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Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis a Result of its Colonial Status

MintPress recently published an interview with Déborah Berman-Santana, professor emeritus of geography and ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California who favors independence for Puerto Rico. Independence has never received more than 6% of the vote in any status referendum in Puerto Rico, and continues to be an unpopular option among people who live in Puerto Rico.

Yet Berman-Santana makes the case that Puerto Rico’s current financial position is the direct result of Puerto Rico’s territorial relationship with the United States. “At no time since 1898 has any Puerto Rican government been able to exercise sovereign decision-making against the wishes of Washington,” she points out.

“Since the U.S. invaded and occupied Puerto Rico in 1898, it has extracted profit in numerous ways: First, through converting it into a sugar colony. After World War II Puerto Rico was transformed through ‘Operation Bootstrap’ into a special economic zone to benefit U.S. corporations under the guise of ‘development via export-led industrialization.’” she says. “As a captive market, Puerto Rico also became the home to the most Wal-Marts per square meter in the world. Finally, Puerto Rico’s colonial ‘neither U.S. state nor independent state’ political status allowed the U.S. bond market to give special exemptions to investors, which has brought Puerto Rico to its current debt ‘crisis.'”  Berman-Santana suggests that U.S. corporations have earned a trillion dollars from Puerto Rico over the years since the Island became a U.S. possession in 1898.

“Puerto Rico’s colonial debt belongs to the colonizer,” Berman-Santana concludes. Her vision of independence for Puerto Rico would include disavowal of the debt and compensation from the United States for the benefits the U.S. has received from Puerto Rico.  Berman-Santana does not offer a strategy as to how Puerto Rico could achieve this disavowal of debt and related significant compensation in the current federal budget environment.

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