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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

Ahead Of First Meeting Of Puerto Rico Control Board (In New York), Gutiérrez Sees “A Very Bad Omen”

September 28, 2016
Press Release
“Holding the meeting in lower Manhattan confirms to Puerto Ricans that the Junta de Control is by, for, and all about the bondholders and corporate interests on Wall Street."
Issues: 

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) spoke on the House floor about the new Financial Control Board – or Junta de Control – that will oversee all aspects of Puerto Rico’s government and which meets on Friday for its first official meeting.  The meeting is not in Puerto Rico, but in lower Manhattan close to Wall Street, which Rep. Gutiérrez said “is symbolic of the way la Junta de Control over Puerto Rico came about – and is a very bad omen for the future.”

He said:

“Holding the meeting in lower Manhattan confirms to Puerto Ricans that the Junta de Control is by, for, and all about the bondholders and corporate interests on Wall Street.  So, I consider the Junta meeting on Friday a home-court game.”

The Congressman, who was a staunch opponent of the PROMESA legislation that created the Control Board, also noted the apparent ties between the members of la Junta de Control and the bondholders and corporate interests on Wall Street “who traded and profited off of Puerto Rico’s $72 Billion in debt.”

“And all of this raises the bigger problem of transparency.  There isn’t any.  Under law this group can meet in secret anywhere in the world and their proceedings can be conducted in “executive session.”  The Board Members can receive unlimited and unreported gifts, meals, Hamilton tickets and anything else and we will never know.”

He concluded:

“As we leave Washington this week and head home for the great exercise in American democracy in November, I want all of us [in Congress] to keep in mind the Island of Puerto Rico, our colony in the Caribbean Sea, a place that now, more than ever, only dreams of true democracy.”

The full text is below.

A video of the speech is here: https://youtu.be/qUDqi8Sum1c

Rep. Gutiérrez represents the Fourth District of Illinois, which has a significant Puerto Rican population.  He was born to parents who left Puerto Rico for Chicago in the 1950s but returned to Puerto Rico, with the Congressman, in the 1960s.  Rep. Gutiérrez is a Member of the House Judiciary Committee and is the Co-Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. 

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

September 28, 2016

Mr. Speaker:

On Friday, there is an important meeting in the Financial District of New York City. 

Right in the heart of the stock traders, the investment banks and the bond buyers and sellers who trade in the debt of companies, countries, and municipalities.

Right there in the nerve center of our financial markets, they are holding a meeting.

Is it a meeting about Wells Fargo opening thousands of accounts without the knowledge or consent of their customers?  No.  Nothing like that.

Nor anything related to the financial meltdown that our country is still recovering from that started right there.

Nope.

This is the first meeting of the Puerto Rico Financial Control Board – the Junta de Control that has supreme power to rule over Puerto Rico.

Now, in case there is any confusion with the geography, New York City has a lot of Puerto Ricans but it is not – in fact – the Capital of Puerto Rico.

My staff checked.  San Juan is the Capital of Puerto Rico, but no, the meeting of the Junta de Control that has dominion over all aspects of the Puerto Rican people is not meeting in San Juan.

The meeting is taking place pretty close to Wall Street, which I think is symbolic of the way la Junta de Control over Puerto Rico came about – and is a very bad omen for the future.

Let me explain. 

There are seven people – not elected, but appointed – who oversee every aspect of Puerto Rico’s governance.  Four are Republican nominees, three are Democrats and there is one non-voting member of the Junta.

Several of the members of the Puerto Rico Junta de Control appear to have deep ties to Wall Street where you can find many of the bondholders who traded and profited off of Puerto Rico’s $72 Billion in debt.

Judge Juan R. Torruella, the first Hispanic appointed by Ronald Reagan to the prestigious U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals summed it up pretty well.  He told the Colegio de Abogados -- the Bar Association of Puerto Rico –that, “The principal purpose of PROMESA [the Control Board] is to establish a collection agency for bondholders.”

And the person who is rumored to be the executive director of the Junta de Control – he is a big-time corporate energy lobbyist.  He is former head of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas – a trade association of energy producers – which makes everyone concerned about Puerto Rico’s environment nervous – with good reason.

So holding the meeting in lower Manhattan confirms to Puerto Ricans that the Junta de Control is by, for, and all about the bondholders and corporate interests on Wall Street.  So, I consider the Junta meeting on Friday a home-court game.

The Board will elect their chairman on Friday.  Kind of ironic, because they are electing the Chair to an unelected Board, because, well, democracy is good enough for some people, but not for the Puerto Rican people.

And we have been told that members of the Control Board met secretly in Washington last week, so it is unclear whether this is actually the first meeting of the Junta de Control.

And all of this raises the bigger problem of transparency.

There isn’t any. 

Under law this group can meet in secret anywhere in the world and their proceedings can be conducted in “executive session.”

The Board Members can receive unlimited and unreported gifts, meals, Hamilton tickets and anything else and we will never know.

They are under no obligation to translate anything into Spanish – which, in case you forgot, is the language of people who have to live with the Junta’s decisions. 

I will say, to their credit, that after I wrote to each member of the control board and asked for a public commitment to transparency, a few of them wrote back. 

None made a public commitment to transparency, but a few acknowledged that keeping Puerto Ricans informed, making the meetings publicly accessible and translating materials in the language of the people being governed were good principles.

It remains to be seen whether anyone on the Junta de Control really fights to inform the Puerto Rican people.  Really steps up to be a champion for the school teachers and doctors and moms and dads who are struggling, the firemen and police and public-sector heroes who serve the Puerto Rican people.

And unclear that this Control Board will step up on behalf of the Puerto Rican people and make creating jobs, creating more jobs, and creating more jobs the number one priority for the Junta

That is the way we create a tax base for Puerto Rico.  That is the way we give puertoriqueños a viable option to live and work in Puerto Rico rather than moving to Florida or some other state.

So, Mr. Speaker, as we leave Washington this week and head home for the great exercise in American democracy in November, I want all of us to keep in mind the Island of Puerto Rico, our colony in the Caribbean Sea, a place that now, more than ever, only dreams of true democracy.

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