Puerto Rico: Successful Campaign against Illegitimate Debt

15 December 2018 by Eric Toussaint


Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. Its inhabitants, although they have US citizenship, cannot vote for the president of the United States. Puerto Ricans elect a single representative to the US Congress, but this representative has no voting rights. The inhabitants of Puerto Rico do not have the right to elect anyone to the Senate, only the 50 states do. This is the situation of this “unincorporated territory,” a euphemism that hides its colonial nature.

The island of Puerto Rico, located in the Caribbean Sea, has 3.3 million inhabitants. It was acquired by Washington as war booty after the victory of the United States in the war against Spain in 1898. After its victory against Spain, the United States took control of Cuba, without making it an outright colony, and refused to recognize the debt owed by Cuba to the Spanish crown . By contrast, the US annexed Puerto Rico. They also took from Spain the Philippines, for which they paid some money in compensation. While the US did not hesitate to repudiate the debt which Spain claimed Cube owed, it does not hesitate to demand payment for the current debt, which is largely a consequence of the colonial relation of the island with Washington.

The Puerto Ricans are very conscious that their country is dominated by Washington. For example, all maritime commerce must take place in US ships. Important flows exist from Puerto Rico to the United States: repayment for the debt; profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. repatriation by US corporations established in the Island; emigration of the population towards the United States, where 5.3 million Puerto Ricans live, a population larger than that of the island. In the opposite direction, Puerto Rican families established in the United States send remittances to their relatives who remain in the island.

Over the last three years, Pierre Gottiniaux has described very well, in a series of articles, the situation of the island and has shown that Puerto Rico faces a serious debt crisis:

The United States has strengthened its resources to impose on the population of the island a belt-tightening to repay the debt, which is held largely by US bankers and other financial corporations of the US. Hundreds of schools have closed. In addition, we should not forget the nefarious role played by Spain’s principal bank, Santander (see this article in Spanish).

The situation of the population of the island worsened after the passage of Hurricane Maria in September, 2017. At first, Trump promised to force US creditors, particularly the banks, to do something for the people of Puerto Rico. But nothing was done. Here is what Trump said during his stop in the island after Hurricane Maria. « They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street and we’re going to have to wipe that out. You’re going to say goodbye to that, I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is you can wave goodbye to that ».

In order to fight against the debt, a Citizens’ Front to Audit the Debt was formed in 2016 . It has carried out many activities. It supports a Citizens’ Commission to audit the debt. It gathered 150,000 signatures from people who support its activities. This Front invited to the island delegates from CADTM-Latin America & the Caribbean, who accepted the invitation to hold their annual meeting there in order to take advantage of the occasion to carry out a series of public activities in which I participated actively.

Demonstration of the Citizen’s Front to Audit the Debt in front of the Federal Court in Hato Rey

From December 2 to 8, many activities unfolded in Puerto Rico within the framework of a program elaborated by the Citizens’ Front to Audit the Puerto Rican Debt, jointly with CADTM-Latin America & the Caribbean (CADTM ABYA YALA Nuestra América) and 9 Puerto Rican associations: The Puerto Rico Citizens Commission for the Complete Audit of the Debt, The Bar Association of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU), Junte Gente, Comuna Caribe, VAMOS, the Sindicato Puertorriqueño de Trabajadores, the Colectivo de Profesores Auto-Convocados en Resistencia Solidaria (PAReS), and Hedge Clippers.

Summary of Activities

I arrived the night of Thursday November 29 to 30, before the rest of the delegates of CADTM, because the Citizens’ Front wanted to use my presence to participate in radio programs in order to promote the list of activities to attract people to them.

To that end, I participated in two important radio programs on Friday, November 30. One was in the studios of Radio Isla, which is a private station open to critical reflections which has a broad audience throughout the island, particularly in the capital. I responded to the questions of journalist Damaris Suárez accompanied by two Puerto Rican comrades: Luis José Torres, a lawyer and also the Vice-president of the Citizens Commission to Audit the Debt, and university professor Rafael Bernabe, who was the candidate to the governorship of the island twice, in 2012 and in 2016, for the Puerto Rican Workers Party (PPT). See his article

One can listen to the broadcast in Spanish on the website of the CADTM.

