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In Puerto Rico post-Maria, the real catastrophe is still colonialism and capitalism

By Déborah B. Santana, for Δρόμος τις Αριστεράς, Saturday 15 September 2018

The Puerto Rico Catastrophe is not primarily due to Hurricane María in September 2017.  Of course, a direct hit by a hurricane is disastrous anywhere. But Cuba – which defends its national sovereignty and values people over profits – has been hit by several hurricanes since 2000, with minimal loss of life and relatively quick recovery. Cuba – not rich, still impacted by the US blockade – is the mirror opposite of Puerto Rico in disaster management and recovery.

Modern colonial exploitation – using public debt as an excuse to accelerate privatization of services and resources, while increasing public taxes – was already underway in Puerto Rico before Maria. To give one example: austerity for the public electric energy authority had reduced the number of workers and storage of materials. So when Maria struck most powerlines were felled by trees that were not trimmed for lack of personnel. To “save money” the emergency materials had been sold to other countries, so they were not available to replace the downed lines. This is one reason why it took almost a year to restore electricity, causing thousands of deaths in the months following the hurricane.  Immediately after Maria passed many Caribbean and Latin American neighbors offered to send equipment and workers, but the US refused. Instead, Puerto Rico waited for months for the US to give contracts to companies and send materials from the US, which is farther away. Additionally, the colonial government in San Juan – enthusiastically carrying out the wishes of the colonial master in Washington – has redoubled its efforts to privatize the electric energy authority – while the debt will remain the public’s responsibility. This scenario is repeated for nearly all public services, including education, water, and transportation.

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Austeridad de la Junta quebraría el Fideicomiso de Retiro UPR

Ni la JCF ni la UPR han revelado cómo responderán

El presidente de la Junta de Retiro de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, el doctor Eduardo Berríos Torres, denunció que la orden emitida por la Junta de Control Fiscal (JCF) de cerrar el Plan de Beneficios Definidos del Sistema de Retiro de la UPR (Retiro-UPR) y congelar los beneficios acumulados por sus participantes representará “el desfalco financiero de la Universidad ya que le requerirá deshacerse de activos para subsidiar la nómina anual millonaria que tendrá que pagar al Fideicomiso”.

Además, la JCF pidió se reduzcan las pensiones de unos 8,800 empleados retirados del primer centro docente del país en una misiva enviada, el pasado 30 de agosto, al gobernador, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, en la que se solicita revisar el Plan Fiscal de la UPR 2019-2023, presentado el 20 de agosto, por incumplir con las disposiciones de la Ley PROMESA.

“Nosotros le hemos remitido a la JCF dos misivas con evidencia que demuestra que las alternativas de cerrar y congelar el Plan de Beneficios Definidos son rechazadas fundamentadas en los resultados de estudios actuariales. Estos estudios corroboran el efecto nefasto de la postura adoptada por la JCF contra el Fideicomiso del Retiro-UPR, cuya solvencia y perpetuidad se afectará adversamente con estas acciones. El estudio actuarial, más reciente, refleja que el escenario de congelar el plan de retiro vigente causará que el Fideicomiso se quede insolvente en el año 2043”, expresó Berríos Torres en comunicación escrita.

El presidente de la Junta de Retiro añadió que “Ni la JCF ni la UPR han revelado cómo se responderá y garantizará el pago de la nómina presente y futura de los pensionados del retiro universitario” a la vez que añadió que el cierre o congelación provocarán que a los participantes del Retiro-UPR se les incumpla el contrato confeccionado con su patrono al momento de emplearse.

La JCF tampoco considera que el Retiro-UPR es un plan donde actualmente el 75 por ciento por ciento de los 10,200 participantes activos ya adquirió el derecho a una pensión bajo el Plan de Beneficios Definidos. Afirmó que la JCF pretende mover a los participantes activos a un Plan de Contribución Definida, hecho que no hace sentido para los empleados de la UPR con derecho a recibir una pensión bajo el Plan de Beneficios Definidos tan pronto cumplan con los requisitos para jubilación.

