Manifest of hope without optimism in Puerto Rico

by  Rafael Bernabe Published: November 24, 2017

translated by Edwin Chung Molina – InformacionAlDesnudo,com

Recently we heard a radio commentator say that the situation in Puerto Rico (economic depression, massive unemployment, depopulation, natural catastrophe, collapse of infrastructure) is unprecedented. The reality is that there are many. I limit myself to presenting one, discussed by not a few authors at the time.

In Capital and other writings, Marx comments on how English colonialism first specialized Ireland in agricultural production for export, at the same time that it invaded its market and then, with the repeal of the Laws of cereals (Corn Laws). He checked him out in the metropolitan market. Thus the colony was deprived first of the industry and of the market itself and then of the export market, which coincided and aggravated the famine caused by the potato disease in 1846. [1] During the following decades, Ireland was depopulated. Millions emigrated year after year, most of it to the United States. The country lost almost half of its population. Meanwhile, mass unemployment was maintained even though the island was emptying. Relative overpopulation (to jobs), as Marx said, led to absolute depopulation. [2] It was not unusual, he wrote, for the Irish to exhibit a “grim discontent with their situation, to feel nostalgia for the past, to hate the present and to despair of the future.” [3] That must be read again: loss of the internal market and the external, relative overpopulation and absolute depopulation, rejection of the present and anguish before the future: it is not Ireland in 1867, it is Puerto Rico in 2017.

Nor, therefore, should we imagine conspiracies to depopulate Puerto Rico or remove the population. There is no need for conspiracies: capitalism is capable of doing all this without intending to. It has already done it in other parts, unfolding according to its laws and tendencies.

Therefore, we should not fall into apocalyptic panics that deviate from the real problem: Puerto Rico will not disappear, nor will Ireland or its culture and identity disappear. Maria? The departure and the anguish of so many in Puerto Rico? It is a terrible thing, but it can not destroy either identity or culture: even the most terrible experiences, the debris that remains, are converted, they are already raw material that the incessant machine of shared memory is recording, classifying, reworking, integrating to what we call our identity. As Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón said in 1911: “we can not stop being Puerto Rico, no matter how much time elapses” although “nothing can transform us into the Puerto Rico we were”. [4] Puerto Rico is a process. Does not stop. That’s not the problem. The problem is the punishment and the additional and prolonged suffering that he wants to impose. The problem is the difficulty in finding alternatives. And that is what we want to deal with in this writing.

The removes

The outstanding economist Juan Lara recently affirmed that the debt of Puerto Rico can no longer be renegotiated. He has indicated that it is necessary to “erase it as soon as possible”. You have to “inflict a radical discount on the bondholders”. The “old debt”, as he calls it, is dead. [5] It is true. Since shortly after the passage of Hurricane Maria, we suggested that it was necessary to change the slogan of “moratorium, audit and renegotiation” of the debt for its “audit and cancellation”. [6] The debt, we said, was taken by the hurricane, as it took so many roofs and lives in Puerto Rico. We also offered two legal grounds for this: the doctrines of force majeure and the doctrine of necessity. [7] The debt that was already unsustainable now is truly priceless. Trying to collect it in the new situation would be simply criminal. It would be an act against humanity.

Lara warns us that achieving this removal and other measures that it proposes will be difficult. He is right: we are dealing with interests incapable of reasoning certain things. Can the bondholders collect their debt if Puerto Rico does not grow? No, they can not, no matter how much they impoverish us. Can they desist from the attempt to collect as much as they can from that debt, at the cost of our recovery? Nor can they, clinging as they are to their interests. That is, they have no outlet for the country. They can not have it. They have no outlet for themselves. But such are the blind interests that govern us. [8]

Advance release

In fact, the proposal to remove from the debt of the outstanding economist is the most recent confirmation of approaches that we made a long time ago. In January and February 2014, that is, almost four years ago, we warned that Puerto Rico’s debt was unsustainable; that the default was inevitable; that austerity policies to try to continue paying the debt would not prevent default; that would only cause us to face it in conditions of greater fiscal weakness; that the $ 3.4 billion of additional debt that was being processed at that time would be a brief respite that would only aggravate the problem later; that, instead of continuing issuing debt or continuing to pay an unsustainable debt, a moratorium had to be declared and the debt submitted to a citizen’s audit; that in this way the bondholders had to be confronted in negotiations that would undoubtedly be difficult and that, in addition, the attention of Congress had to be drawn to the need to take urgent action to address the situation in Puerto Rico. And we warned that if these measures were not taken, Congress would not act promptly and that when it finally decided to act it would do so in a way that was harmful to the country, without providing what was necessary for its recovery, as had happened in other over-indebted countries. , like Greece. [9]

We raised this at the beginning of 2014, we repeat it in the debates on law 66, on the tax on oil, on tax reform. Eighteen months after the first mention, in June 2015, the governor, as we had foreseen, recognized that the debt was unsustainable and that it would be necessary to renegotiate it. Twenty-four months later (after several partial defaults) the government approved a moratorium law and went into default, as we had predicted, in conditions of increased weakness, as we had also warned. And Congress then approved PROMESA, an anti-democratic and colonial measure, which creates a parallel government of seven unelected officials, which does not provide a penny for economic recovery, while opening the way for new austerity measures that increase poverty and they perpetuate the current crisis, that is, they are socially unjust and economically counterproductive, as had happened in Greece under the command of the Troika and as we had also anticipated. And now different voices like that of Juan Lara (and even President Trump, in a slip promptly corrected by another official of his administration) recognizes that the debt must be canceled, which removes it is inevitable. [10]

Every “unrealistic”, “extreme” and “radical” assessment of ours has been confirmed. We do not say it as a boast, but to emphasize that only radical measures are up to the magnitude of our crisis.

