Puerto Rico, facing absolute devastation after Hurricane Maria barreled through last week, desperately needs immediate funding to restore critical infrastructure, particularly its hobbled electric grid. The entire island — home to over 3.5 million American citizens, roughly equivalent to the state of Connecticut — lost power, and satellite imagery shows how little electricity has come back. This affects not only electricity and telecommunications service but access to clean water, as many pumping stations run on the same grid.
A group of bondholders, who own a portion of Puerto Rico’s massive $72 billion debt, has proposed what they are calling relief — but in the form of a loan. So they’re offering a territory mired in debt the chance to take on more debt.
The announcement came after The Intercept spent two days reaching out to 51 of Puerto Rico’s known creditors, asking them if they would support a moratorium or cancellation of debt payments for the island, given the humanitarian crisis. Prior to this announcement, only three of the 51 creditors had so much as donated relief funds to charity or offered sympathy for island residents, all of them banks who actually have to face consumers, and so are a bit more adept at handling public relations. No creditor had supported debt relief.
Of the 51 creditors contacted by The Intercept, only Citibank, Goldman Sachs, and Scotiabank have pledged no-strings-attached money for Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, in the form of donations to relief organizations totaling $1.25 million. Citi has also waived certain fees for citizens within disaster zones.
Puerto Rico’s other creditors contacted by The Intercept would not say whether donations were made by their firms or their top executives, which include some of the richest people on earth. Holders of Puerto Rican debt have included John Paulson, who got rich betting against the housing market during the financial crash; Jeffrey Gundlach of DoubleLine Capital, who in 2015 called Puerto Rican debt his “best idea” for investors; and Marc Lasry of Avenue Capital Group and co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team.