Monday, September 5, 2016

What to make of the Puerto Rico Fiscal Control Board?

Back in June, the US Congress agreed on a bill to "solve" Puerto Rico's financial problems.  One of the solutions under the PROMESA Act (who says that politicians and their aides do not have a sense of humor?) is the establishment of a federal control board to oversee the finances of the island and the restructuring of the notorious Puerto Rican debt.  And just this past week, President Obama appointed seven members to the board, five of whom are Latin@s.

This is in-your-face colonialism for a 21st Century audience.
Say what you want about the debt and how Puerto Rico got to the point it finds itself today.  Whether the Jones Act is "suffocating" the Puerto Rican economy; whether the banks collected massive -- and some argue illegal -- fees in handling "scoop and toss" deals as they helped the island kick the debt down the road; whether  "vulture" hedge fund are taking advantage of the island; or whether Puerto Rico gets what it deserves after years of mismanagement and waste; the fact is that the island and its 3.5 US citizens are in a deep economic hole.  As I think about all of this, my mind always returns to the same place: what does the Constitution have to say about all of this?

What does the Constitution have to say about Puerto Rico's inability to allow its municipalities to enter chapter 9 bankruptcy?  What does the Constitution have to say about Puerto Rico's voice in affecting its own economic future?  What does the Constitution have to say about the appointment of a "fiscal control board" by political elites in the US and over which the Puerto Rican people have no control?

If this is not colonialism, the term has ceased to have any meaning.

To be sure, the question over the status of Puerto Rico is a complex one.  But how do we argue on the one hand about American values and ideals while at the same time ignoring if not condoning the status of Puerto Rico?

Put as clearly as I know how: how is the present-day status of Puerto Rico constitutional?  Or put a different way; what kind of a constitution condones colonial status?

That's not a trick question.

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