There is no other

In the absence of government resources, Lara proposes the issuance of new debt, which would be used to match it with private funds in public-private partnerships that would be responsible for the reconstruction (water, electricity, roads, communication), whose cost he estimates. at $ 50 billion. The bonds would be paid with the revenues of public-private partnerships, that is, as he points out, by the users in Puerto Rico. In short, we would be paying both the profits of private investors and the new bondholders: it would be the tribute that a dispossessed and decapitalized country would have to pay to the possessing classes of Puerto Rico and abroad to rebuild their infrastructure. For now, let’s take it for granted, or at least, as inevitable, this mechanism, given the rules of the world in which we live. There remains a problem, of which, I am sure, Lara is fully aware. To have income to pay for that new debt he proposes, Puerto Rico would have to recover economically. After all, what underlies the crisis of what he calls the “old debt” if not the economic stagnation, the depression that has lasted more than a decade?

So, how can the economy of Puerto Rico begin to recover? On this we have also raised some ideas that have also been rejected as unrealistic, crazy, impossible or undesirable, such as: achieving a significantly greater reinvestment in Puerto Rico of the profits that are generated or declared here (close to $ 35 billion annually) ; to impose, if necessary to achieve that objective, greater contributions to foreign companies (10% has been mentioned to their profits); to carry out a progressive contributory reform that recovers for the country and for productive use part of the income of minorities that today dedicate it to luxury expenses and speculation; set well-thought-out incentives for new external investment conditional on the creation of jobs, the local purchase of materials and other similar provisions; and, last but not least, the achievement of a significant contribution from Congress for reconstruction. We have explained that this contribution is in the interest of the American people, in that, by providing Puerto Rico with an economy capable of providing adequate employment and income for its people, it would make unnecessary the disbursement of billions annually to mitigate the insufficiencies of a dependent and dysfunctional economy, as it happens today.

Before these proposals are heard not a few objections: the taxes and conditions on foreign companies will scare away the companies that already operate here and will not attract new investments; any attempt to intervene in their investment or reinvestment plans will have the same effect (in this era of globalization, we are told, corporations have the entire planet to leave); Progressive taxes will increase the evasion and concealment of fortunes or their transfer out of Puerto Rico or the emigration of their owners. Anyway, any attempt to recover something for the country will cause corporations and fortunes to leave, for capital to abandon us. Before the Congress, it is added, Puerto Rico has no bargaining power or pressure. In other words, we are prisoners. We do not have options. We are slaves of capital, forced to bend the back before their demands, conditions and prerogatives. Either we obey it, or it goes away: there is no other. Moreover, Puerto Rico has no alternative but more misery, given the power and rules of capital to which it is subject without remedy.

be realistic

If it is not possible to tax foreigners because they leave; if we can not put conditions on them because they also leave; if we can not count on them reinvesting; if we can not achieve a significant contribution from Congress; if we can only rebuild the infrastructure by half-paying it to private capital and mortgaging it with a new debt, then how can we finance our economic recovery? It only remains to sell, sell us and us and sell our environment, very, but very cheap, to external capital. It will be the recovery, if that is how it can be called, by impoverishment. The economic progress, if that is how it can be called, by social regression.

That, of course, is the logic behind measures such as the labor counter-reform (which takes away sick leave, vacations, payment of overtime, which facilitates dismissal, etc.), approved by the present administration, at the request of our employer class, or the petty elimination of holidays by the last administration, or the idea, which is always circulating, of suspending the federal minimum wage or environmental legislation in Puerto Rico, to give some examples.

And while we lower our labor and environmental standards to be “more competitive,” what will employers say and say in the places we compete with? The same thing: that you have to lower wages and protections to compete. It’s the race to the bottom, as they say in English. It is the argument and the weapon of employers everywhere to reduce wages and impoverish people everywhere. Is it inevitable to ride in that race to the bottom? This is affirmed and riveted, in forum after forum, our employer classes and their representatives in the PNP and the PPD and their columnists and analysts in the press and on the radio. Your weapon for competition is our accentuated exploitation. The only alternative to our sale on sale, they tell us, would be to move all or die of hunger.

And from that cheap sale of the country is also part of law 22 that invites millionaires to move among us, exempting them from paying taxes (and so that they can avoid them elsewhere). The sale of property to external money will be part of the same process. In addition, as progressive taxes increase the evasion of the rich, the government will have to depend on taxes on consumption, on regressive taxes, that is, on the taxes that hit the least and that increase inequality.

Maybe there is no alternative to all this. “Do not make illusions, do not play with redistributive chimeras or recovery of profits,” they tell us daily, in the name of realism. Magnificent !, we respond. But then do not encourage illusions with the supposed benefits of current economic rules. That change is not possible does not transfigure the evil nature of what exists. Antonio Gramsci already said it in 1929: sometimes the old is already dead or dying, and the new can not be born. In that case the morbid, morbid symptoms, the monstrous and grotesque forms multiply.

Because what we are living in Puerto Rico in the last decade, and it is important to understand it regardless of how much or little we can do about it, is not the failure of a party or another party, it is not the failure of one or the other administration, it is not the failure of “politicians” or partisanship, as it is often said, it is not the failure of Puerto Ricans as a country, it is the failure of social and economic structures: it is the failure of colonialism and capitalism in Puerto Rico.

ad consolation

Unlike what many people think, Marxists are great admirers of capitalism. Just read the first section of the Communist Manifesto to check it. Two aspects summarize the great contribution that capitalism made to the progress of humanity.

