If you are Puerto Rican, whether you live in the continental U.S or in the island, you are probably paying close attention to the Democratic primaries. If you haven't, now it's very important that you do. Why? Because one of the candidates just released the most comprehensive and detailed plan on Puerto Rico so far in the race for the White House. That candidate is Bernie Sanders.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the underestimated underdog turned serious contender for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, just released an impressive plan to address not one, but virtually all of the Puerto Rico's main issues. Sanders' Plan for Puerto Rico is so wide-ranging and complete that some could say it's unprecedented for a presidential hopeful. Topics such as Puerto Rico's debt crisis, health care, energy, education and Vieques' environmental clean-up, all show up in Sanders' Plan for Puerto Rico. Even the controversial and never-ending debate on the island's political relationship with the United States is addressed with spectacular clarity. So, let's take a look at Sanders' positions on Puerto Rico's key issues and problems.
Taking on the debt crisis, Sanders first proposal is to afford Puerto Rico the same Chapter 9 bankruptcy protections that exist for municipalities across the United States, allowing Puerto Rico to restructure its debt in a rational way that does not harm its people, ordinary investors or pension funds in the United States. This is just the first issue and it's already as far as Hillary has gone.
Sanders then recommends an audit of Puerto Rico's debt to investigate the constitutionality of whether the debt was incurred legally, setting aside any debt issued to creditors in violation of Puerto Rico's constitution. He stands firm on stopping austerity measures that have harmed children, senior citizens, and the most vulnerable people in Puerto Rico.
Sanders also calls for a $1 trillion jobs program that would create over 140,000 good-paying jobs in Puerto Rico, and put 13 million people to work all over the U.S by concentrating resources in rebuilding Puerto Rico's crumbling roads and bridges, improving its ports, upgrading its drinking water and wastewater plants, fortifying flood control projects, modernizing the island's electric grid and expanding high-speed broadband through the island.
Sanders' willingness to fight for a U.S. congressionally sanctioned and binding referendum is also unprecedented. Several politicians in Puerto Rico, mostly those who favor statehood, have long pushed for this in Congress to no avail. No presidential candidate has ever pledged to bind the U.S Congress to the will of the People of Puerto Rico, which is precisely what Puerto Rico needs to guarantee congressional action on the island's status.
Renewable Energy and Environmental Issues
When it comes to clean energy and environmental issues, Bernie encourages significant investments in wind, solar, and geothermal energy to diversify the island's dependency on fossil fuels. Sanders also addresses the severe pollution of the Martin Peña Canal, which has caused tremendous distress among residents nearby and is currently one of Puerto Rico's main environmental concerns, second only to Vieques' environmental clean up.
Since the U.S Navy's exit in 2003, efforts to clean up the environmental mess caused by 60 years of live-fire bombing have been fruitless, largely due to the few resources that the U.S Department of Defense has allocated to decontamination works. After 13 years since the bombing range was closed, an extensive cleanup of the eastern portion of Vieques is years from being finished. Sanders' Plan for Puerto Rico calls attention to the alarming rates of cancer and other serious health conditions on Vieques caused by the environmental damage left behind.
Though the list continues, these are some of the major points addressed in Sanders' Plan for Puerto Rico. Regardless of which candidate you vote for, it is evident that Bernie Sanders' campaign has gone out his way to come up with a realistic plan that addresses Puerto Rico's major social and economic issues with a radically larger scope and depth than any prior or current presidential hopeful.
Some pundits are not surprised, given that Betsy Franceschini, a Puerto Rican and former Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Florida, currently serves as regional Latino outreach director for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Franceschini stands out as the only high-level Puerto Rican adviser in either Democratic campaign.
There are 1,000 Puerto Rican families a week moving to the mainland in search of better job opportunities and a more stable future. The human cost of not addressing Puerto Rico's issues will soon get worse unless we stand up and do something about it. As Puerto Rican, voting is now more important than ever because the future of our beautiful island is at stake.
Go out, vote and #StandUpForPuertoRico.