress can impose a Control Board on Puerto Rico that can hire whoever they want at whatever salary they want and the people of Puerto Rico have to pay for it. Period. Punto. 100 percent.
The Control Board is paid for by those it controls. If that is not colonialism, I don’t know what is.
It is so good, King George would be jealous.
As if to add insult to injury, the bill addresses Vieques – the Island off the coast of Puerto Rico that the U.S. Navy bombed for decades. It turns over the land with no conditions.
Now, I am all for the people of Puerto Rico having control of the lands of Puerto Rico, in Vieques and everywhere else.
But in the current crisis, without protections, we all know where this is going.
Hotels, resorts, and businesses seeking to profit will be looking for bargain prices and will be out to profiteer – just like the Pirates who used to control those waters.
Mr. Speaker, the Puerto Rican people want jobs and an economy that allows them to live on the Island and thrive, but so far, all the Republican Majority has offered is more colonial oversight, more austerity, and more misery.
I say once again, this Congress should reject the King George approach and free Puerto Rico so that its hardworking people can build the Island.
We should put them above all other creditors, bondholders, and profit-seekers.
That ought to be our priority. The school children, the elderly, the working men and women, the police on the beat, they need us to stand up for them as fellow human beings.
And I call on my colleagues to join me.