The Cruelest Storm: 200+ Academics Speak Out for Puerto Rico

The destruction brought by Hurricane Maria has exposed the profound colonial condition of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico—(ENEWSPF)—September 30, 2017

By: Aurea María Sotomayor, Juan Carlos Rodríguez, Sheila Vélez Martínez, Myrna García-Calderón, Lourdes Dávila, Nemir Matos Cintrón, Adriana Garriga-López, Luis Othoniel Rosa, César A. Salgado

Puerto Rico relief efforts
“This is not the time to invoke the false rights inherent in second-degree citizenship,” the statement declares, “but to claim the right of every human being to life.” (Photo: The National Guard/flickr/cc)

Editor’s note: The following statement—signed by over two hundred scholars, writers, professors, and experts with close personal and/or academic ties to the island—comes amid the growing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following the destruction left by Hurricane Maria earlier this month. The Spanish-language version can be read here.

Introduction

The destruction brought by Hurricane Maria has exposed the profound colonial condition of Puerto Rico, as millions of human beings are faced with a life or death situation. The financial crisis manufactured by American bankers, colonial laws such as PROMESA and the Jones Act that controls maritime space, are legal mechanisms that prevent Puerto Rico’s recovery, and even call into question the validity of American citizenship on that island. Given the severity of the situation, political action is necessary.

Statement of Facts

Puerto Rico is experiencing a humanitarian crisis as a result of Hurricane Maria, which struck the island on Wednesday, September 20, as a Category Four hurricane. Immediately thereafter, Governor Roselló declared a curfew from dawn to dusk for security reasons. More than a week after the event, hundreds of communities are still flooded, isolated without any food or drinking water, as highways and roads are blocked or destroyed, making communication between towns, neighborhoods and cities impossible. Telephone, internet, drinking water and electricity services have not been re-established in most communities. The weather radar was destroyed as well as the surveillance towers at the San Juan International Airport. There is a public health crisis due to the precarious conditions in hospitals and the threat of epidemics stemming from contaminated water. Cities, towns and neighborhoods outside the metropolitan area have been abandoned, and efforts are concentrated in the San Juan metro area. The western part of the island, for example, lacks minimum services.

The images shared with the world by visibly shaken journalists, television anchors, and meteorologists speak of the human drama caused by the disaster. What is missing from many of those reports is concrete information of plans and immediate, achievable initiatives to move the country ahead, as well as an ongoing plan. Explanations are necessary for why so many efforts to reach, house, feed and clothe many Puerto Ricans are unsuccessful. The people and the local government need the freedom to make and act on decisions quickly. There is no sensible political analysis of the situation due to such dire absence of communication. The state of precariousness in which the entire population of the island finds itself forces individuals to concentrate all of their strength on survival. Many have already opted to leave the country as the re-opening of the Luis Muñoz Marín airport demonstrated in its first day of service after the hurricane. It is a cruel way of emptying Puerto Rico of its most valuable resource, its people; the potential silencing of any dissident voices in the process is unacceptable. This state of emergency could be used to promote new measures of austerity that will not benefit Puerto Rico, a country already devastated by the financial disaster of an unpayable debt.

The Caribbean has been pummeled by two major hurricanes in the month of September: Irma and Maria. The Virgin Islands, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Dominica, Barbuda, Antigua, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, and Puerto Rico are geopolitically precarious: physically as islands and politically for their colonial history and status. They were traditionally called “Overseas Provinces” because of their political and economic dependence on a metropolitan mainland. The world has found out in the past few days what our history has always stubbornly made visible to us.

Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. Its political status stems from the U.S. invasion of 1898 and a series of laws that served only to consolidate U.S. control, hindering the possibility of Puerto Rican sovereignty and political emancipation. One such law is the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or Jones Act, which determines that Puerto Rico’s maritime waters and ports are controlled by U.S. agencies. The limits on shipping imposed by the Jones Act double the cost of consumer goods arriving at our shores, since they curtail the ability of non-U.S. ships and crews to engage in commercial trade with Puerto Rico. The recent legislation, PROMESA (or “promise,” a cynical and injurious acronym for the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act), which imposes millions of dollars of accrued debt and stringent austerity measures on Puerto Rico and its inhabitants, is yet to be audited. PROMESA has established a supra governmental body with complete control over finances and the laws and regulations adopted by the PR government.  PROMESA represents Congress’ most significant overt act to restate its colonial authority over Puerto Rico in total disregard of democracy, republicanism, and popular sovereignty.  Here is where the need to repeal PROMESA and the Jones Act intersect, as both are exercises of colonial power to further the economic and political interest of the metropolis.  At this time of humanitarian crisis and dire times for Puerto Rico Washington will not act in the best interest of the people of Puerto Rico by repealing both PROMESA and the Jones Act.

The US citizenship of Puerto Ricans, in this circumstance, is not a privilege, but the branding of a slave. It is a restrictive citizenship subject to the limits imposed by the US Congress without any interpellation of the subject to whom it is imposed. As an American colony, citizenship in this case actually denies Puerto Ricans any of the rights obtained by other regions impacted by the same events in the North American mainland. Citizenship makes us hostages, dispensable entities and victims of calculated charity. It is necessary to repeal the Jones Act, which imposes restrictions on the entry of other vessels to the island, even if their intention is only to offer humanitarian aid. It is necessary to abolish the PROMESA Law, since Puerto Rico cannot be rebuilt on the basis of an unpayable and fraudulent debt. Both laws condemn the country to an unsustainable economic future that will intensify the exodus of Puerto Ricans from their island.

The manner in which aid delivered to Puerto Rico has been confiscated and controlled by FEMA, along with the refusal to assist Puerto Rico in a manner similar to that offered to mainland localities affected by Hurricane Irma, for example, shapes our interpretation of this event. It subjects the inhabitants of a territory in crisis to the limits of what a federal agency is willing to do, and denies aid that may come from other countries at this critical time. Beyond the paternalism that this implies, it turns Puerto Ricans into hostages of their colonial condition.

While exploiting the physical deprivation Puerto Ricans are experiencing, FEMA’s presence also promotes psychological servility. As military uniforms increase and become more visible due to this emergency, a very troubling image is emerging of the Puerto Rican people, under increasingly fragile and precarious conditions. Efforts are delayed for a population that the federal government considers expendable. Rampant indifference is affirmed with lack of solidarity with neighboring towns by preventing other kinds of aid from flowing into and through the island. This situation brings Puerto Ricans down to their knees, at the mercy of the equivocal aid provided by the US, while other humanitarian aid is blocked. Puerto Ricans are placed under peril, endangering the lives of thousands that still have not been reached. The ultimate goal of this federal aid is unknown. Its growing militarization at a time when Puerto Ricans are deprived of the basic means of survival and communication is alarming. It turns this state of emergency into an opportunity for some to thrive financially while hundreds of people die from lack of water, food and medical treatment.

No political or economic reason justifies the death of diabetes patients who do not have the means to keep their insulin cool nor dialysis patients who have seen their treatments interrupted due to lack of electricity. The consequences of this blockade on solidarity could be greater than the victims produced by the hurricane itself. The recent statements by President Trump are unworthy of any president. In the midst of a humanitarian crisis, he demands payment of the credit debt. Immediate actions must be taken. The PROMESA law and the Jones Act must be repealed. This is not the time to invoke the false rights inherent in second-degree citizenship, but to claim the right of every human being to life.

Faced with these facts, we demand:

  • The recognition of a state of humanitarian crisis.
  • The immediate repeal of the Jones Act  (Merchant Marine Act of 1920) for Puerto Rico and the repeal of the PROMESA Law.
  • That the aid provided by the federal agencies not be subjected by any conditions that can delay or limit its reach.
  • The opening of the ports to all those who wish to show solidarity with the Puerto Rican people.
  • The reestablishment of all means of communication across the island.
  • Dedicated funds and assistance for the thousands of people without home, water, food, and electricity.

