Looming Threats of Privatization After Hurricanes Irma and María

Photo by Solana Larsen | CC BY 2.0

Long before hurricanes Irma and María utterly devastated Puerto Rico, the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the most important public higher education institution on the Archipelago, was weathering a storm of its own: austerity.

Puerto Rico is currently drowning under the weight of a $74 billion debt, and $49 billion in pension obligations, the likes of which is a product of a decades-long recession, illegal bond issuances and trades, and an overly-advertised tax haven. The legal framework that made these practices possible was enacted by the US Congress, implementing a rationale of exceptionality, establishing Puerto Rico as an exception to the tax code of the US. This has lead many to argue that PR’s debt is inherently colonial.

To try to deal with PR’s financial crisis, the US Congress legislated PROMESA [1], which former President Barack Obama signed into law in 2016, and which, among many things, allowed for the creation and establishment of an oversight board and a process for restructuring debt [2]. And so, an unelected Financial Oversight and Management Board [3], or, as it’s referred to locally, La Junta de Control Fiscal or the Fiscal Control Board, was undemocratically imposed onto Puerto Rico, and an austerity campaign has characterized its reign.

The fatal blow of the violence of austerity has spared no public service institution, including the University of Puerto Rico. Draconian budget cuts, campus and academic…

Read more