Expresiones de la Senadora Ana Irma Rivera Lassen ante la Jueza Laura Taylor Swain durante la vista de confirmación del plan de ajuste de la deuda de la AEE


Senator Ana Irma Rivera Lassen’s Statement Before the Court:

My name is Ana Irma Rivera Lassén. I am an attorney and current member of Puerto Rico's Senate, where I preside that body's Committee on Human Rights and Labor Affairs. For decades I have served as a community-oriented attorney and human rights activist, being at the forefront of many local and international struggles against racism, xenophobia, and discrimination based on sex, gender, age, and economic necessity, among others. And it is precisely through this framework –the framework of human rights– that I wish to express my opposition to the current PREPA Plan of Adjustment.

I come before this Court to highlight a reality that many parties to this case systematically choose to downplay or overlook. And that is the increasingly deteriorated and unaffordable electricity grid Puerto Ricans are being forced to live with, as well as the devastating effects this Plan's confirmation will have on the physical, mental, and financial well-being of all Puerto Ricans, with the most vulnerable members of our population bearing the greatest costs.

Access to safe, reliable, and affordable energy is a human right. Protecting human rights and Puerto Rico's sustainable economic development should be this Court's guiding principle in evaluating the Plan's confirmation.

This framework is not only encapsulated in the US Bankruptcy Code's Chapter 9 'feasibility inquiry' –incorporated under Section 314(b) of PROMESA– but is also enshrined within International Law's basic principles on sovereign debt restructurings. Indeed, several United Nation General Assembly resolutions have made clear (such as the UN Basic Principles on Sovereign Debt Restructuring Processes, approved by the UN General Assembly in 20151) a public debt restructuring processes should never disrespect or undermine citizen's human rights. 

In this case, there is no questioning that the proposed Plan of Adjustment will further erode Puerto Rican's right to safe, reliable, and affordable energy, while depressing our economy and materially harming our most vulnerable residents.

Reading the close to 800 pro se objections to the Plan of Adjustment that citizens filed before this Court, one can understand what's at stake for the people of Puerto Rico –not for the members of the FOMB, and certainly not for the bondholder groups– in this bankruptcy's resolution.

First, the great majority of Puerto Ricans simply cannot afford further increases in their electricity tariffs. Any proposition alleging the contrary is a self-interested maneuver that is divorced from reality. As this Court knows, more than two-fifths of Puerto Ricans suffer from poverty, and nearly three-fifths of our children live in a poor household. This poverty trend is only increasing. As the US jurisdiction with the lowest median household income, it should not come as a surprise that most local residents are already struggling to pay for one of the most expensive yet poorly performing electricity systems in the nation.

And how does the Board respond to this reality? By imposing tariff charges that will literally force residents to sacrifice other fundamental needs –food, health-related expenses, or transportation– in order to pay for electricity. No individual should be forced to live under such a level of economic precarity, and much less to pay off claims asserted by entities already holding trillions of dollars in investment assets.

Second, this Plan's failure to prioritize the energy grid's much needed repair and stabilization will have deadly consequences for local residents. Consider Puerto Rico's increasingly aging population. Many of our elders live alone, since their children, lacking economic opportunities to live a meaningful life in Puerto Rico, have had to move to the US mainland. Our more than 768,000 residents over 65 years old need stable energy for their health-related equipment: a sleep apnea or asthma therapy machine, a refrigerator to store their insulin, fans, or air conditioners to bear the island's increasing temperature and mosquitos.

In short, they need energy to survive. So do children or adults with similar health conditions. Our working class needs energy to safely operate their businesses, or to enjoy a bare-minimum quality of life at home: without having to purchase groceries twice per week because the power outages spoiled food stored in their refrigerator or having to spend thousands of dollars repairing home equipment damaged by the power grid’s frequent voltage fluctuations.

I cannot overemphasize the extent to which Puerto Ricans are already being deprived of such basic protections as a result of our grid's dysfunctionality.

The situation before us demands a full commitment to reconstructing our energy grid. But instead of taking this reality seriously, the Board has negotiated a Plan that glosses over Puerto Rican's material realities and passes the costs of debt repayment onto a vulnerable population. Such a treatment of the most affected party here –that is, local residents– completely misses the mark of what it means to respect and protect human rights.

Lastly, this Plan's treatment of the close to 12,000 PREPA pensioners is nothing short of abusive and inhumane. PREPA's pensioners are working class individuals who have spent decades building our energy grid, taking care of our families' and communities' needs in crisis times, and maintaining a functional grid after more than 50 storms and hurricanes that have made landfall in Puerto Rico since the 1950's. Any sense of decency and respect would provide and guarantee them, at a minimum, the well-earned pensions they paid for, worked for, and have relied on as their primary source of income upon retiring.

But here too, the Board reaches the opposite conclusion: to reduce the value of current and future pensions and offer little to no assurance that the money to pay their pensions will be there during the final years of their lives. Even active PREPA workers, who are due to retire soon, are being disproportionately affected with their pensions being slashed by half even after they spent decades contributing to their retirement fund.

The economic and psychological toll this move has had on current and future PREPA pensioners cannot be understated. Already, some future PREPA pensioners have taken their lives as a result of their precarious economic future. Hundreds are suffering from acute mental illnesses –anxiety, depression, violence among their loved ones– that are directly traceable to the Board's insensitivity towards pensioners’ livelihoods.

Beyond the speculations and legal theories, what the Board and the bondholders are debating over, as this Court is well-aware, are the lives of millions of poor, largely elderly, and vulnerable individuals. It has been clear that the bondholder groups are especially indifferent to this reality. Their insistence on maximizing the value of their claims is a textbook abusive vulture-fund practice, which civil society actors, governments, courts, and the international community have repeatedly denounced in recent years, as is evident in the UN General Assembly Resolution previously mentioned.

Recognizing the bondholders' abusive pretensions, as well as the need to protect Puerto Rican's most basic civil, social, and economic rights, a proper resolution of this bankruptcy requires (1) prioritize the grid's reconstruction, (2) prevent any attempt to pass on energy costs to innocent civilians through rate increases, and (3) protect the pensioners.

This Plan does not meet any of the three conditions I've laid out above. On the contrary, it further injures residents and erodes our ability to enjoy a safe and stable quality of life. I thus urge this Court to reject the current Plan of Adjustment and to compel the parties to reach an agreement that is truly viable for the people of Puerto Rico. Thank you.

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