Immediately after electing a new governor on November 8, Puerto Ricans will face an unprecedented challenge. Their government will be bankrupt but unable to declare bankruptcy. A Financial Control Board (FCB) will run their economy. Every public budget, and every law, will require FCB approval. The political impotence will be so profound, that U.S. Federal Judge Juan Torruella is recommending the suspension of elections in Puerto Rico, until the FCB has finished fleecing it.
Given these grim conditions, many have lost faith in the “political class” of Borinquen, and are fleeing the island in record numbers. For the remaining 3.5 million souls, here is a brief list of what the next governor should do, and can do for their island.
The next governor should:
End the PLP. For the past 50 years, the two major parties (the PPD and PNP) have actually been one party – the PLP – the Party of Lining their Pockets. The next governor should revoke both party charters, resign from office and run for governor again…in a non-partisan election. This is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Today, more than 80 percent of U.S. cities hold non-partisan elections for local office.
Declare a moratorium on mayors. Puerto Rico has 78 mayors and 78 mayoral payrolls. This is the equivalent of New York City having 189 mayors, instead of one. The cost of these 78 mayoralties has been estimated at $1.1 billion in payroll and $2.2 billion for local budgets. Eight regional mayors, instead of 78, would save the island billions of dollars annually.
Establish a Puerto Rico Ethics Commission. Just like the governor of New York, who recently empanelled a Moreland Ethics Commission, the next governor can establish a non-partisan Puerto Rico Ethics Commission with full subpoena powers. This commission could investigate the toxic oil kickbacks at PREPA, the missing $100 million from the Fideicomiso de Ciencia, the $450 million spent on a gas pipeline that was never built, the $4 billion Ponzi scheme disguised as “Series AA Municipal Bonds,” and the $9 billion in “private contracts” handed out from 2009 to 2013, from which $1 billion went to “public relations.”
This ethics commission would help to re-establish the reputation and integrity of Puerto Rico’s governing class – which in 2016, have reached a historic nadir.
Jones Act exemption. If the 1920 Jones Act were repealed in Puerto Rico (Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920) it would lower consumer prices by 15-20 percent, enable the island to develop its own shipping industry, create hundreds of large and small businesses, and produce tens of thousands of jobs.
Jones Act reform – and outright repeal – has already been advocated by the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Manhattan Institute, Capital Research Center and The Hill. The Washington Post and New York Times agreed. Even the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in a 40-page report, found that the Jones Act hurts the Puerto Rican economy.
With all this widespread support, the governor should lead a massive public education campaign – on the island and the mainland – to remove the Jones Act from Puerto Rico, and allow her to negotiate her own international trade agreements.
A governor should do all of the above. But it requires a level of courage and conviction that is notably absent in the PLP (the Party of Lining their Pockets). So here’s what the next governor can do:
Require complete transparency from the FCB. The US Financial Control Board should commit to recorded votes. It should hold public meetings, release the names of everyone they meet with, conduct bilingual hearings, and document every activity and decision in both English and Spanish. It should also itemize and disclose how it spends its $370 million budget, since Puerto Rico (not the US) will be paying for it. Congressman Luis Gutierrez has already demanded all of this, and the governor can join him.
Economic Reforms. The governor can push for urgent economic reforms. These include tax incentives to re-invigorate the island's agricultural sector; developing wind, water and solar energy technologies; and offering the same 20-year tax exemptions that US billionaires are enjoying in Puerto Rico, to small business persons from the island itself.
In addition, any tax abatement deals for foreign corporations (and US billionaires) should require the reinvestment of a stipulated percentage of profits, into Puerto Rican infrastructure and industrial development.
Invoke UN Resolution 1514 (XV). In 1953, the US declared that Puerto Rico had achieved “self-determination” and “political sovereignty” through their new Commonwealth relationship with the US. The United Nations then removed Puerto Rico from the list of countries that were overdue for de-colonization. But two recent Supreme Court cases, Sanchez Valle and Franklin Trust, have terminated this alleged “sovereignty.”
In both cases the Obama administration argued, and the US Supreme Court agreed, that Puerto Rico is a territorial possession of the US: with no legislative, juridical, or political sovereignty whatsoever. In the same week that Sanchez Valle was decided, the US Congress passed the PROMESA bill to impose a Financial Control Board over Puerto Rico, and manage its entire economy.
Thus in 2016, all three branches of the US federal government declared that Puerto Rico is a property of the US…a colony. Given this open declaration from the entire US government, the next governor of Puerto Rico can appear before the UN and invoke Resolution 1514 (XV), which stipulates the right to self-determination of every nation, and the right to reject a colonial relationship.
Bad news and good news. There is no escaping the brutal fact that Puerto Rico is headed for more “austerities” and “privatization,” more “P3s” and “public private partnerships,” that will enrich an elite club of capitalists and criminals while draining the people of Puerto Rico. Several members of that club are sitting on the Financial Control Board.
The bad news is…Puerto Rico is a colony and will continue to suffer, until this condition is resolved.
The good news is…the next governor can do something about it.
Nelson Denis served in the New York State Assembly, and is the author of War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America's Colony (Nation Books).