Photo by Breezy Baldwin via Flickr
Community leaders from Central Florida's Puerto Rican diaspora demanded action from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio Monday in extending bankruptcy protections for the financially strapped U.S. territory.
As we've written before
, Congress has opposed pleas from Puerto Rican representatives and activists to allow the island, whose residents are U.S. citizens, to use the Ch. 9 bankruptcy protections permitted for states and create a comprehensive debt repayment plan. Puerto Ricans are currently fleeing the financial crisis in mass numbers to get to Central Florida.
Organizers gathered in front of Rubio's Orlando office on South Orange Avenue asking him to change his position on the subject. In September, Rubio wrote an op-ed
opposing bankruptcy protections for the island, according to the senator's deputy press secretary Kristen Morrell.
"While some have suggested Washington can deliver a silver bullet solution to help Puerto Rico, the reality is that Puerto Rico’s leaders must lead and do the difficult but essential work of cutting spending, reining in out-of-control big government and eliminating job-killing policies, including scores of new tax increases," Rubio wrote. "Allowing Puerto Rican municipalities to reorganize their debts under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code would not solve Puerto Rico’s problems and should only be a measure of last resort considered if Puerto Rico takes significant steps to fix its budget and economic mess."
Zoé Colón, director of Florida and Southeast operations for Hispanic Federation, says Monday's press conference is one of many actions that community leaders have done to inform people about the exodus of Puerto Ricans leaving the island in desperation. Families migrating to the area are not always prepared, and many are currently staying in motels, and sometimes, sleeping in cars. Back on the island, more than 100 schools have been shut down on the island and service programs have been severely curtailed, says José La Luz, of Unidos por Puerto Rico. Politicians like U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and President Barack Obama, who are sympathetic to the island's financial troubles, need to be more aggressive in having their voices heard on the issue, he adds.
"We find it inconceivable that Sen. Rubio, who has claimed to be a friend of Puerto Rico, has remained silent in Puerto Rico's greatest moment of need, when it faces the possibility of bankruptcy," he says. "Puerto Ricans are likely to remember if he takes no action."
Betsy Franceschini, Florida regional director for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, says Florida is the new epicenter of the Puerto Rican diaspora, which is why community leaders are calling on Floridian politicians for support. The Puerto Rican government made a $355 million payment
on its $72 billion debt earlier this month, but the community fears the $1 billion payment due New Year's Day will cut into basic services.
"It's a humanitarian crisis," she says. "We're not asking for a bailout. We're asking for the tools to restructure our debt."