Puerto Rico's Debt, and Infrastructure Crises
Section Synopsis: The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, more commonly known as PROMESA, is a 2016 U.S. Federal Law that imposed an external Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, (commonly referred to in Puerto Rico as “La Junta Fiscal”) appointed by President Obama to oversee the Puerto Rican economy. At the time, Puerto Rico had defaulted on payments on the over $120 billion in debt that the island accrued over decades of borrowing from private entities. Puerto Rico took on much of this debt due to the limited economic options available as part of its ELA status. Ultimately, the culmination of these factors set into motion draconian austerity measures across the island such as the closure of hundreds of public schools and the privatization of key infrastructure and social programs such as the electric grid. Among Bad Bunny’s many lyrics and performances that reference these issues, his announcement that the private company Luma, which had taken over the electric grid, needed to go “pa’l carajo” (to hell) was met with massive applause at his historic concert in the Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot in summer 2022.
Aftershocks of Disaster explores the effects of Hurricane Maria through essays, plays, photography, poetry, and more. The book emphasizes how the debt crisis led to the severe impact Hurricane Maria had on Puerto Rico. This can be seen particularly in “Part IV: Capitalizing on the Crisis” where different authors write about the odious nature of the debt crisis, how the debt crisis has led to the dismantling of public education in Puerto Rico, and other topics related to the debt crisis.
In “PROMESA, Puerto Rico and the American Empire,” Pedro Cabán writes about how Puerto Rico declined as an important colonial possession in the eyes of the United States, which has ultimately resulted in more divestment from the island. He traces this to the decline of industry in Puerto Rico, the debt crisis, and finally the PROMESA legislation which took financial control out of the hands of Puerto Rico and has led to severe austerity measures.
Marisol Lebrón highlights the effects that the debt crisis has had on the infrastructure of Puerto Rico and showcases some of the ways that Puerto Ricans have come together to address the debt crisis “from below.” She focuses on “comedores sociales” created by students at the University of Puerto Rico to provide low-cost or free food for community members. Lebrón uses the comedores sociales as an example of how Puerto Ricans have organized at the local level to take care of basic needs not met by the state.
In “U.S. Tax Imperialism in Puerto Rico” Diane Lourdes Dick outlines the ways in which tax law has been used to advance U.S. economic imperialism in Puerto Rico. She explains the concept of tax imperialism, which essentially uses tax policy to favor US economic interests over those of Puerto Rico. Tax imperialism furthers the colonial relationship between the US and Puerto Rico in ways that, at the time of this article, often went unnoticed in larger discussions of US imperialism, and colonialism more broadly.