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The Significance of the Protest Encampment in Puerto Rico

The Protest Encampment at the entrance of the Federal Courthouse in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico against the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (cynically called “PROMESA”), as well as the Wall Street Junta that said law imposes, constitutes an important act of popular resistance. In addition to the dictatorial Wall Street Junta, PROMESA sets up a legal framework to impose a $4.25 an hour wage on young workers ages 20 – 24, curtail and even eliminate public sector pensions, cancel collective bargaining agreements and ram through a host of other austerity measures upon the Puerto Rican people.

Composed primarily of youth from diverse political tendencies, the collective of the protest encampment has taken an important first step in the process of self-organization outside of the traditional political institutions to resist these measures. The significance of this process of self-organization cannot be overestimated. By organizing to discuss and put forth possible solutions to the most pressing problems of society they have engendered a form of democracy superior to what is customary within current legislative bodies where, as the media outlets have recently highlighted, corruption reigns supreme. What is happening in the protest encampment is similar to what socialists call popular democracy, a collective and direct form of decision-making in the interests of the working masses, the majority of society. While within the current legislative bodies and organisms such as the Wall Street Junta decisions are made behind closed doors in the interests of capitalist profits, the democratic forms taking place within the protest encampment are taking place publically and reflect the will of the majority.

The basic political proposals of the collective were disseminated within the press last week. They center on the rational reorganization of economic life (e.g. food security, urban planning, sustainable and environmentally responsible development) as well as the immediate derogation of the PROMESA Law and the cancellation of an illegal debt. The collective also demands the prioritization of healthcare and education along with the decolonization of Puerto Rico.

The progressive character of these proposals is undeniable as they reflect the legitimate aspirations of the people. Independently of the differences that exist in how these objectives are articulated or the political strategies pursued to achieve them, the collective of the protest encampment has demonstrated that, freed to develop its capacity for self-organization, the politically conscious elements of the youth will create new organs characterized by advanced forms of democracy and progressive tendencies. Socialists should she this phenomenon as the beginning of new political institutions that should be supported. This is the true significance of the protest encampment.

In an effort to disrupt a weeklong seminar to highlight the positive impact of the PROMESA Law for businesses held in the Condado section of San Juan, a group affiliated with the protest encampment called Colectivo Se Acabaron las Promesas (“Collective the Promises Have Ended”) organized a street manifestation on August 31st.   The colonial government, in typical fashion, unleashed the full force of the police to intimidate and arrest the protesters. Socialists and progressives, particularly in the United States, must recognize the courage of these resisters, who were joined by various labor unions from the public sector, and show genuine solidarity.

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Carlos Borrero is a New York-based writer.

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