Editor’s note: An earlier version of this essay was posted here.
One of the biggest crimes committed by men is to remain passive and silent before injustice. This is more relevant when the nation where I was born projects to be the beacon of freedom and democracy, when in fact it is not, especially with how it treats the territory of Puerto Rico. The United States of America has built a framework to deal with Puerto Rico’s debt with hard economic and austerity policies, only forcing the population into a massive exodus to the states of the Union. That happened in last June, when the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama approved and signed a law called PROMESA (Promise) that effectively takes over the powers and autonomy of the Puerto Rico government, including municipalities and all public agencies.
PROMESA was approved with bipartisan support in just six weeks, a record-breaking period to pass the complex “coup d’etat” legislation confirming the sovereign powers of the U.S. Congress over its colonial possession. I supported the approval of the PROMESA legislation, provided that the 3.4 millions American citizens living in the territory are treated equally, like the citizens of New York City, Washington, D.C., and Detroit. Those cities’ debt restructuring were done in part with federal grants, guarantees and strong economic development policies in order to neutralize the contracting and devastating negative effects of austerity measures. But the Financial Oversight and Management Board created by PROMESA has a different rule for Puerto Rico.
The Financial “Oversight” and Management Board is composed of seven members. Four of those are Puerto Rican. Those four members were appointed to diffuse and neutralize the notion that Washington has effectively taken over the day-to-day operations of the territorial government and to also give the false impression that board is “controlled” by a majority of Puerto Ricans. The recent appointment of Natalie Jaresko, with a track record out of a John Le Carré espionage novel (former first economist at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, later appointed Finance Minister of the Ukraine and subsequently head of a multiple multi-millions dollars funds entity funded by the United States tax payers to “finance” small and medium businesses in the Ukraine and Moldova) is very strong evidence that the appointment was imposed by the powers that be in Washington. Suddenly, the diplomatic bureaucrat became a multi-millionaire. She will earn a salary of $625,000 a year, housing, chauffeur and a monthly airplane ticket to visit her parents’ homeland, the Ukraine.
In an interview, the president of the board, José Carrión III (the brother-in-law of the former Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in Congress, Pedro Pierluisi), made a very revealing and submissive statement. He said, “When I come to Washington and meet with staffers the first thing they say to me is ‘Don’t come here asking for Federal funding or bailouts’.” Mr. Carrión went further by expressing that the debt crisis “will be dealt without any financial assistance from the U.S. Government and that the weight of promoting economic development activities will be primarily done by the private sector.” Several other Puerto Rican members of the board echoed Mr. Carrión statement. In other words, punish the people with more taxes, while those who stole billions administering the colonial regime are enjoying absolute impunity.
Recently, the Puerto Rico government presented a fiscal plan at the request of the board for the year 2017-2018. As a requirement of the fiscal plan the board also asked for cuts for two years of approximately $3.5 billion per year. Among those cuts are more than $ 1 billion in health care cuts for low-income families.
The contrast in the restructuring of the debt and economic crisis in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Detroit with the disparate and discriminatory of Puerto Rico’s plan is unconstitutional. In a meeting with former senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in March 2010, he told me this: “You know, Franklin, that Congress has the power literally to discriminate against U.S. citizens in the territory. For example, U.S. citizens residing and retired in the Republic of Costa Rica receive supplemental Social Security income while that benefit is denied to U.S. citizens in the territory of Puerto Rico.”
His statement blew my mind.
The three major cities that went through the debt crisis received loan guarantees and multiple Federal funding to deal with economic stimulus and development in coping with the challenges of serious austerity measures. The present colonial regime discriminates, segregates and establishes a neo-apartheid form of government in the 21st Century and under the American flag.
The United States has given hundreds of billions of dollars to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to provide economic assistance and bailouts to countries like Portugal, Greece, Tunisia, Italy, Ukraine and many others. The European Union Commission has demanded, just like the fiscal control, strong austerity programs in order to approve multiple bailouts. Despite hundreds of billions in bailouts, the majority of those countries have unemployment levels beyond 25% because of the strong austerity measures. Puerto Rico’s present unemployment rate is 11.3%. Some of the countries received multiple bail outs.
The austerity measures and cuts demanded by the control board will not solve the debt crisis or the economic mess of this U.S. possession.
Recently, Nobel Economic Prize winner Mr. Joseph Stiglitz said that austerity will only deepen the crisis. This means that the population exodus out of Puerto Rico will expand to biblical proportions.
