Answer to New York Times article on Puerto Rican Island Exodus
February 18, 2014 at 9:27am
Written by Dr. Maria Canino, who is a Harvard graduate.
NY Times Reporter Lizette Alvarez, “Economy and Crime Spur New Puerto Rican Exodus” fails to analyze the impact of 116 years of U.S. colonial stranglehold on Puerto Rico
Sunday’s front-page New York Times article by Lizette Alvarez (February 9, 2014) presents a doom and gloom scenario of the social and economic symptoms ailing the island of Puerto Rico. Like the preceding string of superficial articles appearing in Barron’s, The Economist, and the Washington Post, decontextualized articles such as Alvarez' recent addition, foment further speculation about Puerto Rico's debt and patrimony, as well as its future stability. Completely ignored in this litany of economic woes is the root cause: the island’s 116-year history as a colony of the United States. Instead, Alvarez myopically focuses on the last decade of economic downturns attributing economic failure to local island government,changes in the global economy, and the worldwide recession. In fact, the American invasion of Puerto Rico as booty of the Spanish American War in 1898 created an appendage so dependent on the stateside economy that when there is a ‘cold in the US’ the Caribbean Commonwealth ‘develops pneumonia’. While the U.S. economy went south in 2008 and is now rebounding, the long-term effect of the colonial relationship on Puerto Rico has been compounded to the degree that its economic model has reached bottom and this week Puerto Rico’s bonds have been degraded by Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch.
Alvarez completely omits the burden of U.S. laws that control Puerto Rico’s international commerce, all international relations, labor relations, migration and immigration, currency, postal service, and other areas essential for economic development. U.S. Maritime laws since the 1920s have required that all merchandise imported or exported to or from Puerto Rico must travel between U.S. ports in U.S. constructed, U.S.-crewed and American citizen owned ships - the most expensive fleet in the world. The impact on local unemployment, prices and the high cost of living has been devastating.
Operation Bootstrap, the main economic development program of the 1950s, which created an untenable bubble of progress, offered U.S. manufacturing interests huge incentives including a subsidized infrastructure, and a low-wage labor force that ensured highly profitable tax-exempt earnings. It also destroyed the agricultural base and what could have been a sustainable economy with markets in the Caribbean, South America, the U.S. and beyond.
The Jones Act of 1917 and the Compact of 1952, which created the present commonwealth status, do not allow Puerto Rico to take advantage of the possibilities offered by globalization, alliances, treaties, and regional Latin American and Caribbean integration. In addition to the recession that began on the island in2006, the present economic model of dependence and political powerlessness, has subjected Puerto Rico’s3.7 island inhabitants to the effects of the "Great Recession of 2008" which also continues to impact the more than 4.9 million Puerto Ricans residing in U.S. cities on the continent (Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 2011).
Except to note that the territory cannot declare bankruptcy, the deficiencies in the handling of the Puerto Rico economy observed by Alvarez were not compared to the downgraded debt, fiscal crises, and near bankruptcy experienced by New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and most recently Detroit.
Contrary to the impression created by Alvarez' article, Puerto Rico possesses a high level of literacy and bilingualism, a technologically competent work force, a highly developed infrastructure, and an advanced system of technological schools and public and private institutions of higher education that would greatly stimulate economic growth absent the straight jacket of US colonialism.
Colonialism and dependence have created a deformed political, electoral and government system.Demands from Puerto Rico for greater local power to direct its economic and political future have fallen on deaf ears in Washington, which has maintained that Puerto Rico "belongs to but is not a part of the U.S.”The U.S. has also stated that Puerto Rico’s political status is an internal issue not the domain of the United Nations or the international community to which island political parties and groups have appealed. The United States has also stated that it will concede the status the Puerto Rican people want as expressed by a majority in processes of consultation. However, the U.S. has never allowed for a free mechanism for self2determination of the Puerto Rican people; the plebiscites that have taken place in Puerto Rico have been rendered illegitimate by Puerto Rico party politics and the colonial power relationship.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has adopted numerous resolutions stating that the people of Puerto Rico have the inalienable right to self determination and independence and that international decolonization law is applicable to Puerto Rico, specifically, United Nations General Assembly resolution 1514(XV) - the decolonization Magna Carta. Also, as recently as January 29 the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC, by its Spanish acronym) reiterated in the Final Declaration of its Second Summit of Heads of States and Government that Puerto Rico’s decolonization is an issue of interest to the Community.
Finally, Ms. Alvarez fails to take note of the returnees from the states like the authors who are committed to being part of the solution. As Puerto Ricans of the Diaspora, we have returned to Puerto Rico from the U.S., fortified, educated, and experienced. Our families overcame the challenges of racism and poverty while contributing to the democratic traditions and organizational life of Puerto Rican communities from the West to the East coasts, and from North to South. Many of us are born and bred New Yorkers, Chicagoans, and Philadelphians. From the communities of El Barrio, to Williamsburg, to Loisaida, to the South Bronx, and from California to Florida, we have returned to our roots. We have not the least intention of leaving or abandoning ship. Today, we come with wisdom, commitment and love to join our beloved Puerto Rico face and overcome the challenges wrought by the economics of colonialism.