Most Puerto Ricans everywhere take great pride in their “island of enchantment.”  It is a necessary defense mechanism against the half-millennia of invasions suffered by a people successfully kept obedient with a creative mix of, sometimes brutal, paternalism and exploitation; 400 years at the hands of Spain – the allegedly incompetent imperial ruler, and now going on for more than a century by the United States, fulfilling Theodore Roosevelt’s dream of American Empire. Today the empire stands in the image of a thuggish, pathologically arrogant, man armed with political big guns that some hope he may end up using on himself.  The delusional pride that helps a colonized people cope and remain inoculated to the unrelenting forces of oppression is a cultural phenomenon that is sustained by a 21st century model of neoliberalism and market economics:  happy island people controlled with the reassuring ubiquity of McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken, cable television, Facebook, food stamps, a government job, and above all a nominal U.S. citizenship, Trump would otherwise say a “fake citizenship.” But illusions usually lead to a painful end.  Lamentably, the ship is sinking and many are swimming to more solid ground in Orlando, New York or wherever a job can be found.    Of course, modest though their efforts may be, many among the remaining Puerto Ricans are toughing it out with a home grown version of entrepreneurial spirit, agro-business, and symbolic heuristic acts of nationalism exemplified by the public enthusiasm celebrating the freedom of Oscar Lopez Rivera, the renown former political prisoner.  There is also a sizeable proportion of the populace willing to trade any possibility of sovereignty for statehood as the final solution to the island’s economic abyss; perversely peddling statehood as the solution to colonial status.  Others like to compare Puerto Rico’s economic strangulation to that of Greece, which the Greeks for many obvious reasons probably view as a bit of an insult.  The island’s economic and political history has shown that delusions come at a great cost as Puerto Ricans are about to experience again.

Nowhere is there a more baneful example of colonial delusion than in the town of Cabo Rojo, humbly situated in the southwestern coast of the island.  This municipality of approximately 51,000 residents, ranking 16th in population among the 78 municipalities, is one of the most peaceful, attractive and welcoming areas of the island.   In May 2017, the mayor announced a recycling effort that was received with a great deal of public outcry for two major reasons.  First, no public hearings were held to hear resident views of what is otherwise considered a worthy effort, and gaining clarity regarding the operational and cost dimensions of the project.  Second, residents are being asked to pay for recycling plastic bags distributed by a private sole-source contractor at prices considered to be exorbitant.  The official response is that consumers are not paying for the bags, they are paying for the “service,” which implicitly suggests a form of privatization of garbage disposal since the recyclables are being handled by the private company distributing and getting paid for the recycling bags.  This sounds like typical Third World bullshit.  Many municipalities with the same recycling program do not require residents to pay for recycling.  Putting aside the arbitrary, perhaps unconstitutional, action of a mayor, unknown cost or feasibility studies, and the poorly planned nature of the effort that could create a bigger problem than the one attempting to be solved, the more important question becomes: why is the town government acting green with a coercive recycling program while maintaining toxic landfills that have for decades been violating federal EPA regulations?   The degree of air pollution in Cabo Rojo is felt during the night when raw garbage is incinerated with 19th century technology of open pit burning that is suffocating and egregiously harmful.  And, according to Puerto Rico Limpio (Clean Puerto Rico, ) most of the 27 landfills on the island have been violating EPA regulations for decades – with impunity from EPA.  Why is the EPA giving an environmental pollution pass to Puerto Rico while it clamps down on areas of the United States, such as New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, among many others?  Can it be anything other than demonstrative of U.S. colonial government views that the federal agency wants to appear mindful of the island’s political culture, harmful and corrupt though that political culture has been demonstrated to be by the news media?

There is another arguable answer, directed more to the colonial politics of Puerto Rico.  If there’s anything island government and politicians do not want to do is offend federal power or implicit expectations of conduct defined within traditional parameters of what is considered appropriate and inappropriate political behavior; that is well documented in the political history of Puerto Rico.  In return for their political obedience, the municipal mayors are happy to be left alone by the EPA or any other oversight body that might interfere with their Tammany Hall habits of self-dealing and disregard for the public interest.  It has been the uphill battle of Puerto Rico’s environmental advocacy community to fight the losing battle of getting the EPA to do its job.  This scenario of political accommodation between the municipal governments (regardless of political party in power) and the federal government has been the rule since 1899.  It has been perfected to an art, deeply ingrained in island politics not unlike the so-called two-party system of the mainland.

