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Breaking the Grip of Militarism: The Story of Vieques

By Lawrence Wittner | CounterPunch | May 2, 2019

Vieques is a small Puerto Rican island with some 9,000 inhabitants. Fringed by palm trees and lovely beaches, it attracts substantial numbers of tourists. But, for about six decades, Vieques served as a bombing range, military training site, and storage depot for the U.S. Navy, until its outraged residents, driven to distraction, rescued their homeland from the grip of militarism.

Like the main island of Puerto Rico, Vieques—located eight miles to the east―was ruled for centuries by Spain, until the Spanish-American War of 1898 turned Puerto Rico into an informal colony (a “nonsovereign territory”) of the United States. In 1917, Puerto Ricans (including the Viequenses) became U.S. citizens, although they continue to lack the right to representation in the U.S. Congress and to vote for the U.S. president.

During World War II, the U.S. government, anxious about the security of the Caribbean region and the Panama Canal, expropriated large portions of land in eastern Puerto Rico and on Vieques to build a mammoth U.S. naval base. As a result, thousands of Viequenses were evicted from their homes and deposited in razed sugar cane fields that the navy declared “resettlement tracts.”

The U.S. Navy takeover of Vieques accelerated in 1947, when it designated the base as a naval training installation and storage depot and began utilizing the island for firing practice and amphibious landings by tens of thousands of troops. Expanding its expropriation to three-quarters of Vieques, the navy used the western section for its ammunition storage and the eastern section for its bombing and war games, while sandwiching the native population into the small strip of land separating them.

Over the ensuing decades, the navy bombed Vieques from the air, land, and sea and conducted military training exercises averaging 180 days per year. It also used the island for tests of biological weapons.

Naturally, for the Viequenses, this military domination created a nightmarish existence. “When the wind came from the east, it brought smoke and piles of dust from their bombing ranges,” one resident recalled. “They’d bomb every day, from 5 am until 6 pm. It felt like a war zone. You’d hear . . . eight or nine bombs, and your house would shudder. Everything on your walls . . . would fall on the floor and break,” and “your cement house would start cracking.” In addition, with the release of toxic chemicals into the soil, water, and air, the population began to suffer from dramatically higher rates of illnesses.

Eventually, the U.S. Navy determined the fate of the entire island, including the nautical routes, flight paths, aquifers, and zoning laws in the remaining civilian territory, where the residents lived under constant threat of eviction. In 1961, the navy actually drafted a secret plan to remove the entire civilian population from Vieques, with even the dead slated to be dug up from their graves. But U.S. President John F. Kennedy blocked the plan from implementation.

Long-simmering tensions between the Viequenses and the navy boiled over from 1978 to 1983. In the midst of heightened U.S. naval bombing and stepped up military maneuvers, a vigorous local resistance movement emerged, led by the island’s fishermen. Activists engaged in picketing, demonstrations, and civil disobedience―most dramatically, by placing themselves directly in the line of missile fire, thereby disrupting military exercises.

But this first wave of popular protest, involving thousands of Viequenses and their supporters throughout Puerto Rico and the United States, failed to dislodge the navy from the island. In the midst of the Cold War, the U.S. military clung tenaciously to its operations on Vieques. Also, the prominence in the resistance campaign of Puerto Rican nationalists limited the movement’s appeal.

In the 1990s, however, a more broadly-based resistance movement took shape. Begun in 1993 by the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, it accelerated in opposition to navy plans for the installation of an intrusive radar system and took off after April 19, 1999, when a U.S. navy pilot accidentally dropped two 500-pound bombs on an allegedly safe area, killing a civilian.

Rallying behind the demand of Peace for Vieques, this massive social upheaval drew heavily upon the Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as upon the labor movement, celebrities, women, and university students. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans participated, with some 1,500 arrested for occupying the bombing range or for other acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. When religious leaders called for a March for Peace in Vieques, some 150,000 protesters flooded the streets of San Juan in what was reportedly the largest demonstration in Puerto Rico’s history.

Facing this firestorm of protest, the U.S. government finally capitulated. In 2003, the U.S. Navy not only halted the bombing, but shut down its naval base and withdrew from Vieques.

Despite this enormous victory for a people’s movement, Vieques continues to face severe challenges today. These include unexploded ordnance and massive pollution from heavy metals and toxic chemicals that were released through the dropping of an estimated trillion tons of munitions on the tiny island. As a result, Vieques is now a major Superfund Site, with cancer and other disease rates substantially higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico. Also, with its traditional economy destroyed, the island suffers from widespread poverty.

Nevertheless, the islanders, no longer hindered by military overlords, are grappling with these issues through imaginative reconstruction and development projects, including ecotourism. Robert Rabin, who served three jail terms for his protest activities, now directs the Count Mirasol Fort―a facility that once served as a prison for unruly slaves and striking sugar cane workers, but now provides rooms for the Vieques Museum, community meetings and celebrations, and Radio Vieques.

Of course, the successful struggle to liberate the island from the burdens of militarism also provides a source of hope for people around the world. This includes the people in the rest of the United States, who continue to pay a heavy economic and human price for their government’s extensive war preparations and wars.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press.)

May 2, 2019 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism, Solidarity and Activism | , | Leave a comment

Brutal US Colonialism in Puerto Rico

“No ambition to oppress them”?

By Leftist Critic | Dissident Voice | December 2, 2016

Recently, I’ve been reading Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, a book by veteran New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer, which focuses on US-backed coups from 1893 (Hawaii) to Iraq (2003). In the book, Kinzer devotes only fourteen pages to Puerto Rico, a small island nation controlled by the murderous empire of the United States. On page 94, he declares that “most Puerto Ricans” understand that the US, despite colonial “misdeeds,” harbors “no ambition to oppress them.” He goes on to say that most want to continue ties with the US and that colonial rule has been “relatively benign,” meaning it was partially beneficial to islanders. In his view, this hasn’t led to a “violent backlash” because of US efforts to take “direct political responsibility” to govern the island, and even floats the idea that there could be a reasonable case that US control over the island has made it “better off”! Kinzer ends optimistically, saying that “a happy end to the long story” would not only take away stigma of US citizens from “ruling another people” but would tell them that “toppling of foreign regimes need not end badly.” Such words, like this, reek of apologism for imperialism and existing US colonialism in Puerto Rico. In this article, using quotes from Kinzer’s own book, I plan to prove that US rule in the island nation has not been “relatively benign,” but that the US imperialists should not be seen as engaging in “nice” oppression, with “no ambition,” of Puerto Rico’s citizens.

On May 12, 1898, seven US warships appeared off the coast of San Juan. They soon began their bombardment, firing over 1,300 shells, met by a Spanish response of about 400 shells, killed a dozen people and one US soldier.1 The small island nation of Puerto Rico comprises of an island 3,515 square miles across, called Borinquen by many native residents, three inhabited islands (Vieques, Cuelbra, and Mona), and 140 other small reefs, islands, and atolls. For over 400 years, the island was an established Spanish colony (1493-1898), with the indigenous Taino nation pushed into forced labor as part of the encomienda system. It was not until the early nineteenth century that Puerto Rico would be integrated into the international capitalist economy.2

The island, which exported commodities such as coffee and tobacco, became a sugar colony, supported by the country’s Creole elite, with 276 sugar plantations dotting the island’s landscape.3 As the sugar industry thrived, thousands of white wage laborers and enslaved blacks suffered in the “sugar haciendas,” or plantations, concentrated near Ponce, Guayama, and Mayaguez.4 The number of enslaved black laborers, who were mistreated, abused, and overworked despite “favorable” laws, reached into the tens of thousands, numbering 17,890 in 1828.5 They were chosen over wage laborers as more profitable for the sugar industry.6 It would not be until 1873 that slavery would be abolished in the Spanish empire, but the exploitation would not end, continuing under the system of apprenticeship, for example.7

About two months before the US warships arrived, Puerto Rico had elected a new government. The Spanish, likely in a measure to stave off revolt, had offered the Puerto Ricans political autonomy.8 They didn’t want rebellions like the Lares Uprising (Grito de Lares) in 1868 or the Attempted Coup of Yauco (Intentona de Yauco) in 1897 which were strongly pro-independence and opposed to Spanish colonial rule. On March 27, 1898, Luis Munoz Rivera’s Liberal Fusion Party was elected in a legislative body, created with agreement from the “liberal” Spanish government, of the island’s autonomous government.9 However, this would not last. On July 25, US marines from the Glouchester gunboat waded ashore, raising a US flag above a customs house after a short exchange of firearms.10

As Kinzer puts it, after the US flag fluttered in the breeze above the customs house, the “United States effectively took control of Puerto Rico” with every institution of Spanish colonial control, and the autonomous Liberal Fusion Party government, would quickly disappear. The objective of the US imperialists like Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who declared that “Puerto Rico is not forgotten [in this war] and we mean to have it” came to be true, with US trade routes protected and a naval base established on the island.11 While some Puerto Ricans welcomed the US presence, this quickly changed, as the US seizure of the island nation became “legal” with the Treaty of Paris.12

The imposition of US imperialism on Puerto Rico began in 1898 as the island was declared a colony. Luis Munoz Rivera, the former leader of the island before the US arrived, declared that “we are witnessing a spectacle of terrible assimilation… our present condition is that of serfs attached to conquered territory.”13 The “individual freedom” that was promised, was not delivered upon, with the US instead engaging in exploitation which, as Martinquis revolutionary Frantz Fanon said about all colonizers, was part of a spiral of “domination, exploitation and looting.”14

The bank on the island was transferred to US investors, who printed Puerto Rican dollars, pegged to the US dollar, replacing the Spanish peso. Other banks were established on the island by investors such as the American Colonial Bank, which opened in 1899. As a result, new taxes were imposed. The following years, as US military troops remained in place as an occupying force, the US Congress passed the Foraker Act which put the Puerto Rican assembly under direct US control.15 As the people of the island nation had “no liberty, no rights, no protection,” as civil rights campaigner Julio Henna once put it, four US corporations took over land on the island for mass production and farming.16 This was reinforced by one of Insular Cases, which some say established “political apartheid,” Downes v. Bidwell (1901) in which the Supreme Court held that Puerto Rico wasn’t a foreign country, allowing Congress to treat it like a dependent colonial possession.

