A Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico…Angelo Falcón Gets it Right

War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony

 

Some people talk forever and do nothing. Others quietly move the world. 

At 1:34 this morning, Angelo Falcón e-mailed me a letter which he’d sent to the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA). Here it is:

To: National Hispanic Leadership Agenda

I would like to suggest that it is important for the NHLA to weigh in immediately on the need for federal support of Puerto Rico’s efforts to address its current fiscal crisis involving its massive $72 billion debt. This would be especially important coming from the NHLA because it would represent a strong pan-Latino position calling on the White House and the Congress to address this problem in a timely and comprehensive manner. The NHLA may already be planning to address this issue, but I wanted to suggest ways that it can be approached in terms of federal policy.

A NHLA position on Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis should involve at least the following elements:

  1. Congressional action to allow Puerto Rico to apply for bankruptcy protection. This would start by passing he Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act of 2014 that would empower the government of the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico to authorize certain government-owned corporations to restructure their debt obligations under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
  2.  Congressional repeal of The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (P.L. 66-261, also known as the Jones Act) that deals with cabotage (i.e., coastal shipping), freeing Puerto from the requirement that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents.
  3.  Congressional adoption of legislation like what was Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code that gave mainland United States companies an exemption from Federal taxes on income earned in Puerto Rico, whether it came from operations or interest on local bank deposits, with provisions calling for significant reinvestment within Puerto Rico tied to job creation.
  4.  Congressional adoption of legislation mandating parity in the federal budget of Puerto Rico with the states.
  5.  Congressional adoption of a Marshall Plan-like Puerto Rico Recovery Program. The original Marshall Plan involved funding devastated European economies $13 billion in 1948, which is the equivalent of $120 billion in current dollars. Unlike the European countries supported in this way, the residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens.
  6.  The creation of a comprehensive economic development plan by the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico. 

While not exhaustive, these ideas for Puerto Rico’s recovery through federal government intervention are perhaps illustrative of what a comprehensive approach to more long-term solutions to Puerto Rico’s fiscal problems.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda needs to address this issue aggressively in representing the interests of the 3.6 million residents of Puerto Rico and close to 5 million Puerto Ricans stateside. It would be a way to show that the problems faced by Puerto Ricans are of deep concern to the broader Latino community.

Un abrazo,

Angelo

This letter is vintage Angelo Falcón. He has been speaking truth to power for thirty years – and his letter is realistic, precise, and politically nuanced.

He offers clear recommendations in an active voice, urging congress to “act, repeal, adopt,” not to “consider, confer, discuss.”

He understands the importance of a shipping industry in Puerto Rico, and how the Jones Act has inflated consumer prices for the past 95 years.

He sees a role for corporate incentives comparable to IRS Code 936, so long as they’re linked to “significant reinvestment within Puerto Rico tied to job creation.”

He signals the need for a real White House Task Force on Puerto Rico. The current one consists of little more than a website, and even the website is a bit tragic: with four-year old documents, five-year old videos, and photos of generic “Latinos.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/iga/puerto-rico

WHITE_HOUSE_TASK_FORCE_ON_PR

This archaic website shows how drastically and urgently, the U.S. needs to re-calibrate its relationship to Puerto Rico.

A Few Small Suggestions

As Angelo Falcón wrote, this plan is not exhaustive. Accordingly I will offer a few small points.

1) Consider making Jones Act Reform a condition to repayment of the $73 billion. They should be linked as part of the re-structuring negotiation. The debt is our greatest leverage.  Once it’s paid, no one gives a damn about us.

2) The “public-private” partnerships in the Krueger Report are a poison pill. They are code language for selling off the only revenue-generating assets in the PR public sector: bridges, highways, tolls, airport concessions, public utilities…the IMF and the hedge funds would love to extend “loan forbearance,” or a new round of credit, in exchange for taking these assets as collateral. Then when the PR government defaults (which is highly possible) they will have permanent ownership of the last few vestiges of public sector revenue.

If that happens, the US will outright own the island’s infrastructure (even more than it does) in perpetuity. So no sale, lien or encumbrance of any public utilities (PREPA, gas and water) domestic transport (bridges, highways & tolls), or international transport (airport concessions and franchises).

