Background: The Governor of Puerto Rico’s declaration that the 72 billion dollar public debt to Wall Street is unplayable brought international attention to the Island as the center of a financial scandal comparable to Greece. The biggest in the municipal bond market, sufficient to stir to action the legislative, judicial and administrative branches of US government, indifferent to a non incorporated territory with a Resident Commissioner with voice and no vote in Congress.
The Committee on Natural Resources, which oversees the unincorporated territories that are property but not part of the US, first proposed HR 4900. It provides for a financial board of appointed officials with final say on the budget. After several months of discussion, project 5278 has come forward, in way to the floor of the House. The stone has stirred the hive, the terms have come out of the closet; this might be the way solve this shameful situation.
The title of this column helps me to search for some understanding of the crucial moment in which we find ourselves in Puerto Rico. Never has our Burundanga been so exacerbated and my best shot at it is the Zocotroco. Our discredit, ignited by the insufficiency of liquidity to pay the public debt, is a snowball rolling downhill and acquiring grotesque proportions. The political class is in a state categorical denial and recurring to insubstantial protagonism and delirious intent with cries of: “it was not me”, and “this is nothing I can’t fix”, in an electoral year”. We can truly move from the ridiculous to the pathetic.
The Zocotroco is very much inclined to question his mental health and easily wonders into a state of amazement. It is so hard to believe that the political parties and the leaders that have been in power, who shared the administrations that have caused the debacle, are not willing to assume responsibility, accept no shame, or read the writing on the wall on the colonial nature of our relation. Now with condemnation of the inevitable fiscal board with absolute powers that the Congressional Natural Resources Committee has so cynically titled PROMESA.
When this issue started, my initial reaction was: “why bother to have elections? why have a governor and legislature overruled by a superior body not elected by us?” I have gone for months, in doubt if my reaction was not an outcry of the radical rebelliousness left in my old age. Yesterday, Senator Miguel Pereira has declared he will resign if the board is approved and has invited his colleagues to follow suit. Bravo!!!
It consoles my indignation that a senator has the dignity to stand up and say. “Sorry, no can do. This is too much.” You have created a constitutional crisis, let’s get to the table and attend the real issue, how many f******* times do we have to yell about the colonial nature of the relation.”
This Zocotroco applauds the guts and courage of Senator Pereira and the credit of his stand. If more were to follow, we would be in a better position. Senator, let it be known that if you lose your position, you have gained the highest respect from the people who hold dignity as a value. Let it be to your credit that you have taken a courageous step in the direction that will hopefully bring a solution to the real issue.
The real issue is the absence of sufficient power provided and resources of government to best lead the country. The issues, ad delirium, is being property of, but not part of the U.S. The issue is that colonial rule is upheld by the most flagrant racism prevailing in the turn of the last century, amended after racial uprising for civil rights but not for colonial affairs. The issue is that our affairs and our future are in the hand of the Natural Resources Committee, and that we have a Resident Commissioner with voice and no vote in Congress.
The issue is that it is a flagrant contradiction to the Constitution of a country that preaches democracy to have colonies. The issue is that the cloud of smoke to disguise colonial rule with a Commonwealth has gotten us to this sorry state, and has brought the true terms out of the closet. The heat brought by the magnitude of the fiscal scandal has certainly caught the attention of all branches of Federal Government, who have agreed to what the Commonwealth followers who have so vehemently denied the situation. Enough, please.
The fiscal board brings the greatest political shake up in our political culture in the last 70 years; before the project is approved it has really stirred the Burundanga. The board will take over government and renders the absurdity of a state that has no final say on its budget. So what is government to do? What are the people to do when the institutions that represent them are rendered powerless to rule? And this is happening, I remind myself again, in an electoral year, here and there. The pitirre (small bird of the Island) is giving the imperial eagle a run and it has most certainly stirred the river.
A fiscal board imposed by Congress is a monumental shame and I anticipate it will precipitate a series of events that, who knows if they are part or not of their explicit agenda. It is truly an extraordinary moment in our history, when the Federal Judge of highest ranking and longest held position in the Boston Court of Appeals is denouncing our colonial nature, it’s immobility in 118 years and is anticipating civil disobedience. This has long gone an issue of a minority of independentistas and calls to a united front to claim the inalienable right to self-determination, for evidence proves that we are anything but self-determined.
In view of the inevitable, the board would be welcomed if it contributes to end the partisan tribalism that has ceased to be a play of opposition to give way to the cover up of their corruption and scandals, financial ineptitude, if not for their greed and shallow ambition of power and privilege. A continuity of alternative replacements in which they share the cover up with the most vulgar:” I scratch you back and you scratch mine.” Different colors same schemes. Let us see how a board will deal with that.
The challenges are huge: to formulate a policy that effectively advances sustained economic development, to substitute a political class and parties that have not served us well with a new one that builds on virtue and disregards the current regrettable example. We need a system of accountability that is efficient, effective and transparent, that rewards honesty and productive labor. We need so many things, and if this were the door to our future, let it go in full throttle. Let us rid ourselves of the immense weight that we have carried, and move from settling for what is feasible and reinvent ourselves in the full force of our immense creativity.
Let us design a fair system of taxes and tributes that accounts for the true value of our productive worth, which appropriates proportionate and sufficient resources to a state that works by the people and for the people. Let us dream of a country who yields enough wealth to accumulate capital that assures our future. Let us develop a diversified economy oriented towards excellence, that encompasses evasion and provides citizens with decent salaries and services, in proportion to what we can and do produce.
Let us move with true effort towards nutritional sufficiency with vigorous agricultural development. An Island that reinforces and protects local entrepreneurs and initiatives. An Island of people aware and responsible for the environment, creative in the use of alternative sources of energy. An island overflowing in creativity that attracts tourism for its natural beauty, as well as the rich culture we have to offer in all creative endeavors, with emphasis in the culinary arts. An Island unbound by restrictive laws that limit trade and the possibility to open market.
If we subscribe to the code of the optimist, a bad thing will bring a good one; I hope for these anyways; its part of the code. The Good Book says: help yourself. A lot has to do with the way we handle ourselves in this critical moment. We are facing the opportunity to claim our place at the table with the dignity we deserve, not as lesser citizens. Let us separate “we the people” from inept and irresponsible politicians who discredit our wisdom and fortitude.
For this to happen, we have to come to terms with ourselves and create agreements. No small feat; as difficult as inevitable. A train like this will not go by again in a very long time, and it is time to struggle on board; it won’t be a free ride. The time to act is now.
Copyright 2016 by Jose Umpierre. Photo of Puerto Rican capital copyrighted by Jose Umpierre. Photo of Manuel Periera used under the “fair use” proviso of the copyright law. All other photos are in the public domain.