In later years, the island nation forced “permanent uncertainty” in its political status. In 1910, foreign banks began foreclosing on land in Puerto Rico, and the island became an official protectorate in 1913 with the existing naval bases reinforcing economic and ideological interests.17 By World War I, with the imposition of US citizenship with the Jones Act, 18,000 Puerto Ricans were conscripted to fight in the forces of empire as 200 Puerto Ricans were arrested for refusing to participate. Such imposition did not end there. From 1920 to 1923, Moncho Reyes ruled as the Governor on the island, declaring English as the only official language, not Spanish, and that the US flag is the only one to be flown across the island. He was only forced out by corruption scandals. This was accompanied the Balzac v. Porto Rico (1922) case, in which the Supreme Court said that provisions of the US constitution did not apply to a “territory” that was not a US state. In the following years, more and more of the island was controlled by US corporations, including 80% of the farms, and half of the arable land!

By the 1930s, medicine went to war on the island’s inhabitants. In 1931, Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads injected patients on the island with live cancer cells, with thirteen people dying. He bragged about killing them, calling for a “tidal wave or something to totally exterminate the population” and saying that the island’s inhabitants were “the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere.” He went on to head the US Army’s Biological Weapons division, serve on the Atomic Energy Commission, and sent memos to US military leaders expressing the opinion that Puerto Rican supporters of independence should be “eradicated” with the use of germ bombs! This was only a prelude, in a sense.

Henry Laughlin, superintendent of the US Eugenics Record Office, pushed the Model Eugenical Sterilization Law, targeting “socially inadequate” people for sterilization in 30 US states and Puerto Rico. On the island itself, in 1936, Law 116 entered into force by making sterilization legal and free for women, with no alternative plan of birth control, backed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation18, the Puerto Rican government, and Human Betterment Association. It was voluntary, only in theory, with employer discrimination and a dearth of other options giving women the incentive to participate, coupled with the veneer of being “feminist” and sometimes a lack of informed consent. This was done after scientists conducted research experiments on Puerto Rican women who had taken birth control pills, with a high amount of estrogen. Such an approach was rejected by the Catholic Church, which supported sterilization instead. By the 1970s, this horrendous practice ended, with more than one-third of Puerto Rico’s female population of childbearing age undergoing the procedure.19

At the same time, repression of the island’s spirit and feelings for independence intensified. On October 24, 1935, police at the campus of the University of Puerto Rico confronted nationalists, resulting in the death of four nationalists and one police officer, in what has been called the Rios Piedras massacre, what police chief E. Francis Riggs declared was part of his “war to the death against all Puerto Ricans.” In response to this action, the nationalist party called for a boycott to all actions held while Puerto Rico was a part of the United States.

The nationalist party continued its actions on the island. On March 21, 1937, it peacefully marched to Ponce. As they requested a permit, it was denied, and as they continued the action, police cordoned off unarmed demonstrators, then firing upon them from multiple directions, killing a total of 21 and wounding 140-200 people, in what has been called the  Ponce Massacre. As “hysteria and near civil war swept the island” with nationalists arrested and hunted on sight, 23 nationalists and four police officers were arrested for participation in the massacre, with the ACLU even investigating the matter, finding that the protesters were not armed and had been surrounded by the police.

As the years passed, the US strengthened its hold on the island. By 1940, 80% of the country’s arable land was US-owned. In 1939, the US began bombing on the island of Culebra (which it later fully occupied until protests in the 1970s forced it to move operations to Vieques), and two years later, it began the occupation of Vieques, an island of 7,000 inhabitants. As William Blum, a renowned critic of US foreign policy, writes, from 1940 to 2000, the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, had to endure years of “target practices and war games” which included dropping depleted uranium and napalm.20 This led to the island’s drinking water to be reportedly poisoned and resulted in the land being “contaminated by radioactivity.”

Even as US military officials outrageously said that they could only have a bombing range on that island since one on the East Coast would be too close to population centers, President Bill Clinton promised that the US would stop using the bombing range in 2005.21  With international pressure and local protests, the bombing range stopped being used in 2003, but was accompanied by the closing of the Roosevelt Roads naval facility, the following year, almost to make residents “regret” their decision. Still, this was another victory against the empire. Such bombing on Vieques and Culebra islands was not the only imposition. From 1948 to 1957, Law 53, also called Le Ley de Mondonza or “gag law,” made it illegal to support or say anything construed as pro-independence, with a penalty of ten years in prison.

As the Cold War started, by arrogant imperialists who didn’t want to have friendly relationships with the Soviets after World War II, the imperialists began their “charm offensive” to the world stage. US leaders were recognizing that “ruling an impoverished colony in the Caribbean made the United States look bad.”22 Of course, they could only say this, feeling assured that those in the Puerto Rican government, like Luis Munoz Martin, the “Father of Modern Puerto Rico,” were accommodationist to US imperial power, even pushing for Law 53 and by the 1950s, at least, was clearly a symbol of an organ of the machine of colonial control.

In the UN, the US government attempted to stifle criticism of US colonial control by working on changing the country to a commonwealth. Diplomats saw the island helping in the anti-communist Korean War as a vital “political association” which respects individuality and culture of the island, and declaring that the occupation was legal. As the diplomats frankly admitted, declaring colonial control of the island nation as “free choice” of the residents would head off attacks “by those who have charged the United States government with imperialism and colonial exploitation.” While the “Soviet bloc” argued correctly that self-government didn’t exist in Puerto Rico, diplomats claimed they had a “strong case” of moving Puerto Rico from the list of non-self-governing territories (discussed more in the following paragraph), even as they felt difficulties would arise in the “usual anti-colonial propaganda by Iron Curtain countries,” along with other factors.

This veneer was first reinforced by the Constitutional Referendum in 1952, which approved a constitution proposed in 1950 by the US Congress, stripped of social democratic measures before it was approved, after negotiation with the accommodationist leaders on the island, including Governor Marin. Not surprisingly, independence was never offered as an option, showing that the motive of the US could have been to douse revolutionary feelings. The second reinforcement was on November 27, 1953, when the US imperialists achieved a victory which allowed “approval” of the commonwealth status of the island. The passing of Resolution 748, in the UN’s General Assembly, after a push of US hegemony, made it clear that the US was given sanction to determine the “status of territories under its sovereignty.” Years later, the US imperialists have tried to soften the push for independence by allowing multiple plebiscites on the island to “decide” its fate, but none of these considered that the island is a colony and needs to have self-determination, as asserted in UN General Assembly resolution 1514, described later in this article.

This may be the basis of Kinzer’s claim that colonialism in Puerto Rico has been “benign” and that US imperialists had “no ambition” to oppress the island’s inhabitants. Some may even think the idea the island is under “self-rule” or a change in its status, means that neocolonialism is in place. These are both incorrect. For neocolonialism to be present, the island would have to be under indirect colonial control. Such domination, unlike direct colonial control of the past keeping people politically and economically exploited, often used by Britain, France, and the United States, would require formal recognition of political independence even with domination by political, economic, social, military, and other means.23

This “norm” of neocolonialism, which exists under imperial rivalry, and assists profitable enterprises, is not the case in Puerto Rico.24 This is because the island is not formally an independent political entity. As recently as October 2016, the Supreme Court held that while the island nation functioned as a separate sovereign entity for certain purposes, the authority to govern the island derives from the US Constitution, saying that the US Congress still has the supreme authority over the island.25

This is buttressed by the case of United States v. Sanchez in 1993, in which a US Court of Appeals which said that Congress may unilaterally repeal the constitution of Puerto Rico, and a congressional committee report in 1997 declaring that the island is “subject to the supremacy of the Federal Constitution and laws passed by Congress,” even including the rescinding of the current “commonwealth” status! Hence, while the current government in Puerto Rico is, officially, a separate political entity from the United States, the US is still the imperial overlord of the island. By extension, this means that the officially deemed US “territories” in Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, and Northern Marinas Islands are colonies, along with arguably Hawaii.26 Hence, for these “territories,” colonialism, rather than neocolonialism, is at work, a subset of imperialism.

