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A push to cancel Puerto Rico debt

Demonstrators call on judge to cancel Puerto Rican debt

Trea Lavery
A push to cancel Puerto Rico debt
Protesters picket in front of the Moakley courthouse. PHOTO: TREA LAVERY

Puerto Rican activists rallied Monday outside Boston’s John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse to ask a federal judge to erase part of the island’s $72 billion debt and protect its retirement pensions.

Attendees marched outside the courthouse doors, chanting in English and Spanish, while Judge Laura Taylor Swain held a hearing inside to decide whether money that is supposed to go toward those pensions will be put toward the debt, as requested by bondholders.

In addition, the activists, which included Chelsea City Council President Damali Vidot and members from activist groups Alianza por Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Me Llama, Vamos4PR, the Center for Popular Democracy and Hedge Clippers, want the judge to dismiss $6 billion of the debt that the territory’s Fiscal Control Board declared illegal, as the debt violates the Puerto Rican Constitution.

“These are working families that have worked their whole lives and contributed to the economy,” said Puerto Rican activist Marisol Santiago, of Chelsea. “Our families are still recuperating, there is so much work that needs to be done post-Hurricane Maria. Given all these situations that have occurred, to stand here today and even consider going after the pensions of our retirees is just completely heinous and ludicrous.”

In a speech to the protestors, Vidot told the story of her father, who came to New York from Puerto Rico to find better opportunities and to make money to take care of his mother.

“If my father was alive today and his pension was at risk of being lost, I don’t know where he would have been,” she said. “I have seen these corporate entities work very hard to restructure this debt to continue benefit the rich and cut the people of Puerto Rico off at the knees. Haven’t the Puerto Rican people suffered enough?”

In a written statement read by a spokesperson at the rally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressed her support for the activists, saying that it was not the first time that the federal government had failed the small island.

“As Puerto Rico has struggled to get up from under the crushing weight of its debt, Congress has failed to provide real relief from the debt that already promised to cripple its economy and its future,” Warren said in the statement. “This is what happens when you have a government that works great for the big banks and great for the big corporations, but not for anyone else.”

Santiago said that the activists want to be sure that the banks that are in control of Puerto Rico’s debt are not put before Puerto Ricans to the detriment of people’s lives.

“We’re asking the judge to really think about that today and to do everything in her power in this federal court to make sure that families are put first,” she said.

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