by -Angelo Falcón
NiLP Note: The debt crisis facing Puerto Rico has generated quite a bit of discussion and analysis within the stateside Puerto Rican community (aka, the diaspora). This has created a seemingly infinite number of forums and op-eds on the subject, illustrating a wide range of views on the nature of the problem and possible solutions, leading the cynical to call for more action and less talk. As a result, The NiLP Network has been inundated with op-eds and article on the subject way beyond our capacity to post, but below I have published a few that are representative of progressive boricua sectors on this question.
Longtime independentista activist Zoilo Torres discusses the Island’s failed economic model and advocates for a transitional process leading to independence. Attorney Olga I. Sanabria Dávila, a longtime advocate for Puerto Rico’s independence within the United Nations, discusses the role of international law on decolonization and argues for the creation of a Constituent Assembly in Puerto Rico to address the status question. Finally, Eric Medina calls on the United States to base its relation to Puerto Rico on its own revolutionary past and let the Island pick its own future status. New York Daily News columnist and NYU academic fellow Juan Gonzalez recently lectured on the subject and concluded that the long-term solution to Puerto Rico’s problems would be its decolonization into a kind of associated republic status with the United States. So, on the stateside Puerto Rican left there is a range of different views on Puerto Rico’s future status that has become more complex than in the past.
When we at NiLP asked Latino opinion leaders in the United States what they thought Puerto Rico’s future political status should be, the results were quite literally all over the place. The consensus that appears to be emerging from the debt crisis debate is that the long-term solution to Puerto Rico’s problems lie in addressing its detrimental colonial relationship with the United States, either towards independence, statehood or an associated republic (“hyper-enhanced” Commonwealth?). This will, of course, require the need for a discourse that goes well beyond the technical details of simply avoiding default.
C O N T E N T S
* “117 years of Modernization Over Development” By Zoilo Torres
* “Crisis and Colonialism in Puerto Rico” by Olga I. Sanabria Dávila, Green Horizon Magazine (forthcoming)
* “Plebiscite vs. Principle
Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Fiasco as an Example of why the United States should Respect the Choice that the island will not make” By Eric Medina
NiLP Guest Commentary
117 years of Modernization Over Development
by Zoilo Torres
In order to determine whether or not a society is developing, one must go beyond criteria based on indices of “per capita” income (which, expressed in
statistical form, are misleading) as well as those which concentrate on the study of gross income. The basic elementary criterion is whether or not the society is a
“being for itself.” If it is not, the other criteria
Indicate modernization rather than development.
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Puerto Rico’s most recent economic crisis materialized at the end of the latest cycle of tried and failed economic policies. These policies have been conditioned historically by the island’s colonial relationship to the U.S. Federal government and mainland corporate interests, in collusion with a misguided and often corrupt local political leadership.
Irresponsible fiscal policies and erroneous economic development strategies, all alien to the indigenous, long-term interests of the Puerto Rican people living on the island, have produced a $73 billion public debt that cannot be repaid. In the last seven years the colonial government has laid off 42, 000 employees. Puerto Rico’s economy has shrunk more than 20 percent in the last eight years. Official unemployment is close to 15 percent with a labor participation rate, those working or looking for work, of less then 40 percent. Today’s crisis began to unfold some 28 years ago. Since then Puerto Rico’s private sector economy loss some 270,000 jobs. Because of the crisis, Puerto Rico is losing its population at the rate of 100,000 per year. Schools are being closed and the health care system is drastically underfunded. Fire Stations, Police Precincts, and Correction facilities are operating on shoe strings. These are just some of the symptoms of an impending socio-economic collapse.
Chronicled in the pages of El Nuevo Dia, a series of articles describe the island’s economic crisis as a result of the latest Federal and corporate economic policies that seem to come in cycles of 30, 20, or less number of years, stretching back to shortly after the U.S. military invasion of 1898.
A review of the articles, many of which were written in Spanish by Emilio Pantoja Garcia, show that in 1901, three years after the invasion, U.S. corporate interest focused on the monopolization of Puerto Rico’s agriculture, namely, the sugar producing industry. The Federal government assisted this process with friendly customs and shipping regulations that facilitated access to U.S. markets. This was the heart of the economic strategy that ended in 1934. When work conditions and low wages led to labor unrest, and absentee owners of the sugar industry found more lucrative conditions outside of Puerto Rico, the U.S. government imposed limits on sugar imports from the island, thus singling the beginning of the end of “King Sugar,” and with that, the elimination of thousands of jobs.
