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  HOME | Caribbean

Sanders Meets Puerto Rican Students, Talks Debt Restructure, Sovereignty

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was greeted by crowds of students at the University of Puerto Rico on Monday night for the last of three public events in San Juan, where he repeated messages delivered earlier in the day about debt restructuring and sovereignty.

Sanders' popularity among young voters was demonstrated by the packed theater, which lacked the capacity to receive hundreds more students waiting outside.

Ahead of his speech, which lasted just over 30 minutes, Sanders went outside the theater where he spent five minutes with the enthusiastic crowd standing at the gates.

Back in the theater, where it was difficult to find anyone over the age of 25, Sanders was greeted with a welcome more reminiscent of a rock concert than a political speech, as the crowd chanted his name repeatedly.

"I studied Spanish in school but I was a very bad student. I hope you do better than me," Sanders said in English as he opened his speech to excited cries from the crowd.

The Democratic candidate, whose speech at the university repeated the script that he brought to Puerto Rico and had presented in his previous two events there, started with a reference to economic inequalities in the world and in the United States, where he said the richest 1 percent possess almost as much wealth as the rest of the population.

"If someone tells you that you have to close schools and hospitals, do not believe them," he said, referring to Puerto Rico's financial problems caused by a debt of around $70 billion that the government of the Caribbean island says it cannot pay.

He said that to change the issues faced by the commonwealth "you have to create an economy that works for everyone, not just for the few."

The Democratic candidate said that if the U.S. Federal Reserve could bail out Wall Street it should be able to help the 3.5 million American citizens of Puerto Rico.

He also rejected a proposal that Washington create a fiscal control board to help Puerto Rico manage its debt.

"We cannot allow the American Congress to undermine the sovereignty of Puerto Rico," he said.

The speech included references to the political status of the commonwealth, an issue that he said should only be solved by Puerto Ricans and which he would put up to a referendum in the first year of his mandate if he reached the White House.

"It is time that the people of Puerto Rico take command of their political future," he said to more applause from the crowd.

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