Activists Draw Attention to Puerto Rico’s Plight

Organize now
Frederick Vélez of Organize Now urges elected officials to take Puerto Rico’s fiscal plight seriously. /photo by Maria Padilla

As expected Puerto Rico this week defaulted on $422 million in debt, while Congress is no closer to reaching an agreement on a debt restructuring.

To draw attention to the island’s ongoing fiscal plight, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla made a 10-minute address to the island in which he pleaded that Puerto Rico could do no more, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to Congress imploring it to act and local activists pushed for solidarity among local elected officials on behalf of Puerto Rico.

“All elected officials need to take this crisis seriously,” said Frederick Vélez, lead organizer for Latino affairs at Organize Now, who formerly worked for Cong. José Serrano (D-NY) and arrived in Orlando just two weeks ago. “We need a plan so that we know that we’re being taken seriously,” he stated outside the Centro Borinqueño in east Orange County, where Organize Now held a press conference.

Organize Now has collected over 3,000 signatures on a petition pressing for no further cuts in education, pensions, healthcare and other essential services on the island. The organization said it would send the petition to federal, state and local elected officials.

“Today there’s a community here that’s going to make sure all Puerto Ricans are going to vote in the next election,” said labor organizer Jimmy Torres-Vélez, who is part of the coalition. “We are going to require that city and county commissioners have a stand on Puerto Rico.”

State Rep. Víctor Torres (D-48) pointed out that he and others earlier attempted to pass a resolution in symbolic support of Puerto Rico in the State House but it failed. “The House leadership wouldn’t support it so it didn’t happen,” he said, adding that support for the island is a “no brainer.”

In Congress, meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are wide apart on the issues, particularly on imposing a financial control board of mostly outsiders to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances – Republicans are for it, Democrats are against.

In his letter to Congress Treasury Secretary Lew stated, “Absent enactment of a workable framework for restructuring Puerto Rico’s debts, bondholders will experience a lengthy, disorderly, and chaotic unwinding, with non-payment for many a real possibility.”

Thus far, Puerto Rico has defaulted on $1.9 billion of $72 billion in debt, according to the U.S. Treasury. Another $1 billion is due in July. This week’s default technically involved about $389 million because the island reached an accord with some debtors to delay payment.

A shrinking tax base due to historic-level migration is making the situation worse. More than 112,000 people fled the island in the first 10 months of 2015, according to the latest reports. Florida is the No. 1 destination and Central Florida, in particular, is home to the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the state.

There are 1 million Puerto Ricans living in Florida, which has experienced a significant jump in the population group since 2010.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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