Prepared Remarks

On Puerto Rico

Buenos días. Es un placer estar con ustedes. Discúlpenme pero mi Español no es muy bueno y estaré hablando con ustedes el día de hoy en Inglés.

Economic Crisis

There is a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico that Congress and the Administration must address as soon as possible.

The people of Puerto Rico are experiencing enormous economic pain as a result of a depression that has now lasted more than a decade.

Since 2006, Puerto Rico has lost 20 percent of its jobs. About 60 percent of Puerto Rico’s adult population are either unemployed or have given up looking for work. Over the last five years alone, more than 150 public schools have been shut down, and the childhood poverty rate has shot up to 57 percent. At a time when the rich are getting richer, Puerto Rico now has more income inequality than any U.S. state.

Wall Street Vulture Funds

In the midst of this massive human suffering, it is morally repugnant that billionaire hedge fund managers on Wall Street are demanding that Puerto Rico fire teachers, close schools, cut pensions, and abolish the minimum wage so that they can reap huge profits off the suffering and misery of the children and the people of Puerto Rico. We cannot allow that to happen. You cannot get blood out of a stone.

We have got to understand that Puerto Rico’s $70 billion in debt is unsustainable.

And the reason it is unsustainable has everything to do with the greed of Wall Street vulture funds.

These vulture funds are getting interest rates of 34 percent on tax-exempt bonds that they purchased for 29 cents on the dollar. It has been estimated that as much as half of Puerto Rico’s debt is owned by these vulture funds.

We have got to make it clear to these billionaire hedge fund managers that they cannot have it all. They cannot receive a 100 percent return on their investment while children in Puerto Rico go hungry.

They have got to take a massive haircut.

The people in Puerto Rico should not be forced to suffer even more so that a handful of wealthy investors can make even more money.

“The future of Puerto Rico cannot be hijacked unjustly by vulture funds”

Puerto Rico’s debt has got to be restructured.

Puerto Rico must be given the time it needs to grow its economy, create jobs, reduce the poverty rate, and expand its tax base so that it can pay back its debt in a way that is fair and that is just.

The economic situation in Puerto Rico will not improve by eliminating more public schools, slashing pensions, laying off workers, and allowing corporations to pay workers starvation wages by abolishing the minimum wage and relaxing labor laws.

Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and UBS racked up hundreds of millions in fees to manage Puerto Rico’s bond sales. These Wall Street banks have profited off of the suffering in Puerto Rico. That is unacceptable.

Federal Reserve Must Act to Rescue Puerto Rico

Eight years ago, Congress and the Federal Reserve acted with a fierce sense of urgency to bail out Wall Street and the largest financial institutions in this country that were considered “too big to fail.” The Treasury Department provided $700 billion to every major financial institution in America.

The Federal Reserve provided over $16 trillion in virtually zero interest loans to every major financial institution in the U.S. as well as foreign banks and corporations throughout the world.

If the Federal Reserve could bail out Wall Street, it can help the 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico improve its economy and lift its children out of poverty.

Today, I am calling on the Fed to use its emergency authority under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act to pave the way for an orderly restructuring of Puerto Rico’s public debt.

Under current law, the Federal Reserve has the authority, “in unusual and exigent circumstances,” to lend to “individuals, partnerships, and corporations” outside the banking system that are “unable to secure adequate credit accommodations from other banking institutions.”

“Washington bailed out Goldman Sachs and Wall Street from its bankruptcy.  The people of Puerto Rico are more important than them.  We must act NOW.”

During the 2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve used this authority to provide emergency loans to AIG and Bear Stearns.

It should now use this authority to help the people of Puerto Rico.

Independent Audit

Moreover, we need an independent audit of Puerto Rico’s debt. If this audit determines that any of Puerto Rico’s debt was incurred in violation of its Constitution it must be immediately set aside.

