Letters from a Lesbian
It is a sad, and well-known fact that the island of Puerto Rico is in debt. Serious debt. Over $70 billion in debt. Puerto Ricans have been waiting for Congress to do something – anything to help the struggling island to get out from under this giant burden. Desperation is so high, that there is consideration to drop minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, just like it is here in the States down to $4.25 per hour for Puerto Ricans under the age of twenty five. Puerto Rico has defaulted on deadlines and payments, and is expected to do so again. It’s a huge crisis with no solid solution.
This dire situation did not happen overnight. This has been a long-time coming. Here are some important historical events that led to this current financial crisis. According to an article on
-In 1917, when Woodrow Wilson made Puerto Rico an American territory, he made some of their first shipping laws. When he did so, he made the bonds tax-exempt on local, state and federal levels. Thus, the bonds were very attractive to mutual funds. That meant that Puerto Rico was able to borrow a lot of money, but it was – and still is – money that the island is unable to pay back.
-The once booming sugar industry of the island collapsed in the 1960s, which took a tremendous toll on Puerto Rico’s economy.
-In 1996, the Small Business Job Protection Act was enacted because of concerns of economic fairness and potential lost revenue. This act restricted access to tax credits in Puerto Rico. Any businesses or corporations using them would have those tax credits phased out over the course of the next ten years.
A dying economy with no resolution in sight has caused a massive number of Puerto Ricans to come to the mainland U.S. As much as they would love to return home, there are few prospective jobs on the island. With the talks of potentially lowering the minimum wage, their hopes of returning to the commonwealth are even further dashed.
Some young Borinquense are speaking up and trying to make a difference. An article on the Huffington Post highlights them and their work. It can be found on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/puerto-rico-youth-congress_us_57377118e4b060aa781a7f23. The article showcases twenty eight year old Alejandro Silva Diaz. He heads a non-profit called, “Puerto Rican Minds in Action.” His organization wants to help raise social awareness, but also to help the current situation on the island. The goal of his non-profit is to find and secure college internships for students. They want to coax Puerto Rican youth to stay on the island, especially those who are altruistic and who have goals of making a difference. Silva Diaz, among others, knows well that their help is needed first and foremost in Puerto Rico. If he and his group can help keep them there, there may be hope for the commonwealth after all. He has been quoted as saying, “A lot of Puerto Rican leaders have read and heard about social problems, but do not know about them firsthand.” His organization hopes to change that.
Another young Puerto Rican who has been making headlines as he also fights to make a difference is Guillermo Guasp Perez. At only twenty two, he has been very vocal – and effective – at creating change. He is the president of the student council at the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan. He was able to lead the entire student body on a three day strike that actually shut down the San Juan campus. He did so in the name of university funding level restoration; in 2014, the Puerto Rican government froze funding to the university. More recently, he traveled to Washington, D. C. in the hopes of lobbying Congress for more
favorable terms for financial aid for the island. He is clearly not one to back down from a fight, and he has wonderful goals of helping the island’s financial crisis.
Last, and certainly not least, there is Manuel Natal. He is a lawyer, and the youngest member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives at twenty nine. He created and is now part of a commission that audits the commonwealth’s tremendous debt. They are probing it to find answers as to how exactly it became this severe. Natal is quite convinced that the debt is actually illegal, going against the island’s constitution. He is certain that the commission will be able to prove that, and hopefully be able to provide some beginning remedies to these extremely dire circumstances.
This is a very sad state of affairs. As a Boricua, it breaks my heart to see the island struggling, with no clear resolution in sight. My hope is that this month Congress will, in fact, be able to bring some aid to Puerto Rico. Ours is an island with a rich history and culture. To see it under such devastating economic collapse is distressing to say the least. As Hispanics in the States, we need to stand in solidarity with Puertorriqueños, to support them, and to help in any way that we can. This is a tremendously serious situation that needs all of our help and support.
Live life in your own special way,