Puerto Rico and US Virgin Island Religious Leaders Issue Debt and Aid Statement As President Trump Visits Islands

As President Trump visits Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, island religious leaders are calling for aid, debt relief and measures to end child poverty. The statement is issued by San Juan's Catholic Archbishop, Roberto González Nieves, St. Thomas' Catholic Bishop Herbert A. Bevard and Evangelical Bible Society Head Reverend Heriberto Martínez.

"Our islands can not pay debt until we've rebuilt and we see positive economic recovery. We need a debt payment moratorium, debts must be cancelled and reduced to sustainable payable levels," wrote González, Bevard, and Martínez in their statement. "When economies are already dealing with austerity policies and financial crisis, they are ill prepared to deal with natural disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Maria."

Before Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, both US territories were wrestling with financial crisis and high child poverty rates. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Island religious leaders express that since the hurricanes struck, many civil institutions and communication systems collapsed. 

"Before the hurricanes hit, we were dealing with a severe debt crisis on the islands with troubling austerity policies. Now we are dealing with a serious humanitarian crises," said Jubilee USA Executive Director Eric LeCompte who works with the islands' religious leaders. "The islands need sufficient recovery aid and debt relief to rebuild."
Here is the full statement from Puerto Rico and US Virgin Island Religious leaders:

Puerto Rico and US Virgin Island Religious Leaders Appeal for Aid, Debt Relief and Ending Child Poverty 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.‎" -- Jeremiah 29:11

‎"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.‎" -- Matthew 6:12

In recent weeks, hurricanes and powerful storms ravaged our homes across the Caribbean to the shores of the United States. We pray, mourn and hope with all of the victims from Dominica to Florida. In particular, we remember the most vulnerable were not prepared to cope with the storms and have fewer resources to recover.

In Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands we are desperately trying to help our people survive amidst the most destructive natural disaster to visit our islands in a century. Bef‎ore the hurricanes struck our islands, we were wrestling with high child poverty rates and serious financial crises. On behalf of our people, we appeal to all decision makers:

  • In addition to hurricane relief, we need resources to permanently reduce the child poverty epidemic.
  • Aid must come in the form of grants, as opposed to loans that would further indebt our islands.
  • Relief monies must be sufficient to rebuild structures to withstand more powerful and more frequent storms.
  • US citizens living in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands must be able to have the same access to federal health care and child benefit monies that US citizens receive in US states. 
  • Our islands cannot pay debt until we've rebuilt and we see positive economic recovery.
  • We need a debt payment moratorium; debts must be cancelled and reduced to sustainable payable levels.

When economies are already dealing with austerity policies and financial crisis, they are ill prepared to deal with natural disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Maria. We ask that decision makers institute greater budget transparency and standards for responsible lending and borrowing to prevent financial crisis in US states, US territories and foreign countries.

As we struggle to recover from these terrible storms, we join religious partners from around our world in calling for an economy that defends and lifts the vulnerable. Our loving God intends for us all to have enough and to live in harmony with one another and our planet.

In the hope endowed by our Creator,

 

Metropolitan Archbishop Roberto O. González Nieves, OFM of Catholic Archdiocese San Juan de Puerto Rico

 

  

Most Reverend Herbert A. Bevard, Bishop of St.Thomas in the Virgin Islands

  

Reverend Heriberto Martínez-Rivera, Secretary General of Puerto Rico’s Bible Society and Coordinator of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Coalition of Puerto Rico

Read Eric LeCompte's statement on the crisis

Read religious leaders' statement in Englishen español 

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Religious Development Group Releases Statement on President Trump Puerto Rico Visit

President Trump is scheduled to make a visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, October 3rd, to review disaster relief efforts. Trump may visit the US Virgin Islands which is also undergoing hurricane recovery efforts.‎

Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA Executive Director, releases the following statement:

"President Trump has an opportunity to ensure Puerto Rico recovers, the island gets out of debt and ‎kids can live healthy lives.

