On Monday morning, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders held a campaign town hall event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, three weeks before the island’s June 5 Democratic primary. The Vermont senator addressed a variety of topics related to Puerto Rico, specifically the island’s ongoing debt crisis. Besides his opposition to the proposed PROMESA bill floating around Congress, Sanders called for the Federal Reserve to take action on Puerto Rico:
“If the Federal Reserve could bail out Wall Street, it can help the 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico improve its economy and lift its children out of poverty,” Sanders told the audience. “Today, I am calling on the Fed to use its emergency authority under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act to pave the way for an orderly restructuring of Puerto Rico’s public debt.”
In addition, Sanders also asked President Obama to release Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican activist who has been imprisoned since 1981 on federal charges of seditious conspiracy. Political leaders from the island’s different parties have all called for López Rivera’s release.
“I say to President Obama: Let him out! Free Oscar Lopez Rivera. He has done his time. He must be given a chance to enjoy his freedom as we enjoy our own,” Sanders said. “And if you do not do this, I will. Oscar López Rivera’s incarceration violates the principles of justice, democracy, and respect for human rights. To keep him in prison for such a long time is wrong. As president, I will pardon Oscar López Rivera and allow him to return to Puerto Rico as soon as possible. He has been in solitary confinement long enough.”
Sanders clarified his position on Puerto Rico’s territorial relationship with the United States:
“In my view, it is time for the people of Puerto Rico to be allowed to take charge of their political future and for the United States of America to redefine its legal relationship with the people of the island. The people of Puerto Rico should not and cannot provide colonial-like treatment of its citizens with unequal rights and benefits any longer,” Sanders said. “It is unacceptable 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 modern history. In my view, the people of Puerto Rico should be empowered to determine their own destiny. During my first year in office, I will fight to give the people of Puerto Rico the opportunity to vote on a binding referendum that would allow them to choose from three clearly defined options on whether to become our 51st State, an independent country, or to reform the existing Commonwealth relationship.This is a decision that must be made by the people of Puerto Rico. And the U.S. government must respect and honor that decision.”
In 2012, Puerto Ricans voted on a non-binding plebiscite, where it rejected the current territorial status in the first part of the vote, and chose statehood in the plebiscite’s second part.