Puerto Rico’s economy in limbo as governor rejects debt deal

Puerto Rico’s government announced in 2015 that it was unable to pay its more than $70 billion public debt load and filed for the largest US municipal bankruptcy in May 2017. (AFP)
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Updated 10 February 2020

Puerto Rico’s economy in limbo as governor rejects debt deal

  • Gov. Wanda Vázquez says settlement places too heavy a burden on the island’s retirees and noting that it still requires legislative approval
  • Puerto Rico filed for the largest US municipal bankruptcy in May 2017

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico’s fragile economy is facing an uncertain future after the island’s governor rejected a settlement announced late Sunday with bondholders that would reduce the US territory’s public debt by 70 percent.
The settlement is the biggest one to date since the island’s government announced in 2015 that it was unable to pay its more than $70 billion public debt load and filed for the largest US municipal bankruptcy in May 2017.
It’s unclear whether the deal will become final, with Gov. Wanda Vázquez saying it places too heavy a burden on the island’s retirees and noting that it still requires legislative approval. The deal also has to be approved by a federal judge overseeing a bankruptcy-like process for Puerto Rico.
“If the bondholders receive better treatment in the bankruptcy process, so should retirees,” she said. “This is an issue of basic justice.”
She said bondholders received new legal protections in amendments made to a September 2019 adjustment plan, but that retirees did not receive anything additional.
It’s the latest clash between Vázquez and a federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances, which reached the deal with several groups of bondholders to reduce the island’s bond debt from some $35 billion to roughly $11 billion.
Natalie Jaresko, the board’s executive director, said the island’s bankruptcy needs to be resolved.
“The new agreement is another step forward for Puerto Rico, one that gets the island much closer to ending bankruptcy and to the beginning of a true economic recovery,” she said in a statement.
Board members did not respond to the governor’s rejection of the settlement, and a board spokesman did not return a call for comment.
The announcement comes as Puerto Rico struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria, which hit as a Category 4 storm in 2017, and a series of strong earthquakes that have damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings along the island’s southern region.
Over the weekend, Puerto Rico government officials including Vázquez accused the board of delaying approval to release funds to help those affected by the quakes, accusations that the board denied in a letter earlier on Sunday before it announced the debt deal.
“Allegations that the...board has over 50 pending requests including for food, water and portable toilets are untrue,” it said. “None of the ten requests received were for portable toilets or water. All requests were processed within hours of receipt.”
Many have criticized Vázquez’s administration over its response to the 6.4 earthquake that killed one person on Jan. 7 as heavy aftershocks keep further damaging buildings.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico economist José Caraballo told The Associated Press that he worries the deal could threaten basic government services and leave the island without sufficient funds to respond to the pending needs from the hurricane and earthquakes.
“The risk of a second bankruptcy and a prolonged recession is bigger than before,” he said.
Puerto Rico is mired in a 13-year recession, and roughly half a million people have left the island in the past decade, fleeing from the economic crisis and the aftermath of the hurricane and earthquakes.


Investors, scientists urge IEA to take bolder climate stance

Updated 30 May 2020

Investors, scientists urge IEA to take bolder climate stance

  • The energy agency’s head is under pressure to align its policies with the 2015 Paris accord goals

LONDON: Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), faced renewed calls to take a bolder stance on climate change on Friday from investors concerned the organization’s reports enable damaging levels of investment in fossil fuels.

In an open letter, investor groups said an IEA report on options for green economic recoveries from the coronavirus pandemic, due out in June, should be aligned with the 2015 Paris accord goal of capping the rise in global temperatures at 1.5C.

The more than 60 signatories included the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, whose members have €30 trillion ($33.42 trillion) of assets under management, scientists and advocacy group Oil Change International.

“Bold, not incremental, action is required,” the letter said.

The Paris-based IEA said it appreciated feedback and would bear the letter’s suggestions in mind. It also said it had been recognized for leading calls on governments to put clean energy at the heart of their economic stimulus packages.

“We have backed up that call with a wide range of analysis, policy recommendations and high-level events with government ministers, CEOs, leading investors and thought leaders,” the IEA said.

Birol has faced mounting pressure in the past year from critics who say oil, gas and coal companies use the IEA’s flagship World Energy Outlook (WEO) annual report to justify further investment — undermining the Paris goals.

Birol has dismissed the criticism, saying the WEO helps governments understand the potential climate implications of their energy policies, and downplaying its influence on investment decisions.

FASTFACT

1.5°C

The 2015 Paris accord aims to cap the rise in global temperatures at 1.5C.

But campaigners want Birol to overhaul the WEO to chart a more reliable 1.5C path. The world is on track for more than double that level of heating, which would render the planet increasingly uninhabitable, scientists say.

The joint letter followed similar demands last year, and was published by Mission 2020, an initiative backed by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.