"Not only is Puerto Rico reeling from the hurricanes, it was already wrestling with a financial crisis and nearly 60 percent of kids on the island lived in poverty.

"Going forward we need to be sure that Puerto Rico gets enough aid to rebuild and recover.‎ We also need to be sure that Puerto Rico gets ample debt relief to lift kids out of poverty.‎

"The US Virgin Islands needs more attention and more aid. The Virgin Islands were hit by two category 5‎ hurricanes, has a terrible debt crisis and high child poverty rate."‎

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BuzzFeed News Talks with Eric LeCompte about Puerto Rico

Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA was recently featured in BuzzFeed News speaking on Puerto Rico. Read excerpt below and follow link to full article.

It Wasn't Just a Hurricane that Destroyed Puerto Rico

By: Michael Sean Winters

"'Before the hurricanes, almost 60% of kids in Puerto Rico lived in poverty and the island was already reeling from hurricane-like blows in the form of austerity,' said Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, a faith-based nonprofit that focuses on debt issues in the developing world. 'Austerity measures cut health care, education, and social services on the island. Austerity bleeds hope and breeds despair among a people that have suffered so much.'

LeCompte has been working with religious, business, and labor leaders, both on the island and in Washington, for more than two years, helping them to craft solutions to the fiscal crisis that would not further harm the poor. He played a key role in fashioning PROMESA, the bill passed by Congress to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, and he said critics of the legislation fail to grasp what it achieved at a time when there were no better options.

The law has two main achievements, he said. 'First, it prevented predatory vulture funds from buying the island's debt cheap to profit off the crisis and make a bad situation even worse. Second, the legislation created a bankruptcy process that can cut all of Puerto Rico's debt, a process that can take into account the impacts of the hurricane.'"

Read more here.

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Religious Development Group Releases Statement on Debt Relief for Devastated Islands

Jubilee USA's Executive Director Eric LeCompte releases the below statement on Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands debt crises after the hurricanes. LeCompte worked on Puerto Rico emergency debt crisis legislation, testified to Congress and Puerto Rico's oversight board on the debt crisis and serves on United Nation debt expert groups.

Eric LeCompte, Jubilee USA Executive Director, releases the following statement:

"Before the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, 60 percent of its kids lived in poverty and we already felt the island's financial crisis was deteriorating into a humanitarian crisis. After the hurricanes, we are facing absolute devastation made worse by the island's debt crisis.

"Too few eyes are on the US Virgin Islands. They've been ravaged by the hurricanes and they already were experiencing one of the worst debt crises in the Caribbean.

"Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are in no position to make debt payments until they rebuild and recover. Both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands need deep debt relief after the hurricanes.

"Last year Congress passed emergency debt crisis legislation for Puerto Rico. Because of Congressional action, the largest bankruptcy process in US history is currently underway in Puerto Rico. That bankruptcy process can take into account the impacts of the hurricane and now provide even greater debt relief for the island.

"Unfortunately, we don't have a clear process for the US Virgin Islands to get debt relief at this time. We will need action from Congress and the creditors. In any case, the US Virgin Islands has no ability to make debt payments in the near future."

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CNBC Cites Eric LeCompte on Puerto Rico Post-Hurricane Debt Crisis

Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA was recently interviewed by CNBC speaking on Puerto Rico. Read excerpt below and follow link to full article. 

Puerto Rico Bonds Plunge Again as Investors Face Lower Recovery than Expected

By: Steve Liesman, Dawn Giel 

 "'No island should be making debt payments until they can recover, whether we are talking about US territories like Puerto Rico or ‎countries like Dominica,' noted Eric LeCompte, the executive director of the religious development group Jubilee USA."

Read more here.

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National Catholic Reporter Cites Jubilee USA's work on Puerto Rico Debt

Jubilee USA's work on Puerto Rico was recently mentioned in National Catholic Reporter. Read excerpt below and follow link to full article.