The same day, accompanied by attorney Eva Prado, coordinator of the Citizen’s Front to Audit the Debt, I participated in a radio program called Crossfire (Fuego Cruzado). This is the political radio talk show with the greatest audience in the island.

The delegates of CADTM AYNA started to arrive on Friday November 30 and Saturday December 1: Camille Chalmers and Jean-Pierre Ricot of PAPDA Haiti, María Elena Saludas of ATTAC-CADTM Argentina, Joaldo Dominguez, delegate of CADTM Venezuela, Camila Galindo of CADTM Colombia, Nicolas Centurrion of CADTM Uruguay.

The program of public activities started on Sunday December 2 in the morning. The organization Beaches for the People (Playas p’al Pueblo) organized an activity in order to celebrate the abolition of slavery and to extend the struggle of those who lost their lives fighting for emancipation, paying special attention to the role of women. The activity took place on a beach which has been the object of attempts at privatization by real estate speculators. The beach has been constantly occupied by those who want it to remain accessible to the public. Camille Chalmers spoke on behalf of CADTM side by side with many Puerto Rican activists (see the photo below).

While this activity was taking place, I participated together with Eva Prados in a third radio program, again in Radio Isla. This program was transmitted in duplex with a journalist who was in Uruguay and who asked us questions about the legitimacy of the debt.

Afterwards, all the delegates of CADTM and the members of the Citizens’ Front to Audit the Debt gathered at the Bar Association to hold a press conference with one of the main Puerto Rican TV stations (WAPA), with the free daily newspaper Metro and with the Spanish press agency EFE, which published a press release.

On Monday, December 3 I attended my fifth meeting with the press. I was invited by the ex-governor of the island Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, who was in office 2005-2009 and who has become a journalist. I accompanied Roberto Pagán Rodríguez, president of the Citizens Commission to Audit the Debt and president of the SPT labor union (Sindicato Puertorriqueño de Trabajadores). Once again we denounced the odious and illegitimate character of the debt claims against Puerto Rico and emphasized the importance of a citizen’s audit of the debt.

In the meantime, the last delegates of CADTM AYNA arrived: Jose Menezes and Lujan Miranda, delegates of the citizens’ audit of the debt of Brazil, which is part of the CADTM network, and finally William Gaviria, of the bank employees union, member of CADTM in Colombia.

On Monday, December 3 CADTM AYNA began its annual meeting which lasted 3 days with the participation of ten members of the Citizens’ Front to Audit the Debt of Puerto Rico.

The meetings occupied 4 sessions of half a day each dedicated to debate and analysis. We began with reports of the work of the joint international secretariat, composed of CADTM-Belgium and ATTAC-CADTM Morocco. This was followed, after some discussion, by a report on the activities of the coordinators of CADTM AYNA, presented by María Elena Saludas of Argentina. During Monday’s closing session, we listened to reports by Luis José Torres and Eva Prados on the debt of Puerto Rico.

Oh the evening of Monday, December 3 we went to the other side of the city to meet a score of delegates and members of the Citizens’ Front to Audit the Debt. We had excellent discussions with activists from trade unions, with feminists and with others. It was encouraging to experience the enthusiasm and to feel the energy which flowed during this very constructive and hospitable meeting. The unions explained to us that the next day, there would be a public workers’ protest against the reductions in employer contributions to their medical insurance. This reduction in medical benefits potentially represents a cutback of 100 to 500 Euros monthly, depending on the level of the employees and on their seniority. This attack on their income is taking place in the context the policies of austerity imposed in order to pay the public debt.

