By Déborah B. Santana, for Δρόμος τις Αριστεράς, Saturday 15 September 2018

The Puerto Rico Catastrophe is not primarily due to Hurricane María in September 2017.  Of course, a direct hit by a hurricane is disastrous anywhere. But Cuba – which defends its national sovereignty and values people over profits – has been hit by several hurricanes since 2000, with minimal loss of life and relatively quick recovery. Cuba – not rich, still impacted by the US blockade – is the mirror opposite of Puerto Rico in disaster management and recovery.

Modern colonial exploitation – using public debt as an excuse to accelerate privatization of services and resources, while increasing public taxes – was already underway in Puerto Rico before Maria. To give one example: austerity for the public electric energy authority had reduced the number of workers and storage of materials. So when Maria struck most powerlines were felled by trees that were not trimmed for lack of personnel. To “save money” the emergency materials had been sold to other countries, so they were not available to replace the downed lines. This is one reason why it took almost a year to restore electricity, causing thousands of deaths in the months following the hurricane.  Immediately after Maria passed many Caribbean and Latin American neighbors offered to send equipment and workers, but the US refused. Instead, Puerto Rico waited for months for the US to give contracts to companies and send materials from the US, which is farther away. Additionally, the colonial government in San Juan – enthusiastically carrying out the wishes of the colonial master in Washington – has redoubled its efforts to privatize the electric energy authority – while the debt will remain the public’s responsibility. This scenario is repeated for nearly all public services, including education, water, and transportation.

Meanwhile, the US-appointed Fiscal Control Board (known as “La Junta”) received backing by a US judge to cancel the Puerto Rican (elected) government’s budget and impose its own. Privatizations, cutting jobs, benefits, and pensions, and continuing sales of public property are its agenda. The Junta aims “to return Puerto Rico to the markets” to resume borrowing money. While Puerto Rico’s services get starvation budgets, the Junta’s own budget (paid by Puerto Rico by US orders) has risen to $80 million per year! And the rich continue to get rich from contracts. No austerity for them!

Every policy seems designed to push younger Puerto Ricans to emigrate while hastening the death of older generations. Meanwhile, tax breaks and other incentives encourage US investors to come to Puerto Rico. While US “expatriate” colonization has been growing for years in beach and wealthier communities, we are now seeing “gringos” tour the countryside, offiering cash to desperate people who have never received help to recover.  If one looks at the history of US colonialism in Puerto Rico – with its mass sterilizations and forced migrations – Puerto Rican fears of being ethnically cleansed from our homeland cannot be dismissed as mere “conspiracy theory.”

Puerto Rico is now at the most critical period of our 120 years-long struggle for independence from the US. We are fighting for our very survival as a people, and our homeland also is in danger of being turned by US colonialism and vulture capitalism into a fatally contaminated energy hub for the entire region. This story is almost completely invisible internationally, even to those who support similar struggles elsewhere. Puerto Rico suffers from a US blockade that is in many ways the reverse of Cuba! To help break through the blockade, Puerto Ricans and others are organizing an International People’s Tribunal. Please check our website to see how you and your organization can support our struggle!