Human lives must be focus of Puerto Rico fiscal plan
© Greg Nash

As Puerto Rico continues to wrestle with power outages across the island, the federally appointed Financial Oversight and Management Board soon votes on a fiscal plan for economic growth. We are concerned that the current proposed fiscal plans fail to focus on improving and protecting the lives of 3.5 million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico’s oversight board is scheduled to certify a new fiscal plan that takes into account the devastation and immense suffering of Puerto Rico's people due to hurricanes, Irma and Maria.

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Before the hurricanes came, nearly 60 percent of Puerto Rico's children lived in poverty. Today, across Puerto Rico, children are struggling, too often in darkness, to recover from the hurricanes. We are concerned that the current fiscal plans under debate fail to consider the serious impact of these storms. We are concerned that monies Congress authorized for health care and hurricane relief could be used to pay creditors.

How can recently proposed fiscal plans pay 40 cents on the dollar for debt service when the previous plan in place before the hurricanes paid much less to creditors? Before the hurricanes, the fiscal plan called for 25 cents on the dollar for debt service. How can there be calls for the same levels of public pension cuts that were already in place before the hurricanes?

As the next hurricane season begins in weeks, we are concerned that the current plan under debate, leaves Puerto Rico unprepared for future storms.

A final fiscal plan should meet the following criteria:

  • There should be "breathing space" for the island from debt payments. Earlier proposed fiscal plans included a 5 year moratorium on all debt payments. This debt payment moratorium should be part of the new plan. Additionally, during this period interest must not accrue on the debt. 
  • Beyond this five year debt moratorium period, no debt should be paid until Puerto Rico sees positive economic growth, a reduction in child poverty and the island has rebuilt from the hurricanes.
  • Ultimately, the total debt must be restructured and the principal of the debt must be cut. The fiscal plan should reflect the need for definitive debt cancellation of at least 80 percent of Puerto Rico's debt.
  • The fiscal plan should prevent further austerity measures, set goals to reduce child poverty, ensure adequate social protections, defend against corruption and stem migration from the island. 

In recent months, the process around the creation of the fiscal plan has been combative and produced plans that fail to meet the needs of Puerto Rico’s people. We urge the governor, the oversight board, creditors, the people most affected by these crises and all stakeholders to dialogue and work together.

Christians are celebrating the Season of Easter and Jews just celebrated Passover. Underlying these sacred seasons are the themes of resurrection, liberation and new life. We pray for rebirth, freedom and new life for Puerto Rico's people. Puerto Rico can be reborn after the hurricanes. Puerto Rico's people can be free from debt, corruption and constraining economic policies.

Together we can ensure that there is new life for the people of Puerto Rico.

Monsignor Roberto González is the Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese San Juan de Puerto Rico, Reverend Heriberto Martínez is the Secretary General of Puerto Rico’s Bible Society, Reverend Enrique Camacho is the Executive Director of Catholic Charities (Caritas) Puerto Rico, Eric LeCompte is the Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network