It may not dominate international headlines as Greece has, but Puerto Rico is facing a strikingly similar crisis, one which threatens to tear apart the very fabric of its society. With a crushing debt burden poised to collapse the US commonwealth, many alleged experts have warned that only through painful “reforms” (read austerity) can the island territory make any economic progress. But at what price is this “progress” to be attained?
The question of ultimate responsibility is, just as with Greece, multifaceted. On the one hand, years of mismanagement have taken their toll on the economy, leading in part to the current crisis. On the other hand, Puerto Rico has been the victim of a predatory capitalist campaign waged by major Wall Street banks, as well as hedge funds and private speculators, who have become heavily overleveraged in Puerto Rican debt through reckless bond purchases while Wall Street has fattened itself playing the role of middleman.
But the crisis in Puerto Rico also raises a deeper political question that for years has lurked just beneath the surface of the US territory, namely Puerto Rico’s true status: dependent US commonwealth or neocolonial possession? While Greece has been a member of the European Union, thereby at the very least giving it the illusion of democratic representation, Puerto Rico has remained little more than a colonial possession – an economic and political vassal of the Empire, subject to its rules and at the mercy of its lenders, while having no political representation or legal recourse. In short, Puerto Rico’s crisis demonstrates unequivocally that the small island commonwealth, and its 3.5 million inhabitants, are little more than neocolonial subjects.