The most recent meeting of Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB)—known colloquially as “La Junta”—was held Friday, August 4, at the luxurious Hotel El Conquistador of Fajardo, a remote fishing town on the island’s northeast corner. Far from the urban milieu of protest in the capital city of San Juan, with few public spectators besides members of the press, bond-holding reps, and policy wonks, the meeting was held in a sterile conference room that would resemble that of any US hotel chain. Over the course of about two hours, La Junta went through the motions of hearing fiscal-plan testimony, resolution making, voting, asking each other questions, and almost robotically responding with prepared texts.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a sharp exchange between the government of Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative and members of the FOMB revealed the growing tension created by proposed austerity measures that would cut back on the hours of government workers. La Junta announced a plan that would impose furloughs on government employees of two days a month, down from its original proposal of four days a month, claiming that the savings of $218 million that would result were “necessary to ensure that the proper budget savings are achieved.”
Christian Sobrino, who, as the representative of Governor Ricardo Roselló, has no vote, strongly took issue with the move. “On the issue of furloughs the government understands that a line has to be drawn. There will be no furloughs. You can take that to the bank,” he announced without irony.
The confrontation seemed to signal that, while insisting that Rosselló’s government will for the most part cooperate with La Junta on the goals and cost-saving strategies of the fiscal plan, there will be instances when the government will assert what is left of its autonomy from the US-imposed board. The only problem is that back in March Rosselló’s PNP (pro-statehood) government openly celebrated La Junta’s certification of the fiscal plan as a triumph that left behind the “times of incoherence and improvisation” that previous governments had promulgated. In a statement issued in conjunction with the plan’s certification, the Junta added amendments including a plan for employee furloughs that were set to begin July 1 of this year but were postponed until September 1.
Junta board member Carlos García bristled in his response to Sobrino, insisting that “the government representative said nothing in March; nobody said there was no opposition. The government has known about this.”
The media and several elected officials of the pro-commonwealth and pro-independence parties reacted with increasing skepticism toward the government’s sudden decision to embrace confrontation. Crusading PDP (pro-commonwealth) Representative Manuel Natal Albelo called it an attempt to “save face with public servants,” an argument to cast La Junta as “the bad guy. But the reality is that they are both the mother and father of this.” Even Sobrino joked about his outburst, when, as the press assembled for a Q&A following the Junta meeting, he remarked, “If this were a drama we would be nominated for an Oscar.”