The economic policy that followed was stimulated by U.S. corporations seeking to establish low-wage, labor intensive, non-unionized, export oriented light industry on the island. The Federal government supported this strategy by exempting Puerto Rico from the Federal Labor Standards Act. Congress also passed Section 931 of the Internal Revenue Code, which exempted light industry companies from paying local taxes while its owners took full and free advantage of the island’s publicly financed and developing infrastructure. This coupled with free access to continental markets, accelerated the creation of numerous assembly-line production plants that churned out a variety of textile, electronic, children’s toys, edibles, and other labor intensive products. Concurrently, the first massive Puerto Rican Diaspora was entering a threshold. This economic cycle went into crisis in the 1960s after the U.S. government negotiated the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT). The result was a reduction of tariffs on light industry imports to U.S. markets from Asia, Mexico, and other Caribbean islands. Around the same time the Federal Minimum Wage Board, under political pressure, began pressing the Puerto Rico government to raise the island’s minimum wage. These measures took their toll on the Puerto Rican economy thrusting colonialist into a desperate search for yet another economic development strategy that would lure U.S. capital.
That turned out to be an agreement between the local colonial administration and Phillips Petroleum. The agreement essentially created the petrochemical industry of Puerto Rico. It was constructed mainly on the southern portion of the island. In 1965, by presidential order, the Secretary of the Interior launched a petroleum import quota program, stimulating petrochemical industrial development, along with numerous jobs and wide-spread environmental pollution. This third cycle of economic activity ended in 1973 when another presidential order cut-off petroleum import quotas from Puerto Rico. The shut-down was sealed with the membership expansion of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), an international cartel that at the time effectively regulated production and pricing of crude oil.
The search for yet another economic development strategy that would bolster both jobs creation and corporate profits motivated a series of reports (Tobin, Echnique, Kreeps), which in turn led Congress in 1976 to amend the Internal Revenue Code converting Section 931 to Section 936. This amendment established a tax exemption for high tech, capital intensive, manufacturing corporations that settled subsidiaries in Puerto Rico. It allowed them to repatriate earnings at any time without paying Federal taxes. The change helped bring new industrial activity into the Puerto Rico economy that included the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, advanced electronics, scientific instruments, and patented drinks. This cycle lasted until 1995, when amid a popular, anti-corporate welfare outcry, and a failed attempt at health care reform, which among other things, sought to lower the price of medicines for seniors, a measure that enjoyed broad support, but detested by pharmaceuticals corporations, the Clinton Administration managed to repeal Section 936 providing a grace period that expired in 2005. Although unfolding for almost 30 years, it has been in the last ten years that Puerto Rico’s fiscal and economic crisis have reached a state of economic depression.
Today Puerto Rico is at the throes of economic collapse and fiscal bankruptcy as touched on above. Its leadership has failed the Puerto Rican people by adhering to economic development policies that mainly serve the interests of the Federal government and U.S.-based corporations. Puerto Rico must develop an economic strategy that serves the interests of the Puerto Rican people.
The island’s political leadership should demand the right to negotiate international trade agreements with the objective of diversifying both imports and exports including those with whom Puerto Rico decides to conduct trade. Puerto Rico’s leadership should also be released from the U.S. Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which tethers Puerto Rico’s international trade to U.S.-flagged vessels, owned and operated by U.S. citizens, this being the most expensive form of transport in the world. Puerto Rico must find its place in the globalized division of labor and find new approaches to economic development bearing in mind the island’s fiscal problems will not be resolved without bringing the economic crisis to an end. New technology combined with the island’s rich land, culture, ocean, and renewable energy resources, even the island’s geographic position in the Caribbean, can and should be brought together in a multi-pronged economic development plan controlled and owned by Puerto Ricans, a society “being for itself” and not for foreign interests.
For 117 years Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States. While I believe the only long-term solution resides in a transitional process toward political and economic independence, there are some immediate measures that can be taken to alleviate the crisis. Some I broadly described above but that also includes a moratorium on debt payments, and increased Federal economic aid to all public institutions including health care.
For generations Puerto Rican workers have transferred enormous amounts of wealth to U.S.-based transnational corporations and bond holders. Puerto Rican workers should not be burdened with what amounts to predatory debt, which the local political elite irresponsibly acquiesced, and indeed benefited from through lies, nepotism, fraud, and plunder of the public treasury. This could be a historical opportunity to achieve genuine development for Puerto Rico.
