Jul 28, 2019
Wednesday night, July 24, there was dancing in the streets of Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rican people had every reason to celebrate. The governor – who had declared on Sunday he would NOT resign – was forced to resign three days later. And they were the one who forced him to leave. People mobilizing in the streets of San Juan had driven him from office.
The protests may have been sparked off by a ton of chat messages between arrogant politicians. But those chat messages were only the spark.
The tinder for the bonfire that erupted all through the country was the colonial situation that Puerto Rican people have been living under for decades. Prices are higher than in the U.S., wages are lower. An island blessed with natural running springs everywhere found its waters polluted by industries come from the U.S. mainland. Policies imposed on its Caribbean colony by the U.S. government in the 1930s allowed U.S. companies to set up businesses in Puerto Rico, but pay no taxes at all for the next eight decades. When that policy was changed, requiring them to pay a small tax, many companies took that tax-free money and ran to Asia, leaving polluted waters behind, sending Puerto Rico’s economy into a tailspin.
The result was skyrocketing unemployment and growing government debt. Debt was used as the pretext for a bankruptcy plan imposed on Puerto Rico by the U.S. government for Wall Street banks. A “federal oversight board” was imposed on Puerto Rico. It demanded that Puerto Rico’s government impose austerity policies on the population to pay the banks. Puerto Rico’s politicians obeyed their imperial masters. The population’s standard of living, which was already low, was driven lower. Services were cut, schools cuts, medical care cut.
And then Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico in September 2017. It was the strongest, most destructive hurricane ever to hit this part of the Caribbean. It hit a country whose emergency services had already been stripped to the bone.
The governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. have done almost nothing to help the population to recover. It took more than one year to get most electrical service back. There are still some pockets without service. Many people still don’t have clean running water. Public lighting remains sparse – except in tourist areas. Hospitals are starved for doctors and other staff.
To the extent there has been any recovery, it came from the people, who helped themselves and their neighbors rebuild. They were the ones who exposed the corruption in the so-called “rebuilding program.”
So, yes, people of Puerto Rico had every reason to rise up, every reason to revolt.
They have every reason to keep their revolt going. The problems didn’t stem from just one governor. They stem from a political system that keeps Puerto Rico controlled like a colony. The U.S. “federal oversight board” decided not to spend money to repair the hurricane’s damage – so that U.S. banks could keep getting their money. That’s colonialism, no matter what they call it.
The problems of Puerto Rico – just like the problems we face – stem from a capitalist system run by a very tiny class of exploiters who increase their wealth by driving down the standard of living of working people everywhere. The same U.S. banks that created the mortgage crisis, devastating whole sections of U.S. cities, are draining Puerto Rico of all its wealth. The same U.S. banks steal from pension funds of public workers here.
The people of Puerto Rico have begun a revolt. On the day after the governor resigned, people were in the streets, saying they wouldn’t stop there. And what about us? Our lives are held hostage to the same system. We should cheer when we see the Puerto Rican people revolt. They are our brothers and sisters. We are all working people, no matter what country or what part of the world we come from.
But more than cheer, we should join them. They started a fight that could spread. We don’t have to sit on the sidelines. We could be part of it.