There is a Justice Issue at the Heart of these Hurricanes

By: Michael Sean Winters

"Additionally, we must help rebuild these islands by requiring that the international community, and the U.S. specifically, write down the debt that they owe. This article at Truthout, which is not a Catholic publication, sheds light on the work being done by the Catholic Church to argue for a massive program of debt forgiveness for these poor islands, and especially the work of Jubilee USA." 

Read more here.

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Politico Talks with Jubilee USA's Eric LeCompte on Debt Relief for Puerto Rico, Dominica and Hurricane-Hit Islands‎

Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA was recently in Politico speaking on debt relief for islands affected by the recent hurricanes. Read excerpt below and follow link to full article.

Storm-battered Puerto Rico looks to Washington for help

By: Colin Wilhelm

"Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, a religious-affiliated organization that lobbied on behalf of debt restructuring for Puerto Rico last year, said his group would push for the Virgin Islands to be treated as Puerto Rico was in disaster relief legislation.

'Congress is going to have to step in in some new ways,' said LeCompte. 'At this point, no one’s going to get paid anyways.'

Jubilee, which has ties to about 650 faith-based groups and organizations, would also push for the U.S. to lead the charge on a temporary debt moratorium on money owed to the International Monetary Fund by non-U.S. Caribbean islands affected by the storms. The U.S. holds more votes than any other country in the IMF.

'We’re just looking at delaying payments for six months to a year,' during the disaster recovery, LeCompte said." 

Read more here.

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Development Group Says Debt Relief Can Provide Quick-Recovery Aid to Dominica and Puerto Rico

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) joins other religious and development groups in their call for ‎debt relief for hurricane-battered Caribbean islands. In a letter to the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the USCCB wrote, "Natural disasters in countries with extremely at-risk economies, like Antigua and Barbuda and others in the Caribbean, can wreak catastrophic and paralyzing impacts on their prospects for further development—including their ability to service their debt responsibly."‎ The letter echoed calls from Caribbean Catholic Bishops to temporarily stop debt payments so that troubled islands can recover.

"No island should be making debt payments until they can recover, whether we are talking about US territories like Puerto Rico or ‎countries like Dominica," noted Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development group Jubilee USA.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the USCCB and Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace for USCCB, sent the letter to the IMF just after Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, Bishop of Roseau and President of the Antilles Episcopal Conference did the same. Malzaire sent the letter after Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean, but before Hurricane Marie struck his home island of Dominica.

"Sadly, since multiple hurricanes have ravaged the Caribbean, there are many islands in need of immediate aid. Delaying debt payments is one of the fastest ways to move money into recovery and reconstruction efforts," noted LeCompte who serves on UN expert working group‎s that focus on financial crisis.

Every street and every town in Dominica, home to roughly 73,000 people, was affected according to the island's Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit who lost his own home. Dominica's government says the island is currently without running water and electricity. Power outages are occurring across hurricane-struck islands. The US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are struggling to regain power. ‎Puerto Rico's power company stated that it could take 4 to 6 months to get power fully back in the US territory.

"The US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico need to ‎focus on the emergency needs of their people, not debt payments," said LeCompte. "Congress, creditors and the territory governments all have a responsibility to free the US citizens on the islands of debt as they recover from these hurricanes."

Read the USCCB's Letter to the IMF

Read Jubilee USA's Letter to the IMF

Read Bishop Gabriel Malzaire's Letter to the IMF

Read Jubilee USA's Petition for Hurricanes Irma and Maria

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Eric LeCompte Speaks at UN on Financing Development and Addressing Poverty in Wake of Hurricane Maria

As the United Nations General Assembly debate began earlier this week, Eric LeCompte spoke at a high-level event on improving global debt, tax, trade and transparency policies to address poverty. The event, focused on financing development, was organized by the government of France and the International Leading Group on Social and Solidarity Economy. Read the speech below or the attachment here.  

