Puerto Rico is in crisis. Last month, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose parents came to New York from Puerto Rico before he was born, visited Congress to plead with them to pass legislation that would help the territory restructure its $72 billion debt.
“We have a humanitarian crisis on our hands,” Miranda, who created the Broadway hit Hamilton said in his address. “We face a financial crisis that triples anything you’ve experienced in the United States. It is a solvable, fixable crisis, and what we really need is help from Congress. What we need is the ability to restructure and get Puerto Rico out of the hole it’s in.”
Then he offered members of Congress tickets to his perpetually sold-out show if it would help encourage them to act. “I know a guy,” he joked.
“Wow, that is incredible,” John Oliver said during his deep dive into the Puerto Rican crisis on Last Week Tonight. “I’m amazed he can even get tickets. It is easier for a meerkat to get into Harvard Law School than it is to get into that show.”
Oliver, clearly a fan of Hamilton—“It’s so fucking good!”—dedicated the majority of his show Sunday night to explaining how and why the U.S. federal government is ultimately to blame for Puerto Rico’s problems.
Because Puerto Rico is a territory and not a state, there are several loopholes in U.S. law that have led directly to its current situation. For one, Puerto Rican bonds were deemed “triple tax exempt,” making them incredibly appealing for Wall Street, but ultimately terrible for Puerto Rico. “You might even own Puerto Rican bonds and not even know it,” Oliver said, due to sketchy laws about how the bonds are labeled.
In addition, unlike states, Puerto Rico does not have the ability to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy in order to restructure its debt, due to a mysterious provision in an unrelated 1984 bill. “If you are massively in debt and can’t declare bankruptcy, you are stuck,” Oliver said.
“The good news here is, Congress is now considering a bipartisan bill that would give Puerto Rico some breathing room to negotiate with creditors,” Oliver said. While the details are still being worked out, he added, “This could be a real help to Puerto Rico.” Unfortunately, there is a misinformation campaign underway to convince voters that a so-called “bail out” would be financially disastrous.
“The point is, 3.5 million Americans are facing a dire crisis right now, and the clock is ticking,” Oliver added, urging viewers to start treating Puerto Rico like “an island of American citizens whose fate is interwoven with ours.”
“There are certainly better voices than mine to speak on behalf of Puerto Rico,” Oliver offered, which brings us back to Lin-Manuel Miranda.
To end the show, Oliver welcomed the man himself to the stage to perform an entirely new rap song directed squarely at those in power about his “commonwealth, with not a lot of wealth, a not quite nation.”
“Hoping to God John Oliver’s comical dissertation resonates with the Congress that got us in this situation,” Miranda rapped. “Along with suicidal tax incentive declarations, ‘Yeah we’ll pay your bonds first, close the hospital, fuck the patients. This is an island, 100 miles across. A hurricane is coming and we’re running up a loss.”
“Paul Ryan, I’ll come sing Hamilton at your house, I’ll do-si-do with Pelosi, I’ll wear my Hamilton blouse,” he added, growing more impassioned. “Our citizens are suffering, stop the bleeding, stop the loss. Help Puerto Rico, it’s just 100 miles across!”