In Puerto Rico our economy is worsening, our people are fleeing and a humanitarian crisis continues to unfold. We are running out of time and my people are suffering.
Current Puerto Rico legislation pending in the US Congress is the only immediate solution we have at our disposal. I support the current legislation because it gives Puerto Rico breathing space – so the payment of pensions and social services are made first, before debt payments. In this sense, the legislation meets the key moral principle of protecting the common good. The legislation stops exploitative behavior of so-called vulture funds and has a process to bring our debt back to sustainable levels. The "Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act" also contains a framework that incentivizes all creditors and the government of Puerto Rico to come to the table and negotiate a deal in the best interests of my island’s people.
It remains my great hope and prayer that Puerto Rico’s government and all creditors will negotiate a comprehensive agreement in good faith as soon as possible.
My decision to support this legislation was not easy; aspects of the legislation trouble me. The acronym of the legislation, "PROMESA," translates in Spanish to "promise." It's hard to see the promise as my people are being asked to accept a control board in exchange for tools to resolve our debt crisis and stop austerity. I appreciate that current legislation protects the role of our Governor and legislative body in creating and approving budgets and fiscal plans. However, the appointment of an additional body that can slow down or thwart our local democratic process weighs heavy on my heart.
We cannot forget why we are in this situation. While it is true we face this current crisis because of a lack of budget transparency and considerable job loss when Congress failed to renew a tax credit in 2006, there is a deeper cause.
Fundamentally, Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States.
I must directly appeal to my fellow country women and men. Please see this visitation of a control board on our island as a wake-up call. Whether you favor independence, statehood or a type of free association with the United States, the time is now for our people to begin a process to resolve the status of our homeland. We are the only ones who can protect our identity and dignity. Before our island faces the next crisis, we must self-determine who we want to be and our relationship with the United States.
As in any great crisis, there are moments of grace. In times of tumult, Catholics refer to these moments as the Holy Spirit moving among us. I hope a new realization among my people will be one of these grace-filled moments. I also see this grace in some of the current actions of Congress. I am grateful for the truly bipartisan leadership of Republicans and Democrats. Speaker Ryan, Leader Pelosi, Representatives Bishop, Duffy, Young, Grijalva, Pierluisi, Serrano and Velázquez have put the people of Puerto Rico first. The religious community across the United States has worked tirelessly on legislation in the best interests of my people. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples, National evangelical Latino leaders and the Presbyterian Church are just a few of the many examples that have made this legislative action possible. My people are forever in debt to Jubilee USA Network, the religious organization that stood with us when no one else was watching and who built the bipartisan support to pass legislation that can help resolve this crisis.
As this legislation moves forward, I also urge Congress to improve it. Congressman Gutiérrez is working in this direction. Please pass strong and clear targets to reduce the number of kids in Puerto Rico living in poverty. 56% of our kids live in poverty. Pass legislation that protects our island’s workers as they are central to sustaining a culture that values family life.
I ask every Member of Congress to vote for this Puerto Rico legislation to help resolve the current crisis. I invite all of my people to join me, so we can together determine our nation’s identity before we fall prey to the next crisis.
Nieves, OFM, is the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico. González is the President of the Puerto Rico Conference of Catholic Bishops.