It’s a wet grey morning in New York City. It’s raining. I’m cold and I’m tired. Despite the dreariness of the day I trudge on and don’t allow these things to stop me from attending Comité Boricua’s call to action against Congress’ decision to impose the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) on the Puerto Rican people. This morning the government appointed Fiscal Control Board held its first meeting at The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House since the passing of PROMESA. I was there with other fellow Boricuas in solidarity with our people on the island who are struggling as the result of colonization, greed, the mismanagement of the island’s resources, the self- interests of Wall Street, and the corrupt government.
I attended today’s protest because like many others I am against the PROMESA bill and the continued treatment of the Puerto Rican people as second class citizens. The bill, which seeks to create a structure for exercising federal oversight over the fiscal affairs of the island, also includes the appointment of seven (7) individuals who will oversee these fiscal decisions. The island’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla , will serve only as an ex-officio member of the board and only one of the voting seats explicitly requires that the appointee reside or have a business in the territory. This board will have complete control of Puerto Rico’s finances, yet will consist mostly of people who do not live on the island. It’s a move that many Boricuas both in the diaspora and on the island are against. For many, it is yet another form of colonization. Leaving many wondering how individuals who do not live on the island or have any vested interests there can possibly know what’s best for those who do.
The problem I have with the bill is while it provides a short term immediate solution to the island’s debt crisis it falls short of outlining a long term plan for economic growth. The bill fails to provide any solutions on revitalizing or stimulating the island’s economy. When it comes to actually creating long-term stability for Puerto Rico, the structural problems that have brought about this crisis remain in place. I have a problem with that. You cannot fix problems by employing the very same methods that allowed them to occur in the first place.
In order for Puerto Rico to really thrive and grow there must be a plan for stimulating the economy, a plan for creating job opportunities, a plan for getting people back to work, rather than cutting the minimum wage to $4.25 for anyone under 25 years of age. Who in these tough economic times can survive on $4.25/hour? It’s an insult and disrespect to the Puerto Rican people. I don’t think people realize how much the residents of Puerto Rico are struggling. Average incomes are only one third the mainland average and more than half of the families are below the poverty level. There are no jobs right now in Puerto Rico. Those residents who can afford to move are moving to the U.S. mainland further crippling the island’s economy. Additionally, compared with other islands, and nearby cities—such as Miami—Puerto Rico struggles to remain competitive in both tourism and business. PROMESA doesn’t address any of this and this is why I was protesting today.
There were protests happening both outside and inside The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House as well as on the island. The people were angry, and rightfully so. I for one did not expect to get as angry as I did. I was feeling so many emotions simultaneously. Feelings that I did not realize I had until I was standing in solidarity with my people. It’s one thing to read about these events. It’s a completely different experience to physically be there. To hear the chants. To feel the despair. To feel the helplessness of knowing that even though you’re doing something, it still isn’t enough. That your actions no matter how well intended will do nothing to change the status quo. Puerto Rico has been colonized for years, first by Spain and now by the United States. The future of our island and our people have always been in the hands of a government who historically has used and abused our resources, land, and people. To know that the island has no say as to how it’s governed is infuriating. The people of the island cannot even vote for a President who is charged with being their leader. That isn’t democracy, that’s colonization and it needs to change.
The Puerto Rican people have a right to be heard. They have a right to make decisions about their future. Ya es tiempo. Enough is enough. We see where outside interests have gotten the island. It’s time to try something new. What that is? I’m not exactly sure, but what I do know is ignoring the basic needs of a country and not putting systems in place that will allow it to grow, thrive and prosper is further contributing to its oppression.
When the Spaniards first arrived on the island in 1493 the Tainos welcomed them to the island and as a result ended up getting massacred. It is the Puerto Rican way to treat those who come into our home like familia. That is something that every Boricua can attest to and though I was not born on the island nor have I ever lived there I could not be any prouder of my heritage if I had. The blood of my ancestors is the same blood that pumps in my veins. As I stood there today amidst a crowd of strangers, with our fists up, our flags flying and nothing but orgullo in our eyes, with our hearts and voices united, for that moment, we were all family. It is that reason I was present today. The island’s future matters to me. The island’s future should matter to us all.
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