The Largest U.S. Colony: A Status Report on Puerto Rico
By Claudio Romano
Since the U.S. invasion and occupation in 1898, U.S. imperialism has subjected Puerto Rico, the United States’ largest colony, and the people of Puerto Rico, to an ongoing assault of its political and social institutions, while controlling the economy and repressing Puerto Rico’s movement for self-determination and independence. Puerto Rican pop culture has been co-opted by the mainstream corporate media for worldwide dissemination, but this has produced little in the form of economic benefits to the working population of the island, which remains afflicted with depression-level unemployment.
Last year, the U.N. Decolonization Committee passed its 30th annual resolution reaffirming the right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence, which is written into General Assembly Resolution 1514, recognizing Puerto Rico as a Latin American and Caribbean nation, requesting the General Assembly to consider the case of Puerto Rico, and calling on the United States to release the political prisoners held in the U.S. prisons, and clean up the toxic contaminants left by the U.S. Navy on the island of Vieques, a formerly U.S. navy operated firing range.
Barack Obama appointed in March 2009 a Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status — without a single Puerto Rican member. The Task Force issued a report proposing methods purportedly designed to resolve the status question, acknowledging that, “status remains of overwhelming importance to the people of Puerto Rico,” but nowhere expressly acknowledging the colonial status.
In September 2011, Obama made a four-hour stop in Puerto Rico, where he encountered mass demonstrations comprised of diverse groups, with placards and banners reading, ”Obama, Go Home!” and calling for an end to U.S. colonial control, independence, and the release of the Puerto Rican political prisoners. Unfortunately, the Independentista movement lacks strong union credentials.
Since January 2009, the pro-statehood colonial administration, aligned with the right-wing of the U.S. Republican Party, has been waging concerted efforts to eliminate and repress all forces and institutions in Puerto Rican society that promote labor and human rights and the defense of the legitimate aspirations of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination, with major attacks against unions, cultural workers, and supporters of quality free and public education.
Riot police have de-facto occupied the campus of the UPR (University of Puerto Rico), and they pepper spray students there on a regular basis a la UC Davis. The students, faculty and non-teaching staff of the UPR have waged valiant battles against the plans of the colonial administration to privatize public higher education, interfere politically with academic freedom, gear education toward the needs of its corporate backers and unduly interfere with the curriculum.
The government has responded by vicious attacks against protesters, by arresting students and by prohibiting all exercise of free speech on the UPR campus, which remains de-facto occupied.
Also, the colonial administration has laid off some 30,000 government workers and abrogated hard-fought collective bargaining agreements in the public sector beyond what has been done in places like Wisconsin. Since the Great Recession started, 300,000 jobs have been lost. The official unemployment is at close to double the rate in the United States, with the real unemployment rate probably around 30%, causing renewed mass exodus to the cities of the Eastern seaboard where unemployment is lesser.
One traditional source of employment, the military, has been shrinking, compounding the economic lumpenization of the island, a process that began in earnest in 1994 when Puerto Rico lost its dubious status as North America’s first maquila zone because of the NAFTA agreement, which turned Mexico and parts of the Southern Hemisphere into new and bigger Puerto Ricos.
Police violence has attracted the attention and condemnation of Amnesty International, and even the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating.
Puerto Rico combines the worst features of Wisconsin, Arizona, and Mexico. Yet the plight of the Puerto Rican masses is barely known. The Fourth International stands in solidarity with the struggles at the UPR and beyond.