A History of Super-Exploitation and Vicious Domination

Bloodsucking, Blackmail, and Bullshit: The U.S. Forces Puerto Rico to the Wall

May 31, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


We are posting this excerpt from a previously posted article in light of the upcoming Puerto Rican Day Parades and the controversy surrounding this year’s parade in New York City.


From the way [the financial crisis] has been spun in U.S. media commentary, anyone unfamiliar with the situation would think the U.S. has been a benevolent, if sometimes paternalistic, benefactor of Puerto Rico, one that has allowed its people and government to spend money foolishly. According to this “narrative,” “the people of Puerto Rico have benefited from U.S. generosity that is no longer available in these difficult times, and suffered from corruption of their own officials.” …

All this is complete bullshit that turns reality upside down. In actual fact, U.S. imperialism has sucked the blood of the Puerto Rican people for almost 120 years. …

A Century of Political and Cultural Suppression

In 1898, U.S. military forces invaded and occupied Puerto Rico as part of their triumph over a decaying imperial Spain in the Spanish-American War.

A treaty signed by the U.S. and Spain in December 1898 ended Spain’s colonial domination of Puerto Rico. Immediately upon seizing control, the American occupiers instructed military commanders to make sure the people obeyed U.S. authority.

The military declared in 1898 that using Spanish, the language of the people, in schools and other institutions was illegal. The U.S. banned the national flag of Puerto Rico and jailed anyone caught displaying it. Fifty years later, in 1948, in the face of a growing movement for independence, the U.S.-appointed governor of Puerto Rico signed a law which made it a crime to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic Puerto Rican song, to speak or write of independence, or to meet with anyone, or hold any assembly, in favor of Puerto Rican independence. This law remained in force until 1957.

Pedro Albizu Campos, who for decades courageously fought for the independence of Puerto Rico and was the spokesperson for the Puerto Rican Independence Party, was imprisoned for 26 years by the U.S. He was repeatedly tortured and brutalized by prison authorities, and died shortly after he was released from his last imprisonment.

The U.S. Navy established its U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command with bases all over occupied Puerto Rico. For decades, it used the nearby island of Vieques for military exercises, and as a testing ground for explosives. Fierce protest from the people of Puerto Rico finally brought this to an end in 2003.

A Century of Super-Exploitation and Distorted Development

Puerto Rico was developed to serve the interests of U.S. capitalism-imperialism, not to meet the needs of the Puerto Rican people.

Imperialist buyouts forced many small farmers to work on giant plantations in tobacco, coffee, and especially sugar production, which took over much of the best land on this fertile island. By 1934, 80 percent of sugarcane farming in Puerto Rico was owned by U.S. corporations. A study done at that time revealed that Puerto Rican farmers working for the U.S. sugar barons were paid, on average, 12 cents a day for themselves and every member of their family. These pittances forced many people to leave the countryside for the slums of San Juan, as well as New York, Chicago, Boston, and other cities. Many thousands of people in this era worked as super-exploited field hands in agriculture on the U.S. East Coast, then returned to Puerto Rico for the sugar harvest.

After World War 2, the U.S. imposed “Operation Bootstrap” on Puerto Rico. This was a series of initiatives to develop U.S.-owned and -based industries in Puerto Rico. It mandated, among other things, that large numbers of people be forced out of rural areas and into San Juan and other cities.

A scholar who studied Operation Bootstrap reported, “When the constitution of the new Commonwealth of Puerto Rico came into effect, on July 25, 1952, some 152 factories were in operation. The overwhelming majority were consumer goods industries.... They were ‘labor intensive’ industries, for they relied more heavily on labor than on machinery to supply the value added to the raw materials which they imported from the mainland.”

“Labor intensive” means super-exploited: the capitalists forced people to work long hours, at pay well below what similar jobs would pay in the U.S., with restricted benefits and dangerous conditions—all for the “profit intensive” benefit of the exploiters.

Women working out of their homes in needle trades had been the largest single source of “industrial” employment in Puerto Rico in the 1930s, ’40s, and early ’50s. Tens of thousands of women, often with assistance from their children and occasionally their husbands, toiled at one to four cents an hour producing clothing sent to the U.S. and Europe. But even this marginal existence came to an end for tens of thousands, as the capitalists developed even cheaper ways of mass producing clothing in far-flung parts of the world. The dislocation and impoverishment capitalism-imperialism inflicted on so many people in Puerto Rico compelled a large-scale out migration in the 1950s.

Beginning in the late 1960s, pharmaceutical manufacturing behemoths moved into Puerto Rico on a big scale. Companies like Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, and Bristol Myers Squibb were given lucrative federal tax incentives and set up plants on the island, where, again, workers were paid less than in similar jobs in the U.S. But in the late 1990s, the U.S. began phasing out those exemptions, and they ended in 2006. Since then, employment in pharmaceutical manufacturing has shriveled, as the corporate giants searched for new people and lands to exploit.

Generation after generation, millions of Puerto Rican people have created enormous wealth for U.S. imperialism. Now the people are left with an economy that has been utterly devastated, the carcass of which is being sucked dry by parasitic hedge funds. And to add insult to injury—the people of Puerto Rico are called “lazy” by the very parasites who have fattened off them for 120 years!

Outline of a Crisis

Today, global “turbo capitalism” churns across the planet. It has created a worldwide environment in which capitalists restlessly and constantly seek out areas where their investments bring the largest reward. This global situation and decisions taken by the U.S. government, under both Democrats and Republicans, have bled Puerto Rico, undermined and destabilized its economy, and brought the country and its people untold suffering.

Now Puerto Rico is hemorrhaging people, and most of those who remain are afflicted with intensified repression and arrogant contempt by their imperialist overlords. Cuts in funding inflict further restrictions on health care, and a potentially calamitous crisis in public health looms. “These are a cascade of cuts that will have disastrous, gigantic implications,” said the chairman of the Puerto Rico Healthcare Crisis Coalition. “Health care in Puerto Rico is headed for a collapse.”

Official unemployment is 12 percent. In reality, as lawyer Linda Backiel wrote in 2015 in Monthly Review, “Workforce participation hovers at 40 percent, the majority without full time jobs.” With most farmers driven from the land, close to 90 percent of the food in Puerto Rico must be imported today. This, and the fact that U.S. law requires all shipping to and from the island to use American services, means that food is particularly costly in Puerto Rico.

Utility bills in Puerto Rico average more than twice the cost of what they are in the U.S. Soaring utility costs impact the cost of everything, in particular the ability of basic people to survive and obtain lighting, transportation, water, and other life necessities. A woman in San Juan said her community does not have even a basic sewage system. When it rains, water flows into a canal and wastewater backflows into the pipes carrying drinking water, and even floods into their homes.

Most children in Puerto Rico now live in poverty, and 84 percent of them grow up in impoverished communities. Children are suffering even more than the rest of the population because of soaring costs, cutbacks in funding for schools and public health, and steep reduction of all government services.

Ending the Nightmare of Oppression

This nightmare of exploitation and oppression will finally end when the imperialist chains that shackle Puerto Rico are shattered through revolutionary struggle. There is a proud history of resistance of the Puerto Rican people—on the island and in this country. One of the high points in this struggle was the courageous and bold struggles in the 1960s by the Young Lords Party within the U.S. This fighting spirit and struggle needs to be revived, and taken much further—into a fight for revolution based on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism.




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