Crisis and Colonialism in Puerto Rico
by Olga I. Sanabria Dávila
Green Horizon Magazine (forthcoming)
It used to be the Free Associated State of Puerto Rico was touted as the Showcase of Progress and Democracy in the Caribbean as a result of its accelerated industrialization, the development of its infrastructure, education and health systems and a constitutional system of government in the 1950s and 60s.
At present, however, many United States news outlets and economic reviews are writing about Puerto Rico´s astronomical public debt, its economic crisis and its ramifications. At present the debt is estimated at 73 billion U.S. dollars – up from 32 billion dollars in 2006, one year after the beginning of a recession in Puerto Rico that is expected to persist until 2018, although given the present fiscal crisis that is doubtful.
Beyond the junk bond status of Puerto Rico bonds, with unemployment estimated at between 13 and 14 per cent, a 44.9 per cent poverty rate, with 84 per cent of its children living in poverty stricken areas, only four out of ten of those able to work doing so, and at a $19,000 median annual income that is half the income of Mississippi, the United States´ poorest state, Puerto Rico can hardly be called a showcase of anything but the failure of a dependent economy based on foreign, predominantly U.S. investment, low wages, tax exemption for foreign corporations, and dependence on U.S. federal funds.
Population and other demographic data are also indicators of a showcase gone sour. The new wave of Puerto Rican migration to the United States has been continuous and massive numbering 84,000 in 2014 alone, including professionals, with a population of 5.1 million in the United States while an aging population 3.6 million remains in Puerto Rico.
Thus the constitutional system of government established in Puerto Rico in 1952 with the founding of the Free Associated State was a misrepresentation and also a failure as it left intact the backdrop for the present crisis which is the colonial status of Puerto Rico. Despite its autonomy in fiscal affairs, U.S. Congressional laws govern over Puerto Rican legislation in the areas international relations and commerce, monetary issues, migration and emigration, maritime traffic (with U.S. Maritime Law applied to Puerto Rico), customs, labor relations and trade union organization, border patrol, airspace and transportation, communications, defense, and many other areas.
In terms of its environmental protection and policy, ecological balance, climate change, global warming Puerto Rico is also subordinate to outside United States agencies, interests, policies, and power. This is very dangerous for the Puerto Rican population as Puerto Rico is a small island country in the Caribbean. In this regard, Puerto Rico´s internationally known geomorphologist, Dr. José Molinelli, recently warned that the Puerto Rico Planning Board lacks protocols for handling events in tsunami prone zones.
In the present situation of fiscal and economic crisis, the Puerto Rican legislature adopted a bankruptcy law which would have made it possible for public corporations on the Island to declare bankruptcy and thus be enabled to restructure their debt. The debt of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority alone is estimated at 9 billion U.S. dollars. However, this legislation was overruled by the United States extraterritorial Federal Court which operates in Puerto Rico. Action which followed by Puerto Rico Resident Commission in Washington, Pedro Pierluisi, for a law to be enacted in order that the Federal bankruptcy law be applicable to Puerto Rico has gone unheeded. A broad movement in Puerto Rico attempting to have Puerto Rico exempted from application of U.S. maritime law has also gone unheeded.
Response by the government of Puerto Rico has been to raise taxes, fees for a broad spectrum of services, as well as reducing services, and budget cutbacks in general – in general, a neo liberal austerity program styled after International Monetary Fund formulas that will lead to much hardship for the people of Puerto Rico.
Convoking of a Constitutional Status Assembly to deal with the colonial status, unity of purpose, greater protection of local business… are some of the objectives voiced in interviews of Puerto Rican leaders by Cándida Cotto, a reporter with the Puerto Rican pro-independence newspaper Claridad, on necessary actions in the face of the present fiscal and economic crisis hitting Puerto Rico at present and the hands off position of the United States president and Congress which have negated Puerto Rico the tools necessary for confronting this crisis. The answers included that the United States must be forced to address the crisis in Puerto Rico, including putting an end to its colonial relationship with the United States.
However, as noted in a number of editorial appearing in Puerto Rico major daily newspapers, El Nuevo Día and El Vocero, responds by the three branches of the United States government have been non-committal and even indifferent.
