Bernie Sanders evokes memories of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
On December 10, 2008, Sanders filibustered the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of America. The speech lasted nearly nine hours and became legendary – known simply as “The Speech.” And now Sanders delivered again…as the only presidential candidate whose website offers a specific plan for Puerto Rico. Here it is:
The plan contains recommendations for clean energy, single payer Medicare plans, Chapter 9 bankruptcy access, Vieques cleanup, and free public college.
As the only candidate who dedicated a page of his web site to Puerto Rico, Bernie Sanders is already way ahead of all the others. But there is one area where his platform could be sharpened… Jones Act reform for Puerto Rico.
HARMFUL EFFECT ON PUERTO RICO
Jones Act compliance has forced a profoundly abusive shipping and import arrangement on all of Puerto Rico. Ever since 1920, every foreign import that enters Puerto Rico either 1) arrives directly into Puerto Rico where it pays extremely protectionist tariffs, quotas, fees and taxes which are handed to the US merchant marine; or 2) enters Jacksonville, FL where it is off-loaded from the foreign registry vessel, re-loaded onto a US vessel, and only then permitted to enter Puerto Rico.
Both scenarios raise the price of all insular imports by 15-20%. A recent study submitted to the GAO calculated the Jones Act cost to Puerto Rico at $29 billion from 1970 through 2010. Projected from 1920 through the present, this would become $75.8 billion…more than the entire “public debt” of Puerto Rico.
(Jeffry Valentin-Mati, Ph.D. & José I. Alameda-Lozada, Ph.D., presented to U.S. General Accounting Office, April 26, 2012).
BENEFIT OF JONES ACT REPEAL
Jones Act repeal would increase Puerto Rico’s control over its own coast, maritime activity, trade relations, and would generate an island-based shipping industry: ship building, operation, maintenance, and ownership.
This shipping industry would provide opportunities for many skilled laborers: carpenters, electricians, welders, electrical engineers, seamen. It would also create thousands of small businesses: metal, wood and hardware suppliers; storage facilities; shipyard building and maintenance; even ancillary restaurants and food stands.
Thirty to fifty thousand (30,000 – 50,000) new jobs would be created in Puerto Rico through the repeal of the Jones Act. On an island with 12% “official” unemployment (closer to 25%), this would jump-start the entire economy. In addition, the price of all imports – including oil and consumer goods – would drop by 15-20%.
CONSISTENCY WITH BERNIE SANDERS PLATFORM
Jones Act reform for Puerto Rico is consistent with the Bernie Sanders principles of empowering people over corporations, and economic progress from the ground up, rather than “trickling down.”
This reform will add specificity and substance to the Sanders “Rebuild America Act,” which currently promises 150,000 jobs for Puerto Rico…without identifying how or where these jobs would be created.
JONES ACT…THE NEW “VIEQUES” OF PUERTO RICO
With four dozen hedge funds eating away at Puerto Rico, and a Financial Control Board acting as their collection agency, the island urgently needs to develop its own shipping industry and international trade relations. None of this can happen without the repeal of the Jones Act in Puerto Rico.
Candidate (and hopefully President) Sanders is perfectly positioned make Jones Act reform a national priority. It is a civil rights issue that affects 3.6 million people, all of whom are US citizens. Bernie Sanders can help to make the Jones Act the new “Vieques” of Puerto Rico.
Let’s hope that he does it.
For a history of the War Against All Puerto Ricans, read the book…
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