Chapter 9 Bankruptcy

I believe that Congress should act immediately to give Puerto Rico the same authority granted to every municipality in this country to restructure its debt under the supervision of a bankruptcy court. But the Republicans in Congress continue to oppose this. The people of Puerto Rico cannot wait any longer. It is time for the Federal Reserve to act.

Republican Control Board Plan

Let’s be clear: The Republican plan in Congress to establish an unelected oversight board that would be given the power to slash pensions, cut education and health care, and increase taxes on working families is not the answer.

That would be a move in exactly the wrong direction, it must be rejected.

Jobs Plan

Further, we need to enact a major jobs program in Puerto Rico by rebuilding our infrastructure and aggressively moving towards a clean energy economy.

Last year, I introduced the Rebuild America Act that would create over 150,000 good-paying jobs in Puerto Rico and put 13 million people to work in the United States.

This legislation would help address Puerto Rico’s crumbling roads and bridges, improve its ports, upgrade its drinking water and wastewater plants, and fortify flood control projects. It would improve public transportation within cities like San Juan, Ponce, Bayamon and Carolina, and other major cities and towns.

It would modernize Puerto Rico’s antiquated electric grid to end rolling blackouts and make it easier to integrate new solar and wind installations.
And it would expand high-speed internet and affordable broadband services through the island.

Energy Plan

And when we talk about the need to combat climate change, it makes no sense to me that 99 percent of Puerto Rico’s energy comes from fossil fuels.

Puerto Rico is blessed with abundant solar and wind resources, and has great potential to expand biomass and geothermal energy.

We must give Puerto Rico the tools it needs to aggressively move towards a clean energy economy, instead of being dependent on importing dirty fossil fuel that is bad for the environment, bad for the Puerto Rican economy, and bad for the planet.

We also need to make sure that federal environmental and public health laws are enforced to protect the Martin Peña Canal in downtown San Juan. This canal is severely polluted, with a fecal content 60 times greater than the EPA water-quality standard. This pollution has caused a tremendous amount of disease and distress in an area where most of San Juan’s labor force resides.

Self-Determination

In my view, it is time for the people of Puerto Rico to be allowed to take charge of their political future and for the United States of America to redefine its legal relationship with the people of the island.

The people of Puerto Rico should not and cannot provide colonial-like treatment of its citizens with unequal rights and benefits any longer.

It is unacceptable for the United States government to treat Puerto Rico like a colony during a time when its people are facing the worst fiscal and economic crisis in modern history.

In my view, the people of Puerto Rico should be empowered to determine their own destiny.

During my first year in office, I will fight to give the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to vote on a binding referendum that would allow them to choose from three clearly defined options on whether to become our 51st State, an independent country, or to reform the existing Commonwealth relationship.

This is a decision that must be made by the people of Puerto Rico. And the U.S. government must respect and honor that decision.

Oscar Lopez Rivera

I know that many of you are concerned about Oscar Lopez Rivera. So am I.

Lopez Rivera is one of the longest serving political prisoners in history.

He has been in prison for more than 34 years – longer than Nelson Mandela. He is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana, in solitary confinement.

This man is 73 years old and his health is deteriorating rapidly.

We are talking about a Vietnam War veteran, who was awarded a Bronze Star, and a respected community activist.

A petition asking President Obama to immediately release Oscar Rivera Lopez from prison is widely supported in Puerto Rico, and has been signed by the AFL-CIO, Coretta Scott King, Jimmy Carter, 10 Nobel Prize laureates, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church of Puerto Rico, the Catholic Archbishop of San Juan, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and a number of political leaders and social activists in Latin America and the Caribbean.

I say to President Obama: Let him out! Free Oscar Lopez Rivera. He has done his time. He must be given a chance to enjoy his freedom as we enjoy our own.

And if you do not do this, I will. Oscar Lopez Rivera’s incarceration violates the principles of justice, democracy, and respect for human rights. To keep him in prison for such a long time is wrong.

