Campaigning in Puerto Rico on Monday, Bernie Sanders railed against the "colonial-like relationship" that has allowed Wall Street "vulture capitalists" to profit off the debt-stricken territory's economic crisis and demanded that Congress and the Obama administration grant immediate relief.
"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," the presidential hopeful declared in a rousing speech at a packed town hall in San Juan.
Currently in the midst of economic free-fall, the territory defaulted earlier this month after the U.S. government—at the urging of hedge fund lobbyists—failed to take action on restructuring its $70 billion debt. Consequently, the island has had to slash many essential services while calls grow for even more cuts.
"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. "We cannot allow that to happen. We will not allow that to happen."
Among the measures the Vermont Senator called for is a proposal for the Federal Reserve to provide emergency loans to Puerto Rico to facilitate an "orderly restructuring of its debt." He also said he introduced legislation to invest $1 trillion over five years for local infrastructure projects and proposed a new energy policy that replaces fossil fuels with renewable sources.
The senator also blasted a plan by House Republicans to create an "undemocratic control board" in Washington, D.C. which would oversee Puerto Rico's budget and spending. "In my view," Sanders said, "the people of Puerto Rico must be empowered to determine their own destiny."
Puerto Ricans cannot vote in the November elections, but the commonwealth will send delegates to the national conventions and are holding its Democratic primary on June 5th. Former President Bill Clinton is also campaigning in San Juan this week on behalf of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner.
According to Carribbean Business, "Some 250 people crowded into Sanders’ first event, at Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín, including former Puerto Rico Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and other supporters who expressed frustration with Puerto Rico’s economic situation."
Betsy Franceschini, regional director for Voto Latino Bernie 2016, told CB that she supported Clinton in the past, "but when I became aware of the values proposed by Sanders, I understood he is the one presenting a development and justice plan that extends to Puerto Rico," she explained.
"At a time when the rich is getting richer," Sanders noted, "Puerto Rico now has more income inequality than any state in the United States."
Watch the town hall speech below: