New York-based Puerto Rican artists Eric Aviles and Arlene Chico-Lugo have long used performance art to fight for Puerto Rico’s independence, but they have recently turned their attention to raising awareness about the island’s US$400 million debt default and the vulture funds threatening to swoop in and exploit the crisis.
“Already people are struggling to survive,” Chico-Lugo told teleSUR’s Ñ Don’t Stop ahead of an action on Wall Street focused on slamming the U.S. hedge funds looking to buy up Puerto Rico’s defaulted debt and profiteer from the country’s economic struggles.
“People are leaving the island,” Chico-Lugo said, noting that Puerto Rico’s sales tax, which at 11.5 percent is already over 2 percent more than the U.S. state with the highest rate, could be increased by over 4 percent in the coming months. “There’s mass immigration happening at a level that’s never been seen before because nobody can find a job.”
She added that she “can’t even imagine” how Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, compounded by predatory lenders and further austerity, will make an already bad situation worse for the people of the island.
Chico-Lugo and her fellow artist Aviles argued that the debt crisis and the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, known as the Promesa Bill, is a pretext to undermine democracy in Puerto Rico and ramp up colonial rule on the island by giving U.S. authorities more power than Puerto Rico’s own government.
“It’s heartbreaking that you have non-Puerto Ricans making the decisions about our future,” said Aviles, pointing to the Republican-headed effort to create an oversight board elected by U.S. Congress to deal with the debt debacle.
Aviles and Chico-Lugo staged a performance protest on Wall Street using a vulture mask to represent predatory hedge fund lenders, known as vulture funds, and chains to represent Puerto Rico’s long history of colonial bondage and the burden of the debt.
The protest comes as Puerto Rico skipped a US$422 million debt payment on Monday, with billions more still owed to hedge funds, credit unions and other bondholders.
The debt crisis has worsened as Argentina, the iconic victim of vulture funds, has reached agreements that will bring an end to over a decade of court battles with hedge funds that rejected debt restructuring after the country’s 2001 default. The case sets a dangerous precedent by showing that it pays for vulture funds to hold out.
Experts fear that the crisis in Puerto Rico could continue to worsen in the coming months.
Puerto Rico has a total of US$71 billion in bond debt.