Ahead of next week’s visit by the UN decolonization committee and buried in economic debt, some 500 activists with the Puerto Rico independence movement took to the streets of Old San Juan to demand freedom from US rule.
There were two purposes to the Saturday march, according to Liliana Laboy, one of the members of the Independentista Roundtable, speaking to EFE: “To insist that it’s time to start the decolonization process that will bring us independence, and to support the hearings this Monday.”
The country is a US Commonwealth, meaning it enjoys independence in most issues, but still answers to Washington on matters of foreign relations. The United Nations has been looking at its decolonization since 1962, and has issued a total of 34 resolutions in favor of it.
The UN’s Special Committee on Decolonization is to arrive at the start of the week.
“It’s past time to shed the trickery of the US and the UN General Assembly, when they said that Puerto Rico was decolonized and we were taken off the list of non-autonomous territories,” Laboy said.
The country is also in the throes of an economic crisis with more than $72 billion in debt and a poverty rate of 45 percent. Two weeks ago the House of Representatives said it would take action to address the issue. A bipartisan bill was passed that would appoint a federal oversight committee to steer the US territory out of its fiscal crisis.
It’s up to the Senate now to ratify PROMESA (The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act) ahead of the July 1 due date for its $2 billion debt payment. However, the bill essentially prioritizes the interests of vulture funds and other bondholders.
In May, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla had to opt not to pay back $370 million in debt, opting to default in favor of continuing to provide essential services to some 3.5 million American citizens living there.
Presidential nominee Bernie Sanders has also been very vocal on weaning Puerto Rico away from “Wall Street and the Tea Party,” and has opposed the bill, which would “make a terrible situation even worse.”
“We must stop treating Puerto Rico like a colony and start treating the American citizens of Puerto Rico with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” Sanders said in late May in a letter to Senate Democrats. Sanders said he objects to the proposed board’s power to override the local government’s sovereignty when handling fiscal oversight.
The people of Puerto Rico continue to face stringent austerity measures, the latest being Barack Obama’s and Congress’s idea to greatly cut the minimum wage – something that will be made possible with PROMESA. The US president last week in a radio address urged senators to speed the bill through.
Attending Saturday’s demonstration in Old San Juan was also one of the youngest revolutionaries of the 1950 uprising against the US, Heriberto Marin Torres. He was only 20 at the time.
“We are here today to protest against everything the [US government] empire is doing to us, but above all we are demanding independence for Puerto Rico,” he told EFE.
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