Puerto Rico Archbishop, Religious Leader Statement on Debt, Disaster Aid and Pensions

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble,
it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck
and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
- Matthew 18:6

Since 2015, with the support and advice of the religious Jubilee USA Network, we called on decision makers, our people and the faithful to work towards a Jubilee for Puerto Rico.

In the face of a debt crisis and a 60% child poverty rate, we called for debt relief, stopping austerity policies, protecting public pensions and reducing child poverty on our island.

We've been concerned about corruption in our own government. Congress made a promise that in exchange for debt relief and a "super bankruptcy process," a fiscal oversight board would be imposed on Puerto Rico.

After Congress passed emergency debt relief legislation in 2016, we felt debt relief was in sight. Early plans created by Puerto Rico's oversight board saw debt payments cut by 80%. Congress passed protections for the pensions and the official audit process. Congress began to move forward measures to reduce child poverty.

We hoped that the promises made to our people would be kept.

Sadly, in the Fall of 2017 when Hurricanes Maria and Irma ravaged our island, our hopes for debt relief and child poverty reduction became additional victims of the hurricanes.

Because of rosy economic growth projections from potential federal aid and construction monies, the oversight board negotiated to pay more debt. While there were some innovations in PREPA and COFINA debt proposals, they fell short in delivering enough debt relief—they fell short in the promise of a Jubilee.

When proposals fail to offer enough debt relief, the cost is paid by our people—especially by our children.

We also saw the official debt audit process dismantled. Congress failed to pass all of our recommendations to reduce child poverty.

Recovering from hurricanes, wrestling with debt crisis, we still are a people of hope—a people that know that our hope is tied to the Paschal Mystery. Resurrection conquers death and light always illuminates the darkness.

Last week, President Trump signed a bill to deliver more disaster relief to our islands. Now more than $50 billion is allocated for recovery and we call on Congress and the White House to continue this effort and deliver the additional $70 billion that we still need to recover.

This week as the oversight board met and workers voted on new pension proposals, we appreciate that the oversight board kept the promise to protect the pensions. We stand with labor leaders in urging the passage of pension plans that protect the vulnerable and protect the pensions of most of our people.

As the bankruptcy process and negotiations with creditors continued this week, we are grateful that discussions focus on higher debt cuts again.

We call on our Governor, the oversight board and the creditors to agree on debt haircuts similar to pre-hurricane debt plans—debt cuts of 80 cents on the dollar. Because of the work of noted economists and our partners at Jubilee USA, we know we cannot risk an overall debt cut of less than 80%.

Our people and our government officials must unite around ending our child poverty and migration epidemics. Our future is in our people and it is a social sin that so many of our children live in poverty.

In hope and solidarity, we also stand with our friends across the developing world wrestling with debt crises and high child poverty rates. We support the proposals of our religious partners across the Caribbean calling for debt relief in the face of hurricanes and natural disasters. We stand with our global partners and the United Nations calling for debt relief, transparency, responsible lending and borrowing, anti-corruption efforts and the right to a global bankruptcy process that lifts the vulnerable.

In Puerto Rico, we are reminded that we lack the tools to fully deal with many challenges—let alone crises created from unpayable debts and unavoidable disasters.

We remain trapped because Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States.

Our ability for resiliency, recovery and resolving our own challenges is tied to our political and colonial status. We call on our people and our officials to begin a new and creative dialogue to resolve our political status.

Our future and the future of our children rely on dealing with these questions. Our lives depend on right relationships with one another and with the United States—on fulfilling the Creator's promise of Jubilee.

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

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

Reverend Enrique Camacho, Director, Cáritas de Puerto Rico (Catholic Charities Puerto Rico)