Why Congress (and John Oliver and Lin Manuel Miranda) Can’t Save Puerto Rico


In “Why Congress (and John Oliver and Lin Manuel Miranda) Can’t Save Puerto Rico” (which was recently posted by the National Institute of Latino policy), Ed Morales provides a critique of the recent commentary by John Oliver (with guest Lin-Manuel Miranda) on Last Week Tonight. Here are a few excerpts; I recommend the full article at NiLP

[. . .] For several minutes Oliver makes some decent points, until finally, tapping into what Puerto Ricans call El Zeitgeist, he makes the transition between tragicomedy and farce by throwing it over to the evening’s featured slam poet, Luis Manuel Miranda, to do some lyrical lobbying that would make K Street envious.

Progressives rejoice-it’s our Pulitzer Prize Favorite Son dropping science on economic facts/and the triple tax/we lacks/knowledge of. If you detect cynicism/I’m talkin bout cataclysm/I’m sayin I get no jism/from his paroxysms. Sure, you could say that Miranda is going far beyond what his peers, like Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, or even Benicio del Toro or Iris Chacón have done, but we need more than that. We need leadership that, rather than dance, prance and offer perks like tickets to the Broadway show Hamilton, confronts the US on its 100-year + exploitation of Puerto Rico as a colonial dry run of the free-trade panopticon it’s imposing on the rest of the world in the 21st century.

Colony is not a word that appears in Manuel’s 282-word son guaracha a lo freestyle, delivered as a coda to Oliver’s cheeky analysis of the Puerto Rico debt crisis. Apparently Miranda has conveniently ignored the impact of the amicus brief filed last December by the US’s own lawyers that asserted unambiguously that Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory with limited authority over its affairs-not quite a “commonwealth with no wealth.” Territory/is no glory/the loans be predatory/be happy don’t worry/get ready for a flurry/as Wall Street bombs you/like they were Steph Curry.

Oliver’s breakdown of several aspects of the debt crisis has a certain usefulness for the liberal sympathizer position-it does define Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory, refers to the provision of the constitution that requires it to pay back certain debts before any local expenditures, the mysterious elimination of bankruptcy protection in 1984, and trashes the ridiculous recent policy of inviting the super-wealthy to the island in the hope that they would create a significant number of jobs. Yet the economic underpinnings of the crisis are described with a typical lack of historical context-Oliver, like many liberal commentators stick to the line that the economic problems began with the phase-out of the tax-exempting Section 936 of the IRS tax code between 1996-2006, with a convenient flashback to the mysterious 1984 change in bankruptcy laws.

Manuel’s lament over “suicidal tax incentive declarations” and his Tupac-era reference to Strom Thurmond busting “a cap at a chance for Chapter 9” conveniently ignores, like Oliver and the rest of the financial press, that because of the colonial economic and political control imposed by the US since taking over the island in 1898, the island has always been: a tax-haven bonanza for US corporations; a captive base of consumers that produced billions of dollars of profit for those corporations; and, has never been able to develop a sustained productive economy that generated reinvestment on the island, or a viable tax base that would support government expenditures. Such omissions are key to Miranda’s message, which is a submissive, throw yourself on the mercy of the court plea rather than a demand for civil rights.

[. . .] Consider this: Torruella begins his remarks by saying: “Congress is now considering legislation entitled the “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act,” to which some cynic with a sickly sense of humor has attached the acronym “PROMESA,” which in Spanish means “promise,” pursuant to which the Government of Puerto Rico will be placed in virtual trusteeship by the U.S. Government and Congress… What Congress will produce is anyone’s guess, but judging from the so-called “discussion draft” of PROMESA, it does not appear that Puerto Rico is about to be released from the colonial grip of the plenary powers that were authorized by the Insular Cases.”

Neither Oliver nor Miranda even mention PROMESA’s oversight board, which would only include one member that lived on the island-not necessarily a Puerto Rican-and would not allow the governor or anyone else in Puerto Rican government to interfere with any of it decisions. All that Oliver and Miranda ask for is a bill that “if it were done right”-the vaguest of caveats, would save Puerto Rico. [. . .]

According to Oliver and Miranda, help will arrive if the bill were done “right.” But how? Say, by increasing the amount of Puerto Rican members of the oversight board from 1 to 2, and perhaps cutting the minimum wage for workers under 21 to $5.25 instead of $4.25, and to allow only 66% instead of 85% of publicly held land in Puerto Rico to be auctioned off to vulture fund debt holders, then the hurricane metaphor that is threatening the island will be averted. Maybe that’s not what Oliver, Miranda, or the Democratic Party that is trying to organize Puerto Rican voters so they can win Florida want, but we haven’t heard one bit about how increased austerity will inevitably be involved in debt restructuring in anything that was broadcast on HBO or anything Hillary Clinton has said up to now. [. . .]

For full article, see http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1101040629095&ca=08c4607d-f7db-4002-bb0b-1fe467ea9938

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