Driven by the imperative of reducing costs, imposed by competition, capitalism has developed the productive capacity of humanity as never before. Increased capacity that, well used, would allow to satisfy the needs of the whole world and at the same time reduce the working day. We would live materially safe and we would have more free time to live fully. That would be our greatest wealth. Of course, while creating that possibility, capitalism can not turn it into reality, because it maintains the liberating potential of the productive forces subject to the same narrow imperative that led it to create them: the pursuit of private gain. That is why it turns technology into its opposite: instead of lightening work, it intensifies it; instead of securing the income, it makes the worker more vulnerable to dismissal; instead of using nature more conscious of ecological impacts, it destroys it. It creates excess work for some and unemployment for others. Technology, instead of freeing us, enslaves us. The network that could be a means of democratic planning becomes a vehicle for speculative collapse.

But capitalism also creates the working class. It expands it, concentrates it, brings it together, educates it. It pushes her to organize collectively to defend herself. And that class can convert the sources of wealth into social property so that they are administered democratically for the welfare of all. In short, capitalism creates the possibility of a fuller life and, although it blocks it, it also creates the social agent capable of taking advantage of it.

But in Puerto Rico, capitalism has had the opposite effect for a long time. It does not increase, but it reduces the productive forces. It does not expand, it shrinks the working class. It does not concentrate it, but it disperses it. It does not take advantage of its skills, but it expels its more skilled and trained sectors. The Creole patrons may rejoice that their weakness has a working class also weakened. Sad consolation for the country, which becomes poorer, materially and humanely.

We have lost a decade and we are on the way to losing another one. We no longer live capitalist accumulation with its problematic and unjust sides. We live capitalist desacumulation without any aspect that redeems it. We live what David Harvey calls accumulation by dispossession (the privatization of the public and the common is one of its levers), or, perhaps, even worse: accumulation by disintegration. [11]

Low tide

In 2015, when the debt crisis in Puerto Rico caught the attention of the international press, Paul Krugman wrote that Puerto Rico had been the victim of processes that it does not control: the fall of protectionist measures made it vulnerable to global competition without being able to do a lot to answer. [12] And the famous economist, New York Times columnist, said: these things happen in the globalized world. That is, they are unavoidable. According to Krugman: “If a regional economy is left stranded by the shifting tides of globalization, well, that’s going to happen now and then.” Puerto Rico was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”, as was the case of its location and the trajectory of Hurricane Maria, and in an equally irremediable way. Because from the perspective of Krugman and so many others, market movements are quasi-natural processes: the “changing tides” of globalization. The positive thing, says Krugman, is that, unlike Greece, in Puerto Rico there are federal transfers, which allow people to avoid falling into extreme poverty, as part of the population relocates to places where “tides” “Of the global economy have located growth zones.

Krugman is not neoliberal. He is not a neoconservative. He is a moderate liberal, a Keynesian, an advocate of the welfare state. And this is what it offers us, not the worst, but the best face of capitalism, its most compassionate face: a kind of agony assisted by a federal fan, in which the population that is in abundance in Puerto Rico moves out of the country. Are there no alternatives to the rules of global capitalism and capital? Very good. Let us then know what lies ahead, capitalism with a human face, not to mention savage capitalism.

The shadow of development

It’s not that capitalism has been a marvel in the past. Capitalism always generates wealth on the one hand and poverty on the other, development and underdevelopment, competition and monopoly, peaceful exchange and wars. In other words: just as it creates unprecedented productive forces, capitalism also unifies humanity into a single circuit of material and cultural exchange. But just as it does the former through the exploitation of work, it does the latter also antagonistically, subordinating some regions to others, developing some and condemning others to underdevelopment, turning some into metropolises and others into colonies.

In underdeveloped areas it has generated economies that are complementary to developed economies; that are controlled by external capital; that they are unilaterally specialized in few productive activities and that for this reason they are more vulnerable to fluctuations in the markets; from which an important part of the income they produce is extracted; that exhibit high levels of unemployment and underemployment (first by a plantation agriculture without industry, then by a dependent and fragmented industry) and therefore lower salaries and higher levels of poverty than developed countries; and whose population often has no choice but to emigrate. Each and every one of these characteristics, which we extract from classic texts of the great Marxist economist Ernest Mandel, apply without exception to the case of Puerto Rico and its colonial economy, from the sugar era to the pharmaceutical era, passing through Manos a la Work and petrochemicals. [13] The debt, which weighs us down and which occupies so much space in the current panorama, is no more than an additional detail in this great centennial altarpiece of colonial underdevelopment.

To all this, the Creole business class has never opposed a project of its own. Far from opposing dependent development, it accommodates its limitations, placing itself in sectors such as import trade, banking, real estate and services to external capital: it is a description of the colonial and semi-colonial bourgeoisie, also taken from Mandel, but that applies to Puerto Rico. As you know, this bourgeoisie has generated two political projects (represented by different parties since 1900): an autonomy that is limited to reforming the colonial relationship and a mendicant annexationism that has been pleading for a century to enter the Union.

Is it necessary to remember that we have been living for more than a century, almost 120 years, “enjoying” the “free” movement of capital, money and merchandise between Puerto Rico and the United States? Who can believe at this point that the normal movement of capitalism leads, by foreign or Creole initiative, to overcome underdevelopment in Puerto Rico? Underdevelopment evolves, it is true. It is not the same in the epoch of classical imperialism, or of late capitalism or neoliberal globalization. It is not the same in 1917, 1967 or 2017. But it is still underdevelopment, with its usual aspects: external control, productive unilaterality, mass unemployment and poverty, at least relative (compared to the metropolis).

