When competing with global headlines, which are keeping many a policymaker awake at night, Puerto Rico can hardly hold attention for very long — especially in a politically gridlocked Washington obsessed with point scoring and jockeying for the White House. Yet, there are many opportunities to reverse the island’s economic woes, which have triggered one of the largest non-conflict related resettlements in recent history.
With nearly 10 per cent of the island’s inhabitants foregoing the tropical paradise over the last decade, it begs the question of what policy measures can be implemented to reverse this trend and put Puerto Rico on a path toward a brighter future. I have long argued that Puerto Rico’s woes are a matter of broad public and security interest in the U.S. and to think the island’s hobbled economy is decoupled from pensions, savings and broader economic health is to trigger another ‘Lehman-like’ game of brinksmanship.
While Puerto Rico’s municipal debt default continues to spiral out of control, it is more akin to falling down a flight of stairs than a precipitous economic collapse. Collapse is near, however, and the debate in Washington about appointing a Federal Financial Control Board signals that an intervention is nigh. The question remains at what cost will this intervention come and how will the long term future of Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth be affected. Already, a mute, non-voting observer on Capitol Hill (Puerto Rico and D.C. share this dubious distinction), the likely long term cost of this intervention from a bill introduced by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch in December, 2015, may remove what little powers Puerto Rico has over its domestic and economic affairs. Against this stark backdrop, some options for a path forward:
Acknowledgement of being a U.S. territory conferring equal civil, structural, municipal and financial rights to the island’s inhabitants as those enjoyed on the mainland. This includes a voting representative on Capitol Hill.