By Sophia Har
A US House of Representatives Judiciary sub-committee is discussing legislation to give Puerto Rico's public utilities access to US bankruptcy protection. The Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust law is meeting to debate HR 870, a bill introduced by Puerto Rico's Representative in Congress. Puerto Rico has more than $70 billion in public debt, about $20,000 per resident. The island's government attempted to restructure its public utility company's debts but was stopped by a court ruling. As a territory, Puerto Rico cannot access International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans and isn't eligible for the bankruptcy laws that govern US cities and states.
"Puerto Rico is in a debt trap and this bill could be a way out," noted Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious anti-poverty group, Jubilee USA Network. "In this case, bankruptcy laws can help, just as a global bankruptcy process could help all countries around the globe."
Some financial firms that hold Puerto Rican bonds oppose the bill. Those funds won a recent court decision to block the island's public utility company's $9 billion debt restructuring. Meanwhile, some hedge funds involved in Puerto Rico have been involved in allegedly predatory behavior elsewhere, including Aurelius Management, one of the lead plaintiffs in the Argentine debt dispute.