“The hurricane as a pure phenomenon has unmasked the very unnatural causes of the scenario in Puerto Rico,” Jose E. López tells me.
He’s calling from the workplace on the Puerto Rican Cultural Middle in Chicago, a neighborhood initiative which over the previous couple of many years has created a highschool for Puerto Rican dropouts and an LGBTQ homeless shelter for Latinx youth. López, who got here to Chicago through the wave of mass migration from Puerto Rico through the ‘40s and ‘50s, has devoted his life to the Puerto Rican independence motion, publishing extensively on Puerto Rican identification and its relationship to Western colonial thought.
In January López’s brother, Oscar López Rivera, had his sentance commuted by Obama after serving 36 years in jail for his work with the militant Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN. (Full disclosure: He’s additionally a godparent of our information editor, Jack Mirkinson.)
Since Hurricane Maria hit the Puerto Rican coast virtually a month in the past, Puerto Rico has been handled first with sluggish, grudging acknowledgement by its colonial American authorities, then with outright vitriol: On Thursday morning, the president tweeted a sequence of statements blaming the island (as soon as once more) for its personal troubles and threatening to desert it solely, whereas fewer than 20% of residents have electrical energy and many have resorted to ingesting poisonous water.
As San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz wrote in an announcement texted to Rep. Luis Gutiérrez and shared with Splinter : “With out your sturdy and constant assist, we are going to die.”
For anybody familiar with the history of America’s occupation of Puerto Rico—our longstanding refusal to grant the island Constitutional protections whereas destroying it ecologically, for example—the abandonment isn’t shocking. “No president of the USA has truly been a president that has understood the Puerto Rican actuality, and that features Obama himself,” López instructed me.
I spoke with López to get some context for the federal government’s therapy of the island, and to see how the latest catastrophe will have an effect on the Puerto Rican independence motion going ahead.
What have been a few of the main points for the motion proper earlier than Maria hit?
What we—and I imply the type of radical sector of the Puerto Rican neighborhood—have been doing in PR was largely numerous work in opposition to the oversight board, and in opposition to the imposition of the PROMESA regulation [which restructured Puerto Rican debt during the Obama administration].
However as for the neighborhood in the USA, we’ve been doing work for years across the connection between the colonial scenario of Puerto Ricans and the marginalization of Puerto Ricans in the USA. So particularly I can communicate to the work that we’ve been doing in Chicago for the previous 50 years, making a sequence of parallel establishments to serve the wants of our neighborhood.
That features problems with housing, schooling, well being, employment—all the issues that fall by the wayside if you end up not thought-about an integral a part of the society and should not allowed to completely partake as a full citizen.
And the hurricane as a pure phenomenon has unmasked the very unnatural causes of the scenario in Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria and its influence on the island must be seen in opposition to the prism of the U.S. colonial enterprise in Puerto Rico. And what that has meant since 1898: Puerto Ricans have by no means ben capable of self-actualize, nor self-determine. And proper now as we take a look at the contempt that President Trump holds for the Puerto Rican folks, it’s actually unmasking that colonial actuality. It’s been a hidden battle, and we’re lastly breaking by way of, and individuals who won’t know a lot are speaking about Puerto Rico and its unnatural relationship to the USA.
What’s the connection between the work you do in Chicago and the broader Puerto Rican independence battle?
Most individuals perceive, or at the very least have an idea, of what a direct colony is. Colonialism as a system is pervasive all around the world: A lot of the nations on the planet are in a neo-colonial relationship to the USA. After which there are the interior colonies inside the dominant colonies. For instance, if I take a look at the circumstances of Puerto Ricans within the South Bronx, the circumstances of African Individuals within the Mississippi Delta, the circumstances of Native Individuals which have lived within the occupied lands of New Mexico, so a lot of them would have the identical lack of housing, lack of schooling, lack of high quality of reside. There’s one thing systematically unsuitable with the U.S. when it comes to its relationship to those folks. Its not only a query of sophistication, or of the connection to folks of shade. For these populations it’s a colonial query, as nicely.
And what are you fascinated by how latest occasions are going to form this colonial relationship?
