And Then There Were Two
After an incestuous Puerto Rico primary pitting party brethren against one another, it remains to be seen if the New Progressive Party (NPP) will have time to heal the wounds of an uncivil war. No sooner had the contest between Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and Dr. Ricardo Rosselló concluded when Guaynabo Mayor Héctor O’Neill was making sobering remarks—that the pro-statehood NPP ought not to celebrate in such jubilant fashion when the party only managed to draw some 462,000 voters to the polls. In truth, the total of votes cast in the NPP primary was nearly 300,000 fewer than that in the primary contest held between former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, who is Ricardo’s father, and former Gov. Luis Fortuño in 2008.
O’Neill’s caveat that the result was cause for alarm—Ricky obtuvo la mitad de poquito—was punctuated by the threat: “I don’t have to meet with Ricky; Ricky will have to meet with me,” a sign that there are wounds to heal, lest they become mortal.
The question is whether there is enough time to bring the party together to face a Popular Democratic Party President David Bernier who, some analysts say, was given a new lease on life because he reportedly fares better in the general election against Rosselló than he would have against Pierluisi.
Analysts who point to Bernier’s new lease, fail to take into account that a devastated economy can be a formidable political opponent—shrinking household incomes and a brutal tax burden often force people to vote against the incumbent out of spite.
Incumbent Alejandro García Padilla, who in this case was left with a towering debt load, seemed ill-equipped to handle the complexities of a debt crisis, the restructuring of which has proven daunting even for million-dollar advisers.
Now that the primary dust has settled, the contrasts in Puerto Rico’s general election will be between one man, Bernier, who is trying mightily to distance himself from the García Padilla administration of which he was a part and another man, Rosselló, who claims that he will clean up the credit mess, which is easier said than done.
Tellingly, Rosselló attended the meeting being hosted by DebtWire news service, which focuses on financial analysis, in Manhattan just days after his election to become the NPP candidate for governor. The meeting, which brought together creditor groups, monoline bond insurers and members of Puerto Rico’s restructuring brigades, provided a hint of creditor intent in future debt restructuring. For instance, Bernier was not invited to attend.
During an exclusive interview this newspaper held with Rosselló last week, the eventual NPP gubernatorial candidate let on that he had already held meetings with creditors. He believes in restructuring debt much in the same fashion that the boys on Wall Street would prefer—18 creditors dealt with separately—and he says that it is impossible to negotiate debt while insisting on a super Chapter 9 instrument, under one big umbrella. Just as he told this newspaper 10 days ago that he would be going up to Wall Street to commence talks and to Washington, D.C., to oppose the Puerto Rico Management, Oversight & Economic Stability Act (Promesa)—he is making good on his word. That is a good thing.
Whoever is chosen by us come November, be it Bernier or Rosselló, should have the standing to speak for his people—de tu-a-tu—not through seven-figure advisers.
In that context, it is a shame that DebtWire did not invite Bernier to speak of his plans before a group of creditors that must be dealt with face to face. We, the people, need to know that our future leaders are equipped to govern. So, too, must we know that they have a plan for Puerto Rico’s economic development. That is the burning question that must be addressed come January 2017, regardless of who wins in November.