Puerto Rico governor reiterates ‘colonial relationship’ with U.S. amid rift with fiscal board

SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló reiterated Thursday his position regarding Senate Resolution 215, which would halt the government’s disbursement of operational funds for Puerto Rico’s fiscal oversight board, saying the priority should be to prevent the federally established panel from wresting the commonwealth government’s powers.

By Génesis Ibarra

“The 3.4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico know well that one of the most important pillars of democracy and the Republican form of government is representation,” the governor said in a statement.” The United States of America broke with imperialism long ago to create a system based on recognizing the will of the people while preserving the rule of law. Unfortunately, the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico have lived under a political system where these essential values are reduced and encumbered under a territorial status and colonial relationship with the United States Federal Government. As such, we demand equal treatment for every U.S. citizen residing on the Island.

“I support our local Legislature in exercising its important duty of representing the People of Puerto Rico. As they fulfill their responsibility, I am also called to execute my duties under local and federal law, including PROMESA. This federal statute was enacted to accomplish three main objectives: (1) fiscal discipline, (2) regain access to the capital markets, and (3) promote economic development while ensuring essential services to the People of Puerto Rico.

“I remain committed to achieving those objectives, meeting my responsibilities under applicable law and promoting the best interest of our people. Observing these duties does not contradict our opposition to any overreach by the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) when attempting to exercise powers and authority preserved for the duly elected Government of Puerto Rico. The duty of the FOMB is to also observe…PROMESA and work alongside the Government of Puerto Rico in finding fiscal solutions for our continued dire situation.”

During a press conference Wednesday, Rosselló’s reply to the media’s first question on the matter was: “Puerto Rico is a jurisdiction of law and order. I respect the power that the Legislative Assembly has to express itself and to establish what its points of view and vision are. The truth is we are going to be struggling and we are facing the board on matters that are going above the law.”

To a follow-up question, Rosselló reiterated that the island “is a jurisdiction of law and order,” and recalled that the federal Promesa law establishes that Puerto Rico defray the expenses incurred by the fiscal board, which currently has a $60 million budget.

While House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Senate Thomas Rivera Schatz watched with seriousness the action far from the podium–unlike their usual, shoulder to shoulder positions with the governor–Rosselló maintained that the steps to fight the board together would be determined “facing the future.”

“To defend the principles of democracy in Puerto Rico and to defend all Puerto Ricans, we won’t leave any initiative without revisiting [it] to ensure we can achieve those goals,” he added.

Growing exasperated Wednesday, the governor was emphatic that his administration does not have to do “anything else at this time,” because it has already taken the first step of refuting the fiscal board’s demands with letters to the panel and Congressman Rob Bishop.

At the insistence of the media to learn his position regarding the resolution, authored by Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Juan Dalmau, the governor repeated that his only interest is that the government not be deprived of its powers to establish public policy.

“Looking ahead, we will do everything we can to prevent the power of the government of Puerto Rico from being taken, that the people be abused and that onerous measures that don’ benefit our people be taken,” he replied.

“Looking ahead, I’ve already said it, no, no…. Maybe another follow-up question comes to that end, but I’m already alerting you… I’m answering youñ if you listen well, I’m answering. […] Looking ahead, all alternatives are on the table,” he added.

At the end of the press briefing after a legislative conference of just over an hour, the House speaker said he had not seen Senate Joint Resolution 215 and left for his office without giving any more details.

On Tuesday, the governor stressed he would do “whatever,” including going to jail, to face the board’s impositions. On Wednesday, did not answer if he would take immediate action to stop disbursing funds to the panel created by Promesa.

No fear

Asked whether he feared that the board would lift the protection provided by Promesa under Title III, and that would leave the government exposed to creditor lawsuits, the governor replied: “Why would we be afraid? Where we elected to be afraid? Whoever is afraid should go home.”

The governor identified 48 board demands and said he would consider those of a fiscal nature, but not those of public policy. He explained that the changes to the fiscal plan he will submit to the fiscal panel Thursday focus on the “macroeconomic base,” as the distribution of resources and when these are allocated.

“We aren’t in a confrontation against the board,” said, contradicting himself before indicating later during the conference that “we are having this confrontation with the board,” but saying, “We are in a confrontation in favor of defending the people of Puerto Rico, which are two different concepts.”

On Thursday, the governor will again submit his fiscal plan to the board, after the entity had returned it and requested revisions before it could be certified.

“We believe we have a robust, viable fiscal plan that addresses a series of historical cuts, not only for Puerto Rico, but for any jurisdiction in the United States,” he said without giving further details about the document.


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