Efforts by US imperialists to repress or weaken resistance was abundantly clear. The FBI, the secret “internal” police of the murderous empire, spent forty years (1936-1976) working to repress, disrupt, and surveil the independence movement (“independentista”) in Puerto Rico. This included surveillance of renowned nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos from 1936 until his death in 1965.27 Specifically, the FBI kept files, illegally, on 140,000 pro-independence individuals! Even Governor Marin, the founder of the Popular Democratic Party, and later pliant puppet leader, was originally under surveillance until the FBI changed its mind, trying to protect him from threats. Years later, FBI director Louis J. Freeh admitted that his agency engaged in “egregious illegal activity, maybe criminal action” and violated the civil rights of those on the island. This suppression was only part of the story. The island’s police, FBI, and US Army intelligence had dossiers on 100,000 Puerto Ricans, 75,000 who were under “political” surveillance. Apart from the police provocateurs who assassinated independentistas,15,000 Puerto Ricans (of the 75,000) had extensive police files for political activity.

There were other forms of US domination. In 1976, the US put in place Section 936 of the internal revenue code, which allowed US companies to operate on the island without paying any corporate taxes. This was released years later when there was a huge pharmaceutical boom on the island, and the provision was replaced by Section 30A, which had similar language, in 2006. In 1979, Jimmy Carter, trying to engage in a “significant humanitarian gesture” mainly to fend off criticism of the United States, commuted the sentences of four Puerto Rican nationalists who participated in the 1950 and 1954 actions, described in the next paragraph, saying they had served enough time in prison.28

Clearly, the FBI’s brutal streak did not end, with surveillance of Puerto Rican independence activists still occurring in 1995. Ten years later, in 2005, the FBI murdered a Puerto Rican independence leader named Ojeda Rios in a shootout.29 This outraged many islanders. The following year, the FBI engaged in violent raids on the island. And two years later, an FBI/NYPD anti-terrorism task force targeted three independentistas living in the US mainland, currently, handing them subpoenas.30 This clearly shows that the crackdown on independentistas has not ended in the slightest.

Such impositions were not met without resistance. In 1934, sugar workers went on strike, and gained a few wage concessions, one of the victories for the small island nation. Two years later, on February 23, 1936, Riggs, on the island to protect colonial investments, was killed by nationalist Elias Beauchamp, accompanied by Hiram Rosado, who were, in turn, murdered by police, within hours and without trial! This killing was one of the times that Puerto Ricans would engage in what Fanon called “counterviolence” and recognized that the “colonized men liberates himself in and through violence.”31 Flash forward to 1950. On October 30, there were uprisings in Ponce, Jayuya, Utado, Naranjito, and elsewhere, led by Campos. These uprisings were brutally crushed, some by National Guardsmen flying planes and firing down upon the crowd as ordered by Governor Martin, a reliable US puppet leader.32 The revolutionary spirit would not die. In 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists struck at the heart of the empire: they attempted to kill President Truman.33 While the action was not successful, there was no doubt that the anti-colonial struggle by Puerto Ricans was connected to that of other peoples as Campos said before being arrested in 1950:

… it’s not easy to give a speech when we have our mother laying in bed and an assassin waiting to take your life… The assassin is the power of the United States of North America. One cannot give a speech while the newborn of our country are dying of hunger; while the adolescents of our homeland are being poisoned with the worst virus of them all, the virus of slavery… They must go to the United States to be the slaves of the economic powers, of the tyrants of our country… One cannot easily give a speech when this tyrant has the power to tear the sons right out of the hearts of Puerto Rico mothers to send to Korea, or into hell, to kill, to be the murderers of innocent Koreans, or to die covering a front for the Yankee enemies of our country, for them to return insane to their own people or for them to return mutilated beyond recognition… It’s not easy… We have called together here those who want the union of our brothers, of our Latin American brothers, and, very specially, the Cubans, all the people of the Antilles, the Haitians, the Dominicans, for all of them who love the independence of Puerto Rico as their very own, because as long as Puerto Rico is not free, every single one of those nations feels mutilated.

By the 1950s, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party was starting to fade from the political landscape. By the 1960s, it was being replaced by armed revolutionary groups, like the Los Macheteras, with the latter engaging in counterviolence. In 1954, this was proven to be true when Campos led a group of 37 nationalists who fired on Congressmen from the house balcony, with many taken into custody after a two-hour gun battle.34 Campos would die years later, in 1965, after being tear gassed, tortured, and beaten in prison.35

By the 1960s, the equation was changing. Between 1955 and 1960, seventy-seven newly independent nations had been admitted to the UN, which formed an alliance to push for the adoption of resolution 1514 in the General Assembly in 1960. The resolution, initially proposed by Nikita S. Khrushchev of the USSR, declared that the “colonial situation in all its forms and manifestations” had to be remedied, with eighty-nine countries voting in favor. There were only nine abstentions (and no votes against) by the U.K., US, Western-backed apartheid South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, France, Australia, and the Dominican Republic, then controlled by the US-backed Rafael Trujillo. The latter was assassinated in 1961, with the CIA, without consent of the State Department, giving the assassins rifles and other firearms, as noted in pages 70-85 of the Rockefeller Commission’s report in 1975.

In the US, with the development of the “New Left”, social movements began to gain steam. The Young Lords Party, originally a gang in Chicago, re-organized itself as a pro-Puerto Rican organization, in 1968, that took a strong anti-imperialist position. In their principles, they argued that they had been colonized for five hundred years, first by Spain, then the United States, making them the “slaves of the gringo” and rejecting Puerto Rican rulers who were “puppets of the oppressor… who keep our communities peaceful for business,” instead of pushing for a socialist society, and ultimately against machismo, a fundamentally feminist position.

Like the Black Panthers, they supported armed self-defense and had free breakfast programs to support the community while increasing their base of support. In 1969, the Black Panthers reached out to them, the Brown Berets fighting for Chicano liberation, and anti-racist Young Patriots who tried to support young, white migrants who came from Appalachia, to create the first “rainbow coalition.” The name of the coalition was later taken by black opportunist Jesse Jackson, Jr. in a failed effort to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and push for political reforms. Years later, the Lords changed their name to the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO), pushed for a revolutionary party, and fell apart in 1975 after FBI disruption, infighting and other factors.

The Puerto Ricans are not alone. Starting in 1972, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization (The Committee of 24) condemned the status of Puerto Rico, recognizing that the Commonwealth status is untenable, with US investors getting preferential treatment, and that the island should be independent from the supposedly “benign empire” of the United States. Due to the more than 33 resolutions calling for Puerto Rico’s independence by the Committee of 24 since 1972, building off of resolution 1514, it has been tarred by the US. In 1968, only five years into its existence, US diplomats declared that the Committee had become “anti-Western” because it criticized US imperialism and supported “independentistas” in Puerto Rico. Such criticism didn’t stop the Committee. Recently, the Committee concluded that the US violated Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination to be an independent nation. Specifically, representatives from Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Iran have talked about independence for the island nation and relinquishing US colonial rule, with some witnesses talking about how the island was illegally taken and under corporate control. Latin America clearly did not abandon the island. Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, former Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, and Raul Castro of Cuba have all supported the island’s independence.

Other organizations that have argued for independence include the Non-Aligned Movement and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) founded by Latin American states in Carcas, Venezuela in 2011. Clearly, the Democratic and Republican parties, along with the island’s two major political parties (The Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party) do not support independence.36 The island’s governors, under the constitution of the Puerto Rican “commonwealth,” five from the Popular Democratic Party (Luis Muñoz Marín, Roberto Sánchez Vilella, Rafael Hernández Colón, Sila Calderón, and Aníbal Salvador Acevedo Vilá) who want to maintain the current status of the island, five from the New Progressive Party (Luis A. Ferré, Carlos Romero Barceló, Pedro Rosselló, Luis Fortuño, Alejandro García Padilla, and newly elected Ricky Rosselló), who want the island to be a US state, have stayed within acceptable bourgeois opinion. While some may be liberal and others conservative, through all eleven of the governors, there has been concentration of corporate power on the island and maintenance of the colonial relationship. While some could claim the referendum in 2012 “solved” the status of the island, less than half supported statehood, with most, instead, wanting a change to the status quo.

In 1975, when Cuba pushed to give special status for the island for the Puerto Rican independence movement, the US balked with anger. Such a response is predictable. Deep down, the imperialists of the US are afraid of Puerto Rican independence. If the country became independent, it is possible that Vieques couldn’t become a bombing range again, the US couldn’t store nuclear weapons there, plan for strikes on Cuba, use the island to intercept “enemy” signals, and so on.37 Even some diplomats tried to say that if the island is separated from the US, the residents would be jeopardizing their “paramount interests in economic, social, education… [and] political matters.” This is reflexively talking about what US and foreign capitalists would lose, instead of referring to the real needs of Puerto Ricans.

The question remains: where do we stand now? Undoubtedly, the coverage of the island by the bourgeois media focuses on “unpayable debt.” The island is, as writer Nelson Denis argued (with likely feminist implications), the “battered spouse of the Caribbean.” An article last fall by Linda Backiel, in the Monthly Review, is vital in explaining the current situation. She writes that the dire straits of the island, $73 billion of debt, is not a surprise, since it has been “sacked by colonial powers for half of a millennium.” She goes on to say that IMF officials were paid $400,000 to make recommendations about the island’s economic crisis, which is ridiculous considering that the island has no access to financing from the World Bank, IMF, or elsewhere because it is a colony. Backiel adds that Article VI, section 8 of the island’s constitution, payment of interest and debt is the first priority, coupled with the country “running on bonds” held by US banks such as Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, and Bank of America, along with numerous venture and hedge funds.

