As people of the oppressed and exploited class on mainland, it is vital that we understand the relationship the U.S. has to its colonies, and raise flags of solidarity with working class people there. Most importantly, it is necessary that we call for decolonization of Puerto Rico and all U.S. colonial territory, and to denounce the U.S. government for these practices.
By Rose I.
Graffiti artists and muralists have always used buildings to tell stories. It is on the walls that we also see cries of decent. This was my experience on my first time to Puerto Rico. You can spot beautiful large murals painted at the entrance of freeways to small messages on bathroom walls calling for socialism and for an independent Puerto Rico. The one that stood out to me the most this time around was the one that stated “U.S. Colonial Property. ¿Que vamos a hacer? P.R. es nuestro” [What will we do? P.R is ours]. This is not the first time that I saw signs of disagreement with the commonwealth; however, this is the first time I saw and heard people of Puerto Rico clearly cry out that the current problem is colonialism.
The new Promesa Bill institutionalizes colonial domination
On June 30, 2016, Obama signed the Promesa Bill as the supposed solution to the economic crisis that Puerto Rico is currently facing. This bill gives the U.S. total control of Puerto Rico’s finances placing four democrats and four republicans (with possibly one RP rep) to oversee Puerto Rico. The bill strips economic power, but also political power from Puerto Rico in order for the U.S. to oversee its financial restructuring to pay back its debt to large corporate banks. The nature of the bill is for the state to make sure that the people of Puerto Rico are at the mercy of big banks, like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JP Morgan, etc. This is rapidly changing perception of the ties Puerto Rico has to U.S. and there is a movement rising on the island, which is not largely reported by capitalist mainstream media. On July 22, Puerto Rico took the streets of Halo Rey, which is like Wall St., to protest against La Junta (Promesa bill). People have occupied the U.S. Federal Court for a little over 30 days now in what is called Campamento Contra La Junta [Camp against the Promesa Bill].
Puerto Rico Contra La Junta has clearly stated how this bill is draconian, attacking the working-class. These austerity measures will cut employment in public sectors but also across the board. The minimum wage is expected to drop to US$4.25 (many are currently paid below that), especially affecting youth under 25 year-old, and workers’ pensions and benefits will be cut. Public benefits will also disappear in health care, which includes programs for children with special needs. Education is on the chopping board: many schools are currently closing its doors. Labor laws that protect workers are expected to disappear and the island’s natural resources will be sold; even protected areas like El Yuke National Forest will be opened for the U.S. The deteriorating state of Puerto Rico has prompted mass migration of Puerto Ricans to the States.
Currently Puerto Rico is said to have a $72 billion bond debt. Who is benefiting from this? Meaning: who is getting paid? A report called ReFund America Project shows disturbing truth to this crisis, in which: one, banks are the beneficiaries, and two, the debt has a 785% interest rate. This means that Puerto Rico will pay US$33.5 billion in interest! All the austerity cuts is how banks plan to rob Puerto Rico through this deal, which the U.S. government enforced on their behalf. These are the very same banks that brought the economy to a recession in 2008 and were bailed out by the Obama administration. The capitalist government shifted the cost of that crisis on to the people; one we are still paying for, today. Similarly, there will be cuts, and cost of services will also be raised on the island, starting with the cost of electricity. Starting in August, the people of Puerto Rico will see a 10% increase in their electricity bill, and within the next 3 years it will increase by another 18%.
Is The National Puerto Rican Agenda a Solution to the Promesa Bill?
July 25, 1898 marks the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico. On July 25, 1952 the U.S. enforced its power with the commonwealth, yet giving an illusion of autonomy. This year the U.S. once again imposed its power over the small island, revealing that it was never really a sovereign state. While it remains under control of the U.S, the people have no voting rights, among other lack of rights and autonomy. The growing problems in Puerto Rico have prompted mass migration to U.S. mainland. On July 24th, Puerto Ricans gathered in New Jersey creating an advocacy organization that is meant to monitor the Promesa Bill. While it seems to propose some important measures, most important among them is a proposal to a process of decolonization; it ultimately sounds like they will not fight against the bill, neither against the attack Wall St banks are forging on the people of Puerto Rico.
This group is trying to create a strong voting base of Puerto Ricans moving to the mainland in which they do have voting rights. It is understandable that in all the years without voting rights, Puerto Ricans would want to exercise their right at the polls. However, it is crucial that they too understand that true change does not happen when we go into the capitalist system. Full sovereignty will never be granted by a state that profits so much by exploiting the small island, both its people and its resources. Geographically it is an important territory for the U.S. to have a military base on this island.
