Notes From a Caribbean Colony in Turmoil

Photograph Source: Daryana Rivera – CC BY-SA 4.0

From what I gather from the US press coverage, the recent events here have been portrayed as something close to a popular insurrection that got rid of an arrogant, inept and corrupt colonial governor. A note is added to the effect, a kind of wishful  thinking, that if only Trump could be dispatched via similar methods.

Colonial realities are seldom so simple, though. For one, the power struggles are different, in that these play out as what closely resemble real conspiracy schemes. Players are identified in terms of power blocks, such as the US military, Wall Street banks, or the US Navy in the more recent Vieques episodes. As they play out their struggles for supremacy in the colonial stage, their actions sometimes resemble more a willful acting out of conspiracies than the unfolding of blind historical forces or merely fortuituous political events.

The recent popular uprising in Puerto Rico, for example, can be conceived as a spontaneous and unforeseen eruption of social and political rage triggered by two serendipitous factors: First, the results of federal investigations on corrupt practices within the Ricky Rosselló administration.

Second, and more to the point, the leaking of hundreds of pages of shameful text messages shared by Ricky Rosselló and his coterie of upper-class idiots in which they poke fun on gays, women, and, most shamefully, (usually poor) people who died as a result of hurricane María, to name only a few. The idiocy of these private school punks (now in their forties and fifties) goes as far as entertaining the “funny” notion, in writing, of the assassination of opposition political rivals. This from people who belong to a political party that has actually carried out several political assassinations.

Another way of understanding these events, albeit one which steps very close to conspiratorial schemes, begins by recognizing the existence of several rival colonial power blocks, each with its own economic agendas, sometimes antagonistic to each other.

The map of how these power blocks align, intersect, and oppose each other has to be investigated in depth, but there are some landmarks which can be identified.

After the Commonwealth went bust, the Wall Street bond banks were successful in aligning Republicans (headed by Paul Ryan) and several members of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration, in drafting and approving the cynical and contradictory PROMESA statute, which establishes two main principles:

(1) That the Puerto Rican archipelago, and any and all of its resources, are open for business, in the neoliberal, and privatized, sense of the term.

(2) That henceforward the colony would be ruled by a Junta which would, in essence, represent the interests of the Wall Street bond bankers. The primary mission of this Junta would be to establish the mechanisms that ensure the orderly flow of seigneural rent payments to the Wall Street lords. and, of course, the further indebtedness of the colony.

A third, and very important, mission would be to establish the mechanisms through which Wall Street banks would “develop” Puerto Rico’s resources into a gigantic tropical paradise playground for the global oligarchy.

This very schematic power block map, which has at its center a ruling Junta whose role it is to oversee the orderly flow of rents to its Wall Street lords already points to conflicts with other power blocks which are set to harvest their own flow of moneys, through legal or corrupt means, to their own coffers.

Take for example that power block which harvests billions out of the sale of fuel oil to the Puerto Rico Energy Power Authority (PREPA). Their economic interest is to sell at the highest price possible (legally or not). The Junta’s role is to make sure PREPA’s moneys, which they collect from the users of electricity, are not diverted to any other purposes which are not the aforementioned seigneurial rents.

The Junta is charged with the mission of ensuring that none of the colonial resources are diverted to any other purpose or any other claim by any of the other power block.

The “fuel oil mafia” whose members populate the political élite of both major local political parties, will pressure whoever was elected governor to administer the colony to sacrifice at least some of the economic interests of his (or her) consrituent-donors. If he (or she) defies the Junta, and places other interests above the Junta’s rulings, he (or she) will be unceremoniously deposed.

Ricky was stupid enough to make it easy for the Junta. The double-whammy of the federal corruption cases and the leaked (very shameful) chats, did him in. Hundred of thousands took to the streets and battled police tactical units, and finally left Ricky no choice but to pack up and leave.

In the process, hundreds of thousands (mostly youthful) Puerto Ricans reasserted a sense of victory earned by confronting the colonial system head-on, learned in Vieques, and now reinforced in the narrow streets of San Juan. That Genie is definitely not going to go back inside his bottle.

What is significant is that the system of colonial subordination is no longer fully functional. The Junta tried to play with the explosive contradictions in the colony, to rid itself of a childish and pathetically arrogant governor, and ended up dislodging the Humpty-Dumpty of colonial governance from the Wall. Many thought the colonial system of Junta rule by fiat would placidly sit on the Wall for years to come, but that rule is unravelling quickly. Now Humpty-Dumpty has lost his balance and has crashed down to the hard ground of colonial reality and the struggles it generates. The whole thing has cracked open.

Now, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will
not be able to put Humpty-Dumpty together again.


Where is this all headed?

We know that, unattended, this colonial mess can careen out of control, and threaten US Imperial interests in the region. So it is safe to assume we will witness some kind of reaction from the US Security apparatus.

It is also safe to say that there will be ample opportunities for more flare-ups and crises. The next Junta offensives will be grouped around its attempts to grab the tropical resources of the archipelago, such as beaches, forests, aquifers and rivers, for the Wall Street financed “developers” in the name of progress for all.

Those hundreds of thousands of young combatants will once again flood the streets to defeat the Junta’s naked plans of appropiation and pillage.

What remains to be seen is how this will all play out in the scenario of the class struggles in the USA.

Forces for change can rally around these issues of imperialist attacks against democratic rule and push back for a deep transformation of our societies that go way beyond Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020.

For sure, we will meet in the barricades.