The Value of Appointing Puerto Ricans on the Fiscal Oversight Board

Four U.S. senators — Robert Menendez (D-NJ),  Jeffrey Merkeley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — wrote letters to the individuals charged with appointing members of the fiscal oversight board mandated in PROMESA, the new law to address Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.  The letters, one to the leaders of the house and senate, and the other to the president, ask that the members of the board be residents of Puerto Rico.

“As the board will hold unprecedented power over the fiscal management and general governance of the island,” the letters read, “we ask that you honor the concept of self-governance and appoint only qualified candidates from Puerto Rico.”

The Hill presented this letter as a cry from liberal senators demanding respect for the people of Puerto Rico.  The senators said they’re “disappointed that the democratically elected representatives of Puerto Rico were not given any representation on the board, and we find it highly objectionable that neither they nor the people will be given an opportunity to weigh in on the establishment of the board.”

The letter also pointed out that the fiscal oversight board will theoretically have the power to “close schools; shutter hospitals; cut pensions; and lay off teachers, police, and firefighters.”

“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.”

Read here about one example of how Puerto Rico’s lack of input in Congress impacts how Congress’s far-reaching authority plays out in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Senator Thomas Rivera-Schatz had another perspective. “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 said in an interview in El Vocero, “then the federal government should assume all of the consequences of their own actions with this board.”

Senator Rivera-Schatz, former President of the Puerto Rico Senate, describes the idea of building the board of Puerto Ricans as “a farce.”

“If the federal Fiscal Control Board (JCF) becomes another scenario of local characters and local political controversies, then it ends up being another agency of misrule over the Commonwealth,” Senator Rivera-Schatz continued. “So I reprove and repudiate the idea that someone of Puerto Rican origin should accept an appointment to this board. Whoever agrees to be part of that board will be playing the colonialist manipulation game of the Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House. In addition, they will be subordinating the real needs of Puerto Ricans to pay creditors.”

Suggesting that putting Puerto Ricans on the board “is not an act of generosity or kindness, but politicking,” Rivera-Schatz said, “More Puerto Ricans appointed as the seven members of that board cannot erase the inequality and discrimination of the colonial condition to which Puerto Rico has been exposed for 118 long years; even if the People voted in the Plebiscite of 2012 to reject colonialism.”

Rivera-Schatz questions the motivation of those who want to see the board made up of Puerto Rican leaders. “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’ — the colonial stagnation — and to justify their mistakes, omissions, and  discrimination against Puerto Rico. How many times have we heard the stupid claim from Washington DC that the problems of the island are not resolved because Puerto Ricans do not agree among themselves? In the federal capital they have full responsibility for this chaotic colony imposed on us unilaterally and undemocratically. They are ashamed to manage their broken and discredited colony!”

Even if the people arguing for a Puerto Rican membership on the board are sincere, Rivera-Schatz points out their errors.

“One of the main arguments used in Congress during the discussion of the PROMISE legislation was the need to create a board that is free of controversies and local political pressures, a group of people who feel in complete freedom to make the right decisions even if they were difficult. Therefore, naming Puerto Ricans who would always be linked to a particular political party or local power would be a contradiction of the purposes that federal officials used to justify the creation of the board.

“If you appoint ‘statehooders,’ then it would be said that the board and the incoming government of PNP are the same thing. Conversely, if someone linked to PPD is appointed, then it would seem that the board does not work because Puerto Ricans defiled themselves with their internal political disputes. In both scenarios, the inventors of this board in Washington DC would wash their hands and that is the real reason behind the ‘good faith’ of wanting to name Puerto Ricans.

“If Congress and the White House decided to exercise their sovereignty to legislate this board of colonial receivership, while doing nothing to solve the root of the problem which is the colonial system, then they are federal promoters of the legislation who should take full responsibility for the actions and the results of that board, whether positive or negative.”

Download the letters:

Letter on Appointing Puerto Ricans to the Oversight Board (President)

Letter on Appointing Puerto Ricans to the Oversight Board (Congress)

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