Dump the Campaign Rebolu!

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AMID ALL THE REBOLU (as we often say in Puerto Rico) about
the upcoming democratic primary on the island, the issue
of poverty seems eclipsed. In the flurry of exchanges by
those who often begin by stating their cultural credentials,
newspapers and blogs perpetuate sound bites that sing to
the interests of Democrat elites and their supporters, on
both sides of the Obama and Clinton camps. In the midst
of this cacophony, few express any real concerns for Puerto
Rico’s increasing economic woes.
It is disheartening that even many who reside in Puerto
Rico echo the shallow refrains and fling the stale accusations
of political party machines who convince voters that winning
the election is far more important than addressing real issues.
Instead of utilizing this significant moment in Puerto Rican
history to openly challenge persistent federal economic policies
that have intensified poverty, many insert their voices
into the mainstream political debate to express a celebratory
gushing of Puerto Rican cultural pride, seemingly oblivious
to the historical impact of colonial conquest.
Rather than forthrightly demanding that presidential
candidates, preparing for their foray into Puerto Rico’s
political arena, speak clearly and candidly about future
economic policies to dramatically impact Puerto Rico’s
poor and working class, they are satisfied mimicking
mainland nonsense. Namely, whether it is Hillary Clinton
or Barack Obama, who is less stained by shady political
or personal acquaintances, current or past. Or,
whether Puerto Ricans will determine the outcome of
the race, given the newly acquired ‘poll power’—even if
they will not have the right to vote in the actual presidential
It seems we all need a reality check. Puerto Rico, colonized
for over 500 years under the guise of extinguished
indigenous claims to sovereignty, has been in
the hands of the United States since 1898, when it was
surrendered as war booty, after Spain’s loss to the U.S.
Actually, what remains veiled in U.S. historical accounts
is that for Caribbeans, the Spanish American War, as it is
known, was actually the struggle for the independence
of Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spanish colonial rule. At
the end of war, however, the U.S. gave Cuba its freedom,
reneging on its promise of independence to the people
of Puerto Rico.
Hence, the U.S. initiated its 110 years of environmental
degeneration of the island’s natural resources, control of the
political economic domain, and wholesale disrespect for
the self-determination of Boricua citizens. Since inception,
U.S. relations with Puerto Rico have been founded on a
politics of deceit, dispossession, and outright usury of colonial
subjects as fodder for foreign wars, labor exploitation
for economic profit, experimentation with population control
programs, and as a strategic site of military operations,
including the testing of radioactive weapons on Vieques.
Today, the Puerto Rican economy is still below that of
Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation. More than 45%
of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line. Eight-seven
percent of Boricua children are on the National School
Breakfast and Lunch Programs—considered to be one of
the best indicators of poverty in a region. The unemployment
rate is 12%, with approximately 3% of the population
homeless or permanently unemployed. Puerto Rico’s
per capital personal income is approximately one-third
that of the U.S. Such poverty prevails on the island,
despite a recent U.S. Treasury Department report that indicates
the return on capital for corporations in Puerto Rico
to be five times larger that those on the mainland.
Meanwhile, necessary debates related to economic disparities
and the island’s growing economic woes are overshadowed
by popular mythical rhetoric of presidential candidate
virtues. In the process, a new realm of exploitation seems to
have emerged—the seduction of the Puerto Rican vote. Thus,
the past disregard of Boricua voters is now replaced by a frenzy
of solicitation, since neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack
Obama has managed to secure the 2025 delegates required to
seize the Democratic race. Such a lead would have automatically
prized Puerto Rico’s delegates to the first place candidate.
You might say that Puerto Rico continues to live out it
function as booty, but this time in electoral wars.
Hence, all the rebolu. Puerto Rico’s 63 delegates are now
an enviable prize to be grasped for their temporary use by
the neoliberal elite, the same power elite who in a recent
federal legislative poll expressed absolutely no interest,
whatsoever, in welfare reform for the island. These are the
same neoliberal guardians—whether female or Black—of a
political economy that has perpetuated the impoverishment
and environmental demise of not only the people of Puerto
Rico, but the vast majority of the world’s population.

About Antonia Darder

Antonia Darder is a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She is a longtime Puerto Rican activist-scholar involved in issue's relating to education, language, immigrant workers, and women's rights.
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