It’s fairly clear some of the necessary points of this second, notably for progressive folks on this nation, is realizing that Puerto Rico is a direct U.S. colony. And that in some ways a lot of the progressive motion on this nation has completely ignored the query of Puerto Rico. It’s time to actually start to investigate that, to say, ‘We’ve got been complicit on this colonial enterprise, even on the left.’
I feel it’s that individuals have a extremely troublesome time, even progressive folks, coping with the U.S. as an imperial energy. U.S. historical past is formulated in opposition to the backdrop of denial of a tradition of empire. We by no means research the motion and the killing of Native Individuals as a colonial enterprise. We don’t see the U.S. taking up Hawaii as an imperial design. We don’t see the U.S. taking up Alaska as an imperial design. So we don’t see Puerto Rico as an imperial design. So when we don’t acknowledge that, we even have an issue of making an attempt to cope with it.
Do you count on the U.S. authorities’s disastrous response to the hurricane to reinvigorate, or change points of, the independence motion?
In Puerto Rico there was an extended historical past of resistance in opposition to U.S. colonial rule. It started the very second the U.S. established management of Puerto Rico in 1898. We’ve got a listing that exhibits over 2,000 folks, traditionally, have been incarcerated in Puerto Rico due to their activism within the Puerto Rican independence second, and of their battle for social justice. And if we add, for instance, the incarceration charge in 1950, when Puerto Rico rose up in opposition to colonial rule in an armed rebellion, we may make the listing even longer.
However there’s a lengthy historical past of political incarceration, an extended historical past of political persecution, that has been waged by the U.S. authorities, notably by way of the FBI and its COINTEL program, that has been round for the reason that late ‘50s. However as a matter of reality, final yr we have been capable of free my brother, who was the final political prisoner. He was in jail for 36 years of his life, for his activism, for his advocacy, for his work round PR independence.
However I feel the motion is already reinvigorated. The Puerto Rican folks, a lot of them who have been blind to the colonial actuality, are awakening to the truth that the one factor they will rely on proper now in Puerto Rico are the efforts of the Puerto Rican folks themselves.
President Trump talks as if FEMA was there, and had executed this nice job. However how are you going to say that on an island that was simply devastated, the place individuals are very unwell, the place folks have been unwell earlier than the hurricane, the place so few folks have been helped?
I imply, proper now you’ve gotten a bunch of provides within the port of San Juan that haven’t been delivered to folks. There’s nothing in place. As a result of in Florida and in Texas, FEMA and the federal government already had a plan of the way you have been going to cope with this disaster. Right here there was no planning.
What do you assume must be executed, policy-wise?
You need to remove the debt. That’s the very first thing that we should demand. As a result of this debt can by no means be repaid, this debt was by no means incurred by the Puerto Rican folks, this debt has by no means been audited. We don’t actually understand how a lot is owed, and this debt will solely fill the coffers of the hedge funds and the bankers. It would do nothing for Puerto Rico.
I feel we gotta work out the Jones Act, which limits any delivery to and from Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico ought to have the ability to obtain ships and meals and provides from any a part of the world. Proper now it signifies that Puerto Ricans are paying at the very least 15 to 20 p.c extra on any good that’s shipped to Puerto Rico. And the opposite factor is: We should undo this oversight board. And along with that there needs to be a course of that ensures Puerto Rico fairness when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.
And what do you count on to see on this motion, going ahead?
In all of the Puerto Rican communities there was numerous organizing effort, and it should result in one thing that’s long-term. That has a dedication to rebuilding Puerto Rico, to rebuilding the sort of infrastructure that ensures a course of that may proceed to finally put money into a future Puerto Rico.
I feel Carmen Yulín Cruz might be the one efficient voice in Puerto Rico in the present day—she has grow to be a logo, clearly, a voice that has taken on the imperial voice of the USA as expressed by President Trump. I feel she has a eager sense of the place Puerto Rico is at, and the place it’s going.
However there are three.5 million Puerto ricans in Puerto Rico, 5.5 million within the diaspora. And I feel the diaspora goes to play a key position in the way forward for Puerto Rico. And in creating and finishing up an agenda that ensures new Puerto Rico emerges out of this horrible scenario.