Puerto Rican pro sovereignty legislator Luis Vega Ramos, said “We need to understand, once and for all, that we can only depend on ourselves for moving forward, although many actors were involved in creating this financial bubble, we should not be hopeful that our creditors will negotiate with consideration of our better interest. And the three branches of the U.S. federal government have been reluctant to allow us necessary tools and support such as exemption from U.S. Maritime Laws, applying Federal bankruptcy law to our public corporations or support from the Federal Reserve of the U.S. Treasury.”
Vega Ramos also referred to the fact that other jurisdictions and countries have also been affected by the financial bubble that has now exploded, including as a result of the actions of creditors.
“We must act with unity of purpose if we are to be successful in the difficult upcoming negotiations and to accomplish this we must have full transparency and citizen participation as never before seen in Puerto Rico. We need to all feel a part of the solution.”
According to Pro Independence Party leader, Juan Dalmau, the Puerto Rican community in the United States has a determining role because more than half of the Puerto Rican population is presently living in the United States where they participate in politics and form public opinion regarding Puerto Rico. When Puerto Rico is not a problem it can be swept under the rug. However, now that Puerto Rico is a theme, a problem, it can exert pressure.
He noted that all international financial analysis that have been done regarding the situation in Puerto Rico closely connect the situation to Puerto Rico´s colonial situation, political subordination and lack of powers therein, and the need to resolve that.
Wilma Reverón Collazo, a leader in the National Hostos Movement for the Independence of Puerto Rico, and others have called for an independent audit of Puerto Rico´s public debt, reparations to Puerto Rico for the exploitation, repression and environment damage the Puerto Rican people have endured at the hands of United States colonialism and solution of the colonial status through a Constitutional Status Assembly and independence.
The power relationship and political subordination of Puerto Rico to the United States points to a colonial status issue. Colonialism is an historical anachronism that has long been declared contrary to international law and human rights, from which emanates, in the case of Puerto Rico, the injustices inherent in the colonial relation which the United States has maintained with Puerto Rico since its invasion of the Island in 1898, one hundred and seventeen years ago.
Commitment to grassroots democracy is totally consistent with support for the decolonization of Puerto Rico as colonialism is also totally contrary to democracy. For the country ruled, democracy is non-existent where one country rules over another, if even if there are elections every four years to elect local authorities. Taking into account that in Puerto Rico the United States controls commerce, international relations, immigration, monetary issues, communications, postal matters, defense, labor relations, and others, to truly support democracy in Puerto Rico, its decolonization has to be supported as the first step for the Puerto Rican people to live in a democracy.
The issue of the support of the Puerto Rican people for independence and there not being enough support, therefore, is not an impediment for solidarity with Puerto Rico. Support for decolonization is a matter of principle precisely because colonialism is contrary to human rights, contrary to self-determination and contrary to democracy.
Regarding decolonization, what comes into play is what should be the mechanism in order that the Puerto Rican people freely exercise their sovereignty and their right to self-determination which are the inalienable rights of all peoples as recognized by international law, specifically by Resolution 1514(XV) of the United Nations General Assembly (1960), which is considered the Magna Carta of Decolonization.
Further, it must be stated that regarding the future status of Puerto Rico, the only option recognized by international law as inalienable, is the right to independence. International law maintains that all peoples have the inalienable right to self-determination and independence. The Free Associated State status, free association under international law and statehood for Puerto Rico are not inalienable rights. Further, Puerto Ricans are a separate people from the people of the United States.
Before the United States invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898, the nationhood of the Puerto Rican people had been forged during more than four hundred during which our culture and national identity became clear and distinct from that of any other people in the world. The Free Associated State status and statehood for Puerto Rico are not inalienable rights. Besides being an inalienable right, because Puerto Rico is a nation, international posits that independence is the natural aspiration of peoples who have not yet acquired full self-government.
The plebiscites, referendums and the like carried out in Puerto Rico are not the solution precisely because they have not been free exercises of the will of the Puerto Rican people. They have taken place in the context of colonial rule, military occupation, repression and persecution of the independence forces, economic dependence and colonial legislation and U.S. Congressional legislation. Thus, their results cannot be said to reflect the true will of the Puerto Rican people. For these reasons they have not been an exercise of self-determination.
