The Free Associated State model, imposed on Puerto Rico since 1952, has entered a profound, worsening crisis, aggravated by a public debt which has reached more than 73,000 million dollars, according to Edwin González, the country's representative in Havana, who spoke with Granma International.
González stated that the current Puerto Rican government has recognized that it cannot repay Wall Street as much money as is owed, given the inexistence of a treasury, since all funds generated on the island go directly to Washington.
Moreover, Puerto Rico lacks any kind of national sovereignty to seek financial aid internationally, and cannot declare bankruptcy like any other U.S. state. The island is not part of the United States, so none of that country's bail-out programs apply, as has happened in innumerable cases within U.S. territory.
González, a member of the Hostosian National Independence Movement, commented, "In previous eras, the U.S. government assumed part of the debt, because it was very much interested in presenting Puerto Rico, with 3.4 million inhabitants, as the Caribbean's showcase, to serve as an example to the rest of Latin America. The neoliberal model being implemented in several nations of the region, right now, was tried out in our country."
To resolve the issue of the enormous debt, in 2016, the White House named a Financial Oversight and Management Board, to begin its work this year, composed of seven members and with the authority to override the Puerto Rican government. The group was charged with developing austerity plans to guarantee payment to bond holders.
One of the challenges facing the Oversight Board has been approval of the island's annual budget, which includes cuts in funding for universities and retirees. This issue has not been widely disseminated, to avoid provoking greater popular resistance, especially by students who conducted a two-year strike to challenge the privatization of higher education.
González reported that the Board is attempting to reduce the budget by 500 million dollars beginning in July, affecting workers first of all, denying them access to basic services; while the income of consortiums and transnational corporations established in Puerto Rico, with majority U.S. capital, is considered untouchable.
"The solution will always lie in Puerto Rico's sovereignty," he affirmed, recalling that around July 20, another resolution in the United Nations' Decolonization Committee will again condemn the country's colonial status.
Over the last decade, this proposal to the UN has been presented by Cuba every year, and has received the support of almost all Latin American countries. Despite being approved by the majority on all previous occasions, the United States obstinately insists that this is a domestic issue.
"We hope that the anti-colonial resolution will again be approved, although a novelty this year is that we won't be demanding the freedom of independence leader Oscar López Rivera, because thanks to national and international solidarity, we were able to free him from behind bars," Edwin González stated, referring to the 35 years the patriot spent in U.S. prisons for his commitment to independence for Puerto Rico.
González insisted that the fifth referendum held June 11, did not resolve the colonial issue facing the island, as long as the U.S. stands apart from the process, not taking the result seriously. The way the convocation was made, and the questions formulated, made it no more than a survey, he said, explaining, "If the independence option were to win, it would be impossible to implement, since the colonial power declared the vote non-binding, beforehand."
He emphasized the fundamental role Cuba has played in supporting Puerto Rico's freedom, expressing an honorable, clear position in international forums, and serving as the voice of the country in international organizations like the Non-Aligned Movement, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, among others.
He concluded saying, "With the great victory won with the release of Oscar López Rivera, we now face new tasks. Our resistance to the economic cuts will continue. We will struggle until national independence is achieved, so that Puerto Ricans ourselves, all together, may be who decide our fate and future."