She then writes that “the vultures are circling” the small island nation, with the island in crisis, even as human misery caused by colonialism is ignored and over 45% of the people live below the poverty line, with the country seeming on the verge of economic collapse. If this occurs, it could threaten the “propaganda value” of the island and its economy, destroyed in part by the collaboration of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party and US Congress, leaving the Popular Democratic Party to “clean up” the mess. She closes by saying “in the battle between soul and capital, who will win? Until the people of Puerto Rico organize to defend their soul; it is not even a stalemate: Black is playing with nothing but pawns.” Other accounts affirm this assessment of the situation in Puerto Rico.38

In the most recent election cycle, the island’s precarious state got some play. Bernie Sanders, the “nice” imperialist running for the Democratic nomination, declared in June of this year that the US cannot “continue a colonial-like relationship with the people of Puerto Rico,” and saying he would offer it three options: becoming a state, enhancing its territorial rights, or becoming an independent country, which is no different than the previous plebiscites ordered by the US government.39 Predictably, he didn’t mention Resolution 1514, the efforts of the Committee of 24, or actions by Puerto Ricans to engage in counterviolence, instead posing himself as a “savior” of the island, an act of racist and imperialist positioning.

Jill Stein of the Green Party had a similar statement on the subject; however, she more clearly called out colonial exploitation, even calling for a bailout of the island.40

What Vladimir Lenin wrote in 1917 in his book, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism is relevant here, as related to the island’s debt and plans for “restructuring.” Lenin writes that concentration of production leads to monopoly especially in the US, which was described, even then, as an “advanced country of modern capitalism.”41 In the island nation, the spreading of monopoly, specifically of “monopolist combines of big capitalists” or “gigantic monopolist combines” into every sphere of life would likely get a boost under a Trump administration.42 If he follows his cost-benefit formulation of “solving” the world’s problems, he would support debt restructuring, but let the “bondholders take a hit.” Even if this sounds “anti-business,” it is likely that his plan, whatever that is, would move away from the populist rhetoric and benefit the same economic actors, reinforcing the “world system of colonial oppression” manifested in capitalism, with “world marauders” like the United States “armed to the teeth.”43 It is also possible the newly-elected Puerto Rico Governor Rosselló will clash with Trump, but what happens in that realm remains to be seen.

At the present, Puerto Rico stands at a crossroads. US control of the island, which has never enjoyed real sovereignty, arguably led to a colonial mentality where Puerto Ricans feel they cannot engage in true self-rule, despite a strong nationalist sentiment. As a result, due to economic dependence on the US, and 25% unemployment, many are not supportive of independence from the US. These feelings are reinforced by existing assimilation showing that people haven’t been decolonized, with the possible compromise of Puerto Rican strong identity and culture. With the advent of neoliberal policies on the island, accommodationist Puerto Rican leaders, as described earlier, and blatant efforts to tamp down demands for independence, it hasn’t got any better.

According to the most recent report by the military establishment in September, there are 142 military personnel, 7,598 reservists, and 1,922 civilian personnel, coming to a total of 9,662!44 Such personnel are clearly used as a way of asserting colonial dominance. Still, Puerto Ricans have not remained silent, with continuing resistance to colonial rule. One example of this would be the student strikes which shut down the university system in the country and were repressed brutally. Either the status quo of neoliberal and capitalist exploitation can remain, or there can be a challenge and destruction to the existing colonial system, ending over 520 years of colonial rule (1493-2016) by the Spanish, then the United States. That is the choice at hand.

There is no doubt that Puerto Rico should be freed from colonial shackles of the murderous empire and its corporate clients. Negotiation may lead to a situation of neocolonialism, like in a number of African countries, where a national bourgeoisie on the island is subservient to the US, not changing the existing relationship between the US and the island nation. While the Puerto Rican people ultimately have to decide their fate, it is clear that decolonization, when part of a real liberation struggle, is “always a violent event,” as Fanon put it, where the colonized masses engage in violence, such as guerrilla warfare, to push for the demolition of the colonial system and allow for the emergence of a new nation.45 In the current economic situation, such counterviolence, which undermines the role of the US as “barons of international capitalism” and demands the independence of island from the imperial behemoth, could erupt once again.46

As one stands in solidarity with Puerto Rico in resisting “a monster where the flaws, sickness and inhumanity of Europe have reached frightening proportions,” what Fanon wrote in 1961 is apt to this island nation at the crossroads: “we must shake off the great mantle of night which has enveloped upon us, and reach for the light. The new day which is dawning must find us determined, enlightened and resolute.”47

  1. Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s History of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2006), 45. [↩]
  2. Francisco Scarano, “The Origins of Plantation Growth in Puerto Rico,” Caribbean Slave Society and Economy (ed. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd, New York: The New Press, 1991), 57-59. [↩]
  3. Scarano, 56-58. [↩]
  4. Scarano, 58-60, 61, 63-64, 66. [↩]
  5. Scarano, 62-65. [↩]
  6. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (New York: HarperCollins, 2003, Fifth Edition), 532. This was not done without resistance in Puerto Rico, in terms of slave revolts, in the 1520s and 1530s. [↩]
  7. Scarano, 66. French abolition of slavery in its colonies in 1794 (while re-established in Haiti in 1802 by Napoleon in failed attempt to stop revolution, which succeeded in 1804 after twelve years) set off panic among Puerto Rican planters. [↩]
  8. Kinzer, 44. [↩]
  9. Ibid. [↩]
  10. Kinzer, 45. [↩]
  11. Kinzer, 44 [↩]
  12. Kinzer, 45, 46, 48, 70, 80; Zinn, 312, 408; Ziaudin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, Why Do People Hate America? (New York: The Disinformation Company, 2002), 43. [↩]
  13. Kinzer, 91. [↩]
  14. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004 reprint, originally published in 1961, 14. [↩]
  15. Kinzer, 91-92. [↩]
  16. Kinzer, 92. [↩]
  17. Kinzer, 92, 104, 107, 108, 215, 300. [↩]
  18. Anti-abortion activists have even used this to criticize Planned Parenthood, with a lawyer for such a group, Casey Mattox, writing that Planned Parenthood worked with the government of Puerto Rico to sterilize women, which was not voluntary, and was a major part of the island’s sterilization program. Of course, Mattox uses it to argue against contraceptive use instead of developing it into a criticism of US imperialism.
  19. Some have argued that feminists on the US mainland too often framed the discussion around the idea that “Puerto Rican women are victimized and need to be saved,” denying the action of Puerto Rican feminists in support of the measure, and deny the possibility of “Puerto Rican feminist agency” (see pages 31-34 of Laura Briggs’s “Discourses of ‘Forced Sterilization’ in Puerto Rico: The Problem with the Speaking Subaltern”). Be that as it may, parts of this argument come very close to apology for US imperial and colonial action, such as imposed sterilization. Saying this does not deny that Puerto Rican women didn’t act in their best interests and engaged in sterilization in order to improve their own conditions. However, as said in the article, women had little choice but to engage in this procedure, so they didn’t even have “agency,” a word also used to throw off certain analysis, especially of a radical kind, or free choice to engage in all possible birth control measures if they wished to do so. [↩]
  20. William Blum, Rogue State (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2000), 98. [↩]
  21. Blum-Ibid. [↩]
  22. Kinzer, 92-93. [↩]
  23. Jack Woodis, Introduction to Neo-Colonialism:The New Imperialism in Asia, Africa, & Latin America (New York: International Publishers, 1969, second printing, originally published in 1967), 13, 16, 28, 32-33, 43-47, 49, 58, 61, 68-69. [↩]
  24. Woddis, 50, 68-69. [↩]
  25. The Court’s majority opinion, written by “liberal” Justice Elena Kagan, declared in flowery words that the colonial relationship is “unique” and built on the “island’s evolution into a constitutional democracy exercising local self-rule,” while admitting that the US Congress stripped the Puerto Rican constitution of social democratic qualities before it was approved since US colonies are “not sovereigns distinct from the United States” as noted on pages 2, 3, 10-11, 15 of the decision. Even Stephen Breyer, who accepted that federal power was the governing authority over US states and colonies, posited the “self-rule” argument, claiming that the island was self-ruling, citing numerous sources including the horrid Resolution 748. The dissenting opinion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not not challenge, fundamentally, the court’s ruling, only saying that the matter warrants attention to future cases. Clarence Thomas had a similar opinion, only saying that he felt the decision would be a negative precedent on law governing indigenous peoples in the United States.
  26. The US also controls uninhabited islands in the Pacific including Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island. They could be effectively considered part of the US colonial system.
  27. The FBI began its close attention on the island in 1936 when a local US attorney said that Campos was publishing articles insulting the US and giving “public speeches in favor of independence.” His influence was so widely recognized that when he refused to go to his parole officer, the Roosevelt administration didn’t order him back to prison for fear that there would be unrest on the island.
  28. In September 1999, Bill Clinton would commute the sentences of eleven Puerto Rican nationalists, which sparked anger among police officers, numerous leading Democrats, and numerous Republicans. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton opposed this move, expressing her opposition.
  29. See articles on this from Democracy Now!, USA Today, Associated Press, and Socialist Worker just for examples of differing reactions among those on the internet. [↩]
  30. From 1936 to 1995, the FBI generated 1.5 to 1.8 million pages on Puerto Rican independence activists! [↩]
  31. Fanon, 44, 47. [↩]
  32. Sardar and Davies, 96. [↩]
  33. Chronicle of America (Mount Kisco, NY: Chronicle Publications, 1988), 755, 758. The surviving man from this action, who was not killed in a gun battle with police officers, was sentenced to life imprisonment instead of being killed. [↩]
  34. Chronicle of America, 765. [↩]
  35. Laura Briggs, wrote in her article, as mentioned in an earlier footnote, that Campos was opposed to radicals who pushed for birth control on the island (along with independence), started by the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, and other efforts. This, in and of itself, would not be surprising, as machismo is widely cemented in many Latin American societies and reflected itself in liberation struggles. Despite this major flaw, it still worth recognizing his struggle in resisting US colonialism on the island nation of Puerto Rico, making him a hero to many. [↩]
  36. Politically, the Republicans would likely oppose statehood due to the large number of Puerto Ricans voting for the Democratic Party in presidential elections. [↩]
  37. In 1977, some diplomats claimed that the US could not place nuclear weapons on the island if it became a state. Whether this is actually true is not known.
  38. See articles on The Real News, The Hill, Democracy Now!, Telesur English, Mother Jones, Common Dreams, and Dissident Voice, of course
  39. Sanders is also on record for rejecting the neoliberal debt restructuring in place. However, due to his imperialist stance on foreign policy, there is no guarantee his debt restructuring would be any better overall.
  40. The Green Party of the United States has a plank on their platform declaring that the people of the island have the right to self-determination and independence, release of Puerto Rican political prisoners, environmental cleanup of Vieques, that the island’s debt is “unpayable” and that decolonization had to be supported as the “first step for the Puerto Rican people to live in a democracy.” Even the Communist Party USA, a political party that became rightist after the Hungarian “Revolution” in 1956 and with its call for a left-liberal inclusive coalition against the right-wing in the US instead of actively organizing people for socialism, declared in its 2006 “Road to Socialism” that the island nation composes an “oppressed national minority” who are mostly working class, dependent on the US, and says there needs to be a “free and independent Puerto Rico.” This is even further left, strangely enough, then the Socialist Party USA. In their recent platform, the party only calls for Guam, Puerto Rico, indigenous nations, and D.C. to have congressional representation, the similar to a position held by the Democratic Party. [↩]
  41. Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (New York: International Publishers, 1972 reprint of 1939 English translation, originally published in 1917), 16-17, 20, 22, 32. [↩]
  42. Lenin, 25, 28, 31, 35, 58, 60, 62, 82. [↩]
  43. Lenin, 10-11. [↩]
  44. The “Military and Civilian Personnel by Service/Agency by State/Country (Updated Quarterly)” excel spreadsheet report from September 2016 is used here. That’s around the same number of personnel in the state of Delaware, which isn’t a colony in the slightest (although it is occupied indigenous land), which is telling. [↩]
  45. Fanon, 1, 10, 26, 30. [↩]
  46. Fanon, 38. [↩]
  47. Fanon, 235-237. [↩]