While the United States has maintained that it will accept the will and decision of the Puerto Rican regarding its status, it has obstructed the process by maintaining that the issue is its internal matter and not recognizing the role of the United Nations. Precisely through these referendum and plebiscite processes, it has used its power in Puerto Rico maintain the present status, which is the option most consistent with its economic, political and other interests in Puerto Rico.
These are the reasons that the Puerto Rican pro-independence forces and even some supporting other options continually resort to United Nations Resolution 1514(XV). It is recognized that the United Nations has a role to play. In order for an expression of the will of the Puerto Rican people regarding its future relation to the United States to be a free exercise, it must be supervised by the United Nations because it is understood that otherwise the determining factor in any exercise will be the power relationship of domination of the United States over Puerto Rico.
As regards the present situation as regards the fiscal and economic crisis, the situation is increasingly billed as a political crisis which will force attention to the colonial status and the need to resolve it if the fiscal and economic situation are to be addressed. Regarding the political status and independence, while it is true that a lot of work needs to be done by the pro-independence forces in order that support for this option grow substantially, there is in Puerto Rico an overall sentiment that the present situation and the colonial status must be resolved.
Cleavages along which Puerto Rico’s main political parties are divided delineate options which, according to the rhetoric of leaders of even the pro statehood and pro Free Associated State parties, move the country away from the colonial status. Even those supporting statehood (which would be the culmination of colonialism in Puerto Rico) continually attack the Free Associated State as colonial and the second class U.S citizenship of Puerto Ricans under the Free Associated State as the root of the country’s problems.
Meanwhile, within the pro Free Associated State Popular Democratic Party, there is a growing so-called autonomous, pro sovereignty wing, which espouses greater powers for the Free Associated State, including to freely engage in international trade relations, and that outside of certain areas only powers specifically delegated should be exercised by the United States over Puerto Rico.
The vibrant social movements active today in Puerto Rico regarding women’s rights, civil rights, community empowerment, the environment, youth, sports, culture, labor, cooperative economic endeavors, and many other areas, are in constant encounter with the colonial status as an impediment to their objectives. Thus, these social movements are also a base of the anti-colonial, potentially pro-independence movement that will participate in any future exercise in self-determination supervised by the international community, specifically the United Nations.
These movements and the pro-independence movement and organizations overlap in many scenarios, and along with the action of the United Nations and international solidarity, especially that of the people of the United States and our Latin American and Caribbean region, are the basis for the future possibility independence and democracy in Puerto Rico.
The inalienable right to self-determination is for all of the Puerto Rican people to exercise including those who do not support independence, but in order to be legitimate and a true exercise of self-determination with a level playing field for all options, including independence, the mechanism for its exercise but must a fair one that abides by international law, not any plebiscite or referendum.
Such is the case of a Constitutional Status Assembly, a mechanism for decolonization which is gaining ground in Puerto Rico as it becomes more urgent for the colonial status issue of Puerto Rico to be resolve. Within the United States progressive sectors, support for Puerto Rican decolonization and a fair mechanism for the decolonization process and independence to take place, is crucial.
Plebiscite vs. Principle
Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Fiasco as an Example of why the United States should Respect the Choice that the island will not make
by Eric Medina
Puerto Rico has been quite an enigma in world history. She saw the fall of her faithful son Agueybana II to the Spaniards during the early 16th century, as Spain prepared to deplete the island of its most valuable resources, was invaded in 1898 by would be liberators only to be further placed into subjugation through an established military government, and finally had to suffer the indignity of having laws passed on her own soil, and by some of her own children, of all ironies, that would prohibit the masses from expressing sentiments of pride in her honor, a law of which was known as La Lay de la Mordaza, or the Gag Law of 1948.
The talk of the hour, however, the latest topic in Puerto Rico’s sad history of unsavory accounts is that of its current financial crisis, as the island, has recently declared Governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla, stands unable to make good on a 75 billion dollar debt it has accrued. As the Governor made his fateful announcement, the ping pong party machines that have made up most of what has dominated the highly intense political climate in the island since the mid-20th century, (El Partido Nuevo Progresista and Partido Popular Democratico) the latter of which the Governor himself represents, have again been going back and forth in a papa caliente game of blame shifting, their respective followers doing the exact same. This portrait has been of nothing but more of the same since La Carta Autonomica, otherwise known as El Pacto con Sagasta of 1897, roughly a decree by Spain aimed at granting Puerto Rico greater governmental autonomy, Spain beginning to lose its grip on the region. At that point, Jose Celso Barbosa and Luis Muñoz Rivera, two prolific names in the early stages of efforts made towards this movement of establishing more governmental authority to Puerto Ricans, severed ties over dividing principles, paving the way for what we now know as the aforementioned PNP and PPD parties.
