Statement by the Party for Socialism and Liberation

Puerto Rico is going through one of most significant natural disasters in the history of the nation. The Party for Socialism and Liberation wants to express our condolences for all the lives lost, the homes and land destroyed and we vow to support the Puerto Rican people in the recovery of their country. Our members will continue to assist with material support and relief efforts wherever possible. From inside the United States we are helping to build movement against all U.S. colonial barriers (not just the Jones Act), for the cancellation of the Wall Street-controlled debt and crushing austerity, and to demand unconditional funding and action to rebuild roads, the power grid, and other infrastructure to be put under the control of the Puerto Rican people, and without privatization.

As we go to print, President Donald Trump has reversed course and issued a mere 10-day waiver of the archaic colonial maritime laws that are blocking the arrival of necessary and life-saving aid to the island. The Jones Act restricts Puerto Rico from receiving direct aid/import from foreign nations. The law requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports, including the ports of the colonized nation of Puerto Rico, be carried by U.S.-owned and operated ships. So, a foreign ship either must pay extremely high tariffs to come into Puerto Rico, or offload the goods destined for Puerto Rico to Jacksonville, Fla., and then reload them onto a U.S. ship and then sent over to Puerto Rico. Not only does this slow aid from getting in, it doubles the cost of getting it on to the island. Countries like Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela have offered tons of aid and medical support but either have been turned away by the U.S. or deterred from getting the aid in because of the Jones Act, and the U.S. blockade against Cuba.

The Jones Act should have never been imposed on the nation of Puerto Rico to begin with. It is a law that the Puerto Rican people never had a say in, or agreed to. Especially during this tragic time for the people of Puerto Rico, the law’s application to the island needs to be permanently ended.

Early on September 20, Hurricane Maria, a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150-200 mph winds, made direct impact on Puerto Rico. The power grid was completely destroyed, leaving the whole island without electricity. Reports are that nearly 80 percent of all agriculture was destroyed, almost all non-concrete structures near the eye of the storm were destroyed or severely damaged and nearly 50 percent of the island is without clean water.

Even though the storm itself was extremely disastrous, the situation has only gotten more desperate for the people of Puerto Rico. The colonial government was ill-prepared to meet the needs of the people, the infrastructure was non-existent to deal with such a disaster and now the U.S. government and its colonial laws are delaying and obstructing necessary relief from reaching the island.

There are reports of dozens of deaths. Many people are still reported missing and communication throughout most of the island is still very poor, so families can’t connect with their loved ones. Food supplies are running low, forcing people to eat rotting food. Elderly and sick people are not receiving the care needed and the generators are not powering the hospitals, so people are dying or at risk of dying soon. There are over 25 illegal sites with hazardous and toxic waste throughout the island, which has now undoubtedly spread across the nation due to the storms and flooding. The island is seeing record high temperatures and the insect population is growing rapidly. Back-up generators are limited and gas supply even more so. Infrastructure is continuing to fail including the Guajataca Dam in the northwest of the island putting 70,000 lives at risk.

The question is why after a week are we still seeing limited aid and support to the people of Puerto Rico. It is not due to any lack of contributions; in fact the Puerto Rican community living outside of the island — which constitutes half of all Puerto Ricans, primarily on the east coast of the U.S. — has been mobilizing en masse on a grassroots level to collect aid and fundraise, drawing support from non-Puerto Ricans as well. Notable Puerto Rican celebrities and their supporters have committed millions of dollars.

Many nations throughout Latin America and beyond have offered support to Puerto Rico. But why is no significant aid making it to the island and why are we getting reports that outside of the metro capital of San Juan people have seen no representatives from FEMA or the EPA? Why did Trump quickly waive the Jones Act for the areas in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey but oppose it and drag his feet in the case of Puerto Rico?  Why are 14,500 shipping containers sitting in the port of San Juan? Why wasn’t the USNS Comfort, the massive emergency medical ship, sent out 2-3 days after the hurricane hit, like it is normally, and why instead is it projected to arrive two weeks after the storm?

All these questions can be tied to the fundamental issue of the United States colonial rule over the nation of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican politicians and officials are powerless in the situation because every ounce of aid, every emergency support personnel on the island, all distribution of medical and electrical support has to be first cleared by Washington D.C., regardless of what is happening on the ground.

President Trump and the mainstream media would like to have everyone believe they are doing everything possible to support the people of Puerto Rico. With his typical bombast, he has exaggerated the aid that is getting in to the island and praised the “marvelous” job of FEMA, the Red Cross and the EPA. But the story on the ground is exactly the opposite as aid is being obstructed and held up at the ports.

The U.S. Congress has only approved some $15 billion in emergency aid for FEMA and other emergency agencies, for all the hurricane disasters, including for Houston and the Gulf Coast in the wake of Harvey, and for Florida and Puerto Rico. That is a scandalously miniscule amount given the scale of the crisis.

Instead of calling for immediate support of the Puerto Rican people, Trump shamelessly used the opportunity to talk about the outstanding debt crisis, and the need for it to be “resolved,” meaning he believes the vulture banks should be paid. The Puerto Rican people do not owe a debt to the U.S. government but rather are due reparations for 120 years of colonial rule and strangulation of their nation’s freedom and growth.

The debt itself should be considered illegal even under U.S. law; as a report from the Refund Project shows. The debt derives from Wall Street firms lying about the instruments they were selling Puerto Rico, hiding the risks involved, in violation of federal securities law. We call for an immediate cancellation of the illegitimate $75 billion debt. That the capitalist banks and government would even think to extract such a cost from a colonized island, now dealing with a severe humanitarian and infrastructure crisis, is stunning. They would rather push a whole people into unfathomable misery than lose out on a buck.

If and when the immediate crisis can be overcome in Puerto Rico, this still leaves the door open for what has become known as “disaster capitalism” — neoliberalism and gentrification in hyper-drive. Under capitalism, natural disasters are only heightened by the highly unnatural disaster that is the profit-system. When people are left with nothing, unable to live on the land they own or maintain their businesses, when infrastructure lies in ruin, corporate speculators sweep in to buy out residents on the cheap and take over government services. This is precisely what happened after Hurricane Katrina when it hit New Orleans, Louisiana back in 2005. In Puerto Rico, this would mean privatizing more land and industry than ever before, displacing poor and working people from their land.

Although socialist Cuba took many serious hits in this hurricane season, because of its social system, extensive preventive measures and control of its own territory and resources, it is better able to recover. Its population is accounted for, housed and fed. It will rebuild, as a sovereign nation, by drawing on international assistance but without foreign investors taking over like vultures. Of course, it too faces severe obstacles to a more full recovery, with the U.S. blockade weighing heavily on its economy.

The people of Puerto Rico need our help now more than ever. We cannot allow life to continue to be lost in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Our members are currently fundraising and collecting relief materials in El Barrio (New York City) and in Florida to be shipped to Puerto Rico. We also join with those in the Boricua diaspora demanding a full repeal of the Jones Act for Puerto Rico, a cancellation of the U.S. constructed debt, for massive U.S. government recovery funds without strings attached and solidarity aid from international supporters to be allowed into the island unimpeded as a first step towards the reparations long owed.

Long live a Free Puerto Rico!