Puerto Rico Victory Keeps Marco Rubio’s Candidacy On Life Support

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left center, listens to a supporter at a restaurant in the Santurce district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. The U.S. territory must find its own way to get its financial house in order, Rubio wrote in an op-ed published in Spanish Friday in El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's largest newspaper. The Florida Republican opposes efforts to allow Puerto Rico to use bankruptcy laws to deal with a staggering $72 billion debt.

Florida Senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio dominated Puerto Rico’s Republican primary on Sunday, securing all of the U.S. territory’s 23 delegates.

“I got over 70 percent of the vote. Not because I became less conservative, but because I took our conservative principles to people who are living the way I grew up,” Rubio said after the results came in. “I will take our conservative principles to people living paycheck to paycheck, because I lived paycheck to paycheck. Because I grew up paycheck to paycheck.”

Yet as Puerto Rico’s economy nears a breaking point, crushed by an un-payable load of debt held in large part by hedge funds, Rubio has come under fire in recent months for taking massive donations from executives at the same hedge funds that are profiting from the crisis.

A cadre of Wall Street hedge funds has for several years pushed Puerto Rico to take on debt under predatory rates and conditions. Now, faced with more than $70 billion in bills the government says they cannot pay, the island is staring at the possibility of default. Puerto Rico’s fate will likely be determined by the U.S. Congress, where the island’s more than 3 million residents have no vote.

President Obama recently proposed an emergency plan to help Puerto Rico dig itself out of its multi-billion dollar debt burden, warning that inaction could trigger a government shutdown on the island. The plan would allow the island to declare bankruptcy and restructure its debt under more manageable terms, but Rubio and his hedge fund donors oppose it. Instead, they demand the island’s government pursue a path of austerity instead, slashing pension funds, lowering the minimum wage, laying off teachers, and shutting down schools. The island already has a poverty rate and unemployment rate worse than all 50 U.S. states. The hedge funds and their government allies have also proposed hiking Puerto Rico’s sales tax, water, and electricity rates, though these too are higher than nearly every U.S. state.

The hedge funds holding Puerto Rico’s debt and lobbying Congress to deny the island bankruptcy rights have also made large donations to other 2016 candidates, including Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, and Jeb Bush, who dropped out of the race in February.

But Rubio appears to be the hedge fund creditors’ favorite son. The freshman senator has received both endorsements and the maximum legal donation amount from several hedge fund managers.

As he continues to trail his rivals in the race for the Republican nomination, Rubio is hoping the Puerto Rico victory helps him salvage his chances in his home state of Florida, where thousands of Puerto Ricans move every month, and where he currently trails frontrunner Donald Trump. Florida voters go to the polls on March 15.

Puerto Rico doesn’t hold its Democratic primary until June. Though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they are barred from voting in November’s general election.