Many Puerto Ricans are rethinking the island’s relationship with the US, and would prefer to ‘control their own destinies, their resources, their policies’. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The island’s classification as a US territory complicates something as simple as bankruptcy filings, prompting many to wonder if statehood is the best option
The word “colony” conjures images of conquistadors and pilgrims, slavery and imperialism. But in Puerto Rico the supposed anachronism slips into daily conversations about the unstable present and an uncertain future.
Since the April day in 1899 when Americans formally took over the island, Puerto Ricans have felt uneasy about their status within the United States.
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And as the island faces a debt crisis that has cratered its economy and sent its leaders to Washington to plead for more sovereign powers, the issue has taken on a new urgency.
Unique among US territories, Puerto Rico has a state-like government but is not a state: it draws all its authorities from Washington DC and is restricted in ways states are not. The island’s ports can only do business with US ships, for instance, and the territory depends heavily on federal aid.
Most pressingly, however, the island lacks authority to either file for bankruptcy or restructure its $72bn municipal debt.
Governor Alejandro García Padilla argues that in its current form the debt is “unpayable” and that greater austerity will exacerbate already difficult living conditions. Padilla has stopped short of endorsing statehood, instead trying to focus on limited new powers.
But other politicians have been bolder. In April, Republican presidential frontrunner Jeb Bush endorsed statehood for Puerto Rico, the homeland of tens of thousands of recent migrants to Florida, the former governor’s home state.
“Puerto Rican citizens ought to have the right to determine whether they want to be a state,” he said. “I think statehood is the best path, personally. To get the full benefits and responsibilities of citizenship, being a state is the only way to make that happen.”
Proponents of statehood argue that it’s a simple matter of fairness. The island’s Democratic delegate in Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, introduced a bill in February that could make Puerto Rico a state by 2021 should a majority of Puerto Ricans vote for statehood – as 61% did in a non-binding referendum in 2012.
One of the top fundraisers for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, Andrés López, has argued that the status quo is not only unequal but unsustainable.
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But the issue has found virtually no traction in Congress, and even appeals over bankruptcy powers have divided the House.
Many Puerto Ricans are skeptical of statehood, saying formal inclusion in the union would do almost nothing to ameliorate pressing issues of unemployment, healthcare and housing.
Antonio Cuñarro, a shop owner in Río Piedras, said the debate amounted to empty rhetoric. “Each government just uses one side or the other to get elected,” he said. “It’s all the same.”
San Juan legislator Luis Gallardo agreed, saying the campaign “exists only in the imagination of our statehood politicians. A lot of people have tried to piggyback on the issue.”
Gallardo said he was ambivalent: “I don’t know what’s worse, not having federal bankruptcy powers or having federal income taxes on top of the highest local taxes in the country.”
Others balked at becoming the 51st state. Attorney Manuel Rodriguez said statehood could help Puerto Ricans with access to the justice system, bankruptcy options and federal intervention, but “it’s no magic solution and would not necessarily mean progress. There’s also no chance it will happen, given Congress.”
Statehood is wrong for Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico is a nation. We consider ourselves Puerto Ricans, not Americans
Senator Ramón Nieves
A minority tapped into long-simmering nationalism and suggested more drastic changes – not quite the violent separatism of the 1960s and 70s, but a crusade for greater independence nonetheless.
“Statehood is wrong for Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico is a nation,” said senator Ramón Nieves. “We consider ourselves Puerto Ricans, not Americans.
“What Puerto Rico needs is more powers in its relationship with the US, and eventually a new relationship with the US.”
Nieves said Puerto Rico should follow the model of the Marshall Islands, which entered into a compact association with the US in order to retain some rights but also to move toward sovereign nationhood.
“We value our history and relationship with the US – thousands of Puerto Ricans have died in foreign wars for a century – but the traditional options of statehood or independence don’t help us right now,” he said.
Washington has done “close to nothing” to help, Nieves said, suggesting exemptions from trade restrictions, or guarantees on some bonds: “The Treasury always says it will provide ‘technical assistance’ but that doesn’t mean anything.
“I don’t mean that they should hand us a check for $72bn, but if they cannot be a little more active or willing to help us, they should give us the tools to help ourselves.
“Sovereignty is not the same as independence,” Nieves concluded. “All independent nations are sovereign, but not all sovereign nations are independent.”
