Watch: John Oliver and Lin-Manuel Miranda Explain Why Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis Can’t Be Ignored


John Oliver’s long-form late night TV comedy news last night devoted 20+ minutes to the $70 billion debt crisis in Puerto Rico. “This is not politics, this is math,” one commentator says during Oliver’s intro to the subject, to which John Oliver responds, “That is bad, because ‘this is math’ is one of the most dread-inducing sentences in the English language.” The debt, he explains, is wreaking havoc on the island, leading many residents to abandon.

Perhaps even more foreboding than the word “math” is Oliver’s comparison of the island’s socioeconomic state to the last Tower Records — “everything’s overpriced, everyone’s being laid off, and there’s still a weirdly large number of Ricky Martin CDs.”

Oliver notes America’s own stake in this — given the fact that Puerto Ricans — those suffering from the crisis — are, of course, American citizens. He recalls Pulitzer Prize winning Hamilton writer/star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recent visit to ask Congress to urge them not to ignore the crisis — even saying that if it’ll take Hamilton tickets to get them involved, he’d make it happen. “It’s so fucking good — we owe Puerto Rico for that man!” exclaims Oliver as he plays a clip of Miranda performing at the White House.

Oliver dives into how — with no debate and no given reason — Puerto Rico became exempt from declaring bankruptcy in 1984, with a provision that slipped through Congress. Oliver jokes, “So the next time your obnoxious friend tell you everything happens for a reason, you can simply say, ‘No, Dan, not the 1984 provision exempting Puerto Rico from bankruptcy protection. So shut the fuck up.'” With its immense debt coupled with its inexplicable US government mandated inability to declare bankruptcy, “Puerto Rico was fucked. But wait, we’re only getting started here,” continues Oliver. The public services that have suffered as a result include hospitals — and apparently one doctor a day leaves Puerto Rico — which is especially bad given the impending major Zika virus threat to the island.

“This is clearly a moment where Puerto Rico could cry out to its creditors for mercy, however, a lot of its creditors are hedge funds who traditionally thrive on this kind of chaos,” says Oliver, before explaining that approximately 30 percent of Puerto Rican debt is held in “vulture funds” — or what the bonds hedge funds buy up in desperate economies are called.

“We need to stop treating Puerto Rico like it’s just a tax haven,” the host concludes, “or a place to have terrifying sex with a stranger in a coconut mask.” (This last remark comes in response to an American tourist video he shares with a particularly strange, exoticizing bit of innuendo at its close.) “Instead, we have to start treating it like an island of American citizens whose fate is interwoven with ours.” He finally states that there are people who can speak to the issue even better than he can — and in case you don’t have any guesses, he’s referring to the aforementioned Broadway icon, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who then at the 19:13 minute mark takes the stage and raps about the crisis.

Watch the whole segment: