Nearly a year after Hurricane Maria’s trail of devastation, Puerto Rico is still wading in deep trouble.
It’s been several months since Hurricane Maria had devastated the island of Puerto Rico. While some parts of La Isla have recovered, the real crisis in Puerto Rico has only just begun. INTELIGENCIA has examined the facts, figures, and history of how the United States initiated exploitative and heartless fiscal strategies that sucked its only colony bone dry of necessary resources to be a functioning governmental entity.
A municipal bond is a financial product sold to investors. It’s essentially a loan for a city to work on its infrastructure, roads, electrical grid, and sewage treatment centers. Puerto Rico issued huge bond offerings through top investment banks around the world, the biggest in municipal junk bond history. Less than a year and a half after this big sale, PR defaulted on these bonds and declared bankruptcy, basically saying it couldn’t pay back the loans because it was dead broke. This starved out the island’s government and kept it from making important repairs. When Hurricane Maria hit, the island was unprepared, to say the least.
As the U.S.’s only colony, Puerto Rico has long suffered under exploitative policies. In the first part of the 20th century, kids were not allowed to speak Spanish in school. Under the Gag Law, it was illegal to fly the Puerto Rican flag because to do so was a sign of nationalism. Nationalist leader Pedro Albizú Campos was followed, arrested, tortured, and imprisoned as a matter of U.S. policy. Then, in 1937, a parade of peaceful young men, women, and families who marched through the city of Ponce for Puerto Rican independence were massacred. Nineteen people died.
Now, nearly ten months after Hurricane Maria caused flooding and destroyed homes and buildings, Puerto Rico has been starved of resources to survive the aftermath. Inspired by Harper’s Index, INTELIGENCIA waded through the hurricane of bad news coming from Puerto Rock to distill this crisis to a few tangible numbers that we can wrap our heads around
The year the first U.S. governor set foot in Puerto Rico and began issuing farming contracts to American businessmen
Number of building code inspectors assigned to a population of 3.5 million people
How much more debt that Puerto Rico owed compared to its gross national product
The fine that the bank USB had to pay for selling investors risky Puerto Rican fund
The size of Puerto Rico’s junk bond offering in 2014, the largest municipal junk bond offering in history
How much JP Morgan received for participating in this deal
The number of months after this bond was sold that Puerto Rico announced it was bankrupt
The amount that Puerto Rican general-obligation bonds sold for in December 2017
The number of years that Rose Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, the US attorney for the district of Puerto Rico served before the Justice Department sought to replace her with concerns about fraud and corruption
The number of people who remain without electricity in May 2018 across Puerto Rico
The number of demonstrators who were arrested for protesting school closings, cuts to pensions, and university tuition increases
The approximate number of Puerto Ricans who have left the island since Hurricane Maria
The estimated death toll from Hurricane Maria, including people who have committed suicide from despair
* All numbers gathered from 2016-2018
Words by Serena Kim
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