So who do we blame for the latest fiasco in which Puerto Rico finds herself, this seemingly insurmountable debt that the island has developed? Does the blame lie with the PNP or with the PPD? Or is it possible that this question carries deeper layers of consideration? Could it be that blame attached to one circumstance is nowhere near where we should be? One sees the fiscal problem currently plaguing Puerto Rico, its default status, and can’t help but wonder (as seriously as this has to be taken) if we’re looking at the wrong debt. Perhaps the time has finally arrived to start considering the greater debt that Puerto Rico has in fact been accruing, namely that of the debt it has been building against itself, a debt of which the United States, perhaps unknowingly, has played a great role in maintaining a high interest growth. This is a debt that has taken centuries to accumulate, one somewhat similar to the kind that grows when we spend away at a credit card, never imagining that one day we will be forced to come to terms with the degree to which we are now owned!
And owned we are. With every bit of freedom we surrendered in exchange for what we felt was a greater level of security, we were killing our own decision-making powers. With every Puerto Rican who died in a war over which we had no control, we were taking away from our own ability to fight our own battles. With every protest that we’ve laid out over what we thought was our right to vote for the American President, we were giving less credence to our right to vote for our own. And all of this amounts to a debt of a much greater magnitude, one that involves much more than just looking to increase a credit score, one whose default carries much greater ramifications, one whose satisfaction can only come from our decision to step up and be more than we have been.
The economic problems that Puerto Rico is currently facing are a picture, among other things, of the impracticality that comes with pretending that statuses (international or otherwise) don’t matter. In as every bit as we might be suspicious of a person’s spending when counting on an economic baking that is not based on themselves, one does not need to be an economist to see that the overspending of a commonwealth, as defined by Puerto Rico’s ties with the United States, is fool’s gold, insofar as no nation in the world is looking at the fiscal underpinnings of such commonwealth as ultimately resting with the commonwealth itself. And that is where lacking that type of international credibility already causes a problem. With a population of just over 3 million, Puerto Rico has accrued the kind of debt load approximating states such as New York, where the population is close to 20 million (Gillespie, 2015). Yet a state is part of the union. And the United States bears a much greater responsibility to every state in its union than it does to any commonwealth. But here’s a question that baffles me, a sort of macro question that haunts me here: when and where exactly in our history did we Puerto Ricans begin to think of the legacy of our Isla del Encanto as not greater than that of the legacy of the Empire State?
The United States’ message to Puerto Rico has always been, “you’re with us, but then again you’re not”. And Puerto Rico has made far too much of the “you’re with us” part, shutting its doors to any international leverage that it could have gained from having achieved its rightful sovereign status while at the same time underestimating the negative impact that rights denied as a non-state entity under the governmental authority of the United States would have on the people of Puerto Rico and its government. And this, we’re all beginning to learn, is reflected in the karma of government spending that is based upon an ambivalent governmental system, not to mention the Karma of government actions that do not hold freedom as the highest of all of its values.
As a state, Puerto Rico would have now had a more solid rights-based footing upon which to bring an argument to Congress, if not an ethical-based footing upon which to present an argument to the rest of the world. As a sovereign entity, Puerto Rico would have had the right, international platform, and credibility to negotiate at will with every other nation, enjoying the diplomatic maneuvering and flexibility afforded to the free. As it stands, Puerto Rico has neither.
And this is where Puerto Rico has borrowed against itself, banking on the illusion of the given rather than the earned, all the while having placed in jeopardy its international dignity, history, and even the future of its herencia. And even a non-rich fool would be smart enough to know that 75 billion dollars would be much easier to recoup than everything else we’ve been losing in the eyes of the international community since 1898. There’s no bankruptcy bailout here or financial planning of any kind to restore our standing in the world stage, our respect in a community of nations.
We call this debt crisis “historic” in the life and times of Puerto Rico. But more historic yet are the steps that we took during colonial years that essentially kept Puerto Rico from developing its own solutions as a way to avert problems of this nature. And even more historic than that is that we remain aloof as to the emotional impact that these steps have made on the people of Puerto Rico, not to mention the contradiction that they have always represented and continue to represent to the very Constitution of the United States of America. And as sure as I am that they’ll be many accounts of how this is all “Puerto Rico’s fault”, a little knowledge of history and the effects that global stratification can eventually have on a culture might tell a different story.
