Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, met in San Juan last week with Rob Bishop, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Pierluisi thanked Bishop in a press release, saying, “I am grateful that Chairman Bishop took the time to travel to Puerto Rico to observe the territory’s challenges firsthand and to speak personally with island leaders. Our conversation today, like our previous conversations, was positive and constructive. It is clear that Chairman Bishop is approaching this problem in good faith.”
But the press release also emphasized that the problems in Puerto Rico are complex. “There is not a single crisis in Puerto Rico,” Pierluisi said in his statement, “but rather a series of intertwined crises: an economic crisis, a fiscal crisis, a liquidity crisis, a debt crisis, a migration crisis, and a public administration crisis.”
Pierluisi reaffirmed the conclusion that has been presented at recent hearings on Puerto Rico: the legislative proposal that Speaker Ryan has called for before March 31st must include both debt restructuring and oversight. At the most recent hearing on the debt crisis, Antonio Weiss, Counselor to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, presented the position of the Treasury in just those terms, saying that oversight without a plan to allow restructuring of debts would not solve the problem. It would instead, Weiss said, lead to a cascade of defaults and litigation.
Pierluisi said that the plan Bishop is preparing “must pair reasonable debt restructuring authority with independent and temporary oversight of the Puerto Rico government’s budgeting practices and fiscal policymaking. A bill that contains one of these elements, but not the other, cannot obtain the bipartisan support necessary to be enacted into law and, even if it could, would not be effective.”
Pierluisi, along with many members of Congress, called last year for an extension of chapter 9 bankruptcy protection to Puerto Rico without including oversight in their proposals. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, have recommended oversight without agreeing to debt restructuring. Pierluisi now believes that both elements are necessary parts of the equation.
Pierluisi also pointed out that Puerto Rico’s status is part of the problem. “Puerto Rico must turn the page on its 118-year-old status as a U.S. territory,” he insisted. “This crisis has exposed, like no other event in our history, the inherent and profound defects of this status. Territory status deprives Puerto Rico of power, dignity and basic tools to confront our challenges. In the near future, Puerto Rico must become a state or a sovereign nation.
Pierluisi emphasized that Puerto Ricans are generally proud and patriotic U.S. citizens, and that independence is not a popular option in Puerto Rico. He said, as previous votes have repeatedly shown, that statehood is preferable to independence for most of the people of Puerto Rico. “But either option is preferable to the status quo,” he concluded, “which is an absolute disgrace for both the United States and Puerto Rico.”