“Compromise” protects vulture funds, not Puerto Rico
José A. Laguarta Ramírez
At least 23 of the 49 people killed in the mass shooting that took place at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12 were born in Puerto Rico. While the horrendous hate crime targeted LGBT people of all ethnicities, the large proportion of island-born casualties is not surprising, as the central Florida city has become a preferred destination of Puerto Rican migrants over the past two decades. Steadily growing since the onset of the island’s current “fiscal” crisis in 2006, yearly out-migration from Puerto Rico now surpasses that of the 1950s. The island’s total population has begun to decline for the first time in its history.
Nearly a third of the island-born victims of the Orlando massacre were 25 or younger, most of them students employed in services or retail. This is the population group that will be hit hardest when the ironically named Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) comes into effect. Among its other “promises” for working-class Puerto Ricans, PROMESA will cut the minimum wage in Puerto Rico for those under 25, from the current federally mandated $7.25 to $4.25 per hour, and scale back the federal nutritional assistance program on the island. Purportedly aimed at “job-creation,” these measures will likely intensify the outflow of able-bodied “low-skilled” workers. Ongoing out-migration has already decimated the number of available healthcare and other professionals on the island. Puerto Rico’s 2013 median household income of $19,183 was barely half that of Mississippi, the poorest U.S. state (at $37,479), despite a cost of living that rivals that of most major cities in the United States. Inequality on the island is also greater than in any of the states.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved PROMESA on the evening of June 9, following a strong endorsement by President Barack Obama. The bill, which would also impose an unelected and unaccountable federal oversight board and allow court-supervised restructuring of part of the island’s $73 billion debt, now awaits consideration by the Senate. Its advocates hope the president can sign PROMESA into law before July 1, when $1.9 billion’s worth of Puerto Rico general obligation bonds will come due. Unlike those issued by public utility corporations and certain autonomous agencies, general obligation bonds, under Puerto Rico’s colonial constitution, must be repaid before any further public spending for the following fiscal year is authorized. Puerto Rico’s government has partially defaulted three times within the past year, but not on general obligation bonds. Puerto Rico is not the only place, under the global regime of austerity capitalism to face predatory creditors and the imposition of unelected rulers —as illustrated by cases like Argentina, Greece, and post-industrial U.S. cities such as Flint, Mich.— but its century-old colonial status has made it particularly vulnerable and defenseless.
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