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Congressman Luis Gutierrez

Representing the 4th District of Illinois

Rep. Gutiérrez: “Free Puerto Rico”

February 11, 2016
Press Release

In floor speech, Gutierrez says Washington “must find a way to get out of Puerto Rico’s way.”

Washington, DC – On Thursday, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) spoke during the Morning Hour on the floor of the House of Representatives (approx. 10 am ET) to deliver “a simple message from the Puerto Rican people: Free Puerto Rico…so she can solve the problem of her crushing debt without being handcuffed by Congress, its distant and inattentive colonial master.”  The Congressman said Washington must help chart a path forward so that “Puerto Rico is neither absolved of her obligations nor mortally wounded by them.”

He urged his colleagues to look at a broader definition of “debt” when it comes to Puerto Rico, saying, “Mr. Speaker, when Congress talks about Puerto Rico’s debt, I say we look at the totality of the debt; the part owed to Puerto Rico, not just the part Puerto Rico owes to Wall Street.”

The Congressman criticized the notion of a Federal Control Board, which would “Take away what little autonomy [the Puerto Ricans] have left and add a new layer of Washington control over the colony.”

He said the debate over resolving Puerto Rico’s debt crisis should focus not on “government programs and further dependency on Washington,” rather:

“We must make the conversation about jobs for Puerto Ricans; jobs that build the economy and the tax base and the self-sufficiency of the Island.  Mr. Speaker, Puerto Rico’s problems were a long time in the making, but I have utter confidence in the Puerto Rican people’s ability to solve them, if we in Congress begin listening to them, working with them, and recognizing them as equal partners.”

The text of the speech (as prepared for delivery) is below, along with a Spanish translation (traducción abajo).

A video of his speech is here: https://youtu.be/UI5_JobBXlQ

Rep. Gutiérrez represents the Fourth District of Illinois, is a Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, and is the Co-Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

 

Floor Remarks

February 11, 2016

(traducción abajo).

Mr. Speaker, I come with a humble message from the Puerto Rican people to the House of Representatives:  Free Puerto Rico.

Free Puerto Rico so she can solve the problem of her crushing debt without being handcuffed by Congress, its distant and inattentive colonial master.

Free Puerto Rico so that her hospitals can stay open for sick moms and dads and her schools stay open for children.  Nobody should fear that their house will burn down because the firemen have not been paid.

So far, the response to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis from Washington -- the one place that Puerto Rico is forced to rely on, has been very little.

Greedy bond-holders and hedge-fund managers only care about Puerto Rico as a wager – a way to make money whether Puerto Rico sinks or swims. 

Right now, Puerto Rico needs serious, sustained attention from Washington to find a path forward such that Puerto Rico is neither absolved of her obligations nor mortally wounded by them.

Because, Mr. Speaker, here is what it comes down to:  When the US Supreme Court said that Puerto Rico belongs to, but is not part of, the United States, the responsibility to care for her and her people came along with that judgement.

Congress must take responsibility for the fact that we expect Puerto Rico to pay its obligations, but we force her to play by a particular set of rules.

Puerto Rico cannot declare bankruptcy because Congress passed a law saying they cannot.

Puerto Rico is under the chokehold of the Jones Act – a law passed right here in this room without any consultation with the Puerto Rican people – that says, by law Puerto Rico cannot shop around for the best deal on shipping.  No, they must buy the most-expensive, which means double the import costs and an estimated $500 million extra on Puerto Rico’s food bill alone.

Oh, and when it comes to producing for themselves, a large chunk of the best agricultural land – the land that sustains and feeds a nation – that land is taken from them for military bases with no compensation -- 13 percent of the land - gone.

Puerto Rico is a tropical Island, but a lot of its fruit and food and vegetables and almost all of its food is imported.  We must allow Puerto Rico to create agricultural economy that allows Puerto Ricans to feed themselves.

The economy produces goods the people do not consume and the people consume goods they did not produce.

Even when the U.S. is caught red-handed stealing water from Puerto Rico’s fresh-water supply -- not paying a dime for it – what happens?  The U.S. Government is not held responsible or made to pay. 

When the military pollutes Vieques or Culebra, does the U.S. government feel any obligation? Not really.

So, Mr. Speaker, when Congress talks about Puerto Rico’s debt, I say we look at the totality of the debt; the part owed to Puerto Rico, not just the part Puerto Rico owes to Wall Street.

Every soldier she has sent to war, every time the U.S. has stepped in to override her courts or her government – these debts add up but are not accounted for.

And now, what is the solution that everyone in Washington is lining up behind?  A Federal Control Board.

Imagine that.  An Island that cannot determine its own destiny, that has to play an economic game with a stacked deck and all the rules rigged against them – what is the solution in Washington? 

Take away what little autonomy they have left and add a new layer of Washington control over the colony.

If Congress were smart, we would find a way to get out of the way.

Free Puerto Rico’s people to unleash their inherent hard-working character, spirit, and dedication.

Free Puerto Ricans to work and toil and build and create.  Free Puerto Rico so that she can build a sustainable economy that keeps her people at home, in the land of their birth and their heritage.

And we cannot get side-tracked by seeing Puerto Rico’s economic health exclusively through a lens of Food Stamps, Medicaid, government programs and further dependency on Washington.

We must make the conversation about jobs for Puerto Ricans. Jobs that build the economy and the tax base and the self-sufficiency of the Island.