3) The current tax structure is wrong. It is hypocritical, through Act 22, to extend a 20-year tax abatement on all dividend, interest and capital gains income to hedge fund billionaires like John Paulson…while a lethal mix of regressive taxes forces hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans to flee their homeland. This double-standard tax structure, if unchecked, will produce the “gentrification” of Puerto Rico within the next 20 years.

4) To show good faith, we might consider streamlining the 78 mayors. Each mayor makes an average $68,000 per year for an average population of 46,000. That’s before you add the family, friends, mistresses and gigolos that they pad onto the public payroll.  78 mayors is a horrible mess.

Puerto Rico has the Moral High Ground

As a general principle, we must never concede the high ground throughout this process. 

History and common sense are on our side. 

The U.S. invaded Puerto Rico and appropriated its farms. By 1930 it was already a factory worked by peons, fought over by lawyers, bossed by absent industrialists, and clerked by politicians – Uncle Sam’s second-largest sweatshop. 

A century later, Wall Street demanded “fiscal austerities” from Puerto Rico in order to avoid “Junk Bond” designation of its public debt. Then after 33,000 people were laid off, and water rates rose by 67%, and electricity spiked to 29 cents per kilowatt, and property taxes rose, and gasoline taxes rose twice in one year, and SBC (small business corporation) taxes rose by 39%, and pensions were cut, and 120 public schools shut down…Wall Street still declared Puerto Rico’s debt to be “Junk Bonds.”  In other words: Wall Street lied, then hiked the premium payments, and now they want to collect.

They claim that Puerto Rico is “too deeply in debt,” but consider the following: 

With an $18.7 trillion national debt, the U.S. federal Debt-to-GDP ratio is 105%. The Puerto Rico ratio ($73 billion debt, $104 billion GDP) is 70%.  In other words, Puerto Rico’s debt ratio is one-third less than that of the U.S. 

The U.S. federal Debt per capita is $58,125.  The Puerto Rico Debt per capita is $20,278. Once you add the layer of average state debt, the U.S. Debt per capita is over $70,000.  

Using these criteria, Puerto Rico should create a Financial Control Board to manage the U.S. economy.

Not only compared to the United States…but compared to the entire world, Puerto Rico’s public debt is nothing to be ashamed of.

In this month’s Harvard Magazine (July-Aug. 2015, pp. 10-12), in an article titled “Dealing With Debt,” managing editor Jonathan Shaw writes: “Today, the debt levels in many advanced economies exceed 100 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). In the United States, for example, government debt is currently 105 percent of GDP.”

http://harvardmagazine.com/2015/07/dealing-with-debt#article-images

Harvard Magazine then provides a helpful graph, to show this level of rapidly mounting debt, all  around the planet:

PUBLIC_DEB-GDP_RATIO_GRAPH

The sloppy horizontal line on the right was drawn by me – to show where Puerto Rico’s “External debt as a percentage of GDP” falls, in relation to the other 22 “advanced economies.”

As you can see, Puerto Rico’s 2015 debt level is less than one-third of the debt levels in 22 other “advanced economies.”  These economies include the US, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Canada.

Numbers do not lie.

What is Really at Stake

The integrity, and perceived security, of the nationwide municipal bond market will be affected by any precedents set by Puerto Rico’s debt negotiation.

If any “leniency” is extended to Puerto Rico, fifty other states will immediately demand that same leniency.

For that reason, Pres. Obama will maintain a “nuclear submarine radio silence” throughout this process.  He will insulate himself as much as possible. He will avoid making this decision, and will not expend any behind-the-scenes political capital on it.

Obama will hide behind the courts, the bankruptcy laws, and the U.S. Congress.

The stakes are very high…too high for a lame duck president with waning influence.

Fighting in this corner:  Wall Street revenue, pension funds, broker’s fees, commissions, churned accounts, and year-end bonuses.

Fighting in this corner: the human rights of an entire island, with 3.6 million people.

Thank you, Angelo Falcón, for joining this fight.

We certainly expect that the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda will join him, with a minimum of parliamentary procedure.

6 Comments on “A Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico…Angelo Falcón Gets it Right

  1. The Jones Act was enacted in 1920, was a protectionist measure and it is time for its demise, or deep reform. There are 4 territories affected by it, apart from the mainland: Alaska, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and P.R. ANY reform will have to apply to everyone. All the territories affected by the Jones act could have had a special subsidy by the federal government (the one imposing the measure) based on the % of higher costs of goods shipped in and out, as compared to the mainland. That could have been done a long time ago. Maybe it’s time?