Signatories:

Áurea María Sotomayor Miletti, University of Pittsburgh

Juan Carlos Rodríguez, Georgia Tech University

Sheila I. Vélez Martínez. University of Pittsburgh

Myrna García Calderón, Syracuse University

María de Lourdes Dávila, New York University

Nemir Matos Cintrón, Ana G. Mendez, Florida

Adriana Garriga López, Kalamazoo College

Luis Othoniel Rosa, University of Nebraska

César A. Salgado, University of Texas, Austin

Lena Burgos Lafuente, Stony Brook University

Kahlil Chaar-Pérez, Editor and independent translator

Rubén Ríos, New York University

Julio Ramos, University of California, Berkeley

Arnaldo Cruz Malavé, Fordham University

Jossianna Arroyo, University of Texas, Austin

Miguel Rodríguez Casellas, University of Technology, Sydney

Licia Fiol-Matta, New York University

Juan Carlos Quintero-Herencia, University of Maryland

Dafne A. Duchesne Sotomayor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

René A. Duchesne Sotomayor, Junior Architect, Pittsburgh

Margarita Pintado Burgos, Ouachita, Baptist University

Kelvin Durán Berríos, University of Pittsburgh

Edgard Luis Colón Meléndez, University of Pittsburgh

Gustavo Quintero, University of Pittsburgh

Urayoán Noel, New York University

Jaime Rodríguez Matos, California State University, Fresno

María Dolores Morillo López, California State University, Fresno

Ivette Romero, Marist College

Rocío Zambrana, University of Oregon

César Colón Montijo, Columbia University

Ivette N. Hernández-Torres, University of California at Irvine

Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel, University of Miami/Rutgers University

Wanda Rivera-Rivera, Bearley School, New York

James Cohen, Université Paris 3, Sorbonne Nouvelle

Nayda COllazo Lloréns, Kalamazoo College, Michigan

Cristina Moreiras-Menor, University of Michigan

Odette Casamayor, University of Connecticut, Storrs

José Quiroga, Emory University

Cristel Jusino Díaz, New York University

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, University of Michigan

Eliseo Colón Zayas, University of Puerto Rico

Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

Pamela Voekel, Dartmouth College

Diana Taylor, New York University

Alejandra Olarte, Universidad de La Salle, Bogotá

Jasón Cortés, Rutgers University, Newark

Yara Liceaga, Writer and Cultural Activist

Diana Guemarez Cruz, Montclair University

Luis F. Avilés, University of California, Irvine

Ramón López, Hunter College

Carina del Valle Schorske, Columbia University

Pablo Delano, Trinity College

Arlene Dávila, New York University

Néstor E. Rodríguez, University of Toronto

Efraín Barradas, University of Florida, Gainsville

Raquel Salas Rivera, University of Pennsylvania

Ronald Mendoza de Jesús, University of California

Iván Chaar-López, University of Michigan

María R. Scharrón-del Río, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Miguel Luciano, artist

Monxo López, Hunter University

Guillermo Irizarry, University of Connecticut

Myrna García-Calderón, Syracuse University

Cecilia Enjuto Rangel, University of Oregon

Iván Chaar-López, University of Michigan

Manuel G. Avilés-Santiago, Arizona State University

Ángel Rivera, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Claudia Sofía Garriga-López, New York University

Mónica Alexandra Jiménez, University of Texas, Austin

Reynaldo Padilla, University of Puerto Rico

Mónica E.Lugo-Vélez, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Luis J. Cintrón-Gutiérrez, University at Albany/SUNY

