Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says the way the United States is dealing with Puerto Rico's US$70 billion debt was "morally unacceptable," comparing it to colonialism during a campaign rally in the commonwealth on Monday.
"It is unacceptable to me 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 its history," Sanders said at the Luis Muñoz Marin Foundation in Trujillo Alto.
"What vulture funds on Wall Street are demanding is 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," Sanders said, speaking at a town hall meeting at the Luis Muñoz Marin Foundation in Trujillo Alto. "We cannot allow that to happen. We will not allow that to happen."
Sanders is campaigning in the U.S. territory ahead of the June 5 Democratic primary there.
"The economic situation in Puerto Rico will not improve by eliminating more public schools, by slashing pensions, by laying off workers and allowing corporations to pay workers starvation wages by abolishing the minimum wage and relaxing labor law," Sanders said.
"In my view," Sanders continued, "the people of Puerto Rico must be empowered to determine their own destiny."
Puerto Rico defaulted on May 1 for a third time on some of its massive debt, missing a roughly US$400 million payment owed by the Government Development Bank, the island's main fiscal agent. It faces a near US$2 billion July 1 debt payment. Unlike U.S. states, it cannot declare bankruptcy.
Puerto Rico Debt Crisis
Municipalities in Puerto have cut social services, including schools and medical facilities, as Puerto Ricans grapple with the effects of economic austerities intended to bring the debt under control.
Also on Monday, prominent intellectual Noam Chomsky expressed his support for Sanders in an interview with Democracy Now!, suggesting that Sanders could be the "countervailing force" needed to fight against the same "private concentrated capital" and "corporate power" that is threatening Puerto Rico.