Puerto Rico Archbishop Calls for End to Island’s ‘Colonial Status’

 

Source:  TeleSUR
June 8 2016

  • Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez talking about Puerto Rico
    Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez talking about Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
    | Photo: Twitter / ‏@Eric_LeCompte
teleSUR spoke to Eric LeCompte, a key advocate in Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, about the Archbishop’s comments.

Ahead of the House vote this week, Puerto Rico’s Roman Catholic Archbishop, Roberto González Nieves OFM has announced his support for Puerto Rico’s debt crisis legislation, according to a press release issued by Jubilee USA Network.

ANALYSIS: 5 Ways the US Treats Puerto Rico Like a Colony

In an op-ed in The Hill, Archbishop Gonzalez noted the crisis is rooted in Puerto Rico’s “colonial status” and called on the people of the island to come together.

Self-determination

“Fundamentally, Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States,” wrote Gonzalez. “Before our island faces the next crisis, we must self-determine who we want to be and our relationship with the United States.”

“[Roberto Gonzalez] is calling out all groups in Puerto Rico to come together before the next crisis,” Eric LeCompte, the Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network told teleSUR.

He echoed the Archbishop’s comments, saying that the crisis is rooted in the island’s status being unclear.

“If Puerto Rico was a U.S. state, it would be able to use U.S. bankruptcy laws. If it was a country, the IMF could help,” he said, of the colony’s limited options in absolving its debt crisis. “But it’s neither and so it couldn’t go down traditional paths.”

That’s precisely why Archbishop Gonzalez is calling on resolving Puerto Rico’s status.

“Archbishop Gonzalez ‎is a courageous advocate for his people,” shared LeCompte.

Besides supporting Gonzalez’s support for action in Congress, he is also hoping for stronger legislation around child poverty reduction. “56 percent of children in Puerto Rico live in poverty,” he said. “It’s just criminal, the worst in the U.S.”

2 thoughts on “Puerto Rico Archbishop Calls for End to Island’s ‘Colonial Status’

  1. The issue of Puerto Rico’s independence and sovereignty is as relevant today as it was since its colonial status under the grip of the US empire was established in 1898.

    Indeed, it is plausible to argue that perhaps Puerto Rico’s independence and sovereignty from its current colonial relationship with the US is arguably more relevant and urgent today for a plethora of reasons.

    First and foremost, it is an empirical fact that Puerto Rico and its people are currently worst off today in terms of the increasing rates of poverty, unemployment, hopelessness, hunger and other socio-economic maladies as the global crisis of capitalism, neo-colonialism and imperialism deepen on the island, in the US and globally. Additionally, another of the manifestations of the deteriorating socio-economic conditions of the crisis in Puerto Rico is the increasing rate of immigration of Puerto Ricans to the US mainland.

    Clearly, this situation is untenable as it is simply unsustainable for the vast majority of the population on the island to sink steadily into increasing poverty and uncertainty while the tiny handful of wealthy Puerto Rican elites who typically ply between the island and the US mainland get ridiculously wealthier.

    Secondly, the debt crisis in which the island’s public debt has escalated to an estimated US$70 billion is only one manifestation of the broader crisis of global capitalism which expresses itself peculiarly harshly in Puerto Rico partly because of the island’s colonial status and partly because of the persistent loyalty of successive governments on the island to implement Washington’s neoliberal policies.

    In fact, Washington’s policy solution to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis and by definition its multiple socio-economic problems is not to provide federal debt relief, or a bail out or even a write off of a part of its debt as it has done repeatedly for Wall Street banks, hedge funds like LTC and other corporate interests.

    On the contrary Washington’s policy solution is to appoint a financial control board made up of seven (7) members, six (6) of which could come from the US. This “colonial control board” as Puerto Ricans accurately refer to it is given sweeping powers by the US Congress to essentially manage Puerto Rico’s economy by overseeing and ensuring that Wall Street financiers are paid back by any means necessary.

    Some of these means include laying off doctors and nurses, teachers, the inability to purchase medical equipment for vital surgeries, suspension of the air ambulatory services, cutting the pay of workers and other fiscally austere measures to ensure that the government has adequate resources to pay Wall Street and other bondholders and the bankers.

    In other words, Washington’s policy response to Puerto Rico’s indebtedness is to impose a financial board that will prioritize the financial interests of Wall Street bondholders who financed the Caribbean island’s $70 billion debt to the detriment of the education, health care, electricity and other modern infrastructure deserving of the dignity of Puerto Ricans.

    The Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz puts it starkly in a recent interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now when she stated that “……….This colonial control board could sell our natural resources. And this colonial board will have sovereign powers to revoke anything that our next governor, our next legislature or any public official of the Puerto Rican government, elected by the democratic vote of the Puerto Rican people, will do. So, we have no voice, because we have been left to be voiceless by those who claim to be the beacon of democracy in all of the world.”

