The Colony Before and After the Storm

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This column first appeared in Spanish on Prensa Irreverente

Puerto Rico has been hit again; in fact, some would say that, for over 100 years, Puerto Rico has been hit again and again and again. Its most recent blow came at the hand of a hurricane named Maria, which made landfall a little after six in the morning on September 20, storming the beach in Yabucoa at 150 miles per hour. Maria was the most powerful hurricane to rip across the island since San Felipe II barrelled through in 1928. Now, over 3 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are sitting in the dark, and around 1.5 million of them are without drinking water.

To call them “citizens,” however, may be a stretch. After all, nowhere in the Free-ish World are true citizens abused and neglected as diligently as the inhabitants of Puerto Rico. It’s true some still live under a monarchy, such as Felipe’s royal subjects in Spain, with Catalonia and the Basque Country still chafing under the Castilian crown after so many centuries. But Madrid does afford the residents of Barcelona and Bilbao their own representation in the Cortes, which means they have as much (or as little) say in which laws are passed and how — something the denizens of San Juan have been able to say of Washington since… never.

The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. government’s bestowal of something like citizenship on the people of Puerto Rico. Its reasons for doing so are as obvious now as they were back then: Europe had just exploded in a new, more awful kind of war, with German U-boats attacking supposedly neutral U.S. ships, and the U.K. and France tittering on the verge of surrender.

One hundred years later, the Jones–Shafroth Act, which granted U.S. citizenship to anyone born in Puerto Rico, is still viewed as a shameless attempt by Washington to prepare as many warm bodies as possible for the battlefields in Europe. When you consider that the Jones Act was signed on March 2, exactly one month before President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, the insinuation that what the leaders in Washington really wanted was cannon fodder — and not actual, voting, freedom-having citizens — cannot be far from the truth.

Even after Puerto Rico was battered by not one but two hurricanes within the span of a month, President Trump still refused to suspend the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which requires all cargo entering or leaving Puerto Rican ports be shipped on U.S. vessels. (Ironically, the British Empire imposed a similar restriction on its American colonies, sparking revolution in port cities like Boston and Philadelphia.) For over a week the commander-in-thief dragged his feet, finally announcing on Thursday he would suspend the rule for 10 days. He also appointed Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to oversee relief efforts on the island.

With the U.S.-imposed Junta still acting as supreme lawmaker, and a three-star general in charge of security, who now dares claim that Puerto Rico is any more than what it always has been — a colony?


Featured image: Satellite photo of Hurricane Maria approaching Puerto Rico on September 19, 2017 (Antti Lipponen/Flickr)

Hector is the founder and editor of MANO as well as the host of the LATINISH podcast. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's also the senior editor of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He was a columnist at RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, Good Morning America, TIME, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and his writing was featured in 'Ricanstruction, 'a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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