Published On: Fri, Jul 8th, 2016

Puerto Ricans won’t accept US-imposed austerity without a fight

San Juan Puerto RicoSAN JUAN - June 30 was a historic day for Puerto Rico, albeit an unhappy one. US President Barack Obama signed into law the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which imposes a fiscal control board with extraordinary emergency powers over the government of Puerto Rico. The island, which is a US territory, is grappling with more than $70 billion of debt, and the board was promoted as a kind of relief measure.

But Puerto Ricans have no say whatsoever. Many see the board, whose powers go well beyond those of other fiscal boards found in recent US history, as colonialism at its plainest.

The board, or “junta” in Spanish, will be composed of seven members appointed by the president, some of whom are chosen from lists provided by Congress. Members will have complete control over the budget, revenues and operation of the government of Puerto Rico. Its decisions are final and cannot be appealed, nor are its members held accountable if something goes wrong.

On the night of June 29, after the US Senate approved the bill in a 68-30 vote, social media users who were following the Senate's proceedings expressed feelings of sadness, uncertainty and, most of all, impotence. For Twitter user and research director of the Center for a New Economy, Deepak Lamba-Nieves, PROMESA is an act of violence:
“The #PROMESA vote was another violent spectacle of imperial power. They slowly braided the whip they will try to use against us.”

Immediately after President Obama signed PROMESA into law, citizens organized a permanent civil disobedience camp in front of the Federal Court building in the capital city of San Juan.

Social media has proved vital to their efforts. Through their Facebook page, Campamento Contra la Junta (Camp Against the Board), they document their activities and ask for necessary supplies.

On the night of July 3, personnel from the Federal Court building lit lamps powered by generators that emit carbon monoxide gas near the protesters, presumably to break up the civil disobedience camp, as stated in this Spanish-language post from their Facebook page. Both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Amnesty International have urged the federal government to guarantee the safety of the protesters.

A recent post on the civil disobedience camp's Facebook page clearly states their goals and intentions:

“We are a group of Boricuas (Puerto Ricans) who since the call went out for the Camp Against the Board on June 29, 2016, have assumed a position of peaceful resistance against the imposition of HR 5278, better known as PROMESA, or the Fiscal Control Board. We also protest against the debt, which we do NOT acknowledge as ours, and against colonialism. We wish to be clear and transparent on this matter, so we repeat: We are a peaceful resistance camp. Any type of violence perpetrated in the area will not be condoned by any member of the camp.”

An editorial published by independent news site El Post Antillano urged Puerto Ricans to disobey whatever austerity measures the fiscal control board ultimately imposes. The strategies to be used, however, can and should be pluralistic:

“This being a relationship between an authoritarian and despotic government and an enslaved people, it is time to measure and ponder deeply what our answer should be. And mind you, it shouldn't be a single specific answer, since we are not a homogeneous people. We are many peoples, many persons, in one single nation.”

Blogger and feminist activist Amárilis Pagán Jiménez called on everyone to “reclaim the political sphere,” which is usually associated with corruption due to the actions of the old political parties that have alternated power for the past decades:

“In this moment it is our obligation to reclaim the political space we have yielded thanks to the perverse manipulation of the old political parties and the servants who benefit from the colonial status and inequalities. We have already paid too high a price: killings by homophobes, an indebted colony, violence against women, half the country in poverty, school closings, people with no medical services.

“Let's talk about politics, let's be political without fear and without shame because politics is neither dirty nor degrading. What is dirty is to leave the country in the hands of partisan politics, which was presented to us as the only possibility. We deserve much more. And right now the country needs much more to fight the effects of the Fiscal Control Board.”

This article by Ángel Carrión originally appeared on Global Voices on July 6, 2016.

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