American colonialism persists in Puerto Rico

tags: Puerto Rico, American colonialism

Margaret Power, history professor and chair, Department of Humanities, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago

I am a professor of Latin American history at the Illinois Institute of Technology. When I ask my students if Puerto Ricans need a visa to come to the U.S., most say they do. (They don’t, since they are U.S. citizens.) My students, like many in this country, know little about U.S.-Puerto Rican relations. Unfortunately, your Thursday editorial “Puerto Rico (and Puerto Illinois)” fails to clarify the history and current reality of this relationship.

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. colony since 1898. Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917 because the U.S. Congress unilaterally determined they should be. In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that Puerto Rico “belongs to but is not part of” the United States. One expression of this colonial relation is that Puerto Ricans on the island have never cast a ballot for any member of Congress or president of the United States.

Yet, it is precisely these members of Congress who will determine Puerto Rico’s economic future. The House of Representatives approved the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA, and the U.S. Senate will vote on it shortly. You state the bill is good because it “neither absolves the Puerto Rican government of its grave mismanagement nor condemns fellow American citizens to a needlessly punitive fate.” But you fail to acknowledge that Washington, not Puerto Ricans, determines Puerto Rico’s future. U.S. colonialism continues.

You accuse Rep. Luis Gutierrez of rhetoric when he charged the U.S. Congress with “imposing a junta” and comparing the imposition of PROMESA to the Chilean military dictatorship. As someone who lived in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, I assume Gutierrez refers to the neoliberal economic policies designed by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman and implemented in Chile. These policies privatized the Chilean economy and resulted in soaring unemployment and the weakening of Chile’s organized and powerful union movement. PROMESA will enforce an austerity program on Puerto Rico’s already financially strapped schools and housing and health care programs.

You conclude PROMESA “is a solution.” True, but a solution that reflects the political interests of politicians in Washington and the economic interests of bankers on Wall Street. A noncolonial solution would allow the Puerto Rican people to determine their lives, their livelihoods and their future. It would also include a commitment by the U.S. Congress to decolonize the island.

Read entire article at The Chicago Tribune

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