The following media release was shared on Wednesday afternoon by Center For Popular Democracy Action and VAMOS4PR:
NEW YORK — Community activists focused on Puerto Rico, including Center For Popular Democracy Action, Diáspora en Resistencia, VAMOS4PR, New York Communities for Change, and others, rallied today outside a federal courtroom in downtown Manhattan, as well as in several cities, as part of a day of action to demand that the island’s public debt be cancelled.
Happening in NY! Hundreds gather to demand that judge Swain stand with the people of #PuertoRico and declare 6 billion dollars of debt illegal. Lets put people over profit!! #CanceltheDebt pic.twitter.com/GImCGYsxUO
— Julio E. (@jlopezvarona) March 13, 2019
The actions took place during a hearing on Puerto Rico presided over by Judge Laura Taylor Swain, a federal bankruptcy judge in charge of deciding what will happen to the $72 billion debt.
The hearing was supposed to include deliberation on whether $6 billion of the general obligation debt should be eliminated. The judge did not do so. Instead, lawyers representing the Federal Oversight Management Board (FOMB) advocated that the next actions the judge should take would finalize a deal covering a plan of adjustment for the full amount of the debt by next month.
Activists in New York gathered outside the court where the hearing took place, waving large Puerto Rican flags and chanting “Judge Swain Get Off It, Put People Over Profit!” and “No debemos, No pagamos” (we don’t owe, so we won’t pay).
— Julio E. (@jlopezvarona) March 13, 2019
“The Financial Oversight Management Board has already stated that portions of the Puerto Rican debt are illegal. Judge Swain should not allow any restructuring deal to be finalized before we fully understand how much of the debt is illegal,” said Julio Varona López, Co-director of Community Dignity Campaigns at the Center For Popular Democracy, VAMOS4PR steering committee member and coordinator at Hedge Clippers. “Anything less would mean that the people of Puerto Rico would be unjustly burdened with paying an illegal debt that would benefit banks over people.”
“We were surprised that the Board declared part of the debt illegal, but only because most of their actions and recommendations had continued favoring the banks that have profited unjustly from Puerto Rico’s debt,” said Shirley Aldebol, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU and part of the steering committee of VAMOS4PR. “We have known for a while that this, and much more of the island’s public debt, was acquired illegally, and should be eliminated. If this illegal debt is not removed, a just recovery will be out of the reach of the island’s people for decades.”
At the court. Judge Laura Taylor Swain, the federal bankruptcy court judge in charge of Puerto Rico’s debt, should declare illegal and cancel the $6 billion that the Fiscal Control Board recognized as "invalid" and in violation of the Puerto Rico Constitution. #CancelTheDebt pic.twitter.com/F9YZNmELhY
— NYCC (@nychange) March 13, 2019
“Banks have enjoyed record profits from the bonds they created for Puerto Rico, while Puerto Ricans suffer from severe cuts of basic services,” said Krizia Lopez, a Senior Lead Organizer with Organize Florida, who works directly with the Puerto Rican community. “The debt is illegal, it has not been audited and we know that part of it is unconstitutional and affects all aspects of our lives.”
Elsewhere, community members took the day to call Congress members to ask that they use the powers granted to them by the 2016 PROMESA law to exercise oversight of the Board and hold accountable institutions that have profited from Puerto Rico’s economic and climate crisis.
The next omnibus court hearing on the debt will take place April 24.
“Those who have given the world every major economic crisis you can think of from Malaysia, to Greece, and Argentina, are the same ones who have manufactured the current crisis in Puerto Rico, said Eduardo Rosario, President of the NYC Chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). “The people of Puerto Rico are paying off this debt with their lives and should not be held responsible for the actions of predatory investors from Wall Street.”
“Judge Swain has demonstrated she has no moral or ethical compass for the residents of Puerto Rico. Because of her approval of the COFINA plan coupled with the Jones Act, the possibility for economic development in Puerto Rico is virtually non-existent,” said community activist Nicole Torres. “In fact, she has positioned us closer to extermination. This is no longer a debt crisis. It is indeed tactical steps towards genocide.”
Center For Popular Democracy Action is a national network of more than 50 community organizations dedicated to achieving racial and economic justice through local grassroots organizing. CPD trains and supports leadership, staff, and members to grow base-building organizations to scale and leverage that strength to win cutting-edge policy victories at the federal, state and local level. cpdaction.org
VAMOS4PR is a network of stateside labor, community, cultural, and human rights groups committed to fighting for a better future for Puerto Rico and empowering the Puerto Rican diaspora. www.Vamos4pr.org