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A Call for Solidarity and Action for Puerto Rico

The WCC expresses its solidarity with Puerto Rico as it faces a serious financial and economic crisis and currently has a debt of more than US$70 billion that it cannot afford to repay.

27 June 2016

The World Council of Churches (WCC) expresses its solidarity with Puerto Rico as it faces a serious financial and economic crisis and currently has a debt of more than US$70 billion that it cannot afford to repay. The current crisis has been years in the making and is not limited solely to the public debt overhang. At the core of the current predicament is a deteriorated development model and economic institutions that have hindered sustainable growth. The financial crisis is affecting millions of people and causing schools to close, and placing basic needs such as healthcare and other public services at risk. Puerto Rico continues to suffer from the consequences of colonialism, racial disparities, inequalities and poverty.

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. The island is an unincorporated territory that is neither a federal state nor an independent country, and the ambiguous status has proved to be one of the main obstacles to effectively addressing the dire economic straits people are facing and has been detrimental to the economic affairs of the island. As a non-self-governing territory, Puerto Rico cannot file for bankruptcy nor has the options of a state as constituted by the laws of the United States of America. And, unlike sovereign nations such as Greece, it can’t seek emergency assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

Puerto Rico had the capacity to file bankruptcy up until 1984, when Congress passed an amendment to the Federal Bankruptcy Code to exclude Puerto Rico from filing Chapter 9, the section that would have allowed doing it. The country’s political status places it at a disadvantage, making it susceptible to predatory lending, infringing on its right to self-determination at a time of dire crisis. That is why Puerto Rico has asked the US Congress to give it extraordinary powers to reduce its debt outside of bankruptcy.

The island is facing a massive migration wave to the continental United States. Many Puerto Ricans have left the island and family behind, as an act of desperation due to the dire economic situation, unemployment and escalating violence. A great number have moved to the state of Florida. Sadly, many of the people that were murdered in the Orlando shooting were Puerto Ricans who had migrated to the US in the hopes of finding better livelihood opportunities.

Churches in Puerto Rico are struggling to provide aid, such as shelter and food, to the poorest and most vulnerable families. However, they have been mobilizing communities to advocate for a political solution to the crisis, including a call for a national dialogue with different sectors of society. The Puerto Rico Council of Churches is urging the government to carry out an audit of its debt in order to better define strategies to overcome the crisis and promote sustainable development.

The WCC calls the US government to play a catalytic role on these fronts and at the same time reminds policymakers that the real objective of fiscal and economic reforms is to protect the well-being of all Puerto Ricans, especially the most vulnerable in their society. The WCC stands in solidarity with the plight of the Puerto Rican People and calls the Congress of the United States to enact a rescue plan urgently.

The WCC also recognizes that Puerto Rico is also facing a migration crisis. In its pilgrimage of justice and peace, WCC invites its member churches to stand beside Puerto Rico and in solidarity with faith communities and leaders in the island and the diaspora as it faces a devastating historic financial crisis. We pray for churches, faith communities and people of good will as they struggle to sustain life and journey through uncertain times.