Puerto Rico: A History of Colonization, Economic Servitude, and Now Humiliation

Puerto Rico: textbook convergence of Globalism, Colonialism, Capitalism, and Racism. This post explores that converge and discusses strategies to counter US policies at a local and state level through localism, sustainability, permaculture, and collective activism. You can learn more about these strategies at the extraordinary Economics of Happiness Conference in Santa Fe, Oct 12-14. Details below!

Sat. Oct 7, 7pm.  The Lensic. New Mexico Environmental Law Center presents The Yes Men Live!  Might as well have some fun and this should be great. Notorious pranksters The Yes Men have spent most of their adult lives creating fake news, justifying it with the tagline “Sometimes it takes a lie to expose the truth.” For decades their antics worked: their fake news got massive amounts of real news coverage for real issues. The Yes Men will take you on a journey exploring the long and sordid history of fake news, starting in the good old days when it was made mostly by highly paid PR professionals. They’ll move on to the contemporary scene, addressing how Macedonian teens, Russian trolls, and unemployed geeks of all nations took advantage of Facebook and Google business models to help elect Trump.

The event is a benefit for the New Mexico Law Center. Click here to get tickets.


Economics of Happiness Conference, October 12-14, James Little Theatre.  Before we get to the tragic exploitation of Puerto Rico, I want to share with you my incredible conversation with Helena Norbert-Hodge during our KSFR radio show that airs today at 11am. I highly recommend listening in as, if you do, you will quickly get on line and register for the amazing Economics of Happiness Conference coming to Santa Fe Oct 12-14. The economics of happiness might be viewed as perhaps something less than deeply grounded in policy, politics, and resistance. But that is precisely what the conference is about, and I can’t recommend this more highly. To give you an idea of who will be on stage at the James Little Theatre, check this out:

  • Helena Norbert-Hodge, Co-founder of the International Economics of Happiness movement, author, producer, and co-director of the award winning film, the Economics of Happiness;
  • Giorgio Social, one of the leaders of Italy’s Five-Star Movement (M5S). The M5S is variously considered populist, anti-establishment, environmentalist, anti-globalistand Eurosceptic. Its members stress that the M5S is not a party but a “movement.” The “five stars” are a reference to five key issues for the party: public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to Internet access, and environmentalism. In 2009 he joined the Meetup local community “Beppe Grillo’s friends of Brescia”. In 2010 he was candidate for the regional election in Lombardy for the 5-Star Movement. In the national elections in 2013 he was elected a member of the Italian Parliament representing the Lombardy constituency for the Movement 5 Stars in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament.
  • Winona LaDuke, Environmentalist, Writer, Water and Food Advocate.
  • Marian Naranjo, Founder/Director of Honor our Pueblo Existence (HOPE)
  • Gregory Cajete, TEWA author and professor from Santa Clara Pueblo, NM
  • Michael Tellinger, South African author, politician, and proponent of Contributionism, Ubuntu Party
  • George Ferguson, First elected Mayor of Bristol, Ireland. A recognized architect, he served two terms on the Bristol City Council, leaving politics for a few years only to run for Mayor on a green platform that emphasized participatory democracy. In March 2013, Ferguson led a delegation from Bristol to Brussels to present Bristol’s bid to be European Green Capital 2015, and three months later it was announced that Bristol had won. Bristol received a £7 Million grant from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to support the year-long event, and the Council approved a further £1 Million of its own funds for the same. His talk could be a highlight.

There will also be numerous local panelists and speakers including Beata Tsosie-Pena, Tewa Women United; Alan Webber, candidate for Santa Fe Mayor; Emegdio Ballon, Tesuque Farms; Elaine Sullivan, We Are People Here and the Santa Fe Public Bank; Andrea Romero, Tall Foods; and they even put me on the first panel on Friday at 1pm. In addition there will be numerous indigenous prayers, dances, and performances throughout the conference. Click here to view the Conference program, to register, and to get tickets. This will sell out very soon and you won’t want to be left out. Retake will be working with the organizers of the conference, Reconnect-Today to organize a series of trainings aligned with the conference themes to translate understanding into action, so please plan to attend.

Tomorrow’s blog will feature the Closing Remarks comments from three Red Nation leaders at the Red Nation Native Liberation Conference one week ago. They are inspiring, provocative, and moving. Many thanks to the omnipresent progressive videographer, Andy Fertal for the video.

Now, to Puerto Rico

The US history of colonization of Puerto Rico began in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. At the time, Puerto Rico was a Spanish territory, and as did most of the Spanish-colonized southwest, succumbed to US colonization. By invading Puerto Rico, the US hoped to develop a sugar market there and undermine Spain. But once Spain was defeated, surprise surprise, the US reneged on its promises to Puerto Rico, overturned their local elections and plans for democracy, and installed a colonial government. What happened next is textbook white supremacy. From a very informative report published by the History Series: “in 1901, a series of legal opinions known as the Insular Cases argued that Puerto Rico and other territories ceded by the Spanish were full of ‘alien races’ who couldn’t understand ‘Anglo-Saxon principles.’ Therefore, the Constitution did not apply to them, and Puerto Rico became an ‘unincorporated territory’ with no path forward to statehood.” This also enabled the US to initiate a series of policies and practices that essentially have strangled Puerto Rico economically and politically for over 100 years.

