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The Tragedy of the Missing C: The (Colonial) Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico

Photo by Juan Cristobal Zulueta | CC BY 2.0

There have been quite a few names for it, pseudonyms protecting its top secret identity, barely revealing, if not completely concealing, the truth behind its seemingly impenetrable Armani fortress. Financial Oversight and Management Board, a deceptive title feeding the gullible fantasies of hands-off supervision and horizontal guidance. La Junta de Cobro, or The Collection Board, a somewhat more critical epithet, highlighting the greedy and profit-filthy fingers of the committee under discussion. Fiscal Control Board, the top hit single, in Spanish widely used in acronym-form: JCF[1], counteracting the first name, underscoring the authority and domination hiding under the covers.

But these titles, and the others in circulation, are missing a vital component, are devoid of their basic kernel, deprived of their fundamental constituent, bereft of their cardinal component. The JCF is short a “C.” JCFC, Junta de Control Fiscal Colonial, Colonial Fiscal Control Board. And this synchronic “C” is part of a larger, older, more complex diachronic “C,” one that spans the length of 524 years, a “C” so ancient its amnesia has grown contagious, a “C” that only the sea has lived long enough to watch it become the monster of a letter, of a force, of a power it’s today. And so the sea was witness, and perhaps a forced contributor, to a third wave of colonialism in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is currently facing one of the most detrimental financial and socio-political crises of its contemporary history. Faced with an unaudited $74 billion debt, and $49 billion in pension obligations, the likes of which are the result of decades of corruption, illegal bond issuances and trades, and an overly-advertised tax haven, the United States Congress, endlessly infantilizing the Archipelago and the agency of its people[2], forced upon Puerto Rico an unelected and undemocratic (Colonial) Fiscal Control Board. Whether they deemed us incapable of cleaning up this mess; felt entitled to intervene (take a look at the US’s history of international intervention, it usually ends up in devastation and drones blowing up everything in sight); or prioritized the creditors and hedge funds that went bargain shopping for bonds; the (Colonial) Fiscal Control Board landed on the shores (an airport runway) of Puerto Rico with a very specific and overlooked purpose: to (re)colonize the Archipelago, to put on a show of colonial force.

Like every “-ism” throughout the course of history, Puerto Rico has seen the rise and fall, the evolving and changing waves of colonialism. First-wave colonialism in Puerto Rico was a period of Spanish rule; of indigenous genocide; of the Trans-Atlantic “Slave” Trade; of ecological demolition and plunder; of religious impositions; of gold mining, the sugarcane industry and Hacienda socio-economic hierarchies; of extreme poverty, starvation and disease; of political exiles; of 400 years of Europeanization and exploitation. But of course, there were also resistances: Taíno rebellions (The Taíno Rebellion of 1511), slave revolts (which were happening since 1812, like the revolt lead by enslaved Marcos Xiorro in 1821[3]), marronage and jíbaro culture, anticolonial uprisings (the Grito de Lares and the Intentona de Yauco), among other forms and traditions of resistance.

Second-wave colonialism in Puerto Rico consisted of a war between empires, resulting in the transaction and transference of “colonial property”; of U.S. military invasion; of the sugarcane (enough already), military and tourist industry; of forced upon American Citizenship; of The Cabotage Laws; of WW1, WW2, the Vietnam War and the Korean War; of linguistic terrorism; of the Gag Law; of the Great Depression colonial style and Operation Bootstrap; of mass migrations; of sterilizations and lab-rat experimentations; of extreme political repression and political prisoners by the dozens; of racism hiding behind myths of racial democracy; of market dependency; of endless ping-pong games between commonwealth-ers and statehood-ers. But, once again, there were also resistances: the Jayuya Uprising, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, the Puerto Rico Independence Party, the Armed Forces of Liberation (CAL), the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), the poetry collective El Atalaya de los Dioses or Atalayismo, the Student Movement of the University of Puerto Rico, The Young Lords, the Nuyorican School of Poetry (we must not forget our diaspora), among a great number of other movements and collectives.

And now, still under the imperialist thumb of the United States, Puerto Rico is riding third-wave colonialism, riding it all the way to the shore, the (Colonial) Fiscal Control Board arising, in god-like fashion, from the fizzling sea foam.

The show of colonial force particular to this latest wave of colonialism in Puerto Rico has been strategic and carefully concerted, timed and placed with utter preciseness. I mean, what a better way to celebrate 100 years of having been granted American citizenship (ownership) than by bestowing upon us a commemorative reminder of our dependant, agency-less and subservient state, a four-letter gift, a century year-old present, an eternally returning C[4].

But the colonial curtain didn’t fall there, the show had (has) only begun. In a symbolic performance of power, the (Colonial) Fiscal Control Board’s first meeting in Puerto Rico, their first formal gathering as a super power, was held at the gated after gate after gate after gate El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort (the tourist industry itself another colonizing entity, slowly transforming the Island into an Island-resort, a “paradise” for the colonizer). And very much (re)conquistando[5] the landscape, the people and the already colonial government itself, the (C)FCB, under the ordinances of PROMESA[6], is basically granted full and ultimate authority, command and jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, which it has had no trouble in exerting or reminding us of, the governor and his batatas[7] made puppets of (once again).

