Puerto Rico

In Solidarity with the People of Puerto Rico

A Quickie

By

Rodolfo Acuña

The Puerto Rican people are going through hard times, a period when many of them are being forced to leave their island, being starved out and forced to come to the United States. The cause is similar to that of Mexico and Central America. The common enemy is privatization, a term that is difficult to understand for most Americans.

The other day I ran into a piece by Rafael Bernabe, “Puerto Rico’s Strike Against Privatization,”     that was written in 1997[1] that described the process and why the Puerto Rican economy through no fault of their own is falling apart, accelerating the Borinquen Diaspora.

It came together in a massive-one Paro (work stoppage) against privatization on October 1, 1997.  The action completely “closed down several government agencies—including most public schools and the University of Puerto Rico—while provoking mass absenteeism in many others.” By noon a 100,000 people poured into the Capitol building in San Juan. The tensions led to confrontations between the Concilio General de Trabajadores (CGT), the Central Puertorriquena de Trabajadores (CPT) and the AFL-CIO unions in Puerto Rico and the police.

According to Barnabe, the cause was privatization, the motivating cause of similar confrontations is Mexico and throughout the world. It was a familiar story:

“Ever since the 1940s Puerto Rico has had a significant public sector.  By the late 1970s this sector included water, electrical power, shipping, telegraph and telephone, convention centers and several major hotels, radio and TV stations and a sizable network of public health facilities, ranging from diagnostic clinics to the largest medical center in the island.”[2]

What this meant was that this sizable public sector provided jobs. Privatization ended all this and took “different routes: subcontracting activities to private companies (in electric power), privatizing the administration but not the actual physical installations (water authority), leasing public operations to private concerns (health system in the 1980s), as well as the outright selling of state-owned enterprises (shipping).” The struggle against privatization came to a head in the 1990s and today we are eating the bitter fruit.

The scenario is repeated and justified over and over: state-owned enterprises can be run more efficiently by the private sector. It will end corruption and provide government with revenues. The first to go always seems to be the telephone company. In turn it supports the privatization of “other government operations (such as the public radio and TV stations).”

Because the cost of buying this government project is so high a major telecommunications multinational usually takes over. This facilitates the buying of local officials and drives corruption – a corruption that crosses party lines.

Privatization has long roots that we will not explore at this time.  In Puerto Rico it was Made in the USA:

“In the 1930s, economic hardship and stagnation in the troubled sugar industry, as well as the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal, fostered state-led economic reconstruction projects that many hoped would prepare Puerto Rico for independence by creating a more balanced, diversified economy. Such was the initial perspective of the PPD, led by Luis Muñoz Marín. Nevertheless, by the late 1940s the notion of both political independence and self-centered economic development were abandoned. The PPD instead adopted a program known as Operation Bootstrap, which offered tax and other incentives to U.S. investors.”[3]

A similar process is occurring in the United States and Mexico where the private sector is infiltrating and then taking over the public sector. The universities are the clearest example. Education is a plum, trillions of dollars in real estate alone. The reason for escalating tuition is not the failing economy but a crass way to shift the costs of production from business that profits from an educated labor pool to the student and their families, the ultimate consumer.

In many ways we are all Puerto Ricans, the only difference is the Silence of the Lambs. The chickens always come home to roost.

[1] Rafael Bernabe, “Puerto Rico’s Strike Against Privatization,” Solidarity, ATC 71, November-December 1997,,https://www.solidarity-us.org/node/829

[2] Ibid

[3] Rafael Bernabe, “Puerto Rico’s New Era: A Crisis in Crisis Management,” NACLA,  http://nacla.org/node/4323?editionnid=4314&issuename=Colonial%20Capitalism:%20Crisis%20and%20Response%20in%20Puerto%20Rico&issuenum=6&volume=040&issuemonth=November/December&issueyear=2007&lilimage=files/covers/PRcover.jpg