The problem is not the alleged impediments to the movement of capital. Some economists break their heads trying to find them, assuming that without the external impediments the capital would work perfectly and level the colony with the metropolis. [14] No, the problem of rickety, precarious, unbalanced, unilateral development is the result of the same “free” change with which some would like to cure it. They confuse the poison with medicine. As Anwar Shaikh points out:

Simply opening up the markets of a developing country exposes its businesses to powerful international competition, whether or not they are internationally competitive. And if they are not, they will lose out on a large scale. This can be offset to some extent by foreign investment … But … the unemployment created by the displaced domestic industries need not be absorbed by any new production by foreign firms, for the latter will be far less labor intensive … Without the intervention by appropriate institutions That counter these tendencies of free trade, the problems will tend to be chronic. [15]

That is, if the rules of capitalism are unalterable, as so many voices affirm, then the problem of underdevelopment will hardly be remedied, even if it takes new forms. We are the “other” underdeveloped, as David Harvey calls it, generated by advanced capitalism: his unrecognized, despised and cursed son. [16] And also slandered, then, at the same time as it is invaded, controlled and limited, it is blamed for its limitation and underdevelopment. Our underdevelopment, in short, is the shadow that development projects, but does not recognize as theirs.

That is why the discussion of Puerto Rico as a “failed state” is, methodologically, an attempt to separate our situation

Take (that to) pa’que learn

The above reminds the logic of what some authors have called the “punitive neoliberalism”, which turns economic policy into a moral drama. According to his booklet, if austerity does not work, we still deserve it, as retribution for our past individual or collective irresponsibility. [17]

An illustration of what has been said are the columns of Mayra Montero in the most prominent newspaper in the country. Its punitive neoliberal logic can be summed up in this way: we are the culprits of the crisis; the bondholders and the markets (sometimes presented with the colorful name of “reality” or “the facts”) will not forgive us; And we also do not deserve to be forgiven. They will give us “without anesthesia” the lesson we earn. [18]

But the operation of exoneration of capitalism is vast, multiple and incessant. The culprit is always another. Even if we can not or can not do anything about it (what can sad slaves do?), Let’s be clear about the problem. Slaves without options do not have to understand their situation.

It is constantly said that unemployment is the result of people not having to work thanks to the aid they receive from the government. But unemployment is an inescapable aspect of capitalism and, even more, dependent and colonial capitalism. The problem is not the poor, the unemployed, or the people of the hamlets, but the dependent capitalism, which never, we repeat, has never been able to provide sufficient employment for the country’s workforce.

It is constantly asserted that the fiscal crisis is the product of governmental gigantism. But government employment in Puerto Rico, if compared to other countries or states of the United States, is not too great given its population: there is no such governmental gigantism.

What we can document, is not that vaunted gigantism, but how stunted is private employment in Puerto Rico, but not because the alleged state giant stifled it. The problem lies elsewhere: to begin with, in the fact that while the government has no resources and goes into debt and while the private economy does not grow, $ 35 billion in profits that are generated or declared annually come out of the country every year. We already heard the voice that immediately jumps to tell us that we can not make contributions because the companies are leaving! Perfect gentlemen, do not insist more. But then state clearly what the problem is, even if they later say that there is no alternative: it is not government gigantism, it is not maintenance, but the omnipotence of capital, its capacity for blackmail and its paralyzing consequences.

And also recognize that, if they propose cuts to social aid, or employment or public spending, it is not because these measures address the causes of the crisis, but because that is the alternative that capital allows, under threat of taking flight. The reason is that we are helpless before this master as impersonal as implacable. If we are condemned, at least let us be clear about the true cause and who our jailor is. We do not have to get so used to the prison that we stop seeing the bars.

Those who warn that we do not talk more about “recovering” profits since most of them are declared, but not generated in Puerto Rico, also confirm our approach: capital has already left, or never was, and Puerto Rico is only interested in accounting and not for productive investment, for which the country has to lower the price at which it is sold or continue to be half-existing as the profits are transferred, declared and leave, while most are not even looking for a job, because He knows he will not find it.

Hayek in the colony

The debt crisis, expression of the crisis and economic regression, has also caused a political regression. The already limited colonial democracy and the already rickety autonomy of the ELA are now further reduced under the tutelage of a federal Fiscal Control Board. It is not uncommon: for the imposition of radical measures of austerity, democracy (even colonial) is a problem. If you can not eliminate it completely, you have to neutralize it, or turn it around while continuing to defend from the mouth to the outside.

This was partly acknowledged, to his credit, by the economist Gustavo Vélez in 2015 in a pamphlet in which he already proposed the creation of a fiscal control board. According to Vélez, Puerto Rico needed profound structural reforms. However, the PNP and the PPD were not willing to carry them out because of the “political cost”, that is, they would lose votes. But, why would they lose votes? Because the reforms that Vélez had planned (privatizations, dismissals, salary reductions, cuts in rights, etc.) would negatively affect the majority of people, who would vote against their architects as soon as possible. Therefore, it was not possible to count on elected bodies: it was and is necessary an unelected body, such as the Board, to impose them. [19]

This antidemocratic logic, incidentally, corresponds to the philosophical foundations, to the theory of knowledge, of the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and similar thinkers: this doctrine thinks that people have the bad habit, that they transmit to their elected representatives, of arrogantly assume that they can “correct” the market, that they know more than the market. But the market is the one who knows the most, it is the best information processor and those attempts to rectify it only distort it. Therefore we must save people from themselves, we must limit the inevitably “populist” tendencies of democracy. Organizations outside the reach of the populace are needed, which impose respect for the laws of the market. The political twin of neoliberalism is not democracy, but authoritarianism.