In 1917, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens under the Jones-Shafroth Act, but far from liberation and an act of democratic liberalism, citizenship was granted only so the U.S. could deploy them as troops during World War I, much as the Emancipation Proclamation was announced to enable black slaves to fight in the Civil War. Always the altruists, the federal government believed that white people weren’t suited to fight in tropical climates because they didn’t have immunity to the diseases found there. Instead, the U.S. sent Puerto Rican “immunes,” as they were called, to defend the Panama Canal. Although they were then made U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans could not vote for president or elect voting senators or representatives to the U.S. Congress. In fact, they still can’t.

In the 1950s, U.S. lawmakers launched Operation Bootstrap to try to jump start the Puerto Rican economy. Bootstrap provided tax breaks designed to attract manufacturers who would provide steady factory jobs. Between 1950 and 1980, the plan appeared to be working, with per capita gross national product expanding nearly tenfold and, according to a Center for New Economy, disposable income and educational attainment rising sharply. Click here for their report. In 1997, Bill Clinton signed a bill to repeal Section 936 over a ten-year period ending in 2007. The chart at left traces the growth and decline in the labor force that coincided with the final repeal of all tax breaks (the 936 Repeal). The chart contrasts Puerto Rican growth and decline with US decline. Click here for the CNBC report from which the chart and information on the tax break elimination and its impact came.

One might ask why Puerto Rico should benefit from tax breaks to boost their economy. Part of the answer lies in other US policies that have hamstrung the Puerto Rican economy for decades. Foremost among them is the Jones Act, an act that requires that all goods entering or leaving Puerto Rico must pass through US ports, a requirement that essentially tacks on at least 20% of the cost of the goods being imported and exported.

Thanks to the Jones Act, the price of goods from the United States mainland is at least double that in neighboring islands, including the United States Virgin Islands, which are not covered by the Jones Act. The cost of living in Puerto Rico is estimated to be 13% higher than in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to about half that of Mississippi, the state with the lowest income in the US. The New York Times reports that “this is a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market. The island is the fifth-largest in the world for American products, and there are more Walmarts and Walgreens per square mile in Puerto Rico than anywhere on earth.” The NY Times report also included reference to a University of Puerto Rico study conducted by two Puerto Rican economists that estimated that the Jones Act had “caused a $17 billion loss to the island’s economy from 1990 through 2010. Other studies have estimated the Jones Act’s damage to Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska to be $2.8 billion to $9.8 billion per year. Is it any wonder the island is in debt and ill-prepared for a massive hurricane? Click here for the full report. The Jones Act is described in more detail in a very concise 2-minute video at the bottom of this post.

As a result of Puerto Rico’s economic enslavement, it is now some $70B in debt. The island’s elected officials have recently lost the authority to decide how much to tax its citizens and how to spend what they collect. Under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, (PROMESA, or promise in Spanish) passed by Congress in 2016 in response to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, a board appointed by the US president has the final word on the island’s fiscal policies and its budget. The island’s governor gets a seat on the board, but like Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, he or she is not allowed to vote.

Not surprisingly, throughout the 20th century, various grassroots efforts were launched to create an independent Puerto Rico, but in each instance, again not surprisingly, US intervention and the arrest of rebel leaders quashed the efforts. And what does Puerto Rico get as a reward for fighting our wars and sacrificing their economy to the US colonialists?  A three-week late visit by an arrogant, racist President who proclaimed that their tragedy was going to be a real problem for our budget, and then actually tossed paper towels to the crowd, launching them as if they were basketballs. How fun is that, Mr. President? Shameful.

The Jones Act in Two Minutes: America’s Shame …One of Many

Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use & Wildlife, Economic Justice, Community & Economic Development, Foreign Relation & Trade Policy

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  1. 1833: Buenos Aires, Argentina October 31 to November 15. A force was sent ashore at Buenos Aires to protect the interests of the United States and other countries during an insurrection. from: http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2014-11-10/map-200-years-of-us-military-interventions/1387817
    This site has a long list of US 200 years of colonizing activities. My country of origin was invaded as it was fit according to the Monroe Doctrine and more…..
    U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America in the 19th century initially focused on excluding or limiting the military and economic influence of European powers, territorial expansion, and encouraging American commerce. These objectives were expressed in the No Transfer Principle (1811) and the Monroe Doctrine (1823). American policy was unilateralist (not isolationist); it gradually became more aggressive and interventionist as the idea of Manifest Destiny contributed to wars and military conflicts against indigenous peoples, France, Britain, Spain, and Mexico in the Western Hemisphere. This from: http://latinamericanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199366439.001.0001/acrefore-9780199366439-e-41
    As it is obvious from a simple reading of history it all began 200 years ago and continues today. And this ‘imperial consciousness’ has been pounded, hammered continuously into Americans’ minds and hearts. But it was also used here as it is used today by numbing and dumbing down the population. Why, then, are our taxes given to the military industrial complex at the rate of about a trillion dollars a year while our public educational system receives only about 60 billion a year? And, how come everybody seems to be OK with the creation and financing of ‘charter’ schools which all they are is an interim step to full privatization of our (once a superb national and one of the most democratic institutions created) public educational system?
    Puertoricans, and I worked with quite a few, some without HS degrees and some with college degrees, have suffered enormously from US imperial ‘needs’. But what was the american public doing in the mean time? Well…..

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