In casual conversation many Puerto Ricans refer to the territory as a “country”, and occasionally as a “colony”. Monuments to Spanish and Latin American history and culture dominate San Juan: Miguel de Cervantes, Juan Ponce de León and Simon Bolívar all stand tall in the city. References to the US are rarer: a statue of Abraham Lincoln in the old city, the outposts of federal agencies and tourists.
“The relationship with the US has aggravated our problems,” said Ataveyra Hernández, a former adviser to the governor. “Puerto Ricans are hugely dependent on the government, which depends on federal money. It’s a structural problem, and there’s an urgent need to renegotiate the relationship.
“The Caribbean is full of countries that are small just like us, and they control their own destinies, their resources, their policies.”
The Caribbean is full of countries just like us, and they control their own destinies, their resources, their policies
But with constant movement to and from the mainland, the close ties of families, and a continuing military presence on the island, emotional ties to the US remain strong for Puerto Ricans born on both shores. Both flags dot homes in San Juan.
Some view the question of independence more dispassionately. A metro employee at the Río Piedras stop simply waved her hand toward the desolate plaza nearby.
“Look at where we are,” she said. “We’re not ready for that, no way.”
In practical terms, Puerto Ricans already enjoy most of the same perks as other Americans, including US passports and billions in welfare from the federal government, though their semi-autonomous government is restricted by and depends heavily on the US. They cannot vote for president and lack a congressional representative who can vote outside of House committees.
But new arrivals to the US who change their residency will be able to vote in the 2016 presidential election, and they could potentially sway key states such as Florida.
A call to action on Puerto Rico`s collapse of the economic structure / Convocamos a Puerto Rico ante colapso de la estructura económica
The present collapse of the economic structure of the colony in Puerto Rico, at a time when the financial institutions and Wall Street wolves continue their attacks on working people, in New York we must take advantage of the opportunity to denounce finance capital attacks against our people. This movement should support the following as just:
1. That the debt is impossible to pay.
2. It is the foreign corporations operating in Puerto Rico who owe Puerto Rico because in the last 20 years alone they have reaped over 600 billion dollars in tax free profits. Only 10 per cent of that amount is enough to pay the debt which is otherwise impossible to pay.
3. That the social cost of increasing the sales tax, reducing the work day, education and health services, ellimination of labor rights obtained, the dismantling of the retirement system among other measures, impact on the quality of life of the people of Puerto Rico and the strategic development of the country’s economy. Thus, these measures are not a solution.
4. That as a colony of the United States, Puerto Rico’s position of political subordination is part of the problem and its independence would break the stalemate and create the possibilities of a solution benefitting our country.
5. That the report by Anne O. Krueger should not be the guideline for a solution as Ms. Krueger comes from the world international finance institutions which generated the neo liberal policies of which several of our Latin American countries have now liberated themselves. These countries are now instituting sovereign economic policies which prioritize social wellbeing over corporate and finance capital.
6. That the root problem is the colonial status of Puerto Rico. In this regard the UN resolution on Puerto Rico adopted on June 22, 2015 states that “the condition of political subordination prevents Puerto Rico from taking sovereign decisions to attend to its serious economic and social problems including unemployment, marginalization and poverty.”
It is for these reasons that we suggest the prompt convoking of Puerto Rican social and political activists in New York to adopt a plan of struggle and solidarity; because this is the Mecca of Wall Street and finance capital and the symbol of world capitalism. There is much we can do here to forge public opinion and denounce what is happening in Puerto Rico.
The present is a unique historical moment and the opportunity to educate, denounce, and advance the cause of independence and social justice for Puerto Rico must not be wasted.