It is evident that there is a whole out war to deepen its colonial powers on Puerto Rico in which Banks and corporations of Wall St. will reap the profits. These banks created the economic crisis on the small island, keeping the working-class people of Puerto Rico at their mercy by creating an unpayable debt. This was made possible by the capitalist government who masks itself to be on the side of the people. The only Promise here is that the U.S. government will make sure that Banks of Wall St. come out profiting and that Puerto Rico remains as U.S. territory.
We must reject any efforts to negotiate with the capitalist government and call for the end of misery they impose through the exploitation and oppression of the people. While a process of decolonization may be long, we must make sure it is a correct one so that Puerto Rico is not constantly at their mercy of the capitalist government as it is again today.
The Growing Environmental and Human Health Crisis
On July 22nd, there were hundreds out on the streets of Old San Juan against the aerosol fumigation to supposedly fight the Zika virus. Despite weeks of outcry from the people against Naled [National Alliance for Local Economic Development], the pesticide was flown into Puerto Rico without authority. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) apologized and said it has not conducted aerosols but the dangerous pesticide remains on the island. Like the Junta, this has lead people to understand that there is no democratic process to address the current problems. People protesting this aerosol fumigation are lead by scientist, agriculturalist, universities, political parties (independistas [pro-independence] and dependent alike), mothers and working-class people.
Scientists have confirmed that the environmental problems will be disastrous for Puerto Rico if they move forward with the aerosol. Many believe the project has already started. Speakers at the protest alleged that fumigation has started on the ground.
Madres por Puerto Rico [Mothers for Puerto Rico] is on the forefront of this movement since pregnant women are most endangered of Zika virus, and also more vulnerable to the side effects of pesticide. Fumigation on the ground has already started through the WIC program [Women, Infants and Children]. Women on WIC are eligible to have the parameters of her home fumigated. Madres por Puerto Rico is organizing and calling out the targeting of women, especially poor working class women who qualify for WIC.
People of PR fear poisoning and/or experimentation through this process. Their fears have real and historic grounds, because the US government and American multinationals have been using the Puerto Rican population as guinea pigs. In 1931 an American doctor (Rhoads) injected cancer cells to patients in a local PR hospital to study the effect and behavior of the disease. At least 13 patients died. In the 1950, PR women were used as a trial population for the birth control pill, without being informed of any side effects, causing deaths and sicknesses etc. And in 1994, “the United States Department of Energy disclosed that human radiation experiments had been conducted without consent on prisoners in Puerto Rico during the 1950s and 1970s.” One of the tortured prisoners with radiation experiments was Dr Pedro Albizu Campos, a key figure of the independence nationalist movement.
What PR has lived and suffered is not different than what we have seen recently in Flint, Michigan, with the deliberate poisoning of water. It is the result of imperialist domination putting profit, which entails military experiments and corporate tyranny, over people’s health and needs, and relying on colonialism and racism to further our oppression and exploitation.
The Attack to Public Education
Back on colonist land I saw many reports of schools shutting down in the U.S. As a student at CSULA [California State University Los Angeles], I wanted to hear about this problem and see how I could extend solidarity when back home. In 2015, the public debt crisis exploded in Puerto Rico because of its structural economic dependence combined with the world financial crisis. The politicians and the financial investors who own the debt have imposed one criteria: the debt comes before the people, no matter what. Therefore, PR governor, Garcia Padilla, and the Obama administration are imposing the most severe wave of cuts and austerity measures.
So despite the 45% poverty rate on the island and the 13.7% unemployment (double than in the U.S.), the Federal and State Government are pushing through heartless attacks to public services. The public university of PR was threatened of a $160 million cut, which represents one fifth of its budget. In reaction, the students flooded the streets, organized massive assemblies and went on strike occupying their universities. Further since 2014, more than 135 public schools have closed!
The mass wave of Puerto Ricans moving to the U.S. is extremely evident. The economic situation has created a vacuum, unlivable situation for working class people, and a very dim future for the youth. A young woman approached me on the streets selling little bags of cookies for a dollar. I struck up a conversation with her, asking about the state of education. She told me that she has a BA [Bachelor degree] but has not been able to get a job in her field of study. She’s one of the many that stated the horrible conditions forcing people to migrate to mainland. The desperation can be felt on the ground here. A protestor was eager to share further information with me as a visitor; they understood the necessity to get the story of the people out of Puerto Rico to begin international solidarity.
So I come back to U.S. mainland carrying with me this call for international solidarity with Puerto Rico and the trust in our necessary and joyful united struggle!
Stop La Junta! End All Debt!
Stop Environmental Terrorism! No Naled in Puerto Rico and for Alternative Safe Measures against Zika! Stop Attack on Women’s Bodies!
For an Independent & Socialist Puerto Rico!
End all U.S. Colonization!