On Wednesday, a coalition of activists gathered at the New York City Federal Courthouse where a hearing was underway regarding Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt. Federal bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain was supposed to deliberate on whether to eliminate $6 billion of the general obligation debt, a debt that had already been declared illegal by the Financial Oversight Management Board. Chanting “You’re killing our people, this debt is illegal” and “Cancel the Debt” rally participants demanded that Judge Swain remove the $6 billion from Puerto Rico’s financial obligations.
The Financial Oversight Management Board’s decision had come as a surprise to many activists who had already called for the cancelation of the $6 billion since most of the board’s actions and recommendations have been in favor of the banks which have profited of Puerto Rico’s debt.
Shirley Aldebol, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU and steering committee member of VAMOS4PR, “We know that this and much more of the island’s debt was acquired illegally and should be eliminated. So we here today to make sure that Judge Swain knows she should cancel the $6 billion in debt she should cancel way more than that. The people of PR should not be burdened with this unjust debt.”
$34 billion of $72 billion owed, is in service fees and interests alone. The financial restructuring efforts combined with the Jones act is considered a dream come true for Wall Street, and Puerto Ricans fear that the measures will never give the island a chance for economic development. The debt has not been audited and financial institution have reaped record profits from the bonds they created for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico, still trying to recover from Hurrican Maria, has experienced massive layoffs in the public and private sector, cuts in healthcare, and the closing of over 300 schools. Civil servants have seen a drastic reduction in pension benefits. In an effort to pay off the debt, Puerto Rico’s sales tax was increased to 11.5%, the highest in the nation, negatively impacting an already economically stressed population.