It is worth noting that this defense of unelected bodies is also done in the name of “depoliticizing” decisions, or of creating “non-partisan” institutions or putting decisions in the hands of “experts” instead of “politicians”: proposals that sound nice, “citizen” and liberal, but also lend themselves to an equally authoritarian agenda.


In short: capitalism in other times implied for us dependence, but also growth; exploitation although also better living standards; relative poverty (compared to the United States) but also less absolute poverty. But for a decade or more, it represents, not only dependence but productive regression; not only exploitation, but deterioration of living standards; not only relative impoverishment, but also absolute.

Perhaps they are right, we do not deny it, those who warn that it is not possible to change capitalism for anything else, or seriously modify it, or even place a sad tax on foreign companies or make a progressive contributory reform. Maybe you have to submit to the immovable rules of capital. Maybe Thatcher was right when she spelled T-I-N-A: “there is no alternative”. If we can not escape the consequences of this regressive capiatism, do not come to us with mongrel tales of new colonial prosperity, again “entrepreneurship”, of “crisis as opportunity” or of the “destructive creativity” of capitalism to the Schumpeter. If they are going to keep hitting us, at least take the consideration of not deceiving us.

Because our rulers are experts in the art of deceptive advertising. With beautiful labels they sell us terrible merchandise. In the name of streamlining and flexibilizing, employment is precarious; in the name of deregulating, they protect people and the environment; in the name of liberalization and the freedom to choose, they privatize and market access to all services; In the name of depoliticizing, decisions are passed on to their experts; In the name of gaining the confidence of the markets, we are submitted to Wall Street. On behalf of the 21st century they bring everything they can from the 19th century. They impose, in short, the social regression, in the name of economic modernization.

Hope without optimism

Faced with a landscape that so powerfully invites pessimism, will it be necessary to abandon hope? No: the opposite of pessimism is not hope. The opposite of pessimism is optimism and, worse, easy optimism. We do not have much basis for optimism, it is true, but hope can be nourished by pessimism: because things are wrong and they promise to get worse, we have to look for it and we have to cling to any possibility of change that we can find. It is was remains. As Walter Benjamin said in 1929, quoting the surrealist, and later also Trotskyist, Pierre Naville: pessimism must be organized. [20] Or as the Marxist critic Terry Eagleton has recently said: we need hope without optimism. [21]

The problem does not concern Puerto Rico only. I limit myself to giving one of many global examples. We have just passed the figure of 400 ppm (particles per million) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The battle to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) is almost lost. The decomposition of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland is moving faster than expected. How is it possible that carbon dioxide emissions, instead of being reduced, remain or increase? How is it possible to continue the accelerated burning of fossil fuels that, among other things, through the rise in sea level, will have a catastrophic effect on many of the world’s great cities, centers of capitalism?

It is possible because capitalism is blind to all criteria other than its expansion. Do not bow to another imperative other than profit. It is not able to respect or accept any natural limit. That is why all the conferences and international agreements of their political representatives have failed to address this problem: because between continuing to destroy the space of life on the planet or limiting itself, capitalism opts without hesitation for the former. [22]

I do not know how much territory Puerto Rico will lose as a result of the rise in sea level, but it will not be little and that loss we can also thank the global capitalism. We will be less than 100 x 35, despite the motivating slogans of Banco Popular and thanks to the system of global rapacity of which that company is a Creole cell.

I know and I emphasize it: that capitalism destroys our environment and submerges part of Puerto Rico unfortunately does not mean that capitalism has its days numbered. But it does tell us what the consequences of its survival are. Another Marxist critic, Fredric Jameson, says that it is now easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Changing capitalism is presented as something as absurd as wanting to change the solar system. All of which is reason to feel a deep pessimism. What is left for us but to organize pessimism, as Benjamin said?

Dear fragment

This global perspective is important: it reminds us that we are not the only ones affected by the consequences of capitalism. Therefore, what we do in Puerto Rico has to be thought of as part of something broader.

Remember, for example, that what Puerto Rico needs exactly matches the program of the global movement against climate change: cancellation of debt, agricultural recovery and food sovereignty, higher production linked to domestic consumption (“location” of production), contribution of rich countries to complete the transition to renewable energy. What Puerto Rico needs to overcome its crisis and underdevelopment is also what humanity needs to address its most serious and universal problems. Fighting for us is fighting for humanity; humanity, to defend itself, can not forget Puerto Rico, however small it may be.

Here we touch in passing a fundamental problem. Marx states in a famous text of 1859 that humanity does not pose problems that can not solve. [23] But here humanity does not mean any person or nation taken separately, but the whole of humanity. Or what is the same: it is possible that in a nation there is a problem or problems whose solution is not strictly national, just as an individual can pose problems that can only be solved together with others. There is a divergence, or, at least, there may be a divergence between the national space in which a problem arises and the international space in which it can be fully resolved. And that divergence can be broader and more difficult to navigate in relatively small countries with a weak productive base, like ours.

From a productive base that shrinks; of disappearing sectors, such as agricultural production; of formerly important activities that are retired, such as manufacturing; of fragmented activities, enclaves, as Francisco Catalá calls them, without internal connections; of companies that constantly threaten to leave, it is not easy to elaborate and gain support for a process of economic and social transformation, it is not easy to build the confidence that we can self-determine ourselves and rebuild the economy. As we said, in Puerto Rico regressive capitalism abdicates its two progressive aspects. Neither strengthens the working class nor creates the material conditions that facilitate social transformation.

