Wed May 29, 2024
May 29, 2024

As Elections Approach: Which Way for Puerto Rico?

By John Prieto

“The United States controls our economy, our commerce. Puerto Rico must determine a price for its products that is acceptable to the United States, while the United States issues their products to Puerto Rico at a rate that is comfortable to its own manufacturers and not the Puerto Rican consumer. The result is exploitation and abuses perpetrated at will, resulting in poverty for our people and wealth for the United States.” — Pedro Albizu Campos

Puerto Rico remains one of the last colonial possessions in the modern world. The situation persists despite a long and valiant struggle for independence, from the Grito de Lares of 1868 to the Macheteros of the mid-20th century. Blood, sweat, and tears have been shed by thousands of valiant fighters, first against Spanish colonialism and then against the Yankee colonial administration that imposed itself in their place. The victory of the Puerto Rican struggle against colonial occupation is central to the victory of any workers’ movement against capitalism in the United States. Puerto Rican workers, on the island and in the diaspora, play an important vanguard role in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

The Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and New Progressive Party (PNP) have dominated politics on the island for half a century. Both parties represent the interests of imperialist capital, with the main disagreement between them being over whether to maintain the colonial status quo or fully incorporate Puerto Rico as a state. In recent years, climate disasters, corruption, austerity, and the destruction of the living standards of working-class Puerto Ricans have created an opening for alternative political forces. Now, in preparation for the 2024 elections on the island, two major forces outside the traditional parties of the PPD and PNP have joined forces to contest the governorship—and they are making waves.

La Alianza de País

The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) and the Citizen’s Victory Movement (MVC) have established a coalition, which they are calling La Alianza de País. The two parties that compose La Alianza de País, while in a new political moment, have a long history of struggle. The PIP has been one of the main pro-independence organizations in Puerto Rico for over 75 years. It has been repressed by the FBI, attained growth, and suffered splits with the waxing and waning of the broader movements, and even lost its official status twice.

While the MVC is newer, having been founded in 2019 as a political project that primarily brought together the Working People’s Party (PPT) and the Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano, it builds on the long histories of those involved in forming it, including the publisher of Claridad, which was the official organ of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party until the party disbanded in 1993.

In general, La Alianza de País brings together the broad nationalist left from the past 70 years. Its creation, and the growth of the broader left in Puerto Rico, have as their impetus the explosive social movements that have been occurring in Puerto Rico—especially since Hurricane Maria. Tens and hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans were out in the streets five years ago to demand “Ricky Renuncia!”—i.e., that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who was involved in leaked internet messages with vulgar, misogynist, and anti-LGBTQ remarks, resign from his post. Last year, Puerto Ricans marched in the streets again to demand the cancellation of the contract with Luma Energy, which has drastically mismanaged the island‘s power grid. The success of the PIP and MVC in the 2020 elections, which was the impetus for talks of a coalition, rest squarely on the anger and energy coming out of the Ricky Renuncia protests.

An alliance, but what kind?

Workers’ Voice supports self-determination for Puerto Rico and the struggle for independence from U.S. imperialism. At the same time, we point out, Marxists must always analyze the composition, class character, and program of political movements. In the past, many on the left have sought short cuts to success and influence through unprincipled alliances with the forces of class enemies or under the direction and leadership of marginal or opportunistic class forces in the petit-bourgeoisie.

For us, the united action aspired to by the revolutionary party of the working class should take the united front policy as its foundation. The united front seeks to bring the largest possible mass of workers and the oppressed into struggle for concrete demands. In most circumstances, the revolutionary party cannot do this by itself, and so it operates in concert with mass organizations of the working class. This differs from the popular front, a policy in which working-class parties operate in an electoral coalition with a bourgeois party and under a bourgeois program.

So, what type of front is La Alianza de País? Unfortunately, both the PIP and the MVC are—at best—mildly reformist parties of the social democratic left. In composition, the parties are mostly middle class and not based on mobilizing the raw power manifested by the powerful strikes and mobilizations of the recent past. And while their electoral coalition rests on a sort of populism, their platform advocates modest reforms that remain within the limitations of capitalism.

The main slogan and argument of the Alianza is not even a full-throated call for independence, but rather a weak critique of “bipartidismo—the state of having only two major parties. The website of their candidate for governor, Juan Dalmau, does not possess a comprehensive program, or even a summary one. The slogans are “El triunfo de la esperanza” (“the triumph of hope”) or fighting “bipartidismo corrupto.”

Whither Puerto Rico?

Regardless of its weak program, La Alianza is performing well in some polls, even placing second in some and with a realistic chance to challenge for first place. What does this mean for Puerto Rico? Unfortunately, it will accomplish nothing truly significant or lasting. The nature of the colonial status means that the U.S. Congress could easily overwrite and remove what little control remains to the territorial government. Even if independence were to be achieved, Puerto Rico would likely face the same economic and social challenges of other small Caribbean nations, which find themselves either isolated and attacked or completely subsumed by American imperialism. Without a challenge to the foundations of imperialism, without a challenge to the capitalist system itself, the efforts toward independence of smaller nations will never supersede what the imperialist paymaster permits.

The campaign of the PIP and MVC proves that there is an opening in Puerto Rico for some sort of political alternative. It is the task of the revolutionary left to meet that challenge and build an alternative that speaks to the working masses clearly about the need to challenge not just direct colonial control, but the capitalist system, which imposes imperialist domination upon all of the weaker or smaller nations of the world.

For an independent, socialist Puerto Rico, as part of a broader socialist federation of the Caribbean and Latin America!

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