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  • Protesters hold up Puerto Rican flag.

    Protesters hold up Puerto Rican flag.

Published 22 July 2016
There is today in Puerto Rico a revival of the progressive and independence movement due to the devastating economic crisis.

The PROMESA law passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Barack Obama is described by most corporate media as an “aid to restructure the debt and help develop the economy” in Puerto Rico.

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The reality is that its intention is to function as a collection agency through a Financial Control Board, or what’s being called a junta, for the benefit of wealthy U.S. bondholders at the expense of the Puerto Rican people, who have been driven into poverty and despair.

The situation on the island is desperate, with increased violence and crime; foreclosures and repossessions; deterioration of health due to the high cost of medical services and the lack of doctors and other health professionals who are migrating daily to the U.S.; hunger and poverty exacerbated by layoffs, lack of basic services and the high cost of living; and a Zika epidemic.

The fact that there is an unemployed or underemployed—but well-trained—workforce in Puerto Rico, that is bilingual and has U.S. citizenship, has attracted U.S. agencies that offer better salaries and are creating a brain drain on the island. U.S. agencies have already been to Puerto Rico to recruit nurses, teachers, doctors and other professionals.

Most troubling is the recruitment of police. It is well known that there is an U.S. epidemic of horrendous police killings of unarmed Black and brown people. With the excuse that they need more Latino police because there are more Latinos in U.S. cities now, they recruit Puerto Ricans to be used against Black and brown people in the U.S.

For example, the city of Baltimore—where Freddie Gray was killed and so far not one police officer has been found guilty—recruited in Puerto Rico. And as a result, some 1,600 Puerto Ricans registered to take the Baltimore Police Department exam.

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The roots of the disastrous situation in Puerto Rico started in 1898 when the U.S. invaded the island. Without a full review of history, it must be remembered that the U.S. occupation brought the destruction of the island's economy and devaluation of its currency, which at the time was equal in value to the U.S. dollar.

Since then, the U.S. imposed an exporting economy whose profits go directly to U.S. companies. The first enormous production was sugar. Sugar plantations enriched Domino Sugar, a well-known U.S. company.

When the U.S. decided to industrialize the island, every industry was created for the purpose of export, from oil refineries, pharmaceuticals, textiles and electronics, these companies took advantage of a tax-free status and low paid labor, while polluting air, land and water. Now mega stores like WalMart benefit from low wages and taxes.

Puerto Rico's colonial status has deprived it of a sovereign government, it has been at the mercy of its "masters," the U.S. congress.

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When in 1952, the concept of a "Free Associated State", or Commonwealth, was imposed by the U.S., it was for the purpose of removing Puerto Rico from the list of its territories so that it would not be held accountable for its colonial possessions by the U.N.

What the independence movement has always maintained has now been publically and officially confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle et al.: The Free Associated State is neither a “state” nor is it “free,” and it is not even “associated.” And to prove it, plunging the dagger into the depths of the Puerto Rican heart, Congress approved just hours later the dictatorial Financial Control Board.

It is important to point out that alongside with U.S. domination, came every attempt at suppressing the independence and nationalist movement on the island.

Since the U.S. invasion in 1898, Puerto Rico’s independence fighters have been persecuted, maligned, repressed and killed.

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Now, after the recent decisions, a new stage of struggle has opened up. The colonial option is no longer possible. Many people mention that now there are only two options: “statehood” or “independence.” But the reality is that statehood is really no option.

There is today in Puerto Rico a revival of the progressive and independence movement, including organization of various forms of struggle and civil disobedience against the dictates of U.S. banks, including demonstrations, forums and work in the Decolonization Committee of the U.N.

And although there is still no unity of action, different sectors in Puerto Rico are mobilizing.

With consistent and militant actions, teachers have managed to stop one measure in the Puerto Rican legislature, the “Bhatia Plan.” This plan aimed to implement the privatization of many schools, the dismissal of thousands of teachers and the destruction of public education, among other regressive provisions.

The United Front Against Aerial Fumigation, composed of several environmental, health, agriculture, social justice and other organizations, has called for various actions, including demonstrations against aerial spraying of the deadly toxin Naled, which the Centers for Disease Control proposed be used in Puerto Rico to “eradicate” the mosquito that carries the Zika virus.

In Puerto Rico there is much opposition to its use not only because it’s harmful to people, but also for its damage to bees, which in turn harm agriculture. Puerto Rican experts have proposed other, more appropriate ways to counter Zika, but so far the government has not paid attention.

On June 30, the militant and class-conscious union UTIER, representing the workers of the Electric Energy Authority, held a successful, island-wide 24-hour strike to protest and fight against the attempt to privatize and restructure the AEE

Angel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of UTIER, declared, “We in the UTIER have struggled to build fundamental rights for the whole working class of our country. It is with this principle that we defend with all our power our medical plan and retirement system, which should be guaranteed for all citizens.”

As soon as the U.S. Senate announced its approval of PROMESA, a large group of youth assembled in front of the gates of the Federal Court in San Juan. There, they set up a “Camp Against the Junta” and said they would not leave until their demands were heard.

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They called for people to unite against the the junta, colonialism and the spraying of Naled; and in defense of the beaches, public education and the people. Through their Facebook page, they publicized their demands and received messages of solidarity from organizations and individuals on the island and the U.S.

There have been attempts to evict them by government harassment and threats, but the youth have publicized these attempts on social media and the response from lawyers' groups and the general public have prevented the eviction.

The camp has been growing as more people show up and set up tents. They have also developed a series of actions that include teach-ins on topics such as the history of resistance, cultural presentations, picket lines, political movies, and acts in solidarity with other movements.

The musical star Rene Perez Joglar, better known as Residente, visited the camp July 21, urging Puerto Ricans to join the movement and "contribute a grain of sand," to the cause.

Berta Joubert-Ceci is a retired psychiatrist, now residing in Philadelphia. She is a long time Puerto Rican activist and organizer for the struggle in solidarity with the peoples of Latin America and the liberation of Puerto Rico. While in Puerto Rico, she was part of the committee to Free Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irvin Flores and Oscar Collazo, Puerto Rican independentistas held in U.S. prisons.

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