Local Leaders Push Congress to Abolish Puerto Rico’s ‘PROMESA’ Law

On Thursday, September 16, District 53 Assemblywoman Maritza Davila and District Leader Samy Nemir-Olivares pushed for the repeal of the PROMESA Law in a rally on Moore Street just days before the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico.

“We demand that we address, once and for all, the political colonial status of the island. That starts by abolishing the colonial Board PROMESA,” wrote Nemir-Olivares in a statement to Bushwick Daily regarding the rally. 

The 2016 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, also known as PROMESA, was enacted by the U.S. Congress to create a structure that would provide federal oversight over the fiscal affairs of Puerto Rico. The result was the establishment of the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), otherwise known as “the Board” and commonly referred to as “La Junta” in Puerto Rico. 

“No Puerto Rican from the island voted to create PROMESA. [Puerto Ricans] can’t even vote for the president and don’t have representation in Congress,” said Nemir-Olivares, referring to the island’s status as a commonwealth.

According to Davila, the problems of Puerto Rico stem back to its acquisition by the United States as a territory in 1898 — way before the passing of the PROMESA legislation under the Obama administration.

Assemblywoman Davila speaking at the rally

“States and territories are not allowed to declare bankruptcy, so this process was set up,” she told Bushwick Daily. “Puerto Rico has been subject to laws enacted by the U.S. federal government, whose officials Puerto Ricans have practically no way in electing.” 

Davila mentioned the Jones Act, which requires all imports between Puerto Rico and the United States to be delivered through ships built in the United States, and the Revenue Act of 1921, which designated Puerto Rico as a “foreign country,” which, according to Davila, “went on to introduce generous corporate tax exemptions designed to attract business to the island” of the “touristy” kind. 

The Board recently sued Puerto Rico’s local government to halt the implementation of the Dignified Retirement Act, also known as Act 7-2021. The Act caters to a “zero pension cut” government policy through the creation of a trust. The Board, instead, has its own debt restructuring plan, which includes an 8.5 percent pension cut of retirees with benefits that exceed $2,000 a month.

In a recent statement, the Board’s Chairman David Skeel said that the Dignified Retirement Act “falsely promises retired government employees a ‘dignified retirement’ through increased benefits Puerto Rico cannot afford.” According to Skeel, this “would endanger retirement benefits in the future because the law cannot and will not adequately fund the promises it makes.”

However, PROMESA, the acronym translating to “promise,” has gained a reputation as a broken one, demonstrated through chants during protests in Puerto Rico.

 “‘La Junta’ has exacerbated the structural inequalities and austerity in Puerto Rico that are killing our people, cutting senior pensions and closing schools,” wrote Nemir-Olivares. “Extraction by multinational corporations, vulture bond investors, and neglect by the federal government are the real issues of Puerto Rico’s economy.”

You can read more on the austerity measures proposed by the Board, which include a $2.226 billion decrease in funding from FY2019–FY2024 in K-12 education and Department of Health payroll cuts amounting to $5 million in 2021, in a report published by The Center for Popular Democracy and the ACRE Action Center. 

Since PROMESA’s establishment, Puerto Rico has been hit by natural disasters — Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the Covid-19 pandemic and swarms of earthquakes in 2020, among other complications, all of which magnified the poverty crisis in the island.

When PROMESA first became law, Puerto Rico’s total debt amounted to over $70 billion. Now at $35 billion, the Board projects to reduce the amount to $7.4 billion according to their debt adjustment plan. However, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, Puerto Rico’s poverty rate was estimated to be double that of the “poorest” state, Mississippi, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the island in 2020 with an 8 percent unemployment rate. After 2020, the unemployment rate reached 23 percent, 40 percent of families living in Puerto Rico suffer from food insecurity and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Puerto Rican demographic of the island has decreased approximately 12 percent as they relocate to the United States. 

“In my estimation, PROMESA  has been a complete failure because it doesn’t consider the fact that every action it takes has a significant impact on the residents of the island of Puerto Rico,” said Davila.

A Puerto Rican community stronghold at La Finca garden along Flushing Avenue in Bushwick.

“New York State currently represents the largest Puerto Rican diaspora in the country, with over one million Puerto Ricans in New York State, and more than five million across the country,” said Davila. “What’s happening in my homeland is very important to the residents of Brooklyn, the residents of New York City and the rest of the state. I have family there. Many people in our community have family still left on the island.” 

To read the Board’s Commonwealth 2020 Fiscal Plan, which “outlines opportunities for more ambitious additional reforms to create the conditions for long term fiscal balance,” visit its website, where you can also share your comments with the Board, keep up to date with newly released documents and subscribe to their newsletter. 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Jones Act is currently under a waiver. That sentence was deleted at 12:21 p.m. on October 1.

All photos courtesy of Assemblywoman Davila.

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