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John Oliver and Lin-Manuel Miranda Plead for Puerto Rico on Last Week Tonight

In case you hadn’t heard, Puerto Rico, which is a commonwealth of the United States — and not as many seem to think of it and treat it, a foreign country — is in a debt crisis. The economy there has been in steady decline for over ten years. The poverty is staggering, and as May approaches and the debts to certain creditors are coming due, Puerto Rico’s 3.5 Million people may not be able to survive much longer. John Oliver, and special guest Lin-Manuel Miranda, made an impassioned plea to Congress on behalf of the island on this week’s Last Week Tonight.

In the awesome and informative segment above, Oliver goes through all the economic legal loopholes that allowed this to happen to Puerto Rico in the first place; loopholes that came after making Puerto Rico attractive to mainland U.S. businesses, providing corporations tax breaks for setting up shop there, and made Puerto Rico dependent on the influx of business from the mainland. Now, prices are skyrocketing in Puerto Rico, and its citizens pay the highest sales tax in the country. As Oliver says, “Right now, Puerto Rico is like the last Tower Records. Everything’s overpriced, everyone’s being laid off, and there’s still a weirdly large number of Ricky Martin CDs.”

He also addresses the colonialist attitudes involved in these decisions regarding Puerto Rico (a video created by the government only four years ago encouraging mainland rich people to move to Puerto Rico features a businessman speaking in “spectacularly condescending tones” about living there, and is hugely cringe-worthy). Decisions like…Chapter 9 not applying to Puerto Rico, so they’re not even allowed to declare bankruptcy. Or making it so that Puerto Rico has to pay its debt to creditors first, even at the expense of its own needs and public services. “Vulture funds,” indeed.

Those colonialist attitudes also feed into the backlash that the discussion about Puerto Rican debt relief is getting. Right now, Congress is talking about H.R. 4900, a bill that would “establish an Oversight Board to assist the Government of Puerto Rico, including instrumentalities, in managing its public finances, and for other purposes.” This Oversight Board would then be able to provide debt relief to the island, allowing it the time to be able to restructure their debt without any more hospitals or schools having to close. Some interpret this as a “bailout,” which it is not.

Oliver then talks about how last month, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator and star of Hamilton and the son of Puerto Rican parents, spoke in Congress on behalf of his ancestral home, urging them to provide relief for the island, as they’re the only ones at this point who can. Miranda even offered Congress members Hamilton tickets, which are pretty much like gold now.

Miranda then makes an appearance on Last Week Tonight to do what he does best: making a plea on Puerto Rico’s behalf using hip-hop to deliver an important message.

I would highly recommend watching the segment, and then calling or writing to your congress men and women urging them to support H.R. 4900, because Puerto Rico is part of the United States, and its people are U.S. citizens. They need our help and support. As Miranda says, “It’s non-partisan. The hard part is in convincing Congress Puerto Rico matters so their heart is in the fight for relief. Not a bailout, just relief. A belief that you can pass legislation to ease our grief.”

It’s infuriating that it always seem to be the places with the black and brown people in this country — Flint, New Orleans, Detroit, Puerto Rico — that get treated either like laboratories or playgrounds for Corporate America, then ignored or mishandled entirely when shit hits the fan. “3.5 Million American civilians on the hook for billions.” This is not OK.

(via Vulture, featured image via screencap)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former Mary Sue assistant editor from 2015-18. Teresa's returned to play in the TMS sandbox as a freelancer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.