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What Is Puerto Rico’s End Game?

May 5, 2016 Blog

In the game of chess, when most of the pieces are gone from the board, the superior player can likely win if he has a good “end game” and knows how to use the remaining pieces to corner his opponent and declare checkmate.

Is there an end game in play right now for Puerto Rico and its $70 billion in debt?

This week, Puerto Rico defaulted on $422 million of debt payments. That followed earlier defaults of $37 million and $58 million in the previous six months.

More painfully, a $2 billion debt payment is due in July. There’s no relief in sight.

Time is running out for Puerto Rico, and more and more pieces are disappearing from the chess board.

“Puerto Rico’s default on most of a $422 million debt payment on Monday puts the spotlight back on Washington to enact a rescue package for the island, and congressional aides said a revised bill would be introduced next week,” according to the New York Times. “On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew renewed his call on Congress to act swiftly, warning in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan that without a legal framework for a debt restructuring, Puerto Rico is in danger of getting caught in ‘a series of cascading defaults’ that could lead to a taxpayer bailout.”

“’This is not just a matter of financial liabilities and litigation,’ Mr. Lew said in the letter, which was circulated to other lawmakers and released publicly,” according to the Times. “Late last year, Mr. Ryan instructed the relevant House committees to find a ‘reasonable solution’ for Puerto Rico.”

Investment fraud lawyers representing bondholders continue to duke it out with UBS and other banks who sold the bonds.

The impact of the debt crisis has been brutal for Puerto Rico and its people.

Puerto Rico’s government claims it has cut expenditures to the bone, jeopardizing vital services like police, fire department and hospitals.

With almost one out of every two people on the Island being dependent upon the government for their income, and with 230 people leaving the Island each day, it is unlikely that Puerto Rico will be able to tax its way back to prosperity.

And another danger to Puerto Rico is the threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Democrats in Congress are attempting to pressure Republicans to do something to help Puerto Rico in the face of the virus threat, according to a Bloomberg report on Wednesday.

“House Democrats are stepping up pressure on Republicans to advance legislation addressing Puerto Rico’s worsening debt crisis by issuing a report arguing that austerity cuts can’t be sustained and have made the island more vulnerable to the mosquito-borne Zika virus,” according to Bloomberg. “Health-care cuts in response to the $70 billion debt crisis have created a potentially ‘disastrous’ outcome for residents and show how further sharp reductions in government spending can’t be a part of a legislative solution, according to the report released Wednesday by Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee.”

“’We have heard from opponents of legislation to restructure some of Puerto Rico’s debt that the real solution is for the Commonwealth to just cut spending even more deeply,’ Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources panel, said in a statement. ‘This report demonstrates that calls for more cuts, while they might be easy to make, are actually irresponsible and dangerous.’”

Puerto Rico’s government has lobbied Congress, the Obama Administration and even the Supreme Court to provide relief from its huge debt burden in the form of bankruptcy or restructuring authority.

In the hopes of getting its creditors to agree to a restructuring, Puerto Rico passed a debt moratorium law that gives its governor the power to halt payments by the Government Development Bank.

The most likely outcome is that Congress will agree to a weak solution where a financial control board takes over Puerto Rico’s finances, but with limited authority to restructure the debt.

At best, a financial control board could gather all the major creditors and seek a voluntary debt restructuring or roll back. But that outcome is highly uncertain.

Puerto Rico needs to establish a true end game if it is to have a chance of escaping disastrous consequences and ultimately winning a very dangerous contest being waged by Congress, its creditors and its government. Time is of the essence.

Zamansky LLC are securities and investment fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation against financial institutions.  For more information about Zamansky LLC, please visit