San Juan, Nov 8 (EFE).- Hundreds of people turned out on Monday in front of the federal courthouse in San Juan, where Judge Laura Taylor Swain is to preside at a hearing on Puerto Rico’s Debt Adjustment Plan (PAD) to determine its legal validity and whether it should be allowed to enter into force.
The majority of the demonstrators who showed up at the island’s top federal court were members of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), among them lawmakers Denis Marquez and Maria de Lourdes Santiago, who later were joined by students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).
“We came to denounce the legislation that was approved and to demonstrate to the country, the court and the judge that there is a large sector of the public who opposes this economic model, which the court is trying to impose, which is (doing) nothing more than impoverishing the country,” Marquez told EFE.
Judge Taylor is the magistrate in charge of restructuring Puerto Rico’s public debt, a controversial issue that has sparked numerous protests.
“That debt is illegal and we’re not going to pay,” “The budget that’s violating our rights doesn’t add up” and “When the people move forward, there’s no government that can stand up to them” were some of the slogans shouted by the protesters, while others carried signs with messages alluding to the demonstration and the issue at hand.
The PAD was made official government policy when Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi signed the budget bill last Oct. 26, after it had been approved by the island’s legislature, a plan that proposes reducing the public debt by more than $70 billion to $34 billion.
Puerto Rico in 2016 declared itself unable to pay its huge outstanding public debt and – in the face of threats by creditors to mire it in interminable court proceedings and the risk of having government operations shut down due to lack of liquidity – requested the cooperation of the US government, given that the island is a territory and free associated state, or commonwealth, of the US.
Out of that situation arose the Promesa law, which was approved by the US Congress given Puerto Rico’s inability to deal with the near-term expiration dates of elements of its debt.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), an entity established by the US Congress to supervise the payment of the debt, warned that it will evaluate the text of the bill to verify whether implementation of the PAD will be possible because amendments have been introduced to it since the initial document was prepared.
Upon signing it, Pierluisi said that the restructuring of the island government’s debt “is essential to be able to end the default process and to be able to return to progress,” but many people feel that it will harm sectors like government retirees and the public university.
The debt restructuring plan includes a law to end Puerto Rico’s default and elements and conditions for approving the offering, sale and issuance of different types of general obligation bonds.
“That means accomplishing the task that, in all probability, would take us into a second default; the delivery of a substantial quantity of cash as part of this transaction,” Sen. Santiago told EFE during the Monday protest.
“We’re not for the colonial way of thinking, letting it be known that the country is not on its knees and that we oppose a transaction that pushes us into misery,” she said.
The lawmaker cited other examples of supposed government projects that would help to reduce the public debt, including the imposition of the Sales and Use Tax on items, and she added that “with the system designed by Wall Street or within the colonial framework, there won’t be anything satisfactory for us.”