Around 50 people gathered in protest outside the office of one of the largest holders of Puerto Rican debt Saturday afternoon.
The Baupost Group, a Boston-based hedge fund, holds nearly $1 billion of Puerto Rican debt, reported by The Intercept earlier this month.
The rally, titled “Cancel the Debt,” was organized by the Boston branch of the International Socialist Organization and co-sponsored by the Boston Democratic Socialists of America and the Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party. The purpose of the rally was to attempt to persuade the Baupost Group to forgive the debt immediately considering the current crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, said Nisha Cirino, an organizer with Boston ISO.
Cirino said before the rally she felt personally connected to the events in Puerto Rico because she was originally born on the island and is Puerto Rican. She said the United States’ government has not taken proper action to help the people of Puerto Rico.
“The United States has not helped in the best way possible — I’m mad that President [Donald] Trump says we owe this debt, but Puerto Rico does not owe this debt,” Cirino said. “Seth Klarman and the Baupost Group right now owns that debt and they can cancel that debt. It’s very predatory to make Puerto Rican people pay a debt that they do not own.”
The protesters specifically targeted Seth Klarman, the CEO and president of the hedge fund. Protesters marched enthusiastically in circles outside the office building, chanting things like “Money for recovery, not Seth’s salary,” “Cancel the debt, Puerto Rico must be free,” and “Hey Seth, cancel the debt, don’t you have enough money yet?”
Nilaya Montalvo, an organizer with Boston ISO, said in an interview before the rally addressing Puerto Rico’s debt is an essential step to helping aid the island.
“It’s incredibly important to respond to the crisis that is happening in Puerto Rico, but it’s also important to discuss some of the already existing factors that were in place that made the island so vulnerable and the people so vulnerable,” Montalvo said. “It can have a long-term implication on how they are able to rebuild and what that could look like or not look like, and the debt is a huge part of it.”
Montalvo said during the rally many immigrants in Boston are trying to figure out how to help Puerto Rico with this situation.
“Many of us, the children of the diaspora, are here running in circles, desperately trying to decide if we should continue to send things that the government will fail to deliver, whether we should continue to make calls that won’t go through,” Montalvo said. “We will not look away while you ignore our people to death.”
Michael Fiorentino, an organizer with Boston ISO, said during the rally it’s essential to realize the impact of what is happening with the Baupost Group and Puerto Rico, especially locally in Boston.
“This is a very important situation where right here in the city of Boston, we can name the enemy, we know exactly the financial investments that they have made in the suffering of Puerto Rico and I think we should put our heads together and continue to organize around it,” Fiorentino said. “The Baupost Group is literally the enemy of the people of Puerto Rico.”
Several attendees said the rally was a helpful way to support Puerto Rico at this time.
Sasha Scott, 28, of Medford, said she has family in Puerto Rico, which motivated her concerns and drove her to come to the rally.
“My cousin lives in Puerto Rico, and from what I’ve heard from him, there’s a whole bunch of people who don’t have access to clean water [and] still don’t have electricity,” Scott said. “I just think about the capacity of the United States military to bring weapons all over the world, but they can’t put their resources to fixing the power in Puerto Rico.”
David Rolde, 50, of Weston, a member of the Green-Rainbow Party, said though the groups which came together to organize the rally are diverse in opinion, they all came together to support Puerto Rico during this time.
“We all came together for this, so it was a decent rally in the right place,” Rolde said. “It would be more effective on a weekday, but I think it accomplished something.”
An attendee from New York said she thought the rally was a success.
“I hope [the rally] can lead to future action,” said Davine Holness, 23, of Spring Valley, “and we can learn more about who’s in power and who has what opinions and how we can put pressure on those people in a sustained way and not forget about it when we go home.”