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 English, en español