I’ve supported the right of the Puerto Rican people to independence and self-determination since the early 1970’s when I became an activist in the Puerto Rico Solidarity Committee.
Prior to my contact in 1974 with Puerto Rican socialists and independentistas, I knew very little about Puerto Rico, learning nothing in school about it and with no Puerto Rican friends or even acquaintances. But just as there was an upsurge in the US in the 1960’s of progressive political activism via the Black Freedom, peace and student/youth movements, something similar happened in Puerto Rico which took the form, primarily, of a movement for independence. It was that movement, the socialist wing of it, that I connected with and worked with for years in the 1970’s.
“Independence” is not the issue that has brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to successfully and nonviolently force the removal of a corrupt and despicable Governor, Ricardo Rosello. According to all the reports I’ve seen and heard, this massive movement was politically and ideologically very diverse.
Given that the Puerto Rican population is a little more than 3 million, for at least a half million people to fill the streets of San Juan demanding Rosello’s removal was a very big deal. An equivalent turnout percentage- wise in the US would be at least 60 million people!
The immediate concern now, of course, is what comes after Rosello. Juan Gonzalez has written in The Nation:
“Ousting a governor, however, does not assure substantive change in peoples’ lives. In the short term, Washington and the junta [the US Congress-appointed fiscal control board, PROMESA] will likely feel more emboldened to dictate Puerto Ricans’ affairs. . .The protesters still celebrating last week’s victory would do well to reflect on the many examples of heroic people’s movements that ousted despised leaders only to see change for the worse. . . To avoid such a turn, Puerto Rico’s young people will need to seize this moment and bury the politics of old, to discard the discredited major parties and look for new political forces that are truly accountable to the people, and they must constantly choose unity over division.”
One thing I have thought of as far as how that mass people’s movement can keep up the energy and people’s politics evident by what has taken place leading to Rosello’s resignation is the organization of interconnected but locally-led people’s councils/popular assemblies in neighborhoods and localities all over the country. These could be a way to keep masses of people involved and motivated via regular, democratically-organized gatherings. It could be a model for how mass movements all over the world can sustain momentum and prevent the “change for the worse” that Gonzalez warns of.
What about those of us who are living in the colonial power, the United States, which has ruled Puerto Rico, preventing its true self-determination, since 1898? What should we be doing?
We should first recognize that as part of the dominating colonial power, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the truth of U.S. colonialism and the reality of Puerto Rico, both its oppressive and its life-affirming realities.
Right now, just as many US Americans rallied to provide financial aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria two years ago, we must rally behind this mass people’s movement as it takes action to put the needs of the people before the financial interests of the banks which forced indebtedness upon them. Again, Gonzalez on the Puerto Rican debt: “Much of it was corruptly and illegally foisted on Puerto Rico’s government and public agencies by Wall Street banks and their local accomplices in the island’s financial elite.”
We should actively support campaigns to audit/cancel that debt, to allow for democracy to work by abolishing the unelected financial control board, PROMESA, imposed by the US Congress in 2016, and to support Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination in other ways.
I have heard that there may be a mass demonstration in DC on this issue in September, and there will certainly be actions organized in other cities by Puerto Rican activists that non-Puerto Ricans should support and take part in.
Finally, for those of us who understand the critical need for action now on the worldwide climate emergency, we need to appreciate the efforts underway in Puerto Rico to advance a solar energy revolution on this beautiful archipelago of islands bathed year-round by the sun. Naomi Klein has written about this in her excellent booklet, The Battle for Paradise.
After Hurricane Maria, these efforts took a jump as people realized that being dependent upon fossil fuels for electricity in a world which was rapidly changing for the worse as far as climate instability was not a good thing. I visited Vieques, Puerto Rico four months after Maria, and most of the island still had no electricity.
This is particularly the case for people living on islands in the Caribbean. There, it is certain that there will be stronger hurricanes and storms for many years to come as the oceans and atmosphere keep heating up until the world has finally taken action together to forestall catastrophic climate change by shifting rapidly to wind, solar, electric cars and truly sustainable economies. In the meantime, it makes sense to adapt to a more dangerous climate by getting energy from the sun via a technology that can bounce back right away after the storms pass.
The PROMESA “junta,” as it is called, and the Puerto Rican financial elite are not big fans of solar. They want the country to stay dependent upon fossil fuels for a long, long time.
It is time to free Puerto Rico from US colonialism and for both to bring about political revolutions that bring into being the kind of societies, the kind of economies, the kind of governments needed all over the world. Si, se puede, en los Estados Unidos y en Puerto Rico, ahora mismo!
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.