Jorell A. Meléndez-Badillo, University of Connecticut, Storrs

Jonathan Montalvo, Graceland University

Sandra Casanova, Binghamton University

Diana Guemárez-Cruz, Montclair State University

María del Mar González, Independent Scholar

Alai Reyes Santos, University of Oregon

Nayda Collazo-Lloréns, Kalamazoo College

Isa Rodríguez-Soto, University of Akron

Marcela Guerrero, Whitney Museum of American Art

Vanessa Arce Senati, University of Buffalo

José G. Luiggi-Hernández, Duquesne University

Moisés Agosto-Rosario, Director of Treatment at NMAC, Washington DC

Cecilia Enjuto Rangel, University of Oregon

Patricia Villalobos Echeverría, Western Michigan University

Christina A. León, Princeton University

Frances Aparicio, Northwestern University

Beliza Torres Narváez, Augsburg University

Judith Sierra-Rivera, The Pennsylvania State University

Joshua G. Ortiz Baco, The University of Texas, Austin

Lcdo. Gabriel E. Laborde Torres, Goldstein & Associates

Cristina Pérez Jiménez, Manhattan College

Santa Arias, University of Kansas

Daniel Nevarez, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Sally A. Everson, University of the Bahamas

Aurora Santiago-Ortiz, J.D. University of Massachusetts

Valeria Grinberg Pla, Bowling Green State University

Joseph A. Torres-González, City University of New York

Marco A. Martínez Penn State University

Jessica Mulligan, Providence College

José Martínez-Reyes, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Halbert Barton, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Long Island University

José R. Irizarry, Villanova University

Jorell A. Meléndez-Badillo, University of Connecticut, Storrs

Ronald Mendoza de Jesús, University of Southern California

Isatis M. Cintrón, Rutgers University

Karrieann Soto Vega, Syracuse University

José R. Días-Garayúa, California State University Stanislaus

Marisol LeBrón, Dickinson College

Giovanna Guerrero-Median, Yale Ciencia Initiative, Puerto Rico

Agustín Laó-Montes, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Luis J. Beltran Álvarez, University of Connecticut, Storrs

Shariana Ferrer-Núñez, Purdue University

Catalina de Onís, Willamette University

Selma Feliciano-Arroyo, University of Pennsylvania

Emma Amador, Brown University

Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Columbia University

Liza Goldman Huertas, MD, West Haven, CT

José Quiroga, Emory University

Carlos Gardeazábal Bravo, University of Connecticut

Alexa S. Dietrich, Wagner College

Maritza Stanchich, Universidad  de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras

Don E. Walicek, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras

Yadira Pérez Hazel, University of Melbourne

Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, American University

Carlos E. Rodríguez-Díaz, Universidad de Puerto Rico-Recinto de Ciencias Médicas

Stephanie Mercado Irizarry, University of Connecticut, Storrs

Libertad Guerra, Director of the Loisaida Cultural Center

Alfredo Villanueva-Collado, CUNY

Joaquín Villanueva, Gustavus Adolphus College

Laura Briggs, University of Massachusetts

Maximilian Alvarez, University of Michigan

Ivonne del Valle, University of California, Berkeley

Francisco Cabanillas, Bowling Green State University

Jason Ortiz, Hartford CT, President CT Puerto Rican Agenda

Carlos Amador Michigan Technological University

Karen Graubart, History, University of Notre Dame

Raul Santiago Bartolomei, University of Southern California

Oscar Ariel Cabezas, UMCE, Santiago de Chile

Féliz Padilla Carbonell, University of Connecticut

Juan Sánchez, Hunter College, CUNY

Laura Marina Boria González, University of Texas at Austin

Daniel Torres Rodríguez, Ohio University

Anne Garland Mahler, University of Virginia

Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, Brooklyn College/CUNY

Raul Santiago Bartolomei, University of Southern California

Jean Carlos Rosario Mercado, City University of New York

Carlos J. Carrión Acevedo, Universidad de Puerto Rico

Ryan Mann-Hamilton, CUNY Laguardia

José R. Díaz-Garayúa, California State University, Stanislaus

Juana Goergen, De Paul University

Pepón Osorio, Temple University

Ingrid Robyn, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Carlos Fonseca, Cambridge University

