‘120yrs of imperialism: US owes Puerto Ricans much more than it’s offering’

Puerto Rico, whose people and resources have been exploited by American businesses for over a century, needs to receive services on the same level as those provided to US citizens, said Kathy Gannett, a Puerto-Rican pro-independence activist.

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is in debt to the tune of $123 billion dollars – that’s about $74 billion in bond debt and $49 billion in unfunded pension obligations.

The US Supreme Court is now expected to appoint a judge to the case, as the island, which is a US territory, is not permitted to declare bankruptcy. However, it’s unclear at this point how much help the Caribbean Island will receive.

Donald Trump repeatedly said that Puerto Rico should not be offered a bailout during the election campaign. Though the island’s people are considered US citizens, they don’t enjoy full rights unless they move to the US mainland.

Meanwhile, the island is set to hold a referendum regarding its political status on June 11.

RT:  Puerto Rico has officially gone bust. What does it mean for the people on the island?

Kathy Gannett: It means the potential for a lot of suffering. This debt that the Island has incurred is the result of 120 years of US imperialism. It didn’t start overnight. It started at the turn of the 20th century, when the US took over Puerto Rico and started exploiting not only its people, but its natural resources. Now we face what really amounts to a dictatorship that is in the form of the new fiscal control board, which is made up of mostly the very same bankers that created the $72 billion debt, or a $123 billion debt, if you include the pension funds. 

RT:  Donald Trump says he’s reluctant to help. But should the US be more involved, as it’s an American territory?

KG: Absolutely. If you look at 120 years of imperialism, certainly the Puerto Rican government and the Puerto Rican people are owed a lot more than what the US government is offering. US businesses came in over the past century and exploited the resources: the coffee plantations, the sugar plantations. They brought in tax-free businesses, such as pharmaceutical companies. And now they are trying to lower the wages – they have voted to lower the wages and the labor benefits for not only private, but public employees. We need parity with the US. We need services, medical care on the same level that is provided to the US citizens. We need all kinds of economic development funds that would bring Puerto Rico into competition on equal basis. We need to eliminate The Jones Act.

The Jones Act requires that all of the goods, which is 85 per cent of the goods brought to Puerto Rico, consumed by Puerto Rico, brought from the outside… they must be brought on a ship that is with the US flag – the law must be struck down. We need funding for our universities. Education is the only way to move forward. The Puerto Rican government and the fiscal control board [are] executing cutbacks on workers’ rights, on workers’ pay, on health benefits, on education benefits

They are planning to close 183 grammar schools and public schools. These cutbacks will not create sustainable development. We need development that sustains the people, development that is based on human rights. No more exploitation of the nation of Puerto Rico. The only way that this ultimately will be achieved is through independence. Independence must include reparations for the people of the Puerto Rico, so they can move forward and be equals to anyone else in the world community.   

Daniel Shaw from City University of New York says that Puerto Rico has basically been an American colony for over a century.

“The big decisions are made in Washington DC, by hedge fund managers, US Congress, the US President, and other investors without consulting with the 3.5 million people of Puerto Rico and the other 3.5 million people of Puerto Rican diaspora,” he told RT.

“Definitely, more people are becoming radicalized with these austerity measures and all of the cuts to workers’ pensions and public services. More and more people are extremely upset and this can only radicalize them and bring them to the logical conclusion that as long as Puerto Rico is a ‘colonia,’ a colony, there will be no justice for Puerto Rican people,” he added.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.