Last month I returned to my native Puerto Rico to attend a wedding and was catching up with family still on the Island one evening. A couple of sips of whiskey in, and the truth came out: My wife’s father reported that he hadn’t received a paycheck in 3 months.
He is a doctor. A highly specialized one, And, with most of his patients coming through government insurance, he hadn’t seen a dime in payment.
Most Puerto Rican health care professionals try to hang on as long as possible. They want to stay in their homeland, be with their families and help make things better. But increasingly, they have no choice. Now many doctors are among the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have become economic migrants , forced to flee from home because they simply cannot survive on patriotism and hope.
In 2014, 364 doctors left the island, the Puerto Rican Surgeons and Physicians Association reported. Last year, 500 practitioners packed up and got out.
“Don’t get hurt on a Sunday or a holiday,” one man recently told CNN after his uncle died because only 2 neurologists were on duty to serve the island’s 3.5 million “forgotten citizens.” (His family now calls the lines at the hospital “the walking dead.”)
Behind those staggering numbers is rapacious, hungry, heartless greed as embodied by two simple words: Hedge funds.
Just like Detroit, Greece and other places rocked by the recession and government mismanagement, Puerto Rico’s debt ballooned over the last decade, further exacerbated by colonial status and expiring tax incentives.
In 2012, hedge fund managers began to circle the Commonwealth, looking to reap billions – and experiment with new wealth extraction strategies that could be imported back to the American mainland. The short version: They bought Puerto Rican bonds after the price fell.
Now these “vulture” managers (as they are literally called for their creditor and distressed buying schemes – los buitres in Spanish) insist that any package from Washington that allows Puerto Rico to renegotiate its $72 billion debt puts Wall Street investors at the front of the line to get paid.
A handful are holding out for even more; refusing to accept any restructuring and demanding even more severe austerity measures and suffering so they don’t have to take any losses on their risky investment.
These carrion feeders are in fact, real human beings, acting in inhumane ways: Mark Brodsky, of the $4.5 billion Aurelius Capital and Andrew Feldstein, of the $20 billion BlueMountain Capital are two leaders of the vulture flock of hedge fund billionaires circling Puerto Rico trying to make huge profits from what’s turning into a full-scale humanitarian crisis.
Brodsky bought up the Island’s debt for as low as 29 cents on the dollar and now is demanding full repayment (Think Greece, and Argentina). He is helping fund economists who argue that vital government services must cease –and schools and hospitals must close – to extract full payment .
Feldstein has teams of lawyers fighting basic protections for Puerto Ricans in court and lobbyists taking the same case to Congress. On his dime they have launched a high profile and highly fraudulent media campaign to make sure Congress keeps working for the billionaires – and against teachers, students, the elderly… and my former neighbors and relatives.
Together with John Paulson – who literally bragged to his bros that together they could create the “Singapore of the Caribbean” and create a tax haven for themselves – these vulture investors are consuming the living, for their greed.
That’s why I’ve been working with Brave New Films and a large coalition, including Make the Road, New York Communities for Change, Organize NOW, Florida Institute for Reform & Empowerment, AFT, SEIU, NEA, New Jersey Communities United, Grassroots Collaborative , Center for Popular Democracy, Strong Economy for All, and Citizen Action, under the campaign banner Hedge Clippers , to help ordinary Puerto Ricans expose the truth about these bad actors and their flock.
Preying on Puerto Rico: Forgotten Citizens of Hedge Fund Island is a series of short film videos that Puerto Rican activists helped create to kick off an escalated series of large actions calling on those with the power to help to stand up for Puerto Ricans and stand up to los buitres.
These same leaders are behind a growing wave of protests on Capitol Hill, Wall Street, the Trump Towers and at the Federal Reserve Board offices in cities across the U.S.
They are getting attention and being heard, but the path forward is uphill. We need your help. With unemployment at 14% and 45 percent of Puerto Ricans living below the poverty line Puerto Rico is in a humanitarian crisis. PROMESA, the bill that just passed out of the US House and is on its way to the Senate, is a bad deal that will help the hedge funds, but not the Puerto Rican people.
Preying on Puerto Rico: Forgotten Citizens of HedgeFund Island  is only the beginning of how we can use our voices and votes to help my father in-law remain on the Island to help save lives – and end this suffering caused by these vultures and the politicians that do their bidding.
Julio López Varona is lead organizer of Make the Road and collaborated with Brave New Films to produce Preying on Puerto Rico: Forgotten Citizens of Hedge Fund Isla