If you have been following what is happening in Puerto Rico the last few months (or maybe you haven’t), I thought I would provide with a series of recent links and MUST READ pieces that will give you a better perspective on the current economic crisis down on the island. Curating this list of recent op-eds, news articles and even a few videos will hopefully leave you a bit more informed about Puerto Rico—my place of birth, the place I was raised (with a future stop in the Bronx) and a topic I have been studying/covering as a student/blogger/journalist since the late 1980s.
So what is the latest from San Juan? Here is what Bloomberg reported this past Friday:
Puerto Rico said it won’t make a bond payment due Saturday, putting the commonwealth on a path to default and promising to initiate a clash with creditors as it seeks to renegotiate its $72 billion of debt.
The government doesn’t have the money for the $58 million of principal and interest due on Public Finance Corp. bonds, Victor Suarez, the chief of staff for Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said during a press conference Friday in San Juan.
“We cannot make the payment tomorrow because we do not have the funds available,” Suarez told reporters. “This payment will be made as we address how to restructure the government’s debt prospectively.”
In short, Puerto Rico cannot pay its debt. What this means is still open for discussion, but that is where we are at right now. (FYI: Of all the U.S. English-language news outlets out there, Bloomberg’s coverage has been pretty stellar in the area of financial reporting. If you go to this link, you will see almost daily stories about Puerto Rico. So, to get a strong sense of the financial implications of this crisis, read Bloomberg or follow @business on Twitter.)
Right now, a lot is being written and produced by U.S. English-language media about the crisis. Most of the stories are very informative, like this piece in last week’s Guardian, which breaks down what the hedge funds involved in Puerto Rico are recommending for the island. These are the same hedge funds who have been visiting the island and meeting with elected leaders, former politicians and government officials for a while now. Other good stories include a July 3 news article in The New York Times, a front-page NYTimes article from June 28 and a July 17 article from AJ Vicens of Mother Jones. In addition, I just saw this digital video from NBC News, which gives you a Puerto Rico 101 take on it all.
Puerto Rico is indeed getting more coverage and attention, especially in light of the 2016 presidential race. The political press now understands that Puerto Rican voters in Florida matter. Just yesterday, Martin O’Malley became the first Democratic presidential candidate to visit the island, and even though Republican candidate Jeb Bush was technically not a candidate when he visited Puerto Rico in April, he was the first candidate from either party to say that the island’s public agencies should be allowed to seek bankruptcy. Last week, Bush said this to Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart about Puerto Rico: “I believe that since [Puerto Rico is] a territory for U.S. citizens, they should receive the respect first for self-determination, and then we should assist them as much as we can in their economic crisis.”
Which leads me to my main point and why I decided to write this post in the first place. For the best information about how to understand the crisis in Puerto Rico, read what actual Puerto Ricans are writing and saying, too. When I tweeted this in early July, I meant it and I still do:
Dear US English Language Media: You didn’t “discover” #PuertoRicoCrisis as a story. So many Boricua reporters teed it all up for you.
— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) July 8, 2015
So, if I could choose five essential pieces that you should read right now, here they are. (One thing to note: I am presenting these five pieces because they offer a variety of opinions about the topic. This necessarily doesn’t imply that I am fully endorsing all the views of the writers here, just that I do think that these five links will give you a very good picture of the situation and the challenges involved.)
Puerto Rico’s Symbolic Power by Maritza Stanchich: This July 31 piece published in HuffPost Politics is one comprehensive op-ed. (Full disclosure: Maritza and I are friends). This well-researched and well-argued piece rests on the one very simple question that Maritza poses near the end of her essay: “Now that Puerto Rico is no longer important as a capitalist showcase and U.S. military and intelligence outpost of the Cold War era, are its U.S. citizens expendable?”
Statehood Is the Only Antidote for What Ails Puerto Rico by Pedro Pierluisi: The island’s Resident Commissioner (a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the leader of Puerto Rico’s statehood party) wrote a July 10 op-ed in the NYTimes where he makes this an issue of equality: “Puerto Rico’s illness is a chronic condition. The unemployment rate, poverty rate and median household income have always been far worse than any state’s. The main cause is inequality. Residents cannot vote for president or senators, and have one nonvoting delegate in the House. It is disheartening to see many self-styled progressives, who otherwise speak eloquently about the importance of voting rights, go silent on this subject when it comes to Puerto Rico.”
Puerto Rico in crisis: weighed down by $73bn debt as unemployment hits 14% by Ed Morales: Morales, who has written a few pieces this summer for The Guardian about Puerto Rico, filed this June 28 article from San Juan. Here is a part of his central thesis: “The current debt crisis is largely assumed to have resulted from years of irresponsible borrowing by the Puerto Rican government, as if it were a consumer using one credit card to pay off another. But the US government deserves a considerable share of the blame. The Jones Act that gave Puerto Ricans US citizenship in 1917 in effect made Puerto Rico a US dependent. Puerto Rico’s government cannot make trade agreements with other countries. No trading ships can dock in its ports without flying the American flag.”
What a federal financial control board means to Puerto Rico by Gretchen Sierra-Zorita: The Hill published this op-ed on July 25 (yes, Gretchen is a friend, too and also contributed this earlier article for Latino Rebels). It focuses on what few are talking about: what if the federal government formed a control board for Puerto Rico? The article basically says that politicians must begin to put Puerto Rico first: “But the most important condition for Puerto Rico to succeed is for all its elected officials to show commitment to economic reform even if means losing the next election. This is what Washington and Wall Street expect. This is what the people of Puerto Rico deserve.”
What Exactly Is Going on in Puerto Rico? by Luis Gallardo: This July 21 essay, published in La Respuesta, includes detailed commentary and analysis. I even quoted Gallardo in my own July 23 Guardian op-ed: “Government inefficiencies, paternalist politics, clientelism, and short-term politicking are the primary causes of Puerto Rico’s public debt; characteristics that would persist no matter the island’s political status.”
If you want to get into deeper historical conversations and discussions about this topic, I will also share the two recent media appearances I made about Puerto Rico. The first one is of me rambling on for 20+ minutes on Houston’s Pacifica Radio (yes, I did say Spanish Civil War and not Spanish American War at one point) from about two weeks ago:
Last Thursday, I was also part of a Nerding Out show on MSNBC Shift:
In addition, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez spoke twice on the floor of Congress last week about the issue. This is the first video.
This is the second one.
Let me know what you think by tweeting me @julito77.