¡Que Viva Puerto Rico! But First…

In a few short hours Fifth Avenue will be flooded with millions of proud Puerto Ricans, young and old. There will be a sea of Puerto Rican flags proudly and enthusiastically waving the Puerto Rican flag in the air while the sounds of salsa permeate throughout New York as we celebrate the 58th annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade. Every year this parade, like none other, draws millions of spectators, celebrities, politicians and big brands to the Big Apple to march along Fifth avenue to celebrate the island and its people. But this year, we must do more than wave our flags and keep in rhythm with la clave; Our voices must be louder than ever. The commonwealth of Puerto Rico is in distress and it is our responsibility to act now. What you need to know:

A Climactic Week Is Behind Us, But There’s More Ahead

This week, the island’s only active air ambulance company suspended its service and the U.S. Geological Service plans to cut water monitoring across the island due to the current debt. What does this mean? It means the lives of Puerto Ricans living on the island are at tremendous risk in the event of an accident or emergency. Hurricane season is upon us and the suspension of water monitoring will leave the island void of flood warnings, the monitoring of water quality, aquifer levels and drinking water supplies. This is a problem.

Puerto Rico has defaulted on its debt three times and another large payment is due on July 1. A rare, yet controversial, bipartisan rescue package for the island passed the House. The rescue package, known as the compromise bill –PROMESA — allows Puerto Rico to accept new government regulation in exchange for a $72 billion debt restructuring plan. PROMESA allows Puerto Rico to accept new government regulation in exchange for a $72 billion debt restructuring plan.

So, What Is PROMESA, really?

PROMESA translates to promise in English. PROMESA is also an acronym for Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. PROMESA would create an oversight board to control the island’s finances and come up with a plan to pay back the massive debt. Top three things to understand about PROMESA:

  1. Not a single cent of U.S. taxpayer money will go toward paying Puerto Rico’s debt
  2. Creditors are afforded limited protections while Puerto Rico retains complete control over its finances
“The Oversight Board — mandated to achieve fiscal responsibility and access to capital markets for the island — must facilitate consensual negotiations with creditors, require Puerto Rico to balance its budgets, and produce audited financial statements.”
3. PROMESA upholds The U.S. Constitution and Puerto Rico’s constitution to the same degree and its goal is to treat all creditors fairly

In sum, PROMESA will reinstate government accountability, restructure a foundation for economic opportunity and protect tax payers.

In his weekly address, President Barack Obama breaks down PROMESA — what it means for our fellow Americans living in the commonwealth and what’s ahead. While PROMESA is not a perfect solution, it is the only solution on the table. There has been begrudging support towards PROMESA and the issue of colonialism has resurfaced. As with most issues there are pros and cons; the compromise bill provides protection against a multibillion-dollar default, but reduces minimum wage for young workers — lowering the minimum wage to $4.25 per hour. PROMESA establishes a board that offers a temporary oversight that will hopefully restore order and accountability in the short term and achieve economic freedom and prosperity in the long term. While Puerto Rico has “no say” in Congress, the voices of its representatives are loud and clear;

“As long as Puerto Rico is a colony, a territory of the United States, these issues will continue to come back,” said Representative José Serrano of New York.

The only long-term solutions, he said, were statehood or independence. Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Congress, ‘echoed those sentiments”, saying that while he strongly supported PROMESA as it is necessary to save Puerto Rico,

“so long as my constituents are treated like second-class citizens, Puerto Rico will never have a first-class economy.”

The Crisis Goes Beyond Debt

In addition to the decade-long economic crisis, Puerto Rico is plagued by social issues similar to those on the mainland like drugs, access to quality healthcare, and crime. The island is a crucial territory for transshipment of drugs entering the U.S., which is the primary culprit behind much of the violent crime that has increased the local murder rate to among the highest in the United States. The current economic crisis will only exacerbate these existing issues.

Puerto Ricans Living in The Mainland U.S. Represent!

Our people still living on the island and living through this crisis day after day do not have voting representation in the United States Congress and are not entitled to electoral votes for President. Teachers, doctors and other professionals are fleeing the island in search for a better life and stronger economy in the mainland U.S. The onus is on Americans that live within the 50 states and care about the people of Puerto Rico and the island to cast their votes come November; especially in the critical swing states — residents of Florida and Virginia, I’m looking at you. We are a powerful force that can turn a vote into power.

As we raise our flags and celebrate our beautiful culture, our island and our people and sing “Que Bonita Bandera” along Fifth Avenue and beyond, I encourage you to remain aware of the painful crisis our island is facing, pay attention to the politicians who hold Puerto Rico’s fate in their hands and make your voice heard beyond Fifth Avenue, beyond 116th Street, beyond this weekend and ROAR in November. Pa’lante, mi gente, we shall overcome.

About the Author

Carol Lyn Colón specializes in building and driving fully integrated global and national initiatives in both English and Spanish for a wide variety of Federal, nonprofit and corporate clients. She offers insight and strategy in engaging general market and multicultural audiences across various verticals. Carol Lyn has provided strategic global communications counsel and in-country representation for the Government of Mexico during the XVI Pan American Games; executed a high impact news engine during COP20 in Lima, Peru on behalf of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change’s Momentum for Change Initiative and served as a strategic advisor for the Government of Puerto Rico’s Rums of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Does it Better tourism campaigns. Recognized in 2015 by the Washington Business Journal as one of the region’s top 40 Under 40 business leaders, Carol Lyn serves as Vice President with the Corporate and Public Affairs practice group at Ogilvy Washington.