    IRS Code 936 saw its demise during the Clinton years. Whomever even entertains the idea that either Obama or ANY of the Clintons gives a flying F**K about P.R. lives under a rock. They know they have most of the P.R. vote wrapped around their fingers in the mainland.

    Like

  2. A high federal government official testimony to a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing in 2000, Representative Jose E. Serrano of New York questioned this government official, on the issue of illegal,criminals actions,dossier, or “Carpetas” in Puerto Rico as they were called. gave the first public acknowledgment of the federal government’s Puerto Rican surveillance and offered a mea culpa.
    “Your question goes back to a period, particularly in the 1960’s, when the F.B.I. did operate a program that did tremendous destruction to many people, to the country and certainly to the F.B.I.,”it extended beyond any individual,group or issues of independence. This official said, according to transcripts of the hearing. that he would make the files available “and see if we can redress some of the egregious illegal action, maybe criminal action, that occurred in the past.”. But 60 years of “Carpetas” and police informants had burned fear,secrecy,mistrust,dishonesty and betrayal into their collective psyche. The wound may never fully heal. Louis J. Freeh,Then Director of the F.B.I. made this testimony under oath. The equivalent of J. Edgar Hoover back in the day.
    Thank You Nelson A. Denis for your impact book. Come on state side Puerto Ricans, 4.9+ millions of us. WTF(sorry) lets get this done. Economics,Education,Health Care and favorable state like equality. My parents “moved” here (Chicago) from Puerto Rico in the late 40’s,not migrated. My dad from Buena Vista,Humacao & my mom from Catano,SJ..He was a decorated WWII veteran from the invasion of Okinawa and believed in the American dream. Never advocating to us independence but believing that we deserve the same rights in the island that was given us here. “Humboldt Park Boriken”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree with Angelo Falcon recomendations, but in order to move the Puerto Rican agenda,it is important the Puerto Rican community involve. We must be unite as a community , in order to send a strong message to our leaders in Washington. The NHLA and the National Puerto Rican Coalition must form a coalition with every Puerto Rican organizations in all the cities in the USA.
    Besta Regards
    Hector Diaz
    Chairman of Profesa and Puerto Rican
    Leadership Council.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Although many of the ideas expressed by Mr. Falcon are correct some are just plain non-workable. First of all, the Jones Act will not be modified to excempt Puerto Rico from it. Even if done, this has nothing to do with the present suggestion and it is just an old “boogie man” story from the pro independencemovement because they know that the only way of getting rid of the Jones Act is through Independence. Moving cargo in foreign ships does not eliminate por costs such as stevedoring, insurance, taxes, fuel etc. Having the ships come to Puerto Rico at full capacity with 70 of what Puerto Rico consumes and leave the Port of San Juan empty because almost nothing is being exported is what keeps freight costs high.

    As to the public-private partnerships comment, the banks already own our publi corporations, our bridges, our train and everything that has been built with credit. Just compare with your home if you decide you are not going to pay the mortgage.

    The comparison of debt per capita must include a comparison of earnings per capita and a comparison of the capacity to pay back together with a comparison on national production. The moral rights of Puerto Rico must also be compared with the complacency of the people and the local government. We were not children whe all these credits arrangements were made and when those represive laws were enacted. It was a balanced decision, we are going to get money to spend in non productive projects and we will have money to steal by the politicians. Every group of people in the world, including the US, have severed their relations with another country if the general feeling is that the other country is opressing them.

    Insulting the President of the United States, going to the ONU asking to put the US in the list of bad colonialist countries and reneging on the american citinzenship will not get us anywhere. A strong plan and inmediate action on reducing government expending to a bare minimum, trimming and consolidating munincipal government, re-structuring the local tax code to promote local production and present a reasonable re-payment plan to our creditos might work. It is not Wall Street in on corner and the human rights of Puertorricans in the other corner. That looks more like mixing Gimnastics with Magnesia. It is “Wall Street I lent you a lot of money and I want it back” vs “Puerto Rico, yes I borrowed a lot of money and I spent it on stupid things at the Mall but I am making sure that I am turning my life around so I can pay and this does not hhapen again”. If the message that the NILP is going to take to the US in support of Puerto Rico, thanks but no thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    These are sound suggestions. Would anyone in the US listen to them and consider these as options to Puerto Rico’s (their colony) crisis??

    Like

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