Earlier this week, a federal judge announced the end of the first chapter of Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy, approving a debt restructuring plan five years in the making. This milestone was welcomed as understandably positive news for an island beset by financial and natural crises for most of the last three decades. This first step towards normalcy, however, needs to be seen in the proper context. This initial debt negotiation — and yes, there will be more — is a necessary but insufficient step towards financial stability for over 3 million American citizens.
I served on the Financial Oversight Board for almost two years, in a role far removed from the debt negotiations which have dominated the island’s financial news. For that time, I was assigned to a congressionally mandated role under Public Law 114–187, otherwise known as Promesa. That role, with the obscure and highly inaccurate title of “Revitalization Coordinator,” was the first, and so far only, position created by Federal law focused on economic development through private investment in critical infrastructure. The job was simple, yet complex: Bring in outside investment to assist in rebuilding the island’s infrastructure, and do so without further burdening an already suffering population.
We began our journey three months before Hurricane Maria with a few canned pages on an unpublished website. Less than two years later, I turned the keys over to an investment pipeline valued at approximately $8 billion. This represented dozens of international investors wanting to do business on the island, going through a Federally sanctioned, open process which relied on public awareness and comment.
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