Jill Stein, who is seeking the Green Party nomination for President, said today that she supported the call by religious, labor, civil and independent political leaders for a Jubilee to reduce and restructure Puerto Rico’s debt.
Stein supports extending bankruptcy laws to cover Puerto Rico, a protection that already exists for individual states. Stein also noted that as a commonwealth, Puerto Rico is unable to access various international debt relief programs.
In the 1990’s, religious leaders called for a Jubilee or debt relief for developing countries. Those calls ensured that more than $115 billion in debt were forgiven and the funds redirected to create access to education and healthcare.
“The root cause of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is centuries of colonial exploitation that since 1898 has benefited wealthy and corporate U.S. interests. We need a solution that repairs the damage we have caused, not inflict further suffering on a population struggling under the burden of poverty,” said Stein.
Jubilee USA, which includes the national AFL-CIO and has been endorsed by the Archbishop of San Juan, has issued a call for forgiving and reducing the debt: “As leaders of the faith community, we are concerned above all with the proposals that would reduce wages, layoffs of workers, reducing employee benefits, and a reduction in health services. We cannot allow more austerity measures that adversely affect the poor and needy in Puerto Rico. Those who lend money at high interest rates knowing that it is a heavy burden to the fiscal health of the people have no moral strength to demand austerity measures affecting essential services, jobs and opportunities of an economic resurgence.”
Puerto Rico owes $72 billion in debt, approximately $20,000 for each citizen living on the island. The island's poverty rate is over 40% and 80% of Puerto Rico's children live in high-poverty areas, compared to 11% on the US mainland. Puerto Rico's unemployment rate is 11.9%. Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island for the US mainland each year, eroding Puerto Rico's tax base and forcing the government to borrow money to meet its obligations.
Stein has called for a national Green New Deal, providing for full employment by investing in the transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030. Stein noted that Puerto Rico would especially benefit from 100% renewable energy due to its excessively high energy costs based on imported fossil fuels. Only the island state of Hawaii has higher energy costs in the US than Puerto Rico.
Stein also called for the repeal of the 1917 Jones Act which requires everybody in Puerto Rico to buy goods from an American-made ship with an American crew, inflating costs far beyond that of other Caribbean islands.
Stein added that she supports the right of self-determination by local residents as to the future of Puerto Rico.