To continue twisting the plot even further, the last two years haven’t been smooth sailing for Puerto Rico, what with the debt being declared un-payable by former governor and avid advocate for Commonwealth status, Alejandro García Padilla; the constant and uninterrupted closing of schools; the concerning number of health-workers migrating; the eviction of individuals and families from their homes and the foreclosure of these properties by the same banks that got us into this mess of a debt; the continued bureaucratic and partisan scandals and corruption the University of Puerto Rico has had to withstand; the environmental injustices and racism plaguing the island; the rising rates of poverty, unemployment and suicides; the ever-increasing exodus of blue collar workers and professionals to the United States; the list goes on.

All of the aforementioned have taken a toll, a devastating toll, on the people of Puerto Rico, and a considerable number of sectors of the society were and have been pushed to the very limits of their colonially-induced endurance. Protests, demonstrations, acts of civil disobedience and full-fledged outrage have experienced an escalation and seen a historic rise, socio-political mobilizations gaining considerable strength; therefore, the arrival of this third-time-is-the-charm colonial venture, of the (C)FCB and the politically repressive measures that were (are) a part of the package deal are no surprise. One of the most prominent acts of this show of colonial force has been the recent amendments to the penal code orchestrated by our colonial government (now under the control of the (C)FCB; the constitutionality of these amendments heavily questioned by the ACLU and other legal associations), and this act has played an important role throughout the (re)colonizing venture in operation by continuing to engender and instigate colonial numbness, fear and obedience.

[8]And the driving feature of this third wave of colonialism in PR and of its particular show of colonial force is the direct and powerful involvement of corporations and the financial sector. The involvement of corporations in colonial ventures is not a new phenomenon; corporations, such as the West India Company, were involved in the colonial enterprise since the 17th century. However, the role of many was restricted to issuing loans for the purchase of enslaved Africans, for travel, and other nitty-gritty details. However, what we have come to know as the financial sector, Wall Street and the sort, is a fairly recent phenomenon, a 70s baby nurtured and raised by the mother of all contemporary maladies: neoliberalism. And so, this third wave of colonialism in Puerto Rico, rather than being financed by the banks and corporations that have for too long managed to camouflage seamlessly into our lives (Banco Santander, Wells Fargo, UBS, Banco Popular, etc.), is being led by them. These banks and corporations are the colonizers, which is why we have a FISCAL Control Board, not an Industrial Control Board, not a Political Control Board, not a Trade Control Board, not an Arroz-con-habichuelas[9] Control Board, but a (Colonial) FISCAL Control Board. And like the good (Colonial) Fiscal Control Board that it is, it has conquered Puerto Rico, and is in the process of pillaging and plundering it by doing what it does best: financially hijacking and destroying everything in sight; members of the audience, a round of applause for the cast and crew: austerity measures, neoliberal politics, draconian budget cuts, creditors over essential services, profit over people, bondholders over barely-have-anything-to-hold-onto-holders.

The (C)FCB, in third-wave fashion, has come to Puerto Rico carrying the financial white man’s burden, entranced and consumed by an economic savior-complex, (re)claiming the Archipelago as its property, sinking its flag into our bruised landscape for all colonized eyes to see, a green Benjamin-Franklin-faced bill, $100 dollars, 100 years[10], waving in the wind.

Notes.

[1] Junta de Control Fiscal

[2] Well, those outside of the corrupt and colonial government and partisan circles that condemned Puerto Rico to its decades-long fall into indebtedness.

[3]“Slave revolts in Puerto Rico: conspiracies and uprisings, 1795–1873”; by: Guillermo A. Baralt; Publisher Markus Wiener Publishers

[4] http://lapupila.net/manufacturing-paradise/

[5] (re)conquering

[6] The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) —designated as  S. 2328 — 114th Congress (2015-2016)— is a federal law enacted by the United States Congress that establishes an oversight board, a process for restructuring debt, and expedited procedures for approving critical infrastructure projects in order to combat the Puerto Rican government-debt crisis, particularly relying on austerity policies, undemocratic impositions, and neoliberal politics to achieve this.

[7] Yams; a colloquial term used to refer to the followers of the political party in office granted positions of privilege and trust.

[8] A special acknowledgement to Dr. Jose Atiles-Osoria; this entire paragraph/segment was written thanks to his specialized knowledge in the fields of: Crimes of the Powerful, Colonial State Corporate Crimes, and Colonial and Post-Colonial Studies. For more on his work, visit http://uprm.academia.edu/Jos%C3%A9MAtilesOsoria

[9] Rice with beans.

[10] This year, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of Puerto Ricans being granted American Citizenship. However, Puerto Rico has been a colony of the US for 119 years.

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