Puerto Rico Should be a Priority For Immediate Assistance and Debt Forgiveness

The U.S. has been quick to forgive the debts of debtor nations after calamity and disaster. Why not its own colony?

A headline in the September 26th  El Nuevo Día de Puerto Rico Interactivo stated: “Congressional support for the island will be addressed in early October.” The caption adds: “It was a devastating hurricane. It is a humanitarian crisis. It’s our country and our citizens, said Paul Ryan.”

The sentiment is appreciated, and its sincerity will be subject to how it is interpreted by each reader. However, these are only words and not the immediate action that is indispensable given the real crises affecting our beloved Island and its people.

The speed with which the US acted to help with a tragedy on the other side of the planet speaks for itself on where the US has its priorities. The tragedy is that of the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar (Burma).

According to Time magazine (October 2, 2017), US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Prime Minister Suu Kyi, asking the military government of that country to allow humanitarian aid from the US. Based on that call, “The next day, the State Department announced an additional $32 million in aid to the Rohingya.” Observe the words that I underlined: “next day,” “additional $32 million.” It is evident that, for an ethnic minority in a foreign country, the US government not only authorized millions in aid overnight, but that amount is in addition to millions of dollars previously authorized.

Of course, the Rohingya refugees, like thousands of other groups affected by discriminatory and war-based conflicts, deserve as much humanitarian aid as possible. However, Puerto Rico, a US territory/colony with 3.4 million people with citizenship of that superpower, deserves not only billions of dollars in immediate aid but also to have its $72 billion debt canceled/commute/forgiven. This should be the case now when that debt can never be paid without even greater sacrifices than those already suffered by the Puerto Rican people.

The commutation of a national debt that cannot and should not be paid to vulture investors, among others — who have more than sufficient economic resources to live super-luxuriously the rest of their lives — would not be the first in the international arena. Banks and nations have done so with other indebted countries that have no resources to pay.

For example, in the year 2000, the US:

  • Canceled $425 million in debts owed by Bolivia and Honduras;
  • In 2015 Croatia reduced or forgave the debts of some 60,000 poor citizens of that country; and
  • As recently as this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is considering forgiving or reducing millions in debts of 36 poor countries, 30 of which are in Africa.*

It is time for the government, political parties, and the all the residents of Puerto Rico to join efforts to demand that the debt is canceled/commuted/forgiven and that more immediate humanitarian aid is extended to our country.

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