Santiago Rodríguez, Trenton, New Jersey, 787-240-0068, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aleida Centeno Rodríguez 787 354 0950 – Puerto Rico
Juan Camacho- (f) email@example.com Comité de Organización de Todos Somos Pueblo (Coalición de organizaciones de la sociedad civil)
Roberto J Mercado, 917-355-2441 – New York City
Jose Anibal Roman – 407-369-0815 – Kissimme, Florida
Manuel E. Meléndez Lavandero 347-993-0429 – New York City
Esperanza Martell 212-927-9065 – New York City
Olga Sanabria 787-360-9457 – New York City
Edwin Chungo Molina – Florida 561-758-7509
James Flores- Windham, Connecticut Town Council Member 860-208-2907
Maria Luisa Nunez – 347-291-3646 – Bronx, NY
José A. Soler 508 863 5089, New Bedford, MA
Javier Monagas Maita. Abogado, Venezuela 0416 952 51 20
Santiago Rodríguez, Trenton, New Jersey, 787-240-0068, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jose Anibal Roman – 407-369-0815 – Kissimme, Florida
Irene Díaz Reyes – Columbia University
Pablo Acosta Ríos – Puerto Rico
Dra. Marta Quinones- Connecticut
Hector Lopez- Connectticut – 203-966-8401
Martha Hennessy – email@example.com
Checo Cuevas – 787-637-7887 – Purto Rico
Jackie Santos – San Francisco, California – teléfono- 1-510-823-8262
James H. Flores Miguel Vazquez , Angel Lopez , Carlito Rovira, , Carmen Hilda , Astacio Rivera, Jose Vega, Iris Colon Dipini, Iris Gorbea-Nodurft , Eric Rivera , Tbone Salsa , Jose Claudio, Carmen H Santiago Negron , Ponce Laspina , Javier Pastor Ortiz , Luis Diaz Cruz Luis Negron , Luis Nunez, Ney Rivera Garcia , Angel Correa , Antonio Isaac , Armando Pacheco, Carlos Reyes Alonso, Don Gonzalo Olivieri Sanchez , Eddie Diaz, Edward Rodríguez Colón, Ediberto Rodríguez Negrón, Maria Hernandez , Norma Marquez, Jaime Garcia Rodriguez , Pablo J. Acosta , Pablo Rafael Caraballo, Luciano Ortiz Cruz , José M. López Sierra , Julissa Mendez Alvarado, Mariana McDonald , Marité Gajardo , Naomi Torres , Nelson Federico, Peralta Ureña, Nelson Denis, Victor Alers, Orlando Ruiz, Paquito Saez Cintron , Gaston Ricardo Jimenez , William Perez Vega , Yolanda Negrón , Judith Ortiz Roldán, Pedro Aponte Vázquez, Elda Santiago, Norberto Gonzalez Claudio,
Please add your name… Por favor añadir su nombre…Convocamos
Nota: Toda persona que desee añadir su nombre y # telefonico enviar su correo electronico a: Edwin Chungo Molina firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: To add your name…to be Published send to: Edwin Chungo Molina email@example.com
En estos momentos del colapso de la estructura económica de la colonia en Puerto Rico y cuando las casas financieras y los lobos de Wall Street continúan su ataque a la clase trabajadora y el pueblo en general, se abre la posibilidad de que desde acá en Nueva York generemos un movimiento de denuncia a los ataques del capital financiero contra nuestro pueblo. Ese movimiento debe reiterar como una posición justa:
1. Que la deuda es impagable.
2. Que en todo caso son las corporaciones extranjeras que operan en nuestro país las que nos deben, pues en los últimos 20 años se han llevado sobre 600 mil millones de dólares en ganancias de capital, sin tributar por los mismos. Un 10% de ese dinero sería suficiente para pagar la ya impagable deuda.
3. Que el costo social del aumento en el IVU, reducción de jornada laboral, reducción de servicios de educación y salud al pueblo, eliminación de conquistas laborales, el desmantelamiento del sistema de retiro, entre otras medidas recesivas, van en detrimento de la calidad de vida y del mismo desarrollo estratégico de la economía del país y no sería una solución al problema.
4. Que la situación de subordinación política de Puerto Rico como colonia de los Estados Unidos, atraviesa el problema, siendo la Independencia la ficha de destranque para crear las posibilidades de llegar a una solución beneficiosa para nuestro país.
5. Que el informe de Anne O. Krueger no debe ser guía para la solución pues ella proviene de las instituciones financieras mundiales que generaron la política neo liberal de la cual algunos de nuestros países ahora se han liberado mediante el desarrollo de políticas económicas soberanas que priman el beneficio social colectivo por encima del lucro avaro del capital corporativo y financiero.
6. Que el problema de fondo es el Estatus colonial de Puerto Rico. A ese respecto la resolución de la ONU adoptada el 22 junio de 2015 plantea que : “la condición de subordinación política impide tomar decisiones soberanas para atender los graves problemas económicos, y sociales de Puerto Rico incluidos el desempleo, la marginalización y la pobreza.”
Es por eso que sugerimos que a la brevedad posible convocar a activistas sociales y políticos boricuas en Nueva York y pensemos en un plan de lucha y solidaridad. Siendo esta la Meca de Wall Street , del capital financiero y símbolo del capitalismo mundial, es mucho lo que podemos mover en términos de la denuncia y la opinión pública.
. Es este un momento histórico único y presenta la oportunidad de educar, denunciar y avanzar en la causa de la lucha por la independencia y la justicia social para Puerto Rico.