puertorico

Penn Law professor David Skeel is one of seven on a federal board to solve debt crisis. | Courtesy of Ricardo Arduengo Associated Press 

A Penn professor was just appointed by the federal government to help tackle the recent economic crisis in Puerto Rico.

The country’s $70 billion debt compelled the United States government to form a federal board as a means to come up with a long term solution. The board consists of three Democrats, three Republicans and an official appointed by President Obama. Penn Law professor David Skeel was among those appointed to the panel.

Skeel said that there is no way to point a finger to the definitive cause of debt that has accumulated over the past half-decade.

“This is a multiple factor crisis [where] everything has fallen apart at the same time,” said Skeel.

But for students from Penn who call Puerto Rico their home, there is a clear answer to the debt crisis.

“The crisis is a product of Puerto Rico being [like] a colony,” Wharton Senior Raul Mendez said.

In the U.S., states can declare for bankruptcy. However, under Chapter 9 of the U.S. bankruptcy code, U.S. territories like Puerto Rico are prohibited from filing for bankruptcy.

Puerto Rico has tried to bypass this impasse, by creating its own law that allows for bankruptcy, Skeel said. However, the U.S. Supreme Court quickly struck down the law as unconstitutional.

The debilitating economic crisis has led to a slew of problems, including the largest exodus of people from the island in its history. The overall population in Puerto Rico has shrunk by 6.8 percent since 2010, spreading across the entire island, the Huffington Post reported.

According to a report released by the Puerto Rican Institute of Statistics in May 2016, the commonwealth has seen a population decline of 84,000 people. This figure equates to 230 people leaving the island per day.

The large exodus of people is especially hard on families, said 2016 Wharton graduate Sebastian Negron-Reichard. “Families are being separated when grandparents wish to stay while sons and daughters leave the island.”

The exodus has had medical consequences as well. In 2014 alone, 364 doctors left the island , and specialist health care is extremely hard to find, according to a CNN Money report. At times, two or three sub-specialists will serve the entire island of nearly 3.5 million people.

“Going to the dentist is normal, but finding sub-specialists like heat surgeons is difficult,” Mendez said.

Sometimes, hospital visits for specialists can begin with sign-ups at 5 a.m. and end at 4 p.m., Mendez explained, having spent nearly the entire day in the waiting room.

Although the board will soon convene to come up with a plan for the economy, many are still skeptical.

“It’s like Colonialism 101,” Negron-Reichard said, “Puerto Rico is not allowed to manage [its own economy].”

Mendez is fearful about what will happen to the island after the federal board completes its goals, comparing the “impartially dictatorial acts of the U.S.” to parenting.

“When parents tell you to do something, you must do it yourself,” Mendez said, “Having someone else fix the problem will teach us nothing.”

Skeel remained impartial, saying that the handling of the crisis has many analogies to the recent economic crisis in Greece.

But there is still hope among those involved that Puerto Rico will see a brighter future.

“The board was the best course of action that Puerto Rico can get,” Negron-Reichard said.

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