Leftist Critic is an independent radical, writer, and angry citizen and can be reached at leftistcritic@linuxmail.org or on twitter, @leftistcritic, where they tweet frequently about issues of importance relating to American empire, the environment, people of color, and criticism of the “left,” whether radical or non-radical.

December 3, 2016 Posted by | Book Review, Deception, Fake News, Illegal Occupation, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama, Congress push min wage cut in bailout of US ‘colony’ Puerto Rico

© Wikipedia

© Wikipedia
RT | June 13, 2016

The people of Puerto Rico face strict austerity measures, including a huge cut in the minimum wage, if President Barack Obama and Congress are able to pass their so-called PROMESA bailout package.

Obama urged senators to approve the bill quickly during his weekly radio address this weekend.

Even though the 3.5 million residents of the US territory can’t vote for the president or federal legislators in the general election, they could be forced to swallow the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which prioritizes the interests of vulture funds and other bondholders.

Puerto Rico is more than $72 billion in debt, with a poverty rate of 45 percent, thanks to a colonial hangover and years of exploitation by Washington.

Residents are abandoning the island in search of better opportunities, particularly skilled professionals such as doctors, creating a shortage in necessary services.

With a looming July 1 deadline for a $2 billion payment, Obama and Congress are using the opportunity to push the austerity agenda they’ve inflicted on much of the world following the 2008 financial crisis caused by their donors on Wall Street.

Puerto Rico Governor Alejandra Garcia Padilla maintains it is more important to pay teachers than vulture funds, standing by an April decision to pass an emergency law allowing the island to default on its May 1 payment of $422 million.

At a time when hospitals have power blackouts and pensions are under threat, PROMESA (which also means “promise” in Spanish) calls for an oversight board to control its finances and implement a severe cut to the minimum wage for those under 25 years old – from $7.24 to $4.25.

The board would consist of four Republican appointees, two by Congressional Democrats, and one by Obama.

The latter is expected to be from Puerto Rico, but because voters there have yet to become the 51st US state, despite a number of chances in the past, their fate is being decided by officials they aren’t able to vote for – or against (except in the presidential primaries).

The bill is supported by Obama, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, among others.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is also in favor of the (mostly) bipartisan deal.

“We must move forward with this legislation,” she said, while still maintaining concerns about parts of the bill including the fact that the oversight board could have too much power. “Otherwise, without any means of addressing this crisis, too many Puerto Ricans will continue to suffer.”

The one prominent leader who’s been pushing back on this bill is Clinton’s primary opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

He said he was “proud to stand in strong opposition to this bill” as it “looks to benefit Wall Street vultures first and foremost,” and condemned the bill for treating the island “like a colony.”

Padilla has argued for access to Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy code and outlined a five-year plan which, Democracy Now reports, includes increasing college tuition, cutting investment in healthcare, and handing roads and ports over to for-profit companies, in exchange for reducing payments to its creditors.

It’s a plan which echoes last year’s Greek bailout – and benefits many of the same investors.

BANKRUPTCY

Puerto Rico is unable to file for bankruptcy, after an amendment made to US law exempted the territory from the Chapter 9 option.

The reasons for this change are unclear.

“There is no legislative history to explain why Puerto Rico was singled out,” Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said.

Padilla, Obama, Sanders, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein have all said Congress should grant the island bankruptcy rights, but they have failed to do so.

TAX BREAKS

Back in the 1970s the US introduced corporation tax breaks on goods made in Puerto Rico. This led to a drug-manufacturing boom, but not enough jobs to lift the island out of poverty.

By the time Congress phased out corporate welfare in 2006, the island suffered from lost jobs and revenue.

Puerto Rico passed two laws to attract investment in 2012.

Act 20 “entices hedge funds, family offices, professional service firms, and even software developers to locate there by taxing their corporate profits from exported services at a flat 4 percent rate and allowing those profits to be paid out to the owners free of Puerto Rico income tax,” Forbes reports.

Act 22 gives new residents “a 0 percent rate on locally-sourced interest and dividends as well as all capital gains accrued after they become residents, a particular benefit for active traders.”

BONDS

Municipal bonds in Puerto Rico are “triple tax exempt,” attracting Wall Street investment. Bloomberg reports more than $30 billion of commonwealth securities are held by mutual funds and investment managers.

Puerto Rico sold bonds to help with its debt and cover expenses, according to Bloomberg, and turned to creditors and Washington for help last year when it had trouble paying off those debts.

HEDGE AND VENTURE CAPITAL FUNDS

Puerto Rico’s debt has attracted hedge and vulture funds which stand to profit from the island’s staggering debt. Among the owners of their debt are companies which lobby Washington, including Blue Mountain Capital and Stone Lion Capital according to the Nation, and target other vulnerable economies such as Greece.

An audit found Puerto Rico is spending between 14 to 25 percent of government revenue on debt payments, while the territory’s constitution sets a maximum of 15 percent.

While this may seem like a bad deal for the people of Puerto Rico, a PR firm headed by former Obama staffers, SKD Knickerbocker, has a $3.4 million contract to help push it through and smooth out the island’s image during the crisis, reports Breitbart.

Of course, all of this could be solved if Puerto Rico raised taxes on the corporations who have profited off the back of its people for decades (or centuries, in the case of the sugar industry).

UCLA professor Cesar Ayala told the Nation that US corporations repatriated $313 billion from Puerto Rico between 2004-2013, enough to repay the debt fourfold.

June 13, 2016 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

The Truth About the Spanish-American War with James Perloff

February 10, 2016

SHOW NOTES AND MP3: https://www.corbettreport.com/?p=17810

Although it gets short shrift in the history textbooks, in many ways the modern American empire can find its origins in the Spanish-American War. Today we talk to James Perloff of JamesPerloff.com about his article on the war, “Trial Run for Interventionism,” and how the bankers used their media and political connections to launch the war and introduce foreign interventionism to the American psyche.

February 10, 2016 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , , , | Leave a comment

After the Default: A Neoliberal Debt Solution For Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s debt crisis will likely lead to the privatization of public enterprises including the electrical power authority and the water agency. The proposed solution reflects the application of neoliberal policies as if they were magic recipes for resolving a most complex situation.

