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Activists Call For Puerto Rican Debt Oversight Board to Revisit Repayment

It's almost year since a financial oversight board was set up to resolve the debt crisis on the island of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican government owes about $9 billion, and as the anniversary approaches, it looks likely that changes could be made to the way that debt is restructured. 

But labor unions and other activists say the well being of the Puerto Rican people hasn't being taken into account.

Hartford, which has a big Puerto Rican population, was one of the cities that saw demonstrations this week against the oversight board's control.

Juan Hernandez leads the SEIU 32BJ union in Connecticut, and he's originally from Puerto Rico. He said people in Puerto Rico are suffering, after the minimum wage was cut to $4.50 an hour. Government offices have laid off 20 percent of staff and teachers are retiring without pensions.

"This is a disgrace for this country that they allow this to happen," he told WNPR. "The thing that we're asking the United States government is to allow the government of Puerto Rico to declare themselves in bankruptcy, like Detroit did in Michigan. But we don't have that option."

Hernandez said the oversight board is too concerned with seeing that investors get paid, rather than discovering if loans to the Puerto Rican government were made on predatory terms.

"What we want, is that a board that is not controlled by people that work in Wall Street, go over the debt of the Puerto Rican government and then define what should be paid, and what should not be paid," he said. "A lot of those loans that were given to the government of Puerto Rico are probably unconstitutional."

Hernandez's union is concerned that many members of the oversight board have close ties to the hedge funds and banks that profited from loaning funds to the island’s government.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.
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