Rep. Gutiérrez: ‘I Am Not Going to Let This Congress Forget About Puerto Rico’ (VIDEO)

Sep 7, 2016
3:40 PM

Here is what Rep. Luis Gutiérrez said Thursday on the floor of House of Representatives:

Gutiérrez’s office released the Illinois Democrat’s prepared remarks:

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about the beautiful, enchanted Island of Puerto Rico, the birthplace of my father and mother and my wife.

Yes, the colony of the United States in the Caribbean Sea —where, in case you forget, everyone is born a citizen— is now even more of a colony of the United States now that Washington has appointed the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico.

Or as most people call it, the Control Board or la Junta de Control.

Seven members, four put forward by Republicans and three put forward by Democrats, were announced last week and I was not pleasantly surprised.

I have made it clear in this Congress and elsewhere that I oppose the PROMESA legislation that created the Board that passed Congress before we left.

And now I look at the Board and I see a mix of people, some with ties to the former Tea Party Governor’s regime, some with close ties to Wall Street, and most with experience examining the legal and administrative aspects of bankruptcy, not in governing an Island with 3.5 million actual living, breathing human beings. 

I was not surprised to see political insiders or those who are close to the bond holders.  I assumed as much and I still assume until proven otherwise that most everyone on the Control Board or who lobbies, influences, or helps the Control Board is doing the bidding of the bond-holders who profit from Puerto Rico’s debt and economic hard times.

The fact that four of the seven members are Puerto Rican does not make me feel any more optimistic.  If you look at recent history in Puerto Rico, just having a majority of Puerto Ricans should not give you much comfort.

Wasn’t it Puerto Ricans who beat and pepper sprayed demonstrators at the University and at the Legislature?  Who have gone after journalists, unions, and lawyers in politically-motivated attacks?  Who have put the needs of investors, big Wall Street fat-cats, and political insiders ahead of the people, the environment, and the future of Puerto Rico? 

The Control Board and its members —no matter who they are— start with a deep ocean of mistrust from the Puerto Rican people who question why a new layer of opaque, undemocratic, colonial oversight and control is being imposed. 

That is why I challenged the appointees to the Board to go the extra mile to make their deliberations, meetings, and decisions as transparent as possible. 

When they are governing the Puerto Rican people, will they do so in Spanish—the language of the Puerto Rican people?

Will they make available logs of who they meet with?  Who tries to exert influence?  What Wall Street executives are spinning them or treating them to expensive meals or giving them gifts?

When this Control Board is making decisions that close schools or hospitals, that threaten the environment, public institutions, and every aspect of society in Puerto Rico, will the Puerto Rican people even be given a minimum amount of information in their own language about who is influencing those decisions?

The Junta de Control must make the extra effort to tell Puerto Ricans what their decisions mean, why they are being made, and how decisions were determined. 

As Members of Congress who have essentially grabbed the reins of self-determination from the Puerto Rican people and handed them to this Control Board – are we going to be afforded the level of transparency that we need to determine if what is happening is what we want to happen?

I understand, Mr. Speaker, that some of our colleagues do not like to be reminded of policy issues that were already voted on, especially complicated policy issues that do not seem to impact them directly.

They just want to vote on it and forget it.

But I am not going to let this Congress forget about Puerto Rico or the board we have appointed to rule over the Puerto Rican people.  We cannot just set it and forget it like one of those super-duper wonder machines they sell on the infomercials. 

Puerto Rico is ours, its people are ours, its land is ours, its bays are ours, its toxic landfills and lush forests, its schools and hospitals and health care clinics. These are all ours in the sense that we have been given a sacred duty to govern over Puerto Rico responsibly. 

An unelected Control Board, with no mechanisms for oversight, with no commitment to transparency, with no promise of bilingualism or inclusion, stocked with insiders and people with questionable links to the very problems the Board is supposed to resolve. This does not give me great confidence that this Congress will be alert when the people of Puerto Rico. Our fellow citizens and more importantly, our fellow humans beings are in need of our help.