Archbishop Seeks Remedy to Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis

Puerto Rico is facing a fiscal crisis. This has largely escaped the attention of the American public. Thankfully Archbishop Roberto González Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico has taken to Time to shine light on the debt crisis his nation faces, the human impact, and how we might respond. He writes:

Puerto Rico, the island where I serve as Archbishop of San Juan, is $72 billion in debt. That $72 billion represents about $20,000 of debt for every man, woman, and child on our island. Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced last month that the island cannot pay its debts, and that a solution is needed. Many bad scenarios now loom, including default.

The victims of this crisis are not any government—they are my people. Puerto Rico’s debt comes from a combination of mismanagement, bad luck, and its unique colonial status as neither a sovereign country nor a U.S. state. In recent years, Puerto Rico’s debt has become a death spiral….

The consequences are tragic. About 80% of children in Puerto Rico live in high-poverty areas, compared to about 11% of children in the U.S. The island’s poverty rate is about 44%, and unemployment is almost 13%. Already the island is feeling the impact of austerity—last fall, the Department of Health cancelled emergency helicopter service due to lack of funds. Debt is bringing death and increased hardship to our people….

First and foremost, Puerto Rico needs debt relief….But the U.S. Congress also has a role to play. Our non-voting member of Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, introduced legislation in the U.S. House to allow Puerto Rican entities to declare bankruptcy. Now Senators Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal have introduced a similar measure in the Senate. Although not a perfect solution, bankruptcy protection would provide a more fair, transparent system for resolving Puerto Rico’s debt burden and creating the fiscal space we need to grow our economy and serve our people. The issue is now gaining traction in the U.S. presidential race as well. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton both called for bankruptcy protection for Puerto Rico. Congress should pass this legislation immediately.

The full article can be read here.