The Legislature’s Loss of Authority due to the Fiscal Oversight Board

On Tuesday, October 23rd, the Association of Political Science Students hosted what was supposed to be a panel discussion between senators from the Popular Democratic Party and the Puerto Rican Independent Party regarding the topic of the loss of authority of the legislative branch in the Puerto Rican government under the control of the Fiscal Oversight Board. The association invited Sen. Eduardo Bhatia, member of the Popular Democratic Party, and former president of the Senate from the year 2013 to 2016,  and Sen. Juan Dalmau, member of the Puerto Rican Independent Party, it’s general secretary, and a senator by accumulation. The idea of this event came from the president of the association, Santos Rivera Cardona (pictured above) and was originally intended to be a forum with senators from all the different political parties, such as the New Progressive Party, Popular Democratic Party, Puerto Rican Independent Party, and an Independent Candidate (not affiliated with any party), to give their point of views on this topic with the students. Unfortunately, Senators from the other parties couldn't come due to previous engagements, and  Eduardo Bhatia had to cancel because of a meeting with the Fiscal Oversight Board. However, Juan Dalmau (pictured below) was able to make it to the panel and took the time to explain the history the United States has with Puerto Rico and the relationship the government has with the Fiscal Oversight Board and to state his point of view on the matter.

To give a brief description of what Juan Dalmau said, he explained how after the Revolutionary War, the United States’ created the ideal of  Manifest Destiny, the belief that it was the United States’ divine right to expand its dominion across the American continent. This was used to justify taking land away from Native Americans and to push out the spanish conquistadors in the west and in the caribbean. This idea influenced a lot of the US government’s decisions all throughout the 19th century. In 1898, due to the United States winning the Spanish-American War, (war against Spain),  Puerto Rico was annexed to the United States and Cuba got its independence. After obtaining Puerto Rico, the US established a military government for the first two years. In 1900, the Foraker Act was established to give US government officials the power to make decisions regarding the Puerto Rican people and all federal laws were put into effect on the island. In 1920, the Jones Act was put into place, which would restrict Puerto Rico to only trade commercially with United States. Dalmau uses this history to establish the point that the concept of a Fiscal Oversight Board isn't anything new, because it isn't the first time the United States would send its own government officials to make decisions and pass laws regarding the Puerto Rican people.

Fast forward to the present day, Puerto Rico in is a very severe economic recession and is 70 billion dollars in debt to the United States, which is why the Fiscal Oversight Board was formed in the first place. It is very well known throughout Puerto Rico that it’s government has a very strained relationship with the Fiscal Oversight Board. To explain this relationship, Juan Dalmau tried to use a metaphor of a house with its furniture. The house being the fiscal plan provided by the Fiscal Oversight Board and the furniture being the government’s budget. Now, the government of Puerto Rico had thought that the Fiscal Oversight Board was only to provide the house and decide its size (provide a fiscal plan and suggestions on how to divide the budget), but the government of Puerto Rico would have the final say in where the furniture would go (it would have the final say on how to divide the budget and what sectors received government funds). However, when the Fiscal Oversight Board arrived, it wanted to control of where the furniture would go as well, with this the government of Puerto Rico, no longer wanted the Fiscal Oversight Board near the house nor the furniture. To paraphrase Dalmau’s analogy, he meant to say the government of Puerto Rico and the Fiscal Oversight Board fought over who had more of a reason to control the budget.

The Judge Taylor Swain, whose in charge of resolving the conflicts between the Puerto Rican government and Fiscal Oversight board, had to intervene, and in the end sided with the Fiscal Oversight Board. Her reason being that under Article IV, Section 3 of the US Constitution, its congress is able to “dispose of and make needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property of the united states,”  with this, Juan Dalmau drives his point home, he explains that under the US constitution Puerto Rico is actually property of the United States government and it is able to do with Puerto Rico whatever it wants, even selling Puerto Rico  to another country if it wants to. He goes even further to explain that due to this the legislative branch in Puerto Rico’s government never really had any power because any law passed would always carry less weight that a law passed by the federal government.

Picture of the Directive of the Association of Political Sciences students with Senator Juan Dalmau

Sub-Secretary of the Association of Students from Political Science, Ruben Vélez, says that he really enjoyed the discussion given by Juan Dalmau, that he liked the analogy about the Fiscal Oversight Board, and learning about the ways the United States exercised its authority over Puerto Rico throughout history. President of the association, Santos Rivera Cardona, says Juan Dalmau did an excellent job of covering this topic and using history in order to carry across his point, he believes its important for us to learn and become part of these discussions because the legislative branch is responsible for many of the issues that correspond to university students and Puerto Rico in general, its important now more than ever we understand the role it plays, in case the Fiscal Oversight Board ever prevents it from doing it job. The association hopes to extend this discussion by inviting senators from other political parties to establish their point of views, thought a date has not been set for the next part, the organization of this event is still underway.


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