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      Crisis and Hope in Puerto Rico

      By Manuel Yepe*

      These days, the “For sale” sign on houses can be seen all over the place in San Juan, Puerto Rico and other cities on the island. These signs have been put up by more than 144,000 Puerto Ricans who are leaving the island to go abroad in search of employment. Some of these ads read, as a sort of retaliation against those responsible for their misfortune: “THIS HOUSE IS FOR SALE, BUT NOT TO AMERICANS”

      The current plight of Puerto Rico, however painful, could be the harbinger of a new awakening of patriotic awareness among the Puerto Rican people. This could open the way to their deserved inclusion in the part of America where they rightfully belong.

      Puerto Ricans cannot be blamed for their misfortunes in the current crisis when foreign trade, currency, communications, citizenship and nationality laws and procedures, internal and external navigation, migration, labor and wage procedures, the land, airspace, coasts, and borders, ports, forests, minerals, as well as citizen military service and defense of the country are all the responsibility of a foreign power.

      Since the US invasion of the island in 1898, Puerto Rico has successively experienced: military occupation in the first two years, a civilian government with a governor and supreme judge appointed by the president of the United States until 1948, and a native governor of annexationist orientation (Luis Muñoz Marín), also appointed by Washington, with a bicameral legislature restricted to bilingual property owners subject to imperial veto.

      In 1952, it became a “Associated Free State” and. to mask its colonial status, Washington gave the island the right to a constitution and the election of a governor and parliamentarians, while maintaining and ensuring the country’s colonial subordination to the United States.

      Currently on the small territory of Puerto Rico there are about 15 bases commanded by the US Atlantic Command (LANTCOM). The current state of bankruptcy of Puerto Rico is because –as its governor, Alexander Padilla said– the country does not have money to pay its debt of $73 billion dollars to its creditors. This amount represents 100 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

      The country has not even been able to honor a partial payment of $58 million to the Public Financing Corporation (PFC) of which it has only managed to pay the amount of $628,000. The colonial government has officially declared itself unable to pay the debt (default), and there is not a glimpse of a solution for now.

      Neither Washington nor the IMF have ruled on the matter, or have contributed remedial solutions that would prevent the country from becoming insolvent by the end of this summer.

      Peruvian journalist Vicky Pelaez, in the Russian magazine Sputnik, expresses the view that “actually, the country’s debt began to grow in the 1970s. “Its economy, since the middle of last century was based mainly on the pharmaceutical industry; but with the appearance of maquiladoras in Mexico and Asia, this sector began to move to those regions in search of cheaper labor and higher productivity.”

      “To attract multinational corporations to the island, Washington exempted them from paying taxes and thus further weakened the local economy.” The country, with its policy of mortgage liberalization, was further affected by the mortgage crisis of the beginning of the 21 st Century. In 2006, the governor of Puerto Rico, alarmed by its weak GDP growth, made the decision to suspend the tax exemption for corporations. This led to the exodus and closing of companies. The country went into recession and the migration of Puerto Ricans, mainly to Florida and New York, grew alarmingly.

      Today, 45% of the total 3.5 million inhabitants of the island live in poverty, and 83% of it’s children live in poor areas. Puerto Rico suffers the consequences of classic colonialism, in which a foreign country makes decisions for it and has the military and political capacity to manage the public and collective life of another country.

      But the news coming from the island reflects a deepening awareness that the elimination of the US colonial system –which has been in place over the past 117 years – is the only road to achieving independence and the full exercise of its national sovereignty. These will bring about the recognition and international support indispensable for the country’s development.


      *Manuel E. Yepe, is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana. He was Cuba’s ambassador to Romania, general director of the Prensa Latina agency; vice president of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television; founder and national director of the Technological Information System (TIPS) of the United Nations Program for Development in Cuba, and secretary of the Cuban Movement for the Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples.

      A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.

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