Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez Lead Push for Oversight Against Wall Street Corruption in Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON, September 24 — Following the two-year anniversary of Hurricane María’s devastating landfall on Puerto Rico, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) led more than a dozen lawmakers in a call to reverse the crippling austerity imposed on Puerto Rico; end the priority given to the demands of Wall Street vulture funds over of the needs of the Puerto Rican people; and put a moratorium on any payments on Puerto Rican debt until an independent investigation is completed to root out corruption.  
 
“What we are doing with this letter is telling the unelected austerity board in charge of Puerto Rico’s finances that enough is enough. It is working hand in hand with ultra-rich investors to try to squeeze blood from a stone,” said Senator Sanders. “Explain how on earth reducing money for schools and hospitals is supposed to generate economic growth. Do the 30,000 Puerto Ricans still living under tarps need more cuts to their health care? Do struggling teachers and retirees need to see public education and pensions slashed?” 
 
In the letter to the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), the members of Congress condemned the board’s insistence on slashing public health, education, and pensions, including hundreds of millions of dollars in proposed cuts to Medicaid and the University of Puerto Rico. They noted that the unprecedented protests of recent weeks “called not only for the resignation of Governor Rosselló but for the end of the Financial Oversight and Management Board’s control over the economic decisions of the island.”Puerto Rico has already suffered a lost decade of no economic growth, and fresh austerity is expected to deepen the crisis and spur further outmigration.  
 
“During this moment of popular struggle for responsive and legitimate governance on the island,” the lawmakers write, “Puerto Rico must no longer be treated as a colony.”
 
The members of Congress call on the board to provide detailed answers within two weeks regarding “increasing evidence of the FOMB’s internal mismanagement and conflicts of interest,” and apparent noncompliance with laws governing financial disclosure. Citing reports of board members’ ties to powerful banking interests, the lawmakers demand “a full accounting of each member’s professional or familial ties to any institutions and persons who hold Puerto Rico’s debt or maintain contracts with the FOMB, and thorough financial disclosures of each board member, including details of outside compensation.” 
 
The vast majority of the board’s $300 million annual budget goes to fees for lawyers and consultants who are not subject to disclosure requirements, the lawmakers note, including actors such as McKinsey & Company and Citigroup, which stand to make millions from a deal struck by the board on Puerto Rico’s debt that favors the interests of creditors.
 
“Puerto Rico must not be treated like a colony anymore,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “A just recovery process means we have to call out the crippling effects of austerity that la junta has imposed and demand transparency from those making these decisions. Puertorriqueños will continue to die in the face of a severe health crisis and others are using blue tarps as roofs two years after María. We must hold la junta accountable—otherwise Wall Street vultures will continue to be prioritized over the needs of the people.”
 
“If the island is to actually recover, we must end the brutal austerity program being imposed on Puerto Rico’s working families and put some austerity for once on this undemocratic board and the Wall Street vulture funds taking advantage of Puerto Rico’s misery,” said Sanders.
 
The letter was signed by Representatives Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Congressmen Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.).
 
The bicameral letter was supported by Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora, the Vamos 4 Puerto Rico network, the Hispanic Federation, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Center for Popular Democracy, and the Hedge Clippers Campaign.
 
Read the letter here. 
 
Léase la carta en español aquí.