After Greece, it’s now Puerto Rico’s turn to declare bankruptcy amidst a longstanding crisis that makes itunable to pay part of a $73 billion debt to international financial institutions. The Puerto Rican government does not have the funds for $58 million worth of principal and interest payments for Public Finance Corp. bonds. “The public debt, considering the present level of economic activity, is unpayable,” said Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro García Padilla.
The present crisis facing Puerto Rico is one of the most enduring legacies of US colonialism which began when the US grabbed the Caribbean island territory, along with Cuba and the Philippines, from Spain in 1898 under the Treaty of Paris in exchange for $20 million. The case of Puerto Rico is a showcase of why the Philippines’ having remained a US colony or becoming a US state is not the paradise that starry-eyed fanatics of the “American Dream” make it to be.
Like Filipinos under the US colonial dispensation, many Puerto Rican peasants lost their lands after property taxes on agricultural lands were raised in 1901. And by 1930, over 30 percent of agricultural properties are owned by absentee landlords. Thousands of poor peasants were forced off the land and compelled to work in the towns or the US mainland.
Puerto Rico became a steady source of cheap labor and a dumping ground of US surplus goods and capital. This is underscored by the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, which required all goods to enter and leave Puerto Rico in US ships. In effect, all products imported to the island are double the cost because of added taxes, customs, and fees.
According to US Supreme Court decisions in the early 1900s under the so-called “Insular Cases”, only parts of the US Constitution are applicable to Puerto Rico as determined by the US Congress. And yet, Puerto Rican citizens have no right to vote for the US Congress and Senate even if these two institutions have jurisdiction over them. Indeed, the 3.5 million residents of Puerto Rico are not treated equally under US laws even if they are technically US citizens.
Today, US corporations continue to extract super-profits from the wanton exploitation of the Puerto Rican. Its economy has been weakening since the last decade, especially after the 2008 financial crash, up to the present deepening crisis wherein over 12.6 percent of the labor force is unemployed, 41 percent of the population are poor, and thousands leave for the US mainland every year. The Gross National Product has fallen 2 percent annually for the past eight years.
International financial institutions are meanwhile using the bankruptcy of Puerto Rico to further its despicable scheme of pushing for neoliberal “reforms.” This is in accordance with the recommendations of the Krueger Report which was prepared by a group of economists under the leadership of Ann Kruger, a former official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In particular, the Krueger Report is pushing forausterity measures and more privatization.
This includes the reduction of the number of hours worked by government employees, the reduction of current $7.5 an hour minimum wage, and the reduction of the number of sick days for public workers. The Krueger Report also pushes for the privatization of government owned agencies such as the Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, the Autoridad de Aqueductos y Alcantarillados, the State Insurance Corporatio (FSE) and the public education system.
In short, US monopoly capital will be profiting handsomely from the crisis now weighing down heavily on the Puerto Rican people. If anything, the Puerto Rican experience gives us the best proof why the pipe dream of some blindly pro-US pinoys who mistakenly believe that making the Philippines a part of US territory is the solution to all the country’s problems. The only real way out of crisis is for all the oppressed peoples of the world to break the yoke imposed by US imperial domination and global capitalism.
Note: I wrote this article for thepoc.net