This is not a recommendation for resignation or an excuse to sit and wait. It implies that our most serious problems can not be understood in isolation and can not be solved in isolation. Because the distressing situation in Puerto Rico is not the result of our isolation or disconnection. On the contrary, it is the result of our being integrated and linked to the international capitalist economy, precisely as one of its colonial, dependent, subordinated and underdeveloped parts.

Such is the international nature of the problem and also part of the solution. That capitalism that mistreats us generates resistances throughout the world. Then, to the internal weakness, the result of the subordination to imperialism, we must compensate it with the external connection of another type: the connection with movements, proposals, initiatives beyond Puerto Rico, including those that exist or appear in the United States. United (given our political, economic and migratory situation).

Marx was right: humanity poses problems when the elements of the solution already exist or are appearing, but only if they are looked at sufficiently broadly. The cause of our colonial, political and economic problem goes beyond our borders and the solution also has a dimension that goes beyond them.

We are a fragment of a global system and the resistances it generates. And from the fragment in which we are, and how much we want, we must not lose sight of the whole of which we are a part, both in analyzing our situation and in acting to change it.

Two United States

When we protest against actions of Congress or make demands, we are not alone. The actions and the negligence of Congress negatively affect, not only Puerto Rico, but also a good part of the American people. As Jesus Columbus said from New York in 1943: “There are two United States, as there are two Puerto Rico”. [24] What predominates in Congress is not the interests of that people. They are the interests of big corporations, big banks, big capital in general. And the American people suffer the consequences of decades of policies favorable to those interests. [25]

That is why there are also resistance movements to these policies. There are more than we can list here. That they still do not have the breadth, the cohesion, the strength, the visibility they need? Very true. But the same happens with our organizations in Puerto Rico.

We have to link our demands to those movements, make our program, including our need for decolonization and self-determination as a people, part of its program. [26] The independence movement must be radically internationalist. He has to fight for self-determination by not turning his back on us, but by linking us to those movements. This includes, but is not limited to, the Puerto Rican diaspora. [27]

When we demand contributions from this or that type to Congress, we are not asking for a gift or to “keep” us. What we are demanding is that the possessing classes and their political representatives who have exploited the country for so long, who destroy the planet and have stripped their own people, give back a little of what they have taken away, give us a little justice . And this we can consider together with the related movements in the United States. They need the same as Puerto Rico. When a congressman asks, how can I justify to my constituents allocate $ 10 billion for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico ?, we must answer: justify it by announcing that it will do the same in the communities of its voters who are in need of employment, housing, health and many other things.

But those necessary connections do not replace the initiative that touches us. The other struggles do not replace our struggle. Help only comes to who is helped.

Hostos said it already …

In Puerto Rico there is a deep desire for political renewal and economic and social improvement. And practically everyone thinks that the PPD and the PNP are incapable of making that change. But these correct and healthy judgments are combined with a paralyzing sense of helplessness. Many people think and feel: things have to change, but we can not, we do not know how to change them. From there it is easily concluded that others will have to change them to replace us: that someone comes and changes them, since we can not do it. Thus, from this mixture of the desire for change with the feeling of helplessness comes the initial support for toxic organisms such as the Fiscal Control Board and the illusion that it will do for the country what the country has not been able to do. Or the present notion that Congress is the best guardian of what the government of Puerto Rico does in the reconstruction process.

We are a country “excessively penetrated of its weakness”, said Hostos in 1899. Where does this feeling come from? Partly by contagion of the ruling and business classes that have never had their own project and that transmit their lack of will and perspective to the whole country. But the problem has broader bases, structural and conjunctural, objective and subjective. It is a subject to which we can not do justice here. If we take nothing else the case of the working class and the trade union movement should be mentioned:

First: the shrinking of the working class. During the past decade in Puerto Rico around 250 thousand jobs disappeared, which is equivalent to 20% of the jobs that existed in 2006. We had pointed out: the regressive capitalism that we suffer does not extend, nor gather, nor concentrate the working class.

Second: unemployment. The real threat of unemployment paralyzes many wage and salaried employees: they do not dare to protest, nor to organize. They accept the unacceptable, as long as they do not put their income at risk. That, of course, is the function of unemployment in capitalism: to discipline the working class and make possible its exploitation without setbacks. In Puerto Rico, the mechanism works like a charm.

Third: the very low level of organization. In the private sector, the rate of union organization does not exceed one percent (yes, 1%). Syndicalism almost comes down to the public sector. At present, it should group, in the best of cases, about 100 thousand workers, that is, a little more than 10 percent. The same applies to other forms of organization: the great majority of the people (90% or more) is not active in organizations or unions, or community, environmental, student, women, or otherwise. Faced with a deteriorated and complex reality, the worker, the citizen, the isolated person can not help but feel frustrated and impotent.

Fourth: the demoralizing sediment that has left the failure of the resistance to repeated blows (the imposition of the IVU in 2006, the dismissals of Law 7 in 2009, the pension reform in 2013, the cuts of Law 66 in 2014; Labor counter-reform in 2017, for example). To this must be added the defeat of the Federation of Teachers, then the largest union in Puerto Rico, in the strike of 2008. This accumulation of defeats fuels fatalism, resignation, doubt about the effectiveness of joint action, mobilization and resistance.


Current situation: difficult

The current situation of most of the social movements, that is to say, of the effective behavior of the population, can be summed up in a few words: demobilization, fragmentation, division, absence of broad perspective and of own political representation.

