Four U.S. senators wrote a letter to Congress and to President Obama asking to have the fiscal oversight board, a neutral group of financial experts charged with helping Puerto Rico get past its debt crisis, be made up of Puerto Ricans.
The four, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeffrey Merkeley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), wrote about the amount of power the fiscal board could have and said, “we ask that you honor the concept of self-governance and appoint only qualified candidates from Puerto Rico.”
They felt that a board of outsiders would limit the input of the people of Puerto Rico, and that outsiders might not respect or understand the realities of life in Puerto Rico. “You should ensure that the board is composed of members who maintain a primary residence on the island,” they wrote, “and have a strong understanding of the structural causes of poverty in Puerto Rico and its socio-economic history.” In short, they wanted all the people on the board to be people who live in Puerto Rico.”
PROMESA, the law that establishes the fiscal oversight board and governs the way they approach the challenge of helping Puerto Rico deal with creditors, doesn’t require all the board members to be from Puerto Rico or to live in Puerto Rico.
Would it be better to make sure that all the board members are Puerto Rican?
The advantage would be that they would know the Island well and understand what it’s like to live there. This could give them a greater understanding of how their decisions would affect the residents of Puerto Rico. As the senators pointed out, the fiscal board would have the power to restrict essential services like schools, police, and emergency services.
Of course, the governor has already made such restrictions.
Puerto Rico Senator Thomas Rivera Schatz took a different position. Puerto Rico is the responsibility of the Congress. Congress makes all the rules and the decisions for Puerto Rico, because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. “If you really believe that the problem of Puerto Rico is the mismanagement of the colony, and not the lack of equal rights, responsibilities, benefits and opportunities as American citizens,” he told El Vocero, “then the federal government should assume all of the consequences of their own actions with this board.”
We believe that the problem of Puerto Rico is the lack of equal rights, responsibilities, benefits, and opportunities as American citizens.
Schatz went on to say that the board is intended to be neutral, free of local political alignments and able to make the right decisions for the future, regardless of the objections and resentments that are bound to arise.
“President Obama and the Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress should know that that board faces challenges and difficult decisions that will cause resentment, protests and problems on the island. They want to appoint Puerto Ricans to become the shields in all disputes and pressures they face with the board. That is the old colonial game in Washington DC: stir up ideological confrontations among the different sectors in Puerto Rico to produce stalemates and use them to continue the ‘status quo’ — colonial stagnation.”
Would creating a board of neutral financial experts who live in Puerto Rico make the fiscal oversight board more democratic… or would it just perpetuate the illusion of self government that keeps Congress from taking responsibility for the status of Puerto Rico?
Tell your congressional representatives what you think. And tell us in the comments.