Massachusetts Primary Day: Puerto Rican Debt Crisis

Hugo Balta


In an unusual campaign season dominated by COVID-19 concerns, Primary Day is here. The heavy vote-by-mail election is generating record numbers in Massachusetts for the more than 50 contested races, including a challenge to longtime Rep. Richard Neal from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.

The progressive Morse is hoping to unseat Neal by campaigning to cancel Puerto Rico’s debt (among other things). It’s a different stance from Neal on how the United States should respond to the island’s decades-long debt crisis.

When asked, Neal’s campaign did not reference the debt crisis directly, reported HuffPost. “Richie Neal believes that the fundamental issue of rebuilding and stabilizing the economy must be the highest priority, and without this resolved the debt will only grow exponentially without any hope for a sustainable future for Puerto Rico,” said, Kate Norton, a campaign spokesperson.

Holyoke, Massachusetts, Mayor Alex Morse (left) is challenging House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal.

Morse supports getting rid of the U.S.-run fiscal oversight board (“La Junta”) that has veto power over Puerto Rico’s budget, canceling Puerto Rico’s debt, and giving the people of the U.S. commonwealth full “self determination” to decide their status vis-a-vis the mainland United States.

That position has grabbed the attention of many Puerto Ricans including San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz who endorsed Morse in bilingual video messages praising his connection to the community.

In the videos, Cruz explained how as mayor, Morse welcomed many Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria’s devastation in 2017.

“When Puerto Ricans did not receive the necessary help from Donald Trump, Alex Morse opened the doors of Holyoke, Mass.,” she said in a Spanish version of her endorsement.

Puerto Rican voters stand to play a critical role in today’s primary race. Nearly one in five residents of the House district, made up of parts of central and Western Massachusetts, is Latino, the overwhelming majority of whom are Puerto Rican.

At least one Puerto Rican Morse supporter said his stance on Puerto Rico was a motivating factor for her. Morse “understands the need for Puerto Ricans to determine our own destiny, and that starts with abolishing La Junta, followed by canceling the debt, and entrusting working committees composed of on the ground grassroots organizations, community and municipal leaders to move the nation forward,” said Gladys Franco, a school administrator from Springfield to HuffPost.

Rep. Richard Neal efforts include securing additional aid for victims of Hurricane Maria, and celebrating Puerto Rican culture through the creation of a Hispanic Heritage Month and the construction of the National Museum of the American Latino.

It’s a tight race, according to an internal poll conducted for Morse’s campaign last month that found that he’s trailing Neal by only 5 percentage points.

For residents looking to vote in person today, polls will be open statewide from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. For information on polling locations, check the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s “Find my election information” tool online and enter your address.

(Cover photo: Ricardo Arduengo