By Carlos Marichal | NACLA | August 18, 2015

The capitol building in San Juan. Payments on Puerto Rico's public debt will likely favor large U.S. investment firms at the expense of small local creditors. (Wayne Hsieh / Creative Commons)

The capitol building in San Juan. Payments on Puerto Rico’s public debt will likely favor large U.S. investment firms at the expense of small local creditors.
(Wayne Hsieh / Creative Commons)

This past June 29, the governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla, declared the island’s $72 billion public debt unpayable and said that his government would likely be forced to default on its next round of scheduled payments. A month later, García Padilla’s government did exactly that, paying only $628,000 of the $58 million payment due on its Public Finance Corporation (PFC) bonds.

The inevitability of the default has become a major—and contentious—subject of debate on the island and in the U.S. financial media. New York-based financial information agencies, have warned that the default could pose serious problems for several major U.S. investment firms and money funds. Ominously, the debt crisis also threatens to accentuate the economic and social decline of the island’s population, which has long lived in political, social, cultural, and economic limbo.

In all probability, the fiscal and financial dilemmas faced by García Padilla’s government will be resolved by a proposed debt exchange in which new bonds are issued with terms more favorable to the borrowers—the Puerto Rico financial administration. But not all creditors are likely to be treated equally. The noted Puerto Rican economist, Elías Gutiérrez, has argued that the decision by the Puerto Rican government to suspend payments to PFC bondholders on August 1 was not due to a lack of funds but to the willingness to allow the weakest creditors pay for the lack of foresight shown by fiscal and financial authorities. In other words, the neocolonial relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico will play an important role in the resolution of this crisis.

It is estimated that a significant percentage of PFC bonds were sold to small investors resident in Puerto Rico. The bondholders placed their savings in the public bonds because they had confidence in the longstanding positive debt service record of the Puerto Rican government. Among these small bondholders are cooperatives, small banks, 401K pension funds, retirement funds as well as many individuals.

Gutiérrez argues that the government of García Padilla is following its lawyers’ legal and financial advice, essentially dividing the debtors into separate groups: the most powerful—basically U.S. banks and money funds—which will continue to get full service and payment, while the second group, the weaker local investors, would be forced to accept delays and an unfavorable debt exchange. This outcome is the most likely because big Wall Street firms and banks will take their cases against Puerto Rico to the federal courts and, if precedent is followed, probably win. This has been the case in decisions handed down in recent years by New York courts regarding Argentina’s debt. On the other hand, cooperatives, small savers and Puerto Rican retirees are most likely to lose their cases.

The current Puerto Rican financial crisis is different from the older Latin American debt crises because the public debt incurred by the government of Puerto Rico from 1950 to the 1990s was quite small. Budgets were traditionally balanced and deficits limited. The Government Development Bank, founded in 1942, was long effective in raising finance on good terms for development and infrastructure programs and projects, which helps explain the success of the Puerto Rican economic expansion, at least until the 1970s. The oil crisis of the 1970s hit the local economy hard, but continued emigration to the United States made it possible to avoid social collapse. (While the island now has about 3.5 million inhabitants, there are an estimated five million self-identified Puerto Ricans—either born on the island or of Puerto Rican descent—resident in the United States, with over a million living in New York City.)

Puerto Rico’s public debt began to more closely resemble those in Latin America in the 1990s when the conservative administration headed by Governor Pedro Roselló went on a loan binge, increasing the public debt by over ten billion dollars. Roselló was head of the Partido Nuevo Progresista, which is closely linked to the Republican Party, and while in office led an unsuccessful campaign to make Puerto Rico the 51st U.S. state. He also privatized state companies, reinforced law-and-order programs and negotiated loans for public works that benefitted major companies linked to his party.

Nonetheless, the administrations of the rival Partido Popular, which held office from 2001 to 2009, did not do much better. Aside from accusations of electoral fraud, corruption, and lax handling of public finances, Puerto Rico’s public debt—much of it issued as municipal bonds—rose by another 22 billion dollars.

The champion in the debt game, however, was the conservative government headed by Governor Luis Fortuño between 2009 and 2013, which managed to add on another 17 billion dollars to the public debt in a mere four years. This profligacy is a major cause of the current debt crisis, which cannot simply be ignored, not least because the economy of Puerto Rico has fallen on hard times.

From the 1950s to the late 1970s, Puerto Rico successfully moved away from the old agricultural export model to light industrialization based principally in textiles, and subsequently to investments by U.S. multinationals, particularly in pharmaceuticals and some electronics. This was complemented by expansion of construction and by a tourist boom. But in the 1980s, the economy took a downturn, and unemployment increased.

In the 1990s this trend was temporarily reversed as U.S. companies took advantage of the tax credits available under section 936 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, which had been designed specifically to attract mainland investors to Puerto Rico. After 2000, however, these tax breaks were reduced dramatically, and hundreds of factories on the island closed, leading to a notable drop in manufacturing employment and tax income. As a result, local governments increased public spending to maintain the economy and sustain employment.

In recent years, more and more bonds have been issued in large part to refinance the old ones. But the debt game has reached a breaking point. The government of Governor García Padilla recently decided on a new strategy and commissioned a study by former officials at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The officials recommended a debt relief program which includes exchanging old bonds for new ones with a longer period of amortization and lower interest rates.

According to a confidential copy obtained by The New York Times, one of the chief authors of the report, Anne O. Krueger, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, commented: “There is no U.S. precedent for anything of this scale or scope.” This document has been baptized the “Krueger Report,” an ironic choice, considering that as vice president of the IMF in 2001, Krueger recommended that Argentina not be given any debt relief, forcing that nation to default.

A likely sequel to the Puerto Rico debt crisis is the privatization of public enterprises including the electrical power authority and the water agency, which in all probability will be declared bankrupt if Governor García Padilla can convince the U.S. Congress to treat them as if they were private companies and to apply Chapter 11 to them. Of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion in bonds, some $25 billion have been issued by public corporations.

As in so many Latin American nations in the 1980s and 1990s, responses to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis entail privatizations and the application of neoliberal solutions as if they were elements of a magic recipe for a most complex situation. In this case, neoliberalism and neocolonialism appear to have much in common.


Carlos Marichal is professor of economic history at El Colegio de Mexico and author of studies on the history of Latin American debts. 

August 19, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , | 1 Comment

Intimidation in Puerto Rico?

By Carlos Borrero | CounterPunch | March 12, 2015

The significance of a recently divulged plan of the Pentagon to carry out military exercises in Puerto Rico under the name “Operation Borinquen Response” between the 14th and 21st of this month must not be underestimated. On the pretext of the need to prepare for a natural disaster, US imperialism has cynically prepared a series of military maneuvers for Puerto Rico in which more than 1,000 troops from the island, National Guard troops from West Virginia, Washington, Tennessee, Vermont and Nebraska, as well as international observers from Honduras and the Dominican Republic are slated to participate.[1]

This military deployment does not represent an isolated phenomenon. Rather, it is an extension of the policy of increased militarization of US society to its colony in anticipation of an intensification of mass discontent. In the past several years there have been a number of similar military simulations based on urban warfare scenarios carried out in US cities such as Houston, Miami and Minneapolis-St. Paul. These exercises have included the deployment of military aircraft such as Blackhawk helicopters as well as heavily armed paratroopers into residential areas. Indeed, Obama added a key piece to the legal architecture for this militarization of US society with the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which essentially repealed what remained of the Posse Comitatus statute that made the deployment of US armed forces on US soil illegal during times of peace. In this way, this Nobel Peace laureate has expanded the militarist policies of the previous administration both domestically and abroad.

Another critical component of this militarization of US society in recent years has been the supply of military grade equipment and weapons to urban police forces through the Department of Homeland Security. The brutal repression unleashed upon protesters in Ferguson, Missouri last year, as well as the recent revelations by The Guardian of the existence of secret prisons or ‘black sites’, such as the now infamous Homan Square[2], maintained by the Chicago Police in which the torture of civilians has been carried out are just two patent examples of this tendency.

In an age of the historical decline of its system, the only solution proposed by the capitalist class is war, both against the working masses within national borders and foreign rivals abroad. In fact, the practice of domestic military exercises is consistent with the recommendations made in a recent Pentagon study[3] that warns of the need to revise military doctrine in preparation for the eventuality of future interventions by the US Army in large urban areas. According to military theorists, the social and economic crises within so-called megacities, which they describe as ‘petri dishes’ for radicalism, will be particularly acute. The incipient wave of working class resistance, which is evidenced by recent strikes by west coast longshoremen and US refinery workers, coupled with the massive protests within working class communities of color subjected to brutal police repression, appear to be just the beginning of a new phase of intense class struggles within the center of world imperialism. As such, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the strategists of US capitalism know very well that they are not immune to the type of social convulsions that have recently rocked other countries.

The objective conditions for popular opposition to the system have become particularly acute in Puerto Rico. Massive structural unemployment as well as economic stagnation over the past 8 years has highlighted the complete bankruptcy of the economic solutions imposed by the capitalists and their acolytes in the colony. In a recent report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics it was revealed that in 2014 Puerto Rico registered the lowest labor participation rate in last 22 years, seeing a reduction of 37,000 people employed. It is a well known fact that this prolonged unemployment crisis has provoked a massive exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island, many of which are highly skilled, in what can only be described as brain drain. All of this is taking place within the context of a $70 Billion public debt, which represents almost 70% of GDP, and serves as a pretext for a campaign of austerity measures carried out against the mass of working class Puerto Ricans. And in an effort to guarantee the steady transfer of wealth to the financial parasites of Wall Street as well as their junior partners in the colony, the colonial administration has recently proposed an increase to the consumption tax as part of what it cynically calls ‘tax reform’.

