Published on December 22nd, 2017 | by Steve Hanley0
Governor of Puerto Rico Promises Revenge for Republican Betrayal
December 22nd, 2017 by Steve Hanley
More than three months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and destroyed much of its rickety utility grid, a third of the island is still without electricity. The US government has tasked the Army Corps of Engineers with rebuilding the grid, but federal law requires it to simply replace what was there before the storm — a collection of diesel-powered generating stations in the south connected by high-voltage transmission lines that cross mountainous interior sections to major population centers in the north. The result will simply be a replica of the fossil fueled labyrinth that existed previously. No federal money will be spent on renewables or the microgrids that could alleviate the island’s continuing struggle with nature.
The history of Puerto Rico, like that of most Caribbean islands, is one of exploitation by wealthy white Europeans. After Christopher Columbus visited the area during his first voyage to the inappropriately named New World, he wrote to his benefactors in Spain about the inhabitants he encountered. “They would make fine servants,” he gushed. “With fifty men, we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Little has changed since then. Like Cuba, Puerto Rico was plundered first by the Spanish, then the Americans. The name itself means “rich port.” San Juan was a vital transportation point for Spanish galleons ferrying treasures stolen from Central and South America back to Spain.
Today, governor Ricardo Rosselló expressed outrage and despair at the plight of Puerto Rico. “What are we going to do with a colonial territory in the 21st century?” he asks. “The United States has unfinished business. It holds the oldest and most populated colonial territory in the world.”
Upset at the lack of progress in getting the power back on — the Corps of Engineers blames difficulty in getting telephone poles and other supplies to the island — he is even more incensed that the tax bill passed by the Republican controlled Congress eliminates some long-standing tax advantages that brought critical commercial investment to the island. Previously, companies that incorporated in Puerto Rico were able to claim domestic status for tax purposes, shielding them from a 12.5% tax on intellectual property that foreign corporations must pay.
The new legislation — cynically called a “tax reform” act — has “reformed” that important advantage right out of existence, meaning companies doing business there will have to pay higher taxes than before. That’s a distinct disadvantage to attracting new investment to the island — investment that is desperately needed to build a functioning economy that depends less on subsidies from American taxpayers.
Rosselló is furious, and justifiably so. He tells Politico, “Everybody has seen the damage of the storm and yet policy decisions go in the opposite direction of where they should go. We’re not just going to stand by. We are going to take action.” Some of those policy decisions include ignoring microgrid and renewable energy technology in favor of reconstructing a 100 year old utility grid.
Those are big words for a territory that has no representation in Congress. “Having no representation is a clear disadvantage and if you need any more evidence of this just look at the tax reform,” Rosselló says. “Just because we don’t have representation, we got railroaded.” How could Rosselló possibly carry out his plan? By organizing the more than 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the US to become a cohesive political force similar to the Cuban American community in South Florida.
“We are a significant voting bloc in the United States that perhaps hasn’t been organized well in the past,” he says. “The diaspora, the Puerto Rican exodus, has always wanted to help Puerto Rico; it just hasn’t been crystal clear how they can do it. If we can establish that organization, we can have plenty of influence.” The governor’s office has already begun creating a database of Puerto Ricans and Latinos who live on the mainland to study how they could impact the political process.
Rosselló believes those voters could have a significant influence in 14 states — Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas among then. “We are twice the size (of the Cuban American community). If we can get organized, we can certainly start swaying decisions our way and having at least some political leverage,” he says. “We will evaluate those who gave the good fight for the people of Puerto Rico and those that didn’t.”
Puerto Rico has been victimized for centuries by the deeply racist attitudes at the heart of colonialism. Its people have been the objects of loathing and hatred in America, attitudes central to such Broadway shows as West Side Story in 1957 and The Capeman in 1998. In Congress, the island is seen as a burden, populated by “takers” who contribute little or nothing to the national experience. It remains to be seen if Governor Rosselló can change that political dynamic.
The mean-spirited attitudes so fully on display by Republicans in the past year has created significant new political engagement by women, African Americans, Latinos, and any other segment of American society that has suffered the backlash of racism at the heart of Republican orthodoxy today. Will the Puerto Rican community join together to assert themselves in upcoming elections? They will if Governor Rosselló has anything to say about it.