Local Puerto Ricans call out Congress after island misses debt payment


  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
After Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro García Padilla announced the U.S. commonwealth would not be making a $422 million debt payment due Monday, local Puerto Rican leaders and activists rallied in Orlando against Wall Street banks, vulture funds and politicians in Congress who won't help the island. 

"The hardest thing to find on the island is a suitcase," says Christina Marie Hernandez, a board member of the Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment, in front of the Acacia-Centro Borinqueño. Puerto Rico's Institute of Statistics released a report Sunday that shows the island lost almost 2 percent of its population in 2014 after a net migration of 64,000 people left the island for the U.S. mainland, with many coming to Central Florida. 

Last year, Padilla declared Puerto Rico had an $72 billion in "unpayable" debt, and the island's situation has worsened as the government cuts money to essential programs, such as schools, and raises the sales tax. Congress, which previously opposed allowing Puerto Rico to use bankruptcy protections permitted for states, is currently debating the issue as the deadline for another debt payment, this time for $2 billion, comes up on July 1. 

"We have come together in unity to demand action for our fellow American citizens suffering the impact of years of mismanagement and greed fueled by Wall Street interests demanding to collect their pay day at the expense of our friends and families," Hernandez says. "Our community has had enough." 

Some Puerto Rican leaders, like Jimmy Torres of Iniciativa Acción and Florida Rep. Vic Torres, D-Orlando, called for local Puerto Ricans to unite as a voting bloc and demand action from Florida's politicians. 

"Nowhere in America would you see a government, government leaders, stand by and allow the closing of 40 percent of schools, 45 percent poverty and the shutoff of electricity for hospitals where the sick are being treated, except in Puerto Rico," he says. "We must unite as a community to push our Congressional leaders. John Mica and all other Republicans: Stand and help Puerto Rico...You wanna get our votes? You better stand with us."