Jacqueline Loss, University of Connecticut

Pamela Cappas-Toro, Stetson University

Michelle Osuna-Díaz, KIPP Austin

Kristina Medina, St. Olaf College

Jennifer S. Hughes, University of California, Riverside

Jorge Matos- Valdejulli, Hostos Community College, CUNY

Mariana Cecilia Velázquez, Columbia University

Carmen Rabell, Universidad de Puerto Rico

Pedro López Adorno, Hunter College

Luis J. Cintrón Gutiérrez, University at Albany, SUNY

Idania Miletti, Orlando, Florida

Javier Román Nieves, Yale School of Forestry

Kaliris Y. Salas Ramírez, CUNY School of Medicine

María M. Carrión, Emory University

Stephanie Mercado, University of Connecticut

Arturo Arias. University of California, Merced

Cristián Gómez Olivares, Case Western University, Ohio

John Beverley, University of Pittsburgh

Ana Dopico, New York University

Irizelma Robles, Universidad de Puerto Rico

Mónica Barrientos Olivares, Universidad de Chile

Roger Santibañez, Temple University

Eddie S. Ortiz, Bike Courier

Ivette Román Roberto, Artist

Malena Rodríguez Castro, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras

Sally Everson, University of The Bahamas

Jorell Meléndez Badillo, University of Connecticut

Elizabeth Monasterios, University of Pittsburgh

Daniel Balderston, University of Pittsburgh

Tania Pérez Cano, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

Jerome Branche, University of Pittsburgh

Karen Goldman, University of Pittsburgh

Judith Sierra-Rivera, Penn State University

Nicole Delgado, La Impresora

Sergio Gutiérrez Negrón, Oberlin College

Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús, University of South California

Yomaira Figueroa, Michigan State University

Joshua Ortiz Baco, University of Texas, Austin

Mario Mercado Díaz, Rutgers University

Carla Acevedo-Yates, Michigan State University

Frances Aparicio, Northwestern University

Luis Aponte, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Miguel Cruz-Díaz, Indiana University, Bloomington

Ricardo Monge, Artist

Marina Reyes Franco , Curator

Bianca Premo, Florida State University, History

Talía Guzmán González, University of Maryland

Jara Rios, University of Wisconsin

Yasmin Ramirez, Hunter College, CUNY

Mark Schuller, Northern Illinois University

William García

Nilvea Malavet

About the Authors:

Juan Carlos Rodríguez is Associate Professor of Spanish at Georgia Tech and co-editor of the collection of essays New Documentaries in Latin America (Palgrave, 2014). He is also co-editing a book series, Reframing Media, Technology, and Culture in Latin/o America (Florida University Press).

Sheila Vélez Martínez is the Jack and Lovell Olender Professor of Asylum Refugee and Immigration Law at the University of Pittsburgh. She is also the Director of Clinical Programs and the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Myrna García-Calderón, Ph.D. teaches Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Literature and Culture at Syracuse University.

Lourdes Dávila was born and raised in Puerto Rico, has a PhD from Harvard University, and is Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University, where she directs the online journal Esferas. She writes about the intersection of movement and image with literature.

Nemir Matos Cintrón, is a Puerto Rican poet. She has a Ed.D from Nova South Eastern University and is a Higher Education Learning Designer and Adjunct Professor at Ana G. Mendez University.

Adriana Garriga-López, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Anthropology and chair of the Anthropology and Sociology Department at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Luis Othoniel Rosa is the author of two novels: Otra vez me alejo (2012) and Caja de fractales (2017), and the book Comienzos para una estética anarquista: Borges con Macedonio (2016). He studied at the University of Puerto Rico and holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University. He currently teaches at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

César A. Salgado teaches Latin American and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of From Modernism to Neobaroque: Joyce and Lezama Lima (2001) and co-editor of Latino and Latino Writers (2004), Cuba (2011), and TransLatin Joyce: Global Transmissions in Ibero-American Literature (2014).

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