The CADTM AYNA met all day on Tuesday in the local of the Bar Association to listen to the reports of the delegates from Colombia, Haiti, Brazil and Venezuela. In order to have the richest possible discussion concerning this last country, we had a videoconference with 2 members of CADTM-Venezuela (Oly Milan and Paulino Nunez) who were not able to make it from Caracas to Puerto Rico, due to the restrictions imposed by the Washington authorities, who refuse to grant visas to Venezuelans.

On the evening of December 3rd, we participated in a large conference in the Amphitheater of the Law School of Interamerican University in San Juan, on the subject of “Debtocracy and Colonialism: Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.” Among the speakers were: Camille Chalmers (Haiti), Maria Elena Saludas (Argentina), Puerto Rican attorney Efrén Rivera, Puerto Rican attorney Natasha Ora, and myself. The conference was moderated by Eva Prados. Two hundred people were in attendance, which can be considered a great success! This was reported in the press of the island.

The video of the conference in Spanish can be seen here (duration : 2:26).

On Wednesday, December 5, the delegates of CADTM AYNA resumed their work and discussed the reports on Argentina and Uruguay. Afterwards, they discussed the situation of Nicaragua and then proceeded to make plans for the year 2019.

On Thursday, December 6, I went to my sixth meeting with the media, to participate together with Luis José Torres in a radio program entitled “Tell Me the Truth” («Dígame la verdad ») with journalists Milly Méndez and Julio Rivera Saniel, who in addition to his television work for WAPA has a morning radio show from Monday to Friday which has a good following.

In the early afternoon 4 delegates of CADTM AYNA were interviewed by the university’s radio station (Radio Universidad).

On Thursday December 6, in the Amphitheater of the School of Education of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, I presented to an audience of 180 people the Spanish edition of the book The Debt System: a History of Sovereign Debts and of their Disavowal (Sistema Deuda: historia de las deudas soberanas y su repudio). This was a tremendous success. The activity was organized by the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU). The entire stock of books was sold out. We had to order an additional 20 copies from the publisher in Barcelona, ICARIA, to be delivered to those who paid for them in advance. The book attracted great interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. . It was presented to the public by Félix Córdova, a Puerto Rican university professor and activist, and by myself.

Afterwards in the Ateneo Puertorriqueño in Old San Juan there took place a fantastic concert entitled “Artistic Protest against Illegitimate Debts” (see the poster below).

On Friday December 7, 60 delegates and activists from diverse Puerto Rican organizations attended a meeting called by the Citizens’ Front and by other organizations such as Junte Gente, Colectivo de Profesores Auto-convocados en Resistencia Solidaria (PARES) and Hedge Clippers, to discuss strategies to fight against illegitimate debts. The meeting took place in the union local of the aqueduct workers (Unión Independiente de Acueductos). During the meeting, I gave my 7th interview on radio WPAB of the city of Ponce in the south of the island. The director of the station, José Elías, interviewed me. The assembly was very productive and was followed by a discussion of a series of guides to action in the following months.

On Saturday, December 8, approximately 40 activists met during 5 hours in the Law School of Interamerican University for a workshop on how to perform a citizen’s audit. At the end of this workshop, I was interviewed a 9th time for a video which will be released in the coming weeks.

Beginning Saturday afternoon, the delegates of CATDTM AYNA began to depart to their respective countries one after the other.

Joaldo Dominguez and myself remained for four days in order to deepen our contacts with island activists.

The program of activities developed by the Citizens’ Front to Audit the Debt and the local organizations associated with it was a great success. We were able to establish contact with numerous activists and members of local organizations which are very active on the issue of the illegitimate indebtedness of Puerto Rico, which is responsible for a social and economic situation which places the population in a critical condition, especially after the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The CADTM will provide all possible support to the cause of auditing the debt of Puerto Rico.

Translated by Cesar Ayala



cadtm.org
Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. Since the 4th April 2015 he is the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt.

Translation(s)

CADTM

COMMITTEE FOR THE ABOLITION OF ILLEGITIMATE DEBT

35 rue Fabry
4000 - Liège- Belgique

00324 226 62 85
info@cadtm.org

cadtm.org