The United States Congress’ decision to push through the PROMESA bill for Puerto Rico — seting up a federal control board to manage its economy and restructure its debt — has been widely heralded as a move to “rescue” the island from its crippling US$73 billion debt crisis.
But such celebratory framing of the bipartisan-backed PROMESA ignores the fact that critics are deeply concerned that the “colonial” bill is a pretext to undermine democracy in Puerto Rico while obscuring how U.S. policies toward the island fomented the debt disaster in the first place.
A recent poll published by the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia found that 54 percent of voters on the island reject the imposition of a federal control board, while 69 percent said they backed the plans from the candidates for governor of Puerto Rico to fight back against PROMESA, or the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act.
While Puerto Rico undoubtedly is between a rock and a hard place, under the burden of its massive debt load with decisions about its future being made by a Congress that citizens on the island can’t elect, here are five progressive lawmakers from Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland who have taken a stand to highlight what’s wrong with PROMESA.
1. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders: “Horrific Bill”
Bernie Sanders has slammed PROMESA as the “wrong direction” for Puerto Rico and criticized the austerity measures that it will ramp up, including cuts to pensions, education and health care as well as increased taxes for the working class.
The senator from Vermont vowed not to vote for PROMESA this week, telling reporters he wanted to defeat the “horrific bill,” which he also characterized as “unhealthy bureaucracy,” according to the Washington Post.
"Is this legislation smacking of the worst form of colonialism, in the sense that it takes away all of the important democratic rights of the American citizens of Puerto Rico?” Sanders asked during New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez’s filibuster against PROMESA on Tuesday, according to the Washington Post.
Menendez responded with one word: “Absolutely.”
2. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz: “Broken Promise”
Speaking to Democracy Now in the wake of the House decision to pass PROMESA on to the Senate, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz criticized the bill for setting up a “colonial control board” for Puerto Rico.
“PROMESA is a broken promise to the people of Puerto Rico,” she said, adding that the bill has definitively revealed that Puerto Rico remains a “colony” of the United States.
“We have no voice,” Yulin Cruz continued, “because we have been left to be voiceless by those that claim to be the beacon of democracy.”
She slammed the bill for paving the way for a control board to slash the minimum wage to US$4.25 per hour for youth under 25, sell off natural resources, and overrule decisions taken by the next local government.
3. House Democrat Luis Gutierrez: “Wholly Undemocratic Junta”
Luis Gutierrez’s scathing critique of PROMESA was among the most powerful objections from Democratic members of Congress to the bill when it passed through the House.
“We’re engaged today in a wholly undemocratic activity in the world’s greatest democracy,” Gutierrez said. “We’re debating how we will take power from the people, who are virtually powerless already.”
“You are imposing a junta—because that’s what they’re calling it,” he continued. “There will be no difference between this junta and the junta of Pinochet in Chile, as far as the international community is concerned.”
4. Puerto Rico’s Maria de Lourdes Santiago: “Failed Colonial Experiment”
Candidate for governor of the island with the Puerto Rican Independence Party Maria de Lourdes Santiago said that the vote in favor of PROMESA in the Senate marked “the final acceptance of the failure of the colonial project of the Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico.
“Sixty four years of so-called ‘self-government’ has left us with a country in bankruptcy,” she said. “With all the evils of political inferiority accentuated by incompetence and corruption.”
She added that the political moment in Puerto Rico underscores her party’s commitment to working to “demand independence and reject colonialism” on behalf of Puerto Ricans.
5. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez: “End of Democracy”
Robert Menendez launched a four-hour filibuster in the Senate on Tuesday in protest of PROMESA as both Republicans and Democrats scrambled to get their representatives on board ahead of Wednesday’s cloture vote to push the bill forward .
“The July 1 deadline is not the end of the world,” Menendez said, according to the Morning Consult. “Don’t make July 1 the end of democracy for Puerto Ricans.”
“We owe it to the people of Puerto Rico to have open and robust debate on this bill,” raising concerns about “federal overreach.”
Last month, Menendez warned in the Senate that PROMESA would likely be “little more than a bandaid on a bullet hole” of the island’s “unsustainable debt,” NBC News reported. He predicted that the crisis will only deepen if Congress fails to deal with it “in a meaningful way.”