The Puerto Rico ‘debt crisis’ of 2015 –which is not new– has given rise to a slew of news articles.
These articles annoy because what they tend to do, in some measure or another, is reassert the findings of the Krueger report –too small a tax base with too large a debt– in a slightly more elegant language. (N.B. The Krueger report, FYI, was commissioned for hundreds of thousands from ex-IMF economist Anne Krueger and pals to “find out” what everyone already knew, and this way, the governor had a seemingly non-partisan way to impose more austerity measures, such as a min. wage exception).
In the best of cases, the news writers have placed the blame, rightfully, on D.C. In the worst cases, they blame the colonial governments and Puerto Ricans, using slightly veiled and racially coded language. But what is missing?
What’s not being said, or can’t be said, else it causes too many headaches?
1. These various items leave out one huge, gaping issue… Puerto Ricans have tried, in their own many ways, to find a solution to the colony for several generations. As many writers do concede, Washington D.C. and Wall Street together made sure to crush any nationalist revolts for many decades; they, then, instituted a new deal industrial program with business incentives to hold on to their military bastion — and now they plan to walk away. (Hah.) But the other side of the coin is that whether through statehood pleas, various autonomy plans, or through independence, a majority of P.R. residents have tried–very obediently and politely– to get out of the colonial-dominant conditions of the “commonwealth;” to find a peaceful and political solution to an involuntary condition; and what happened — Congress refused to act, delaying and delaying, stalling and stalling (…yes, the commonwealth party often was voted into power – a choice of pragmatism when the alternative candidate was worse). Now they expect Puerto Rico to pay (whether pay immediately or pay through a bankruptcy plan makes relatively little difference). That the infallible debt will be paid somehow does not seem to be in question, though.
2. More boricuas live in the US than on the island(s). For ages and ages many of us, myself included, have paid a little or a lot of money, depending on personal circumstances, in taxes. …In total, that’s a lot of money that went to bailing out banks and that goes to the US military and to Israeli aid and to the nefarious war on drugs and stupid border walls and so on and so forth. That the White House has the audacity to say that “no one” is contemplating a “bail out ” is an insult. It plainly states, ‘we are not going to give US-based Puerto Ricans any consideration’–not even a voice–in these negotiations. (And not to mention what Puerto Ricans pay for the more-commonly mentioned Jones Act merchandise). And then they want (expect!) our votes! LOL. Notice–none of the Democratic party candidates even questioned the white house on this… All they argue for is a chapter 9 protection. Where is our political voice in this? We’ve been denied any agency, once again. The colonization is not restricted to merely a territorial boundary.
3. We Puerto Ricans know, from our own experience and that of our parents and grantparents and great grandparents and great great grandparents, that Puerto Ricans have been, to use a neoliberal word, resilient. But we’re not just resilient, we invented resilience in the face of disempowerment. Puerto Ricans, in spite of a sense of, oh, how to put it, …a mourning? A sense of a slipping modernity that escapes like sand through our fingers and that was never really or fairly granted to us to begin with, AS IF we didn’t really deserve it…? …Know what I mean? In spite of all this —because of all this, actually– Puerto Ricans have historically made art, culture, literature, comedy, film, performance, dance, poetry, pop music, food, architecture, painting, design, agriculture etc etc etc etc… We’ve made a world out of a sense of dignity — to retain our dignity, both now and in the past. And future. We have remade the ruins of two empires. No bank can ever truly own our dignity, and yet they refuse to look at us as equals for what we’ve already done. What Vox, WaPo, NYTimes, Bloomberg et al will not tell anyone is that we will, always, by hook or by crook, find a way. (btw Just ask the US Navy about Vieques). And we will, let it be known, find a way to beg, borrow, and steal. And we will find creative ways to cheat the debt. Because that’s how people save their dignity in conditions they never participated in creating. How do the banks and the White House prefer to play this? The “nice” way? Or the right way?
4. Last but not least, Puerto Rico is both under a US occupation AND expected to pay this debt. This is sort of a debt that was something like the price tag for belonging to the empire — an empire we never chose to begin with. There weren’t other ways or other models of development to go forward. This was it. Either starve to death or take onerous debts (yes, i do blame also the treasonous colonial rulers locally). This debt is like sending a hostage a bill for their holding cell.
So… These thoughts I just tapped on my phone over the last hour or so. They could be much more fine tuned for sure, but they’re the product of much pent up frustrations and truly, anger. To summarize, at the very least, Puerto Ricans have already paid enough, and at the very least, American politicians, if they have any bit of decency, should become aware of what Puerto Ricans, on the island and on the mainland, really think. The debt should be audited, yes, as many have pointed out, but Puerto Ricans have demanded and demand a truly deliberative and participatory decolonizing process. We tried to find a way and now Puerto Rico is being handed the bill for overstaying its welcome — as if there had been a way out.