Hurricane María was a real catastrophe, but it’s not the one that Puerto Rico has to recover from.
No, the original catastrophe is hundreds of years old. It looked like Spanish ships on the horizon. It turned into frenzied activity from the new arrivals, attempting to answer one question: How can we make money from this place?
The colonizing country changed, from Spain to the U.S.
But the question didn’t. Puerto Rico has been stripped, pillaged, razed, morphed, and manipulated in the name of profits. Maybe all this economic violence — accompanied, as deemed necessary, by cultural and physical violence — wouldn’t be as bad if the profits benefited the people of Puerto Rico.
But they don’t.
The language of occupancy has changed, from colony to territory.
The methods have changed, from physically enforced slavery and slaughter to a much more sophisticated system.
Taxes and tariffs, limits and legalities, denial and debts. It wraps the island around, a heavy chain of bureaucracy and blame. It’s too complex for an individual to navigate. It’s too ingrained in the economic and legal structures to avoid.
Puerto Rico’s position remains the same. It is an occupied territory, a country seized and used as an economic resource. A fiefdom.
Oh, God, no, we don’t actually call it that.
We call it a territory. It sounds better.
And we don’t call the people serfs or slaves. That wouldn’t do. In our enlightened age, with all of our post-industrial technological advancements, our emphasis on equality, these terms make us uncomfortable.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens! That sounds much better than serf.
Oh, no, we’re not going to give them representation in our government, or any kind of actual power over their land, their economy, their future.
But they can be kind of like a, you know, adopted sibling. A younger, weaker one. The one we don’t really talk about. The one we make fun of and bully. The one who serves as a convenient scape goat. The one whose candy we steal.