    Thirdly, the complexities of the debt crisis and its allied social, political and cultural challenges fostered over the years by Wall Street and Washington’s neo-liberal policies are destined to get even worst for the majority of Puerto Ricans particularly in the context of the pro-Wall Street and pro-Washington control board that was recently established to manage the island debt and economy.

    To express the latter more bluntly, Puerto Rico and its people will never be able to escape perpetual indebtedness and its attendant socio-economic, socio-cultural and socio-political disparities that are created between the few with virtually all the wealth and power and the many with a concentration of poverty and powerlessness.

    As such, the model of colonial and neocolonial dependent capitalism that Washington has imposed on Puerto Rico for 118 years has clearly failed to make Puerto Rico and its people independent, sovereign and prosperous. The latter model of development is structurally incapable of delivering a development path that will empower the majority of Puerto Ricans over the power of Wall Street’s monopoly and finance capital.

    Dr. Stiglitz, an American Nobel Price economist who in 2014 gave a speech at San Juan University is right to say that Puerto Rico needs to tell Washington that it needs “more flexibility not more money to design a program more appropriate to your (its -my addition) conditions.” However, for Puerto Rico to have “more flexibility………..to design a program” that suits its specific conditions, it will inevitably require more sovereignty and ultimately independence from its current status as a US colony.The fact is that the island’s colonial status does not enable it to adopt policy measures independent of its US colonial masters.

    Indeed, such flexibility for Puerto Rico that Dr. Stiglitz rightly advocates is at the very core of what a sovereign nation is about.

    Flexibility is not only required to adopt suitable policies to address the evolving (counsel for LatinoJustice) debt crisis that the island faces but more importantly it is also needed to cultivate the policy space required to guide and govern a genuinely free nation in all spheres of its life without foreign interference.

    Thus, the quest for policy flexibility implied in Stiglitz’s earlier comments is inescapably another demand for an end to the island’s colonial relationship with the US.

    Fourthly, and in keeping with the latter point, the only salvation of the Puerto Rican people to be free from their colonial status, their indebtedness, their underdevelopment and the most recent Wall Street-Washington imposed control board is to end their colonial status with the US.

    In this regard, the UN Committee on Decolonization is accurate in its call for the island’s complete decolonization.

    As the Cuban diplomat at the UN puts it, for Puerto Rico to advance, it’s “colonial status” must be changed so that it can achieve self-determination for it to confront its challenges as an independent and sovereign nation.

    Indeed, the latest manifestation of Puerto Rico’s colonial subordination to the US empire and consequently its lack of flexibility to deal with its debt crisis on its own terms, is the US Congress’ imposition of its financial control board to manage the crisis on not only Wall Street’s but also Washington’s terms. It is noteworthy that neither the Puerto Rican people or its government had a say in the selection of the control board, its terms of reference or its sweeping powers to act. Isn’t this another exemplary model of democracy Washington and Wall Street style?

    Should anyone doubt the colonial relationship between the US government and Puerto Rico, a causal read of Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan’s recent article “The United States Makes the Case for Why Puerto Rico is Still a Colony” in The Huffington Post.

    Bannan aptly describes in her article the explicitly colonial nature of two recent rulings of the US Supreme Court which exposes for anyone with eyes to see that Puerto Rico is in fact a colony of the US.

    The first ruling of the Court was one against the attempt of the Puerto Rican government to establish its own Bankruptcy laws so as to reschedule about $20 billion of its debt owed by the island’s public utilities to its bondholders. The second ruling of the Supreme Court was against Puerto Rico’s attempt to exercise sovereignty over its criminal cases.

    On both grounds, the Supreme Court effectively made it clear to Puerto Rico and the international community that the only sovereign authority over the island is that of the US Congress.

    As such, the aforementioned rulings of the US Supreme Court, the US Congress’ establishment of the financial control board and the White House’s endorsement of the control board clearly expose the lying pretense of the US government’s dirty trick in 1952 to get the world to believe that Puerto Rico’s “self-government status” did not qualify it as a colony.

    Finally, if Puerto Ricans do not seize this moment of crisis in its model of dependent colonial capitalism as well as the global crisis of capitalism which feed on each other to seek independence and sovereignty, it is quite likely that it will continue to lose tens of thousands of its people including some of its most skilled and educated including doctors, teachers and engineers to the increased rates of immigration to the US mainland that the financial and social crisis are rapidly creating. According to San Juan’s Mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, Puerto Rico has lost over 300,000 of its citizens to immigration between 2009 and the current year 2016.

    In closing, it must be emphasized that the progress and development of Puerto Rico and its people can only begin to be addressed when the major obstacle of their colonial status is ended. The latter is not only a prerequisite to create the policy space and flexibility that is not only required but that is also indispensable to confront the challenges of the Caribbean island including the debt crisis in the short term.

    However, Puerto Rico’s complete decolonization from US imperialism is also required to foster the appropriate short and long term investments in education, industry, health care and other infrastructure to sustain the country’s growth and development unequivocally in favor of its peoples’ welfare.

    “You never know what is possible until you fight for what is desirable”Michael Lerner

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