A Militant reporting team of Osborne Hart, Socialist Workers Party candidate for New York mayor; Martín Koppel; and Linda Joyce are in Puerto Rico, offering solidarity and covering the day’s events. These include his first press conference, a car caravan through the city, a concert-celebration and his first speech to the peoples of Puerto Rico and the world.
López flies to Chicago the next day, where as a young adult he had been a fighter for the rights of Puerto Ricans and others. He will speak in Humboldt Park and elsewhere. The Socialist Workers Party team will go door to door in San Juan talking to workers, meeting with union fighters, and speaking with students protesting the slashing of one-third of the University of Puerto Rico budget.
When López returns, they will join his car caravan May 20 for a full day of activities in San Sebastián, where he grew up.
Before leaving for Puerto Rico, Hart released a statement saying, “Welcome home, Oscar! We look forward to fighting shoulder to shoulder in defense of working people around the world.
“This is a victory not just for the people of Puerto Rico but for working people in the U.S.
“We say: End U.S. colonial rule in Puerto Rico! U.S. and Puerto Rican workers — same enemy, same fight! Emulate the Cuban Revolution! Independence isn’t granted, it must be fought for!”
López will continue on to New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and Philadelphia, and will appear before the United Nations decolonization hearing June 19. He will speak out as part of the unfolding struggle against U.S. imperialism’s continuing plunder of the resources and people of Puerto Rico.
Also on May 17, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain is holding the first hearing on the colonial regime’s bankruptcy filing in the face of $74 billion owed to profit-hungry bondholders and $49 billion to workers’ pension funds.
The bankruptcy is being used to deepen the anti-working-class measures the Puerto Rican government has been carrying out at the behest of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico.
The board was appointed last year by President Barack Obama as part of the Promesa law passed with bipartisan support by Congress. The Junta — as it is referred to in Puerto Rico — has dictatorial power over the budget, finances and economic measures of the Puerto Rican government.
In 2000 Puerto Rico’s gross public debt was $23.8 billion. By 2006 it was almost $40 billion.
The debt grew to more than $72 billion from 2006 to 2015, in the midst of the worldwide capitalist economic crisis, exacerbated on the island because of its colonial exploitation. The government took out loans and sold more bonds, not to invest in infrastructure or create jobs, but largely to try and keep up with paying the interest and principal on prior loans and bonds. By comparison, Detroit’s obligations were $18 billion when it declared bankruptcy in 2013.
At the same time, Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product dropped 18 percent and pharmaceutical and other private companies closed down.
More staid capitalist financial companies sold off their bonds, worried the colony’s down-spiraling economy would threaten their ability to continue raking in profits. Hedge funds scooped them up, for as little as 12 cents on the dollar. But they still demand full payment, plus interest.
The government stepped up the squeeze on working people to pay the debt. Since 2006 it has laid off 30,000 public workers; raised the retirement age; closed schools; hiked the sales tax to 11.5 percent, higher than any U.S. state; slashed pensions; and frozen public employee wages. So far this year there have been deeper cuts to pensions and more layoffs. The colonial government just announced it is shuttering some 180 public schools to save cash for the bondholders.
In 2015 the annual average income in Puerto Rico was $18,626, just 45 percent that of Mississippi, the poorest U.S. state. Workers and middle class professionals have fled the island in droves.
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Welcome Puerto Rico Freedom Fighter Oscar López!
End U.S. Colonial Rule!
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