Dispute Shuts Down Puerto Rico's Government
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In Puerto Rico, 90,000 government employees are out of work, including teachers, leaving 500,000 school children locked out of their classrooms. This past Monday 43 government agencies shut down for lack of funding. The cash-flow crisis hangs on a dispute over a sales tax measure that is stalled in the Caribbean Island's House of Representatives. Frances Robles is a correspondent for the Miami Herald and she joins us from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Welcome to the program.
FRANCES ROBLES reporting:
Hi Liane, thanks so much for having me.
HANSEN: Bring us up to speed. What's the situation now?
ROBLES: Basically you've had a week of round the clock, back and forth flurry of proposals in the legislature. And it's been really problematic because they just can't come to an agreement. The House and the Senate just have completely different views on how this should be resolved.
HANSEN: Is this more than just a fight over budget and a sales tax?
ROBLES: Puerto Rico has wildly, wildly divided politics. And it really breaks down along party lines. And in Puerto Rico it's not so much Republicans versus Democrats, as much as people who advocate statehood versus people who advocate staying as a commonwealth. So that even though this particular issue has nothing to do with that, you have the people who advocate statehood really saying absolutely no sales tax. And then you have the Governor's party who advocate staying as a commonwealth, really insisting that it's the only way to go.
HANSEN: So it seems like a pretty bad impasse, particularly since you have, you know, two political parties duking it out.
ROBLES: It's really been outrageous. You can't even say at this point that the House of Representatives has rejected the Governor's measure. They never voted on it. I mean there just not even bringing it to the floor.
HANSEN: Hmm, so what happens next?
ROBLES: On Friday night they made a little bit of progress in a measure to tax corporations, so that the House of Representatives right now, a-ha, look, we've solved this and now it's up to the Governor to sign on the dotted line and this is all over with. But it remains to be seen at this point whether this actually solves anything. The Governor's office is saying that not only does this measure not collect enough money, but it also would take a long time to collect. And it takes money that would be collected next year, so it only aggravates the situation. So people are really up in the air right now as to whether they go to work tomorrow.
HANSEN: What are the chances of people going to work tomorrow if they're not going to get paid?
ROBLES: Oh no, they won't go back to work unless the government says that there'll be money in their paychecks next week.
HANSEN: So how are the people reacting to all of this?
ROBLES: You know, Puerto Ricans are nothing if not resilient people. I was expecting 25-50,000 people marching in the streets every day. And while there was one massive protest right before the government shut down, you really haven't seen that again. Even the workers are really taking this in stride. They're profoundly worried about how they're gonna pay their bills, but ultimately have faith that this has to end. 'Cause it simply can't go on.
HANSEN: How are the people coping that depend on government assistance, whether they depend on government workers for their healthcare, or people who receive other kinds of assistance from the government? How are they dealing with this?
ROBLES: That's an amazing situation. I visited a town the other day where people were really hurting. You had an elderly man who hadn't been bathed in about a week because his home healthcare attendant hadn't come to his house. So people are suffering, they really are. And I'm not sure how they're gonna be able to survive it.
HANSEN: Is there any silver lining in this?
ROBLES: Oh gosh, I can't think of one.
HANSEN: Miami Herald correspondent Frances Robles spoke to us from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thanks so much for your time.
ROBLES: Okay, great. Thank you so much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.