One of the stated goals of the Somos conference in Puerto Rico is to build ties between New York City and San Juan. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report..
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - For the last 26 years, elected officials and others have made the annual fall trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the Somos conference.
While the trip is part junket, it is also an opportunity to build ties between the island and the city of New York. Many New Yorkers have roots in Puerto Rico.
A student exchange program is just one of the ways New York and Puerto Rico are working together.
"Right now, we're in the middle of assisting and building the bridge between Sagrado Corazón, which is a university here in Puerto Rico, and SUNY Albany," said Somos chairman Cesar Astralaga.
Puerto Rico, though, has had its challenges recently. The troubled economy is forcing leaders in San Juan to make some tough choices about where to cut spending.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio met with Puerto Rico's governor on the trip to discuss some of those issues.
"The governor is dealing with a lot of the same challenges we're dealing with in New York City, challenges around public finance, challenges around public safety," de Blasio said.
Puerto Rico is in a difficult spot financially because of roughly $70 billion in public debt. However, because of its commonwealth status, it cannot simply declare bankruptcy like a U.S. city such as Detroit, and since it's not a sovereign nation, it cannot seek the help of the International Monetary Fund.
Local leaders wanted to send the message that the debt, while a burden, should not discourage investment or another downgrading of the island's credit rating.
"Puerto Rico is nowhere close to ever defaulting on its bonds," said Eduardo Bhatia, president of the Puerto Rican Senate. "There's no reason to be concerned if you look at the facts and not at the hyperbolic message out there."
Over the weekend, Puerto Rican government officials met with economic experts from New York to discuss the situation.
"Puerto Rico wants to learn about how do they overcome the financial struggles and those difficulties when here in Puerto Rico, we have five municipalities, among them one who already went into bankruptcy," said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of Brooklyn.
Some economists believe that the U.S. government policy of tax-free status for Puerto Rico encouraged the island to borrow too heavily.