72nd United Nations General Assembly
‘Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet’

UN High Level Event:
INCLUSIVE, PARTICIPATORY, INNOVATIVE: FINANCING FOR SOCIAL AND
SOLIDARITY ECONOMY AT THE CORE OF THE SDGS
United Nations, New York

“Promoting Debt, Tax, Trade and Transparency Policies that
Finance Development, Ensure Natural Disaster Relief, Build Peace
and Protect our Planet”

Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA
September 19, 2017
Remarks As Prepared for Delivery 

I want to extend my gratitude to all of the organizers, the Government of France and the International Leading Group on Social and Solidarity Economy. It is an honor to be with you today

My organization, Jubilee USA is part of the broader community of organizations that coalesced around the Financing for Development process that promoted a global agreement in Addis Ababa in 2015. The Financing for Development community includes women’s organizations, religious and political groups as well as global development organizations. During the Financing for Development process, our community asserted that we can meet the Sustainable Development Goals, ensure human needs are met and protect our planet by improving global debt, tax, trade and transparency policies. The International Monetary Fund notes that several of these issues are the basis of global inequality.

Jubilee USA moves forward global policies that address the root causes of poverty and inequality. In the United States, Jubilee USA’s founders and members include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, American Jewish World Service, Islamic Relief, the United Church of Christ and most mainline national Christian Churches.

My remarks are focused today on utilizing existing and potential revenue streams that can finance development, relieve human suffering and protect our environment. There is no way to discuss these issues, without acknowledging the great human suffering caused by recent natural disasters from India to the shores of the United States.

We can’t reach our partners on the island of Dominica and all initial reports note that the island is devastated by Hurricane Maria. Bishop Gabriel Malzaire who leads the Catholic Church on the island and is the President of the Caribbean Catholic Antilles Episcopal Conference, sent a letter to the International Monetary Fund just days ago. His letter on behalf of Caribbean Catholics, called on the IMF and other creditors to temporarily delay debt payments for islands like Antigua and Barbuda recently ravaged by Hurricane Irma. Sadly, his letter is now relevant for his own island nation of Dominica. It’s imperative that the IMF, World Bank and other creditors delay payments or grant a debt payment moratorium to provide financing and relief in the face of human tragedy.

When disaster strikes, when famine spreads and when economic crisis impacts the poor, we have immediate tools at our disposal. Too often simple, common sense financing to address crisis are not used. Whether it is a hurricane or famine, delaying debt payments and debt relief can provide immediate aid, when aid is needed most.

More broadly we currently live in a global financial system where 80 people own as much, have as much wealth, as more than half of the entire global population. We live in a global financial system where we know one out of five people in the world lives on less than a dollar a day.

In the 1990’s we began our work to address inequality and finance development by addressing the global debt crisis. Together we won two great debt relief and financing initiatives to address global poverty and promote children’s education and health: The Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). Because of these initiatives, over $115 billion was won in debt relief to benefit some of the world’s poorest countries. Because of that debt relief we know in sub-Saharan Africa that more than 52 million kids went to school who never would have seen the inside of a classroom. We know that school fees were cancelled, hospitals were opened, because of this historic initiative, because of this relief and the international accountability laws that we won, all of this money had to go into building social infrastructure.

Unfortunately, as successful and important as HIPC and MDRI were, we now realize that those solutions were not enough to entirely grasp the problem. Out of the 38 very poor countries that benefitted from the HIPC and MDRI initiatives, 31 again face debt distress, financial crisis or unsustainable debts. 31 out of 38. 3 But not only has that crisis impacted and returned to some of the world’s poorest countries, we have also seen it impacting middle-income and even developed countries. From 2009 to 2014, debt service in Africa nearly doubled. While at the same time in the same countries in Africa, we saw spending on health care decline. As we talk about Dominica, we are currently seeing a tragic situation on Small Island Developing States or SIDS across the world, many of these islands with poverty rates that range from 30% to 50%. These so called Middle-Income Small Islands are now facing crisis, just as so-called middle-income countries in Africa are facing similar crises.

