October 2017

For an immediate expansion in U.S. aid and a free Puerto Rico

Maribel Valentin Espino sits in her hurricane-destroyed home in Montebello, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. (AP Photo / Gerald Herbert)

The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) condemns the callous response of the Trump administration and U.S. government to the raging humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico in the wake of hurricanes.

Decades of U.S. colonization and neoliberal policies have compounded the devastation of lives, land, infrastructure and buildings wrought by the storms. The U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico over 118 years ago after its military victory over the last vestiges of the Spanish empire in our hemisphere. Since then, the needs of the people have been subordinated to the ruthless exploitation of the human and natural resources by U.S. finance capital—banks, hedge funds, and speculators.

When neoliberalism arrived on the scene to provide a blood transfusion for a crisis-ridden capitalism, the drive to privatize everything in sight took a special toll in Puerto Rico. Living conditions deteriorated as government funding and jobs evaporated. The island’s infrastructure was driven into the ground in a campaign to turn everything from roads and public utilities to the educational system into private, money-making enterprises.

President Trump’s answer to the calamity of Hurricanes Irma and Maria has been cruelly negligent in every way. Only $5 billion has been allotted for relief. This is a meager sum given the island’s needs and the wealth of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) has bureaucratically bungled the distribution of aid that has managed to arrive in Puerto Rico. There are reports that the lion’s share of disaster relief continues to sit on docks in the capital of San Juan. Fifty percent of the people still lack access to clean water and the electricity grid is so damaged that 85 percent of the population still remains without electricity. The lack of fuel and power is hampering the functioning of hospitals, putting at risk the lives of those most vulnerable, children and the elderly. The death toll is rising especially in rural areas.

FSP makes the following demands and encourages U.S. activists to utilize them to build community support and pressure Congress to meet the immediate needs of the people of Puerto Rico. (Sign a petition at rico-after-hurricane-maria.)

  • Cancel Puerto Rico’s debt to Wall Street and dismantle the financial oversight board created by Congress in 2016.

    Given that the Federal Reserve spent $29 trillion to buy up bad bank loans after the 2007- 2008 financial meltdown, Washington’s hypocrisy in holding a $74 billion debt over the heads of the people of Puerto Rico is appalling. It is unjust to force the territory to repay loans made necessary thanks to its impoverishment by colonial overseers, who also treated the island as a toxic waste dump and used it for military maneuvers. Under the Obama administration, a financial oversight board was established through the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). The purpose of this body is to guarantee the repayment of Puerto Rico’s debt. It needs to be dismantled.

  • Abolish the Jones Act.

    The economically crippling Jones Act mandates that all goods sent to Puerto Rico must be delivered in U.S. ships from U.S. ports. After community protests and pressure from some in Congress, Trump on Sept. 28 agreed to lift this requirement for just 10 days. Now is the time to abolish this piece of colonial legislation from the 1920s, which increases the cost of everything that people consume, and allow other nations to send aid and freely exchange goods with Puerto Rico.

  • Increase U.S. humanitarian aid and provide government funds to help with distribution.

    Washington must immediately increase relief funding and provide funds to help break the distribution logjam, which is crucial to ending the crisis. Money, food, water, medicine and heavy equipment to clear and repair the roads should be sent to local governments and union federations in Puerto Rico to distribute rather than increasing the Pentagon’s military presence on the island. FSP applauds the U.S. unions stateside who are sending members, supplies, and equipment to help in the relief effort.

  • Use federal resources and levy corporate taxes to restore the power grid and water delivery systems.

    Provide government funds and non-military technological assistance to rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. Tax the shipping companies and corporations that have profited off the Puerto Rican people for decades to fund these infrastructure projects.

  • Oppose all efforts to exploit the current crisis to privatize publicly owned networks and infrastructure.

    We know from the experience of Katrina in 2005 and subsequent natural disasters that vulture investors and their finance capital kin seek to turn human suffering to their advantage. After Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico’s governor said that he saw the tempest as an “opportunity” for increased privatization. No to theft of public wealth!

Finally, FSP unconditionally supports the right of the Puerto Rican people to self- determination. At the same time, we recognize that only an independent, socialist Puerto Rico, one that is part of a federation of socialist republics in the Western hemisphere, will be able to fully meet the needs of Puerto Rican workers and oppressed people and guarantee their freedom.

en español