Demobilization because many organizations do not hold workshops, seminars, or call pickets, marches, rallies, educate, gather, or give participation to its members.

Fragmentation because different organizations do not coordinate their work or campaigns.

Division because many times they stop coordinating between them, but they actively oppose each other, they denounce each other, they organize different and parallel activities with the same objective, they do not participate in an activity since another sector will also participate.

Lack of broad perspective and program because in some cases develops an active resistance, admirable, fair, but is limited to defend the agreement or the conquests of a sector. The union movement is not projected as a carrier of a comprehensive program that does not only include workers in the sector, company or agency, but also has something to say to small traders, salaried or independent professionals, farmers, women’s movements, student and environmental, and many others.

Lack of political representation because even the left-wing sectors continue to limit themselves to pressure, demand, lobby or block the PNP and the PPD, without considering the creation of a political representation independent of the working people.

Enough for hope

The diagnosis emerges from the diagnosis: we need mobilization, coordination, the ability to act together despite the differences, a minimum shared program and our own political representation. This we can start doing immediately. We do not lose hope that we do it.

This work, as we indicated, has to be accompanied by the search for international connections, proposals and projects shared with movements beyond Puerto Rico, which is not an easy task and not only depends on us. To those who state that this sounds abstract, unreal and impractical, we can only say that they are right. That we can elaborate real, concrete, credible and attractive proposals depends on our initiatives, on the one hand, and on the fact that those movements are strengthened, on the other. We can not assure that this happens, but if it does not happen, the options of Puerto Rico will be more limited and the worst conditions will be that the implacable markets and the blackmail of capital will be able to impose on us.

Nothing is more strange than the position of some independents (a minority, happily) who think that the more strength the right has in the United States, the more people in Puerto Rico will support independence. They think that the strength of our enemies strengthens us. On the contrary, the more progressive forces in the United States advance, the more allies and more base we will have for our project of self-determination, both to formulate it concretely and, for that matter, to popularize it. What we need, for the island and the diaspora (equally negatively affected by the advance of the right) is the strengthening of the forces of change in the metropolis and in the colony.

Think of the impact of the rise of the workers’ struggles in the United States, as happened in the 1930s and 1940s, or of important leftist political forces, as was also the case partially in that period, for the anti-colonial struggle, for independence and overcoming underdevelopment in Puerto Rico. With all its limitations, the impact of Bernie Sanders’ pre-candidacy in 2016 is an indicator that some progress in that direction is possible. Sufficient basis for optimism? Let’s say for now that it’s enough for hope.

We must do what we have to do. As we said, help comes to whoever helps. It all starts with the cooperation of our immediate struggles with the struggles in the United States and beyond, as we already discussed. Good starting point would be an international campaign for the cancellation of Puerto Rico’s debt.

One does not become socialist …

We return to a previous point: capitalism does not respect limits. Therefore, we would be unrealistic (and realism is what they always ask us) if we do not realize that our mere resistance in defense of wages, jobs, rights, the environment, education, health, resistance that we can not abandon not a second, it is still a work of Sisyphus: start to get rid as soon as it is completed. Any achievement in capitalism is precarious and vulnerable. The day after reaching it the system is already working to erode it and reverse it. We have no choice but to give a clearer direction to hope, at the cost, perhaps, of accentuating pessimism.

The reality is that the full response to underdevelopment, global warming, precariousness and poverty is the establishment of a democratically planned economy, with the aim of satisfying human needs and protecting the environment. Another word for what we have just described is, of course, socialism, or, better, ecosocialism. [28]

Democratize wealth, property, work organization. That this is not possible tomorrow or the past, much less in Puerto Rico? Agree. But one does not become socialist because socialism arrives tomorrow or last, or because next week we are going to overthrow capitalism, but because it has become aware of the consequences of not overthrowing it.

But someone will ask: was not socialism, was not planning what failed in the Soviet Union and elsewhere? No, what failed in the Soviet Union was not democratic planning. There was no democratic planning there. What failed there was bureaucratic and authoritarian planning, something very different and something that many socialists criticized and condemned and fought, not after the collapse, but from the moment when bureaucratization arose in the 1920s.

Why did the bureaucracy emerge? It is an important historical debate. It has to do with poverty and isolation: again the divergence between the problems that can be raised nationally, but can only be solved internationally. But the historical debate about the Russian revolution is not the central point for us. The point is that today humanity does not have to choose between the dictatorship of capital or that of the bureaucracy (or the mixture of the dictatorship of capital and the bureaucracy, as in China): there is the alternative of democratic planning. [29] ]

We said that this reflection may orient hope, although at the price of increasing pessimism because, certainly, regarding the upcoming victory of socialism, we can not be very optimistic: in that they can be happy and celebrate our enemies. What we can be very sure of is the catastrophic effect of the survival of capitalism: and that does not make us happy. [30]

From Saint San Felipe to María

The situation in Puerto Rico recalls that of the early 1930s: hit by two terrible hurricanes (San Felipe and San Ciprián) and plunged into economic depression. This crisis came out in part thanks to large movements of social justice that raised ambitious programs of agrarian reform, creation of public services, labor rights, economic reconstruction and national self-determination and that also looked for allies outside of Puerto Rico (different according to each movement) . The leader of the largest of those movements, the PPD, then abandoned what he had defended and left without performing part of his program to embrace a colonial project tied to external capital, in whose prolonged agony we are trapped.