“Si el Plan de Retiro de Beneficios Definidos vigente queda insolvente, por las propuestas que pretende implementar la JCF, la Universidad tendrá que identificar la fuente de repago de la nómina de los pensionados. Esta nómina actualmente es de 200 millones de dólares anuales y es solventada por los activos del Fideicomiso del Retiro-UPR. Dentro de cinco años, de cerrar el plan de retiro vigente, esa nómina aumentará a 500 millones de dólares para responderle al 75 por ciento de los empleados activos de la UPR con derecho a su pensión”, advirtió Berríos Torres.

Para el año fiscal 2017-2018, la UPR aportó 68.9 millones de dólares al Fideicomiso del Retiro-UPR, los participantes aportaron 36.4 millones de dólares y el propio Fideicomiso aportó de sus réditos $92.1 millones. La propuesta de la JCF eliminaría los 105.3 millones de dólares de ingresos provenientes las aportaciones individuales de los empleados y la aportación patronal, descansando exclusivamente en la Universidad la obligación total de pagar la nómina millonaria de las pensiones.

“Reiteramos que el Fideicomiso de Retiro-UPR no está insolvente ni quebrado. El Fideicomiso es una entidad jurídica independiente de la Universidad con un patrimonio de $1.4 billones totalmente separado de los activos de la Universidad. No entendemos porque la JCF pretende aplicar medidas empleadas a otros planes de retiro quebrados cuyo resultado ha sido que el gobierno ha tenido que responsabilizarse de su nómina mensual”, agregó el presidente de la Junta de Retiro de la UPR.

Puerto Rico’s new Hurricane Maria death toll demands an inquiry into why the truth is only coming out now

The idea that only 64 people died in last year’s hurricane was never believable. But the government refused to correct the record for 11 months.

What is stunning about Tuesday’s news that the official Hurricane Maria death count is no longer 64 dead but 2,975 lost lives is not just that it took 11 months for the Ricardo Rosselló administration to finally admit what so many Puerto Ricans already knew. It is that we still don’t understand exactly why the government of Puerto Rico and the Trump administration allowed the count to stay so low for nearly a year after the storm, even when stories just eight days post-Maria were specifically refuting the official declarations.

Rosselló, in classic political doublespeak, both accepted the results and recommendations of the George Washington University study — for which his own government paid $300,000 — on Tuesday and indicated that there is still nothing definitive about the 2,975 deaths.

In just two sentences, Rosselló confirmed the very real possibility that the death count as a result of Hurricane María could be more or could be less than 2,975. An estimated official death count is, of course, just an estimate. But, as the one-year anniversary of the worst tragedy of modern Puerto Rico nears, the government of Puerto Rico does not even have a public list of the 2,975 victims with real names and real stories of how they perished on a island colony that suffered from the longest blackout in U.S. history and an inexcusable federal response.

We might know the names of a few of the victims, but we may never know all 2,975, unless the already debt-ridden government of Puerto Rico wants to pay GW hundreds of thousands of additional dollars to continue the study.

Rosselló, who at the Tuesday press conference admitted to his mistakes and said he was open to criticism, has ultimately failed in pushing for more accountability for those mistakes — even if one assumes they were in error.

Imagine if Rosselló led with that on Tuesday instead of trying to doublespeak his way out of a credibility problem his own administration created, and from which he will likely never recover.

Julio Ricardo Varela is co-host of the Webby-nominated In The Thick podcast and founder of, now part of Futuro Media.

Wall Street Journal: New Puerto Rico Bond Group Starts Negotiations

Funds holding about $1.9 billion in general obligation bonds split from a rival group in a bid to further broader restructuring efforts

Investment funds owning about $1.9 billion of Puerto Rico’s general obligation bonds have formed a committee to negotiate a consensual restructuring with the commonwealth and the federal oversight board that manages its finances, people familiar with the matter said.

Members of the committee are seeking to differentiate themselves from a pre-existing group of general obligation bondholders that includes Aurelius Capital Management LP,

Fiscal board recommends repeal of gov’s order raising wage for Puerto Rico construction workers

SAN JUAN – In a letter to Puerto Rico’s governor and Capitol leaders, the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico recommended the governor rescind Executive Order 2018-033, which sets a minimum wage of $15 per hour for those performing work for federally funded construction projects

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Tribunal Internacional Sobre Crimenes de EUA / International Tribunal on US Colonial Crimes in Puerto Rico

October 27, 2018 / 9:00am