President Trump is suggesting that Puerto Rico's debt should be wiped out to give the island a fresh start after Hurricane Maria deepened the U.S. territory's economic catastrophe.
The president's comments Tuesday come after Puerto Rico filed for the equivalent of federal bankruptcy protection in May after years of financial mistakes and economic decline.
Puerto Rico owed $74 billion in debts and $49 billion in pension liabilities before entering the so-called Title III restructuring process that Congress designed for distressed U.S. territories.
Those financial obligations — combined with bureaucratic inertia, population decline and lack of economic opportunity — hobbled the island's ability to pay for basic services such as public safety and health care.
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In the island's municipal bankruptcy case, a federal oversight board is aiming to negotiate debt reductions with the island's creditors on behalf of Puerto Rico.
"They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street and we're going to have to wipe that out," Trump told Fox News. "You can say goodbye to that."
Trump, who made the comments after touring the island to see Maria's wreckage, does not exert direct control over Puerto Rico's debt restructuring. He could theoretically pursue a federal bailout to cover the island's debts, which would require Congressional action, but that's unlikely.
Still, political momentum to aide Puerto Rico after Maria devastated the island could put pressure on creditors to capitulate in the debt negotiating process.
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