As of now, there are more than five million American citizens of Puerto Rican origin residing in the United States. This is a direct result of political, economic and social policies implanted by Washington in establishing a colonial regime since the invasion of the 1898 Spanish-American war. The Treaty of Versailles gave primary responsibility to the well-being of the citizens of the conquered possession to the U.S. Congress. During 119 years, the U.S. Government established a segregated, discriminatory and apartheid regime in this “enchanted island.” The disparate and colonial treatment has forced the archipelago’s population to leave.
The control board’s absurd position of not demanding from Congress and the White House a strong and robust economic development and job creation program while imposing $7 billions in cuts, including more than $1 billion in health programs, will have catastrophic consequences. It will further fuel massive population exodus. a United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned Great Britain for the discriminatory treatment of immigrants. But in the case of Puerto Rico, the discrimination and disparate treatment is against United States citizens for just living in the territory.
The control board members believe that they are the “children of a lesser god” and that they are above the law:
I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Adding injury to pain, its has been more than 220 days since the control board’s members have not complied with Section 102 of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.) by making public, as mandated, detailed audited financial statements. Specially, when two of its members, Mr. José Ramón Gonzalez and Mr. Carlos “Caco” García, are responsible for a substantial chunk of the debt and the crisis. But life in a colonial regime alienates not only citizens, but politicians, the press and law enforcement agencies. They remain passive and submissive.Impunity and corruption reigns. But I am not the only one frustrated by the absence of law enforcement agencies in this pillage where small investors in the United States and Puerto Rico have already lost more than $36 billions dollars.
Yet nothings happens.
More fascinating is the formulation and structure of the PROMESA Act and the control board. Both follow the same conduct adopted by the Bush and Obama administrations in dealing with a financial crisis: take care of the big bankers and the culprits that caused it. That policy can be summarized in the following manner: “Let’s bail out the to big to fail banks and let the people pay. No banker will go to jail!”
In Puerto Rico’s case, tens of billions of dollars of public bonds issues made with questionable financial statements and fraudulent financial projections will be paid by new taxes, cuts in health, higher education and social programs. while the culprits are free with the same impunity giver to those responsible for the financial system collapse. The Security and Exchange Commission is presently conducting an investigation of the 2009-2014 bonds issues made by the two previous territorial administrations. The control board policy is to squeeze as much tax monies from a decaying and dying economy before injecting any Federal funds. They want the anemic private sector to bear the responsibility of reviving an economy in a state of coma.
The U.S. Government, by legislating PROMESA, creating the control board and by demanding austerity, cuts and economic policies without a strong and robust economic development and job creation program, are coercing and forcing the exodus of the Puerto Rican society to stratospheric levels. Dismembering families and pushing them to seek “the American dream” in the states of the Union. This exodus weakens further a dying economic environment reducing the tax base and government income. The International Criminal Court recognizes coercive acts and public policies, including economic, that forced massive numbers of population to move from their place of origin a crime against humanity. Specifically, Article 7 (1) (d): “Crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer of population” classifies it as a crime against humanity.
Where are the international community, human rights organizations and watchdogs, while Puerto Rico as a society is dismembered and force to leave their place of origin? There are primitive ways, using force and warfare, to destroy a people and to force them to flee. But there are new sophisticated political and economic policies that can achieve the same objectives. The international community is in the same place, watching the Syrian people being slowly destroyed by a civil war sponsored by the major powers of the planet. The same is happening with Puerto Rico in another way.
The people of Puerto Rico will vote on June 11 to choose between statehood or independence/free sovereign association in a plebiscite. My hope is that the people send a strong and solid message in favor of political equality through statehood. Every Puerto Rican that moves to the Union will cost the U.S. taxpayer at least twice as much as servicing their needs in the territory. This is the only way that we can bring Puerto Ricans back to fill the 332,000 empty housing units. Hawaii, when it entered the Union had a population of 620,000, and in 2015 it had 1,442,000. Only statehood will bring Puerto Rico back from the brink of dying. The plebiscite may be the last opportunity of showing our strength and force and sending the loudest democratic expression of our claim to political equality. Is either equality in Puerto Rico or equality in the 50 states of Union.
Franklin D. López is a journalist, writer, broadcaster, builder, equality warrior, political prisoner and a free man. He tweets from @trueblue51, and you can read more of his essays at FranklinDelanoLopez.com.