The Global Perspective
The Global Perspective contends that the international positioning of a region has a direct impact on the citizens of that region. And as Puerto Rico continues to hear arguments on what is right for the island, many such arguments coming from people who may have been too deeply internalized into Puerto Rico’s colonial status to see it from objective eyes, much in the same way that a battered wife may be too deeply involved in a domestic violence situation to recognize the issue from the angle of the abused, the entire world, insofar as this is a matter of global diplomacy, needs to be clear on something right now: Puerto Rico, for the sake of the entire globe and the balance in our international positioning principles, must assume its independence! And we must never give in to the cliché-based contention that this is for the people to decide, as subordinates should never be given a choice to retain their subordinate status, but rather be pushed to embrace the freedoms that all other countries in the world enjoy.
The universal norms that we have cemented around these principles more than decide for themselves. So this is a matter of principle, not plebiscite. The whole world should stand unanimously: No financial crisis should be validated, let alone tolerated that comes from any colony, least of all from a colony held by the very country whose main international theme has always been that of freedom. Puerto Rico’s rightful place within the international community was in fact decided back in 1776, under the battle of the 13 Colonies. I guess we forgot all about it in 1898. Well, here we are in 2015, with a financial crisis and very little outside of having to take a closer look at what exactly it is that we have been doing with Puerto Rico all this time. A shadow of itself lost somewhere in the obscurity of indecision, it would seem that the time has come for Puerto Rico to step out of that slippery region and seek a more secure footing, a voice of greater volume in the community of nations.
Now, we can opt to devote much of our time here to policy-based addendums, and would have ample historical material from which to work. We can discuss items such as, La Cedula de Gracias of 1815, under which Spain allowed Puerto Rico to engage in some commerce with countries in good standing with the Spanish Monarchy; La Libreta de Jornanleros of 1849, under which Puerto Ricans were allowed to engage in labor as long as they were made accountable to the government of Spain at all times; El Pacto con Sagasta of 1897, under which Puerto Rico was allowed, by Spanish decree, to have a higher degree of governmental autonomy; The Foraker Act of 1900, under which Puerto Rico was allowed to function under the governmental authority of the United States, as the United States formally established its government on the island, giving rise to La Ley de Cabotaje, a law that would amply restrict maritime commerce to the island; La Ley de la Mordaza, or the Gag Law of 1948, under which Puerto Ricans were not allowed to express their patriotism in public; or El Congreso Pro-Independencia of 1945, under which the pro-independent argument was allowed a voice within the PPD party. But notice the common denominator in the word, “allowed”. And this is the deeper, fundamental problem in what’s occurring here. We can talk about fiscal responsibility all we want; it’s futile conversation without the freedom to act on it on absolute terms. And this is why the fundamental inquiry shouldn’t be centered on why Puerto Rico finds itself in this financial crisis, but rather on whether Puerto Rico had to be here to begin with.
Today, Puerto Rico’s every situation is not only considered as not very high on the list of congressional priorities, as Congress apparently sees very little to gain at this point from coming to Puerto Rico’s aid, as it came to its aid back in 1898, but many Americans still see Puerto Ricans, even after 98 years of the passing of the Jones Act, as immigrants, Puerto Rico even being the object of jokes suggesting that its debt crisis could be resolved by Donald Trump buying the island and turning it into a sort of gulf resort, a far cry from the vision that was once proposed by such greats as Ramon Emeterio Betances, Segundo Riuz Belvis and Don Pedro Albizu Campos. When the people of Puerto Rico will realize the ethical and moral decay its colonial status constitutes, and how much more serious this is than the 75 billion debt that the island is currently making news for, is anyone’s guess.
The United States, I am sure, would like a solution to the fiscal problem that Puerto Rico is currently facing as soon as possible. Well, I, for one, don’t feel that what Puerto Rico needs right now are the benefits from the bankruptcy policies afforded to states in financial disarray, among other solutions that it may want to explore. What Puerto Rico needs right now is for the United States to be the adult in this matter and respect the choice that Puerto Rico itself will not make, not only for its own sake but in honor of the Unites States Constitution. Assist, guide, help, be an ally. But let Puerto Rico be free to learn its own way is what the larger call has been since 1776.
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