“Las necesidades no se discuten, se satisfacen”
-Eugenio Maria de Hostos
“A civilization that chooses to close its eyes
to its most crucial problems is a sick civilization”
One does not go to poor places for self-enrichment.
The Third World is rich.
Only its people are poor –
and it is because of the pillage they have endured.”
It is said that a nation can best be judged by the conditions in which her citizens live. If that is the case then the occupied nation of Puerto Rico presents itself as one of the most exploited and impoverished nations on the face of the Earth. But first, we shall understand the politico-economic system which reigns above the land and its people, and ask ourselves: What is it? Who made it? For whom and for what was it made? Is it from heaven or from men? If it be divine, divine light only must be the means of understanding it; if human, humanity, with all its crimes and virtues, must help us come to a proper understanding of it. All attempts to explain the current system in the light of heaven must fail. It is human, and therefore, it must be explained in light of those principles which human beings have laid down throughout history as guides through written documents, contracts, agreements, and battles fought to acquire desired principles. It is in such light that the current colonial-capitalist system which governs over Puerto Rico dialectically presents itself as utterly inhumane and as one of the most undemocratic forms of government in the history of humanity. In order to demonstrate this, we shall first closely analyze its society, with a special outlook on the conditions that her citizens are subjugated to. We shall dialectically examine the levels of poverty, inequality, education, development, political freedom and overall quality of life that the people of Puerto Rico experience.
Since the time of Sargon and the rise of the world’s first empire, the objective of every imperial power has been the same ever since: expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of other people. However, capitalist imperialism differs in only one thing, and that is, in the way it systematically accumulates capital through the organized exploitation of labor and the penetration of overseas markets. Capitalist imperialism invests in other countries, dominating their economies, cultures, and political life, and integrating their productive structures into an international system of capital accumulation. The capitalist ceaselessly searches for ways of making more money in order to make still more money. In other words, capitalist imperialism values, above all things, the acquisition of profit even if that means having to oppress and even impoverish millions of human lives in the process. We all know the horrors of colonialism in Africa, in the “New World'' and in Asia. Today, the nation of Puerto Rico is undergoing the bitter and machiavellian plough of being under the claws of imperialism; and being the world’s oldest colony, a title which has come with great tribulations and sorrow. One of the key characteristics of imperialism is making the colonies completely dependent on the Empire. For example, today Puerto Rico imports from the United States nearly 90% of all the goods that it consumes, while it produces close to nothing that of which it consumes. As Manuel Maldonado Denis famously established: “A colony produces that which it does not consume, and it consumes that which it does not produce”.Shortly, after the United States invaded and occupied Puerto Rico, it imposed a number of imperial laws like the Foraker Act of 1900 and later the Jones Act of 1917, which established a foreign government composed of alien politicians to take full control of the Island(s). The most famous example of this was Charles Herbert Allen, who was the first colonial governor of Puerto Rico appointed by the United States. Allen’s reign as governor lasted no more than a year, though it was enough time for him to expropriate the land of the peasantry of Puerto Rico through excessive taxes and oppressive laws. 50 years later, Allen’s company, Domino Sugar Co. owned over 80% of all the agrarian land of Puerto Rico and became the world’s biggest sugar corporation. Another key characteristic of the Jones Act of 1917 was that it established that the new “territory” could not have international trade relations with no other countries rather than only with the United States, effectively imposing a political and economic blockade on Puerto Rico, just like British imperialism had imposed on the thirteen colonies centuries before. A study estimated that the Jones Act costs the people of Puerto Rico over $500 million in any given year, since all the goods imported to the Island must be done through the American merchant marine, notably the most expensive merchant marine in the world. These requirements substantially increase the cost of basic goods (food, equipment, fuel, etc.) when compared to the cost of transporting them using foreign flagged ships.
Furthermore, U.S. imperialism has established Puerto Rico as property of Congress, in which imperial politicians in Washington have the complete authority to do with Puerto Rico as they please. An example of this is when President Obama passed the PROMESA act in 2016 which assigned seven unelected bankers to control the economy and the national budget of Puerto Rico in order to pay the 72 billion dollar debt. For more than a decade, these bankers or “La Junta” as they are called, have been directing neoliberal austerity measures which have impoverished and severely exploited the working class of Puerto Rico through excessive taxes, privatization of the public sector and poverty wages.
The past sets the stage for the present. A past marked by corrupt imperial despotism, colonial exploitation and cruel injustice, has created a present stained with wounds of underdevelopment and mass poverty. Puerto Rico doubles every State of the Union in its high levels of poverty, unemployment, child poverty, and illiteracy levels. A study found that over 60% of the people fitted to work cannot find adequate employment, and those who do, are forced to endure oppressive working conditions, with the national median hourly wage being less than 11 dollars an hour. It is estimated that the total population without employment accounts for over 900,000 in an Island with a total population of 3.6 million people, that is an astonishing 26%. Even more so, those individuals below the poverty line (those individuals making less than 12,000 a year) have skyrocketed in recent years to 1,673,610 people or 46% of the total population. A study conducted in 2017 found that nearly 60% of Puerto Rican families which rented their home struggled to make just over $15,000 annually. Extreme poverty (individuals making less than 500 dollars a month) has savaged the Island, consisting of a total of 928,378 people. In the poorest State of the Union, that being Mississippi, the median income is $42,000 while in Puerto Rico the median income is less than $20,000 a year. Nelson Mandela once stated the true character of a society is revealed in the way it treats its children.In such light, Puerto Rico has an extreme problem of child poverty. A study found that over 80% of Puerto Rican children live in poverty. Furthermore, these conditions of deprivation and utter penury have been created by imperialism, a system which fundamentally thrives on the foreign domination of the land and its subjects. American companies have managed to own and control virtually every market in the island. American companies have successfully privatized sources of energy, the health industry through the insurance companies, the land with multinational corporations like Monsanto, Dupont, Walmart and others; and with the U.S. military currently occupying over 13% of the total land mass of Puerto Rico. Because of low wages, low taxes, nonexistent work benefits, weak labor unions, and nonexistent occupational and environmental protections, U.S. corporate profit rates in the Third World are 50 percent greater than in developed countries. The Island has served as a “tax haven” for American investors, with policies like Act 22, which allows foreign investors to come to Puerto Rico, make a fortune out of the exploitation of the land and its people, without having to pay any tax contributions.
The extreme levels of underdevelopment and poverty are linked to colonialism. Colonialism is blatant violation of basic human rights according to International law and the United Nations General Assembly resolution 1514 (xv) of 1960 which clearly states: a)the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights; and b) all peoples have the right to self-determination.It is a system, created and imposed by and for the benefit of a few imperial ruling ultra rich, that spreads inequality and penury all throughout the archipelago. It is this system which continues to violate the human rights of the Puerto Rican people for the enrichment of others. This is not a complicated matter, but the right and the duty of a people to become free; no system foreignly imposed will ever work, but the total and complete liberation of the nation of Puerto Rico.
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Benjamin Perez Gonzalez, graduated student in Sociology and Political Science from Florida International University and a graduate at the University of Puerto Rico. I’m also a teacher, writer and organizer.