These new crises have become more complicated. Debt itself has changed and the instruments of debt have changed. Where debt was relatively quarantined to a rather small group of lending facilities, international financial institutions, governments and bonds, now we see more complicated instruments.

With this new reality and this lack of debt sustainability there is a small group of exploitative hedge funds that are trying to benefit from countries wrestling with financial crisis. These so called “vulture funds” are responsible for predatory behavior in Detroit, in Greece, in Argentina and were recently stopped in Puerto Rico by an act of the US Congress. So called “vulture funds” buy debt for pennies on the dollar and then sue in full using aggressive litigation tactics to collect the full amount. These types of funds have successfully collected aid monies that were intended to provide development financing in the developing world.

We and the religious organizations that we represent, believe public budget transparency and responsible lending and borrowing are essential. Beyond preventing predatory financial behavior, public budget transparency and responsible lending and borrowing can provide financing of billions of dollars annually for the developing world. These conservative stewardship policies cost nothing and can raise billions in the developing world. It is why we support improved debt restructuring at the International Monetary Fund. It is why we supported the United Nations General Assembly process to create a legal global bankruptcy framework. Similar to Chapter 9 or Chapter 11 in the United States, global bankruptcy can provide the same kind of stability we rely on in domestic economies into the global financial system. Pope Francis supports such a system to provide financing to end poverty. Adam Smith the father of modern economics believed global bankruptcy is critical for global stability.

Beyond debt, addressing trade, transparency and tax issues can also provide the needed financing to meet human needs. There is no way that we can separate these 4 issues when we discuss financing human development. The same predatory hedge funds that took Argentina to court in New York, that benefited off of crisis in Detroit, small island states and Greece, are also using trade resolution mechanisms such as the Inter-Settlement Dispute Mechanisms, to try and collect monies that countries need to meet the needs of their people. Most recently we see this in Peru, where old military debt that had propped up the dictatorship was bought for pennies on the dollar and is being sued for in full.

More concerning is that many trade negotiations make it difficult for vulnerable populations to get financing and access for life saving medicines. We need trade policies that lift and protect human beings. We need trade policies that ensure proper financing to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.

We also acknowledge the growing issues around tax evasion, illicit financial flows, anonymous shell companies and corporate tax avoidance. As the President Mbeki report noted, one of the greatest diversions of financing for human needs is because of tax evasion and corruption. Last year the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released a study on five countries that showed how much money they were losing because of “trade mis-invoicing.” Currently we believe that 80% of all illicit financial flows are because of trade mis-invoicing at borders and port authorities. This is actually a relatively easy problem to tackle, and this particular problem if tackled could secure more than $1 trillion a year to provide financing in the developing world. Addressing corruption, tax evasion, corporate tax avoidance, anonymous shell companies and related issues must be addressed. The Financing for Development Community of development groups continues to call for vehicles like a global tax body to help settle these issues and raise financing for the development world.

In closing, by addressing structural economic issues, we can finance development, human needs and address economic crisis. In an era where aid streams are being debated, it’s essential that we harness revenue streams by promoting better global policies on debt, tax, transparency and trade.

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Eric LeCompte Interviewed on Jubilee's Call for Debt Relief to Hurricane-Struck Islands

Jubilee USA was recently featured in Truthout speaking on the need for debt relief in the Caribbean in wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Read excerpt below and follow link to full article.

Damaged by Hurricanes and "Vulture" Capitalism, Caribbean Islands Plead for Debt Relief

By: Mike Ludwig

"'At this point, Antigua and Barbuda as one country and Dominica as another could both qualify for a temporary moratorium on international debt payments to the IMF,' LeCompte said in an interview.

Like other islands in the Caribbean, Dominica is saddled by significant international debt. LeCompte said the country's debt level has been unsustainable since at least 2010, and Hurricane Maria could lead to a 'full-blown debt crisis."

Read more here.

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