Bleeding Borinquen: An interview with Alvin Velazquez and Armando Pintado on the Cofina Agreement

This week – Puerto Ricans face a life-and-death decision…

Reporting for the first time this year from Puerto Rico, I wanted to cover the most pressing issue happening on the island right now. On the eve of a major and possibly historic decision in Bankruptcy law, it is important to understand how the COFINA Agreement that is coming before Judge Swain on January 16 will affect the health and future of Puerto Ricans on the island.

So to help us understand it I am joined by Alvin Velazquez, Associate General Counsel for the Service Employees International Union– and SEIU representative in the bankruptcy proceedings in Title III in Puerto Rico. Before he worked for SEIU, he was Executive Director of the Commission to Audit Puerto Rico’s Debt. Alvin has a Finance and Commercial Litigation background, and works in the labor movement on financial and tech issues.

I’m also joined by Armando Santiago Pintado, coordinator for Hedge Clippers. He is coordinating a campaign in Puerto Rico in efforts to lift up what’s happening with hedge funds in PR relating to the islands debt. He’s worked in the past as a Policy advisor and in Policy research, but currently is part of the field campaign supporting organizations in Puerto Rico fight back against Wall Street greed. Hedge Clippers is a “group working to expose the mechanisms hedge funds and billionaires use to influence government and politics in order to expand their wealth, influence and power. We’re exposing the collateral damage billionaire-driven politics inflicts on our communities, our climate, our economy and our democracy.”

The start of the episode opens with a song written in 1929, Lamento Borincano / “Puerto Rican Mourning” – which was a song that “illustrated the economic precariousness that had engulfed the Puerto Rican farmer” Borincano refers to the name of the island before Spain colonized it.

The lyrics are symbolic of the current state of the island, because it tells the story of the “Jibaro” or countryman who cannot make a living and sadly reflects “What will become of Borinquen, my God, what will become of our children and our home….”

In many poignant ways, the lyrics reflect what is happening in Puerto Rico, as Islanders ask themselves what will become of their children, their homes, their healthcare, and their family’s well-being if this Agreement is signed by the Judge. We are left to wonder if there is any humanity left in Puerto Rico, with Debtors extracting every last penny from a territory designed to fall into poverty, and still hurting from the most catastrophic hurricane in US history. And many more will continue to prey on the island if together we don’t send a message that this agreement goes counter to human dignity and human decency. The conditions created by this deal, will exacerbate the issues happening and lead to worse health outcomes for millions of people. In many ways- the outcomes will be not be seen, because when it comes to Puerto Rico, it’s easy to simply not see the inhumane way that Wall Street has stripped it of revenue for decades – causing Puerto Ricans to lack access for even basic services. It is a fact that we would not have had to bury so many of our loved ones, if the billionaires that live in high-rises in New York City had not aimed their sights on our already bleeding Borinquen.

For more information on what COFINA is you can click on this link:

English Lyrics of Lamento Borincano/PuertoRican Lament,Mourning
He sets off happily with his cargo
To the city, to the city
Carries in his thoughts
A whole world filled with happiness
Oh, of happiness
He plans to remedy the household situation
Which is all that he loves!

And happy, the peasant goes
Thinking, saying, singing on the way:
“If I sell my wares, my dear God
I’ll buy a suit for my little old lady”

And his mare is happy
For he knows that the song is
All a joyful hymn
And then the daylight comes unexpectedly
And they arrive to the city market

The entire morning goes by
Without anyone wanting
To buy his wares, oh, to buy his wares
Everything, everything is deserted
And the town is full of need
Oh, of need
The mourning is heard everywhere
In my unhappy Borinquen,

And full of sadness, the peasant goes home
Thinking, saying
Crying along the way:
“What will happen to Borinquen, my dear God
What will happen to my children and my home?” Oh!

Borinquen, the land of Eden
The one that when sung by the great Gautier
He called The pearl of the Seas
“Now that you lay dying from your sorrows
Let me sing to you also
Borinquen of my love”

I’m a child of Borinquen and no one will change that
I’m a child of Borinquen and no one will change that
And on the day that I die, I want to rest in you
I love you, Puerto Rico, and no one will take that away!

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