From La Respuesta
The following is a statement by Chicago Boricua Resistance:
Natalie Jaresko* came to Chicago on April 4th to talk about the financial future of the island. She argued the solution to our problems is in handing the island over to the private sector. Austerity is the only solution in her mind. Massive cuts, mass firing sprees, and a strategic pushing out of our people from the island to the diaspora are all positive elements in her vision of the future of Puerto Rico. We came to disrupt her speech because we believe there should never be a platform for people who’s work, words, and decisions support the displacement of working people. We came to disrupt because after being displaced from our island, we are also seeing the same displacement done to our communities in Black and Brown neighborhoods in Chicago. We understand that what Jaresko represents is not only Puerto Rico’s problem, but the problem of all working people around the World. This is why we disrupted during her talk. We believe Puerto Rico’s future lies in the hands of working Puerto Ricans, particularly women, who have been rebuilding the island on their own terms from even before the hurricane hit. We stand in solidarity with their efforts and this is why just a few days after spending a week on the island physically supporting re/building efforts in the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo-Caguas and the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana-Humacao, we showed up to stand against the face of austerity and the crisis in Chicago. ¡Ni paz, ni descanso para la junta dictatorial! Cero plataforma para Jaresko y los buitres.
Over half of Puerto Rico’s debt is interest. Puerto Rico’s debt comes from pay-day-loan like predatory lending—with interest rates over 800%. Not only is this debt illegally accrued, it is also illegitimate.
The United States has a 100+ year history of human rights abuses on the island.
- Forced sterilization of women
- The testing of agent orange in our rainforest
- The bombing for over 60 years of the islands of Vieques and Culebra
- The presecution and assassination of Independence advocates on the island
- The forced migration of Puerto Ricans to the US to work low-wage Jobs
- The land grab that followed to exploit those on the island for the benefit of private companies.
- The imposition of both Jones bills, one forcing us to fight for a country that doesn’t consider us to be completely human, and the other strangling our economy and making basic necessities on the island ridiculously expensive.
The United States has used Puerto Rico as its Guinea Pig for every social and economic project that it later implements in the US. If this is happening to us now, it is very likely that it will happen to Chicago and other places in the US very soon. This is why we must fight to stop them wherever they are, and that is why we are here today.
Natalie Jaresko has a salary of $625,000. The median Puerto Rican earns $19,518. How does she pretend to know what’s best for the future of a people she can’t even begin to relate to? She is one of the investment vultures that benefited from the blowing up of Puerto Rico’s debt in the first place and now her mandate is to assure that the everyday Puerto Rican pays her accrued interest on these predatory loans.
The control board she leads and the Puerto Rican government have a clear agenda: to push out the working class from their homeland and create a haven for the ultra-rich and their friends. Their mandate gives them the power to enforce laws that would prohibit workers from participating in labor strikes and lock outs. By law, they can accept bribes from individual donors to “aid” their work. They explicitly advocate for the privatization of all public utilities, including education, water, and even our roads. Most recently they have called for the closing of several public university campuses, the doubling of tuition for the university, and the cutting of university staff by at least 50% by 2023. Jaresko, the Control Board, and the government of Puerto Rico all argue that Puerto Rico’s salvation lies in private hands. But history has taught us that this supposed solution to our economic woes is never sustainable.
When Operation Bootstrap was put into place it gave foreign companies full tax-exemption and cheap labor. We saw a rapid factory boom throughout the island—making Puerto Rico the lead manufacturer in the Caribbean. But once those incentives ran out, the factories did too, and soon after followed all the jobs. And what were the Puerto Rican people left with? Nothing. Companies paid zero taxes, took our labor on the cheap and left with all the wealth we created for them. We were left with abandoned factory infrastructure and bills to pay from the money we invested in building the needed infrastructure for their ventures to succeed. Unfortunately, this story has repeated itself multiple times, including most recently with pharmaceutical companies. Our government’s response to solving unsuitable economic planning is to propose more unsustainable economic planning. The Control Board is yet another chapter in our island’s colonial history of exploitation and experimentation without consent that seeks to do the same as before: sell us off to the highest bidder and leave us to pay the consequences of their actions.
Jaresko is supposedly talking about the future of Puerto Rico. We recently visited the island ourselves with a group of 20 educators, students and activists, and we were able to see the future being built by the people who are the real stakeholders. The future of Puerto Rico is not in the imposition of foreign investment; it’s not in the encroachment of private hands into public goods; it’s not in the planned mass exodus of our working people to benefit the wealthy minorities. The future of Puerto Rico is being built today by working Puerto Ricans. People who have lost everything have come together to build a sustainable future with an economy that’s based on the ideals of solidarity and mutual aid. Our communities have learned that they need nothing from the government or from foreign investors. Puerto Ricans have everything we need to lead our own future: ourselves and our diaspora. We are resilient and insistent and we know that when everything is taken from us, so is our fear. When fear is no longer a barrier, we are only limited by our imagination. The Mutual Aid Centers that have popped up all over the island are a prime example of this new Puerto Rico that’s being built from the ground up. If we truly want to live in a sustainable, resilient, and happy Puerto Rico our future must be determined by our working women and families who are leading the charge in all of the rebuilding and re-imagining efforts. Millionaires will never understand what our people have lived through before and after hurricane María. Millionaires do not have any answers for us but instead have only more problems to add to our reality. They were the ones that created the debt by selling us off to their friends. Their debt is a criminal act and an abuse on our human rights. We will not pay their illegitimate debt. We will rise from our grassroots as we’ve always done in our times of deepest need.
* Natalie Jaresko is Executive Director of the Financial Oversight & Management Board for Puerto Rico, popularly knowns as “La Junta”