This panorama of social and economic crises increasingly provokes a popular questioning of all the political institutions within the colony. As such, the planned military exercises represent a policy of psychological intimidation being carried out in anticipation of a new wave of popular protests within a colonial society that is crumbling from within. From the perspective of US imperialism and its defenders within the colony, there is a concern that any political change that takes place within its colony be carried out under terms that are acceptable and consistent with its strategic interests.

Notwithstanding, the military exercises planned for Puerto Rico cannot only be understood within the context of a response to the deepening of the social crisis in the colony. It must also be understood as an imperative of US imperialism within the context of the sharpening of geopolitical conflicts. Undoubtedly, the recent rapprochement between Washington and Havana as well as the destabilizing campaign carried out against Venezuela form part of the same strategy of the US ruling class to reassert its hegemony in the hemisphere against the threat of emerging rivals like China.

There exists in recent Puerto Rican history a powerful precedent for popular opposition to US militarism in the struggle to remove the US Navy from the island of Vieques. The task of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of this experience now falls upon those popular forces most committed to the working masses. Their capacity to foster the reorganization of popular resistance and international solidarity against this most recent example of US militarism is more urgent than ever.

Carlos Borrero is a New York-based writer.

 Notes

[1] http://www.primerahora.com/noticias/puerto-rico/nota/anuncianmasivosimulacromilitarenpuertorico-1069556/

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/27/chicago-abusive-confinment-homan-square

[3] http://usarmy.vo.llnwd.net/e2/c/downloads/351235.pdf

March 12, 2015 Posted by | Militarism | , | 1 Comment

Puerto Rico: After Ten Years, More Cleanup Needed for Vieques

Weekly News Update on the Americas | January 5, 2015

As of Dec. 11 authorities had closed the Playa Grande beach area in the western region of a national wildlife refuge on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques following the discovery of pieces of inactive munitions there. The US Environmental Protection Agency said the US Navy had removed a projectile, a mortar tail and other objects, although officials insisted that the materials didn’t pose any danger to visitors. The munitions are left over from the Navy’s use of Vieques for testing weapons from the 1940s until May 2003, when mass civil disobedience by Vieques residents and their supporters forced the Navy to withdraw. A total of 1,640 arrests were made from 1999 to 2003 as activists carried out militant protests, including a yearlong occupation of the bombing range. Federal judges handed down jail sentences to protesters totaling 26 years, along with fines totaling $50,980 [see Update #692].

Most of the territory used by the Navy was turned over to the US Department of the Interior in 2003, although the Vieques municipal government received a portion. Cleanup operations began in 2004. Over the past 10 years the US has spent about $220 million removing 28,000 objects, including munitions, bombs, other artifacts and residue from explosives. According to Pedro Pierluisi, the US Congress’s resident commissioner in Puerto Rico, Congress members are seeking an additional $17 million for cleanup efforts next year. Puerto Rican governance secretary Víctor Suárez said a delegation of US experts would be visiting to examine the possibility that new technology could be used to accelerate the cleanup effort. (Associated Press 12/11/14; Primera Hora (Guaynabo) 1/2/15)

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

List Of Targets FBI Supposedly Asked Jeremy Hammond To Crack Revealed

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | November 18, 2013

On Friday, we wrote about Jeremy Hammond’s 10-year prison sentence, mentioning that the judge had required part of Hammond’s statement be redacted from any reports as his discussion of the list of targets he was asked to hack by FBI informant Sabu (Hector Xavier Monsegur) was considered classified. Of course, it will come as little surprise that the unredacted/uncensored text of his original statement is alleged to have leaked soon after the sentencing. Someone posted it to Pastebin. While it’s entirely possible that this is fake, there are at least some indications that it’s accurate.

Sabu also supplied lists of targets that were vulnerable to “zero day exploits” used to break into systems, including a powerful remote root vulnerability effecting the popular Plesk software. At his request, these websites were broken into, their emails and databases were uploaded to Sabu’s FBI server, and the password information and the location of root backdoors were supplied. These intrusions took place in January/February of 2012 and affected over 2000 domains, including numerous foreign government websites in Brazil, Turkey, Syria, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Nigeria, Iran, Slovenia, Greece, Pakistan, and others. A few of the compromised websites that I recollect include the official website of the Governor of Puerto Rico, the Internal Affairs Division of the Military Police of Brazil, the Official Website of the Crown Prince of Kuwait, the Tax Department of Turkey, the Iranian Academic Center for Education and Cultural Research, the Polish Embassy in the UK, and the Ministry of Electricity of Iraq.

Sabu also infiltrated a group of hackers that had access to hundreds of Syrian systems including government institutions, banks, and ISPs. He logged several relevant IRC channels persistently asking for live access to mail systems and bank transfer details. The FBI took advantage of hackers who wanted to help support the Syrian people against the Assad regime, who instead unwittingly provided the U.S. government access to Syrian systems, undoubtedly supplying useful intelligence to the military and their buildup for war.

All of this happened under the control and supervision of the FBI and can be easily confirmed by chat logs the government provided to us pursuant to the government’s discovery obligations in the case against me. However, the full extent of the FBI’s abuses remains hidden. Because I pled guilty, I do not have access to many documents that might have been provided to me in advance of trial, such as Sabu’s communications with the FBI. In addition, the majority of the documents provided to me are under a “protective order” which insulates this material from public scrutiny. As government transparency is an issue at the heart of my case, I ask that this evidence be made public. I believe the documents will show that the government’s actions go way beyond catching hackers and stopping computer crimes.

Again, while Hammond is responsible for actually carrying out the activity of breaking into these sites, it still seems incredibly questionable that the targets may have been suggested by the FBI, which then basically got to take advantage of Hammond’s activities, and then when that wasn’t useful any more, to throw him in jail for a decade.

November 19, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Venezuelan President Denied Travel through US Airspace

RT | September 19, 2013

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told media that an aircraft carrying President Nicolas Maduro was denied a path over Puerto Rico’s airspace.

President Maduro’s flight, which was to depart for China, was forced to find an alternate flight path according to Jaua, who denounced the act as “an act of aggression.”

“We have received the information from American officials that we have been denied travel over its airspace,” Jaua said, speaking to reporters during an official meeting with his South African counterpart.

“We denounce this as yet another aggression on the part of North American imperialism against the government of the Bolivarian Republic,” he added.

“No one can deny airspace to a plane carrying a president on an international state visit.”

There is “no valid argument” for denying travel through American airspace, Jaua said, adding that he expected the US to rectify the situation.

President Maduro was due to arrive in Beijing this weekend for bilateral talks with the Chinese government. Jaua was adamant that the Venezuelan leader would reach his destination, regardless of any perceived interference.

Though the US has yet to issue an official response, the latest incident will likely add to already strained relations between the two countries.

In July, the Venezuelan president announced that his government was halting attempts to improve relations with the US. The move was in response to comments made by the newly appointed US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, who told a Senate committee that her new role would include challenging the “crackdown on civil society” abroad, including in Venezuela.

Relations under former President Chavez had been acrimonious, as he had long held suspicions that the US had actively intervened on behalf of an attempted coup in 2002. Since his election in April, President Maduro has often made pointed criticisms at alleged US interference in Venezuelan affairs.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose own plane was grounded this summer allegedly due to suspicions by US authorities that the aircraft was transporting whistleblower Edward Snowden, said that ALBA bloc nations should consider a boycott of the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York as a response.

“We cannot accept that the US carries on with politics of intimidation and the prohibition of flights by presidents,” said Morales, adding that the latest incident “demonstrates the country’s predisposition to humiliate other governments” and commit crimes against other nations.

Dispute over visas ahead of UN summit

The Venezuelan President also spoke of attempts by the US to set “conditions” on a visa issued to General Wilmer Barrientos, one of Maduro’s ministers who is slated to attend meetings during the UN General Assembly next week.

“They want to put conditions, if we decide to go to New York… They don’t want to give a visa to my minister,” said Maduro. “Do we want to go as tourists? We’re going to the United Nations. You’re obligated to give visas to all the delegation.”

Appearing via the television network TeleSUR on Thursday, Maduro indicated that he had directed his foreign minister, Elías Jaua, and Venezuela’s Ambassador to the UN, Samuel Moncada, to “activate all mechanisms” in reference to the visa dispute.

“US, you are not the UN’s owner. The UN will have to move out of New York,” remarked Maduro.

He warned that if he has to take “measures” against the government of the US, he would be prepared to take “the most drastic measures necessary” to ensure Venezuelan sovereignty.

September 20, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

NSA Surveillance Through the Prism of Political Repression

By CARLOS BORRERO  July 23, 2013

July 28th marks the 35th anniversary of the political assassination of two Puerto Rican independence activists, Carlos Soto Arriví and Arnaldo Darío Rosado, in the infamous Cerro Maravillai case. This case, which was widely followed among Puerto Ricans, involved an agent provocateur that led the activists to an ambush that resulted in their brutal murder by paramilitary agents within the colonial police force. The event led to two investigations, the second of which revealed a conspiracy to cover up both the assassination plot as well as the destruction and manipulation of evidence carried out by the colonial police and justice department, as well as the federal justice department and FBI. Cerro Maravilla symbolizes for many the most outstanding recent example of repressive measures, from surveillance to political assassination, unleashed by US imperialism against the anticolonial movement in Puerto Rico.

