Puerto Rico Backed into a Corner

EspañolThe situation in Puerto Rico continues to intensify, and the time for critical action has arrived. On February 6, the US District Court in Puerto Rico declared the island’s Recovery Act unconstitutional, and forbade local officials from implementing the law.

The legislation would have given local agencies a form of bankruptcy protection not afforded to the commonwealth. Judge Francisco Besosa said the proposal overstepped the commonwealth’s bounds of authority. Bondholders filed suit to stop the law, but the island’s government plans to appeal.

The decision follows reports in El Nuevo Dia and Fox News Latino that confirm the island’s total debt is much higher than the official amount of US$73 billion. Political analyst Luis Davila Colon and this author have both publicly questioned the government’s figures on the PanAm Post in the last year.

"Puero Rico is Broke": <em>El Nuevo Dia</em> confirms the island's real debt could be as high as US$167 billion dollars, more than double the official estimate.
“Puero Rico is Broke”: El Nuevo Dia confirms the island’s real debt could be as high as US$167 billion dollars, more than double the official estimate. (@mituvoice)

The confirmation by El Nuevo Dia that the debt could be as high as US$167 billion dollars (more than double the official estimate), comes as daily newspaper Primera Hora reports another 74,000 people have left the island, adding to the hundreds of thousands who fled in recent years due to the ongoing financial crisis.

In the meantime, Puerto Rico’s government continues finger pointing and looking for any way out of the crisis, except by doing what is actually necessary. This is compounded by the run-up to the next election in 2016. Every politician is trying to distance himself  from the cause of the problem, while throwing blame at the other guy, the other party, the bond holders, the judge, or Congress — whoever might seem like a good target at the time.

Enough! Do the job, or step aside.

How much longer can the people of Puerto Rico stand the constant suffering? How much longer will the public-sector unions and their lackey politicians avoid blame for the damage they have caused? How much longer until the people of Puerto Rico come to the simple understanding that they only have themselves to blame for their situation?

In many ways Puerto Rico is like the small island of Vieques. The island fought for years to kick the US Navy out on the false premise that their presence hurt the people of Vieques. Hundreds if not thousand of politicians, artists, and other fame-seekers went to the island to get arrested and get their faces on TV as someone pretending to care.

Well, guess what? They won. The Navy is gone, and with it left 5,000 jobs after the closing of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. The result? Murders on the island of Vieques reached epidemic proportions, and the people there have never been worse off than they are today.

On the main island, demands for more workers’ rights and benefits for both unionized public employees and other workers has led to thousands of businesses shutting down and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost.

What good are workers’ rights if workers don’t have jobs?

Puerto Rico must find a leader who will address the real problem. The island must reduce the size of its government by no less than 50 percent; it must amend all union contracts to reduce benefits for all employees, current and former; and if at all possible, repeal public-employee unionization altogether.

The island must focus on its primary responsibilities, such as public safety and infrastructure, but must also build a tax code that is both fair and effective. It must streamline government operations and privatize as much as possible. Not to mention that the US territory must find a way to finally solve its energy problem and the high cost of utilities.

The only other alternative is for the US Congress to suspend the island’s Constitution and appoint an interim governor to fix the problem. Either way, the future is ugly for the island of enchantment, and there are no fairy tales left to tell.

Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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