As president, I will pardon Oscar Lopez Rivera and allow him to return to Puerto Rico as soon as possible. He has been in solitary confinement long enough.

Vieques

When we talk about Vieques, let me be clear: the U.S. Naval presence on that beautiful island was an injustice that continued for more than fifty years.

The Navy’s presence on Vieques caused unprecedented devastation to both the island and the people of Vieques. To this day, the people of Vieques have still not recovered from this destruction.

The environmental toll that the Navy’s constant bombardment has taken on Vieques has been significant and tragic. The beautiful coral reefs surrounding Vieques have been harmed, and fragile coastal areas have been threatened.

This level of environmental damage would never have been tolerated if it happened on the Outer Banks of North Carolina or on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

The impact on the health of the residents of Vieques has already been well documented.

Deposits of lead, copper, and other chemicals in the land and water have been directly linked to a high incidence of cancer among the population of Vieques. Unacceptable.

We have got to fully remediate the environmental damage caused by the Navy’s bombing range. And we have got to do everything we can to improve the health and lives of the people on that island.

We owe the people of Vieques a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to fully repay.

Zika Virus

At a time when more than 120 pregnant women in Puerto Rico have been infected by the Zika virus and one elderly man has died, we must do everything we can to find a cure for this disease.

President Obama has requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to develop a rapid diagnostic test for Zika, a vaccine, and treatment. This funding would also speed up mosquito control and abatement, and make sure everyone in Puerto Rico knows how to protect themselves and their kids. I strongly support the President’s request. The Senate is currently working on a compromise that would provide $1.1 billion in emergency funding for the Zika virus that is expected to be voted on tomorrow. It needs to be passed without delay.
The Republicans have obstructed this funding for too long.

Health Care

The health care system in Puerto Rico is on the verge of collapse, and if we do not act soon, the well-being of 3.5 million American citizens who live there will be put at severe risk.

According to an August 2, 2015, article in the New York Times, “[Puerto Rico’s financial crisis] stems, in large part, from a vast disparity in federal funding for health care on the island compared with the 50 states. This disparity is partly responsible for $25 billion of Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt, as its government was forced to borrow over time to keep the Medicaid program afloat.” Unacceptable.

Today, the people of Puerto Rico pay the same Medicare and Social Security taxes as we do, but they only get about half the rate of federal health care dollars. While that is beginning to change, it is still not good enough.

The federal government should not be discriminating against the people of Puerto Rico by providing much lower Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens. They deserve nothing less than equal reimbursement rates.

However, it’s very important that we understand that the crisis in Puerto Rico’s health system is not only about equal treatment in the distribution of federal funds, but also about the current model thatensures that private insurance companies make hundreds of millions in profits, even during a time when millions of Puerto Ricans are suffering unprecedented pain.

To have Puerto Rico’s principal health insurance company which only became private in the 1990s, the Triple S Management Corporation be the top grossing private company in the Island for 6 consecutive years, with gross revenues of approximately $2.7 Billion a year and it’s former CEO reportedly making a salary of approximately $4 Million for 2015 gives you insight to the broken healthcare system we have as a nation.

I have been attacked for saying this, so let me say it again: I believe health care is a right, not a privilege.

We need to join every major country on earth and provide high quality health care to every man, woman, and child – and that includes Puerto Rico. My Medicare-for-all plan would apply equally to states and territories. It’s time to get this done.

Conclusion

The problems of Puerto Rico are my problems too and we can work together to solve them.

Now, the truth is that no president, not Bernie Sanders, or anybody else, can do what it takes to solve all of the problems in Puerto Rico.

We need a political revolution. We need millions of people in Puerto Rico and in the continental U.S. to stand up and fight back and demand real change.

And if we stand together, men and women, gay and straight, young and old and say loudly and clearly that enough is enough! That we need an economy that works for all of us, not just a handful of billionaires, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.