The recent revelations of NSA spying by Edward Snowden have provoked mass outrage across the globe. Much of the consternation comes from what is commonly understood as a violation of privacy. In the official media, Snowden’s actions have been framed as a debate between ‘national security’ and ‘privacy’. However, framing the question in these terms is pure subterfuge. The Puerto Rican experience shows that the true objectives of surveillance programs by intelligence agencies like the NSA, CIA, and FBI having nothing to do with ‘security’ or ‘protection’ but rather political repression. Systematic surveillance can only be understood as an essential part of state repression, the purpose of which is to intimidate those that question the status quo by promoting a culture of fear. One can never be separated from the other.

The systematic surveillance and repression of Puerto Rico’s anticolonial movement is obviously just one example of many. A brief historical sketch of US imperialism’s repressive efforts against anticolonial forces in Puerto Rico must begin with the political intrigues that preceded the 1898 military invasion as well as the martial law that characterized both military and civilian colonial governments in its immediate aftermath. This history goes on to include the surveillance and repressive attacks against the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and its followers from the 30s through the 50s, which included massacres of unarmed civilians, political assassinations and imprisonments, the harassment and attacks against labor unions and newly emergent socialist organizations of the same period, as well as COINTELPRO operations against resurgent nationalist and socialist political formations during the 60s and 70s.ii Indeed, in 1987 it was revealed that over 130,000 files on individuals and organizations had been accumulated through systematic surveillance on the island. This history is an integral part of the parallel campaigns of systematic state repression unleashed within the United States against groups such as the Black Liberation Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Liberation Movement, radical labor organizations, progressive students and antiwar activists, as well as communists.iii As such, what constitutes a scandal for the broader public is in fact part of the daily reality for those that fight for freedom and an end to oppression.

Snowden’s revelation that the United States Security Group Command’s Sabana Seca installation, located in the northern coastal municipality of Toa Baja, is part of an international surveillance network, which includes the Fornstat program, comes to no surprise to Puerto Rican anticolonial activists. From Sabana Seca, US naval intelligence monitors and gathers Internet, phone, and other forms of communication. In 1999, Duncan Campbell and Mark Honigsbaum of The Guardian already highlighted the naval intelligence’s “Echelon” operations from Sabana Seca and other locations both in the US and internationally as part of joint US British surveillance programs.iv

What is critical to highlight about US imperialism in Puerto Rico is the continued military character of colonialism on the island. For the benefit of those that may be unaware or who take the position that US militarism characterized only the past history of colonialism in Puerto Rico, a few contemporary examples serve to illustrate the point. Over the past decade and a half, Puerto Ricans have mobilized en masse to oppose a proposed military radar system intended for the Lajas valley in the southwestern part of the island, to end the practice of using the eastern island of Vieques as a bombing range by the US military and its allies (It should be noted that there was also a successful campaign to end the militarization of Culebra island also off the eastern coast of the main island in the 70s), and in more recent times against a system of potentially toxic and environmentally destructive antennas used both by the military and cellular companies that have proliferated across the island. In an article in the current issue of Claridad, the spokesperson for the grassroots Coalition of Communities Against the Proliferation of Antennas, Wilson Torres, sheds light on the US military’s Full Spectrum Dominance program currently being implemented in Puerto Rico. v

Understood in the context of pervasive unemployment, which serves to ensure an ever present pool of recruits used as cannon fodder in US military campaigns throughout the world as well as the structural dependence of large parts of the colonial economy on the Pentagon, this picture constitutes the modified form of US militarism in Puerto Rico in the present context. One may add the militarization of the colonial police force in the ongoing attacks against residents of public housing and other marginalized communities to this reality.

It would not be difficult to draw parallels between much of what is described immediately above and the realities faced by many North Americans. Heavy-handed policing and economically depressed communities dependent upon military or prison industries are a familiar reality for many. Yet the notion that the United States of America is characterized by a repressive state is much more difficult for the average person to accept. The narrative of 9/11 provides the pretext that results in the conflation of national security and state repression in the minds of many.

Notwithstanding, the revelations about the NSA spying program have provoked the condemnation of all except the most recalcitrant sycophants of US imperialism. Yet, it is absolutely necessary to place these programs in the context of the long history of state repression and militarism. Those on the left must push to extend the public discourse beyond questions of personal privacy to a discussion of systematic political repression within increasingly militarized “liberal” democracies. The experiences of anticolonial activists and militant, class-conscious revolutionaries from Puerto Rico lend valuable insights that add to the discussion around the significance of what Snowden’s leaks reveal: systematic surveillance and state repression are two sides of the same coin.

An insightful comment by Marx, writing in the New York Daily Tribune about British imperialism in India during the mid 1800s and often repeated among Puerto Rican comrades, is a useful starting point for the US left:

“The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, moving from its home, where it assumes respectable form, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”

Source

July 24, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Puerto Rico: New Law to “Intimidate” Unions and Students

WNUA | August 14, 2012

On July 30 Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño signed into law a new Penal Code that he and legislators said would counter a recent rise in crime [see Update #1111] by imposing much stiffer prison sentences for a wide range of crimes. The new law, which replaces the Penal Code of 2004, also defines the seduction of minors through the internet as a criminal offense and gives the government the power to fire any public employee who commits a crime while carrying out a public function. “We’re not going to let the criminals take over Puerto Rico,” Fortuño said at the signing ceremony.

Fortuño insisted that the new code wouldn’t limit rights of free expression. But Puerto Rican legal experts noted that the revisions dramatically increased penalties for civil disobedience. For example, participating in a protest on the steps of the Capitol building that impedes the work of Puerto Rico’s legislature—like one carried out by students in June 2010 [see Updates #1039, 1100]–could now be punished with three years in prison, while in the 2004 Penal Code the penalty only applied if legislative work was interrupted through “intimidation, violence or fraud,” language which was removed in the new law.

Attorney César Rosado, a human and civil rights specialist who represents several unions, told the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día that the new law “tries to intimidate the unions and other pressure groups—like the student movement—which historically have distinguished themselves by presenting resistance to any measure they consider unjust. Establishing a three-year sentence is a big deterrent for protest.” Activists have frequently used nonviolent civil disobedience as a form of protest in Puerto Rico, most famously in the mass arrests that led to the removal of the US Navy proving grounds from the small island of Vieques in 2003. “In democracy it’s important to allow activism,” constitutional law professor Hiram Meléndez Juarbe told the newspaper, “even if at times it’s inconvenient for the government.” (END 7/30/12, 7/31/12)

In the US the maximum penalty for interrupting a session of Congress is six months in prison and/or a $500 fine. El Nuevo Día noted that the punishment for six Puerto Rican independence activists who interrupted Congress by singing patriotic hymns on May 6, 2009, was a fine. (END 7/31/12)

August 14, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Comments Off on Puerto Rico: New Law to “Intimidate” Unions and Students

Island of Impunity: Puerto Rico’s Outlaw Police Force

ACLU | June 19, 2012

A report released by the ACLU in June 2012 concludes that the Puerto Rico Police Department is plagued by a culture of unrestrained abuse and impunity. The PRPD – which, with over 17,000 officers, is the second-largest police department in the U.S – is charged with policing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

After a comprehensive six-month investigation of policing practices in Puerto Rico, building on eight years of work by the ACLU of Puerto Rico documenting cases of police brutality, the ACLU has concluded that the PRPD commits serious and rampant abuses in violation Puerto Ricans’ constitutional and human rights, including:

  • Use of excessive and lethal force against civilians, especially in poor and Black neighborhoods and Dominican communities, often resulting in serious injury and death. Read More»
  • Violent suppression of peaceful protestors using batons, rubber bullets, and a toxic form of tear gas that was phased out by mainland U.S. police departments in the 1960’s. Read More»
  • Failure to protect victims of domestic violence and to investigate reported crimes of domestic violence, rape, and other gender-based crimes. Read More»

The ACLU’s research shows that these abuses do not represent isolated incidents or aberrant behavior by a few rogue officers, but that such police brutality is pervasive and systemic, island-wide and ongoing. In fact, our research has found that the PRPD’s disciplinary, investigatory, and reporting systems prevent accountability. Read more»

The report offers numerous detailed recommendations, including:

  • The Justice Department should enter into a court-enforceable and court-monitored agreement with the PRPD.
  • The PRPD should develop and implement policies on the use of force, improved training, the investigation of civilian complaints of police abuse, and the discipline of officers.
  • Puerto Rico’s legislature should create an independent and effective oversight body to monitor the PRPD. Read more»

The ACLU’s report comes nine months after the release of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report on the PRPD, which found a pattern and practice of constitutional violations by the department, including widespread use of excessive force. The Justice Department investigation, the findings of which were long-delayed, focused on 2004 to 2008. The ACLU’s report focuses on incidents from 2007 through May 2012.

pr_report_cover.jpg

Read and download the ACLU’s report: “Island of Impunity”

Download the full report » (PDF)
Read the Executive Summary » (PDF)
Descargar el resumen ejecutivo del informe en español » (PDF)

See also:

Slideshow: Police Brutality and Unjustified Use of Lethal Force in Puerto Rico

June 19, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 1 Comment