Let us build the equivalents in the present of those movements (which also included the nationalists and communists and the General Confederation of Workers) and those alliances. Let us have the evidence that some did not have. Will an updated version of populism from the 1930s suffice? We do not believe it. This constancy can only arise from the working people organized independently to defend their interests.

Against decomposition

History assigns tasks, but gives no guarantees. It would be absurd to ask for them. It would be fatal to sit and wait for them. We would wait forever, like the famous colonel of García Márquez. Reflecting in 1905 on the possibility of the democratic and anti-tsarist revolution in Russia, Lenin wrote: “It would be wrong to believe that the revolutionary classes always have enough strength to make a revolution once it has matured under the conditions of economic and social development. Social. No, human society is not structured in such a rational and comfortable way … The revolution may have matured without the necessary forces called to fulfill it being sufficient; then the society enters into decomposition and this decomposition is prolonged sometimes by decades “. [31] Other translations say, not decomposition, but putrefaction. Lenin does not say that change is possible because it is necessary. Admits the uncomfortable possibility that what is necessary is not possible. It warns that in that case the society decomposes and rots: because what is necessary, because it is impossible, does not stop being necessary. Because the impossibility of the necessary change does not repair what exists. These are the morbid symptoms of which Gramsci also spoke: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old dies and the new can not be born”. [32] So let’s organize pessimism, organize hope without easy optimism, organize desperate hope, but without despairing. It is all we have left to avoid the decomposi

[1] “Outline of a Report on the Irish Question” (1867).

[2] Capital (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1975 [1867]), 599.

[3] Marx, Capital, 602.

[4] “Violated the legal soul” (1911) in Luis Diaz Soler, Rosendo Matienzo Cintron, (Río Piedras: Institute of Puerto Rican Literature-UPR, 1960), volume II, 194.

[5] Juan Lara, “New promise for Puerto Rico”, New Day, 11/4/17.

[6] “Some lessons from the hurricane” (10/14/17) at and “Programs and tasks for the reconstruction “(6/10/17) in

[7] Eric Toussaint, Damien Millet, Debt, the IMF and the World Bank, (New York: Monthly Review, 2010), 246-47.

[8] See our article “The Creditors’ Regime and the Debt Crisis” (8/21/15) at -crisis-of-debt /.

[9] “Against resignation” and “Puerto Rico is not junk”, Nuevo Día, 9/1/14 and 4/2/14. See also “The regime of creditors and the debt crisis: aspects of the general context and the case of Puerto Rico (2014-16)” Legal Journal of the UPR, Vol. 85, núm. 3 (2016) and

[10] The director of the Federal Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney.

[11] David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

[12] Paul Krugman, “America’s Un-Greek Tragedies in Puerto Rico and Appalachia”, New York Times, 3/8/2015.

[13] “Imperialism” in the Marxist Economics Treaty (Mexico D.F .: ERA, 1969 [1962]), 58-100; “The original accumulation and industrialization of the Third World” (1968) in Essays on neocapitalism (Mexico D. F .: ERA, 1969), 153-171; “The structure of the capitalist world market” in Late Capitalism (Mexico D.F .: ERA, 1979 [1972]), 45-74.

[14] This is the general premise of the first study of the Center for a New Economy, The Economy of Puerto Rico. Restoring Growth (Washington D.C .: CNE / Brookings Institution, 2006).

[15] Anwar Shaikh, Globalization and the Myth of Free Trade, (London / New York: Routledge, 2007), 63-64.

[16] Harvey, The New Imperialism, 151.

[17] William Davies, “The New Neoliberalism” (New Left Review II, 101, Sept.-Oct. 2016, 121-134). See our article “Punitive neoliberalism, financial melancholy and colonialism” (7/4/17) in

[18] Mayra Montero, “Without anesthesia”, New Day, 12/3/17.

[19] Gustavo Vélez, A Fiscal Control Board for Puerto Rico (September 2015).

[20] “Surrealism: the last snapshot of European intelligence” (1929)

[21] Terry Eagleton, Hope without optimism (Mexico D.F .: Taurus, 2016).

[22] Daniel Tanuro, Green Capitalism: Why it Can not Work (London: Merlin, 2013); John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000). See our article “Fossil Capitalism” (10/24/14) at

[23] Karl Marx, “Foreword to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” (1859).

[24] Jesús Colón, “Los otros Estados Unidos” (1943) in What the People Tell Me, Edwin K. Padilla, ed., (Houston: Public Art, 2001), 109.

[25] See our article “The amnesia of capital” 9/26/17) at

[26] We try to contribute in that direction with “Open letter to the people of the United States”, together with Manuel Rodríguez (originally in English). Spanish version here

[27] As Jesús Colón said in the aforementioned letter: “Let us make common cause with the PEOPLE of the United States …. against the exploiters of both countries. “

[28] Michael Lowy, Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe (Chicago: Haymarket, 2015); John Bellamy Foster, The Ecological Revolution. Making Peace with the Planet (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009).

[29] On the bureaucracy see Ernest Mandel, Power and money. On the heritage of our revolution “Echoes of the 17th: a century since the Russian revolution” (6/30/17) at -Russian Revolution/.

[30] “Surrealism …:”. On Benjamin should be consulted the writings of Michael Lowy as Walter Benjamim. Fire warning (Mexico D.F .: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2012), among others.

[31] “The last word of the tactics ‘iskrista’ …” (1905) in Obras completas, IX (Madrid: AKAL, 1976) 370-71 and “The latest in Iskra tactics …” in Collected Works, 9 (Moscow: Progress Publisers, 1972). We have combined translations from several sources.

[32] Notebooks of the prison (Mexico D.F .: ERA, 1999), volume 2.

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