Mr. Speaker, Puerto Rico’s problems were a long time in the making, but I have utter confidence in the Puerto Rican people’s ability to solve them, if we in Congress begin listening to them, working with them, and recognizing them as equal partners. 

We must free Puerto Rico so that the Puerto Rican people can free themselves.

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Sr. Presidente, vengo con un mensaje humilde del pueblo de Puerto Rico a la Cámara de Representantes: Liberen a Puerto Rico

Liberen a Puerto Rico para que pueda resolver el problema de su gran deuda sin estar esposada por el Congreso, su distante y desatento amo colonial.

Liberen a Puerto Rico para que sus hospitales puedan permanecer abiertos para padres y madres enfermos y sus escuelas permanezcan abiertas para los niños. Nadie debe temer que su casa se quemara porque los bomberos no han sido pagados.

Hasta ahora, la respuesta a la crisis de la deuda de Puerto Rico desde Washington - el único lugar al que Puerto Rico se ve obligado a confiar, ha sido muy poca.

Y los codiciosos tenedores de bonos y los gestores de fondos especulativos sólo les interesa Puerto Rico como una apuesta - una manera de ganar dinero si Puerto Rico se hunde o nada.

En este momento, Puerto Rico necesita atención seria, sostenida en parte por Washington para encontrar un camino hacia adelante de tal manera que Puerto Rico no sea ni absuelta de sus obligaciones ni herida mortalmente por ellas.

Porque, Sr. Presidente, de esto es lo que se trata: Cuando la Corte Suprema de los Estados Unidos dijo que Puerto Rico pertenece a, pero no es parte de, los Estados Unidos, la responsabilidad de cuidar de ella y su pueblo llegaron junto con ese juicio.

El Congreso debe asumir la responsabilidad por el hecho de que esperamos que Puerto Rico pague sus obligaciones, pero le obligamos a seguir reglas muy particulares.

Puerto Rico no puede declararse en quiebra porque el Congreso aprobó una ley que dice que no pueden.

Puerto Rico está siendo asfixiado por la Ley Jones - una ley aprobada aquí en esta sala sin ningún tipo de consulta con el pueblo de Puerto Rico – que dice que, por ley Puerto Rico no puede comparar precios para la mejor oferta de carga. No, ellos deben comprar de los comerciantes más caros del mundo, lo que significa el doble de los costos de importación y un estimado de $500 millones adicionales solo en la factura de la comida de Puerto Rico.

Ah, y cuando se trata de producir por sí mismos, una gran parte de las mejores tierras agrícolas - la tierra que sostiene y alimenta una nación – les han quitado esas tierras, sin compensación, para las bases militares. 13 por ciento de sus tierras – despojadas.

Puerto Rico es una isla tropical, pero una gran cantidad de sus frutas, vegetales y casi toda su comida es importada. Tenemos que permitir que Puerto Rico pueda crear una economía agrícola que permita que los puertorriqueños puedan alimentarse.  

La economía produce bienes que las personas no consumen y la gente consume bienes que no producen.

Incluso cuando a los EE.UU. se le atrapa robándose agua del suministro de agua potable de Puerto Rico - sin pagar un centavo por ella- ¿qué sucede? El Gobierno de EE.UU. no se hace responsable ni obligado a pagar.

Cuando el ejército contamina a Vieques o una bomba sin explotar se encuentra en Culebra, ¿siente alguna obligación el gobierno de EE.UU.? No.

Por lo tanto, señor Presidente, cuando el Congreso habla de la deuda de Puerto Rico, yo digo que nos fijemos en la totalidad de la deuda; La parte que se le debe a Puerto Rico, no sólo la parte que Puerto Rico le debe a Wall Street.

Cada soldado que ha enviado a la guerra, cada vez que los EE.UU. ha intervenido para anular sus tribunales o su gobierno - estas deudas se suman, pero no se contabilizan.

Y ahora, ¿cuál es la solución que todos respaldan en Washington? Una Junta de Control Federal.

Imagínate. Una isla que no puede determinar su propio destino, que tiene que jugar un juego económico con todas las reglas amañadas en contra de ella - ¿cuál es la solución en Washington?

Quitarle lo poco que le queda de autonomía y añadir un nuevo nivel de control de Washington sobre la colonia.

Si el Congreso fuera inteligente encontraríamos la manera de quitarnos del camino.

Liberen al Pueblo de Puerto Rico para desatar su carácter trabajador, su espíritu y su dedicación interna.

Liberen a los puertorriqueños para que puedan trabajar y construir y crear. Liberen a Puerto Rico para que pueda construir una economía sostenible que mantiene a su gente, en la tierra de su nacimiento y su patrimonio.

Y no podemos distraernos y ver la salud económica de Puerto Rico exclusivamente a través de cupones de comida, Medicaid, programas de gobierno y aún más dependencia de Washington.

Debemos hacer que la conversación sea sobre empleos para los puertorriqueños. Los trabajos que construyen la economía y la base tributaria y la autosuficiencia de la isla.

Sr. Presidente, los problemas de Puerto Rico tomaron mucho tiempo para crearse pero tengo absoluta confianza en la capacidad del pueblo de Puerto Rico a resolverlos ... si es que- y solo si es que - el Congreso comience a escucharlos, a trabajar con ellos, y a reconocerlos como compañeros iguales.

Hay que liberar a Puerto Rico para que el pueblo de Puerto Rico pueda liberarse a sí mismo.

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