The inevitable outcome of public delusion is a very ugly picture of societal breakdown metaphorically witnessed in the scenarios to unfold when Cabo Rojo’s mayor begins to implement his poorly laid plans to force residents to be environmentally correct because he wants to enrich a private waste management company.  Many predict that recyclables will be dumped in empty lots, public recycling outlets like supermarket bins, and as street litter when all species of four-legged creatures break into the bags and drag litter onto streets and walkways.  The cost of cleaning up dumped litter will eventually prove to be prohibitive for the municipality, not to mention the bad press and negative impact on the little tourism the sleepy town gets during holidays and week-ends.    The program will be discontinued with the conclusion that recycling does not work due to the public’s antipathy, not government ineptness. The public will believe their wishes were obeyed and their voice heard.  A win-win for all as we head toward the cliff of the bigger economic landfill taking form in a despairingly bankrupt island.

Oh, and PS:  don’t forget to vote on June 11 when the island’s little republicans will offer to solve the 72 billion dollar public debt problem with a request for statehood.  Clever and timely, of course.

Walking DeadThe downside of having Roku streaming is that binge-viewing can keep you up late and create poor sleeping habits.  Rationalizing that I get adequate sleep with less than two hours of rapid eye movement rest, I find myself hooked on that genre of TV reruns that carry a very dystopic, but hopeful, theme throughout.  My two favorites were The Walking Dead and Jericho.  I’ve asked myself why I prefer watching scenes of abysmal despair and human suffering and came to the conclusion that it has little to do with the TV wasteland of reality and game shows, sports hyper-fanaticism, inane situation comedy hours, and what our lunatic President calls fake news.   Perhaps my choice of binge streaming is an unconscious act of preparation for the calamities toward which the United State is heading under President Trump.  His terrorist rhetoric, predatory business instincts that will explode with presidential power, and demonstrably devious mind gives me reason to think it’s very possible that a violent balkanization of the United States is unfolding in the hinterland of Trump loyalists.   And the pushback from the anti-Trump majority may not model Dr. King’s example of brotherly love, prayer, and non-violence.   How could it not be?  Life will imitate art like that scene in the Walking Dead (episode 43) where a lunatic Governor with a crew of gullible followers is hell bent on taking away the peaceful community of people held up in a prison overrun by “walkers.”  The Governor gives the group’s leader a choice to vacate or die – including children, old people, women, and the sick.  It goes like this:

Rick: “We can all live together. There’s enough room for all of us.”

Governor: “More than enough.  But I don’t think my family would sleep well knowing that you were under the same roof.”

Rick: “We’d live in different cell blocks.  We’d never have to see each other till we’re all ready.”

Herschel (a Rick ally held hostage by the Governor):  “It could work.  You know it could.”

Governor: “It could’ve.  But it can’t.  Not after Woodbury.  Not after Andrea.”

Rick:  “Look, I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy.  Fact is, it’s gonna be a hell of a lot harder than standing here shooting at each other.  But I don’t think we have a choice.

Governor:  We don’t.  You do.

Rick:  We’re not leaving.  You try to force us we’ll fight back.

The Governor proceeds to decapitate Herschel, ISIS style and all hell breaks loose.  It all starts with ignorance laced with arrogance, bitterness and hate, despondency, and an alienated humanity.  My sense of reality is that those forces will not be allowed to prevail and some sanity will surface to wash out the evil spirits haunting us.

El Nuevo Dia (February 4, 2017) made a big deal about the bonanza lawyers will have with passage of a proposed change in matrimonial law to permit uncontested divorces in a lawyer’s office (notaries, as they call them here). This is thought to be rational because close to half of Puerto Rican divorces are uncontested and take up too much court time that can be better used for the more acrimonious and painful contested divorces involving child welfare and property issues. On the surface it seems fair enough – but the article points out that some of those uncontested divorces are among couples with children and their welfare should be a state interest also. What the article does not point out is that Puerto Rico is overrun with lawyers that can’t find work. And looking at the marriage and divorce numbers in broader context, there is something amiss that is far more telling than making it easier to get divorced. The bottom line reality is in Census Bureau data revealing that:
• rates of marriage (per 1,000 population) have declined (22%) more sharply than divorces (7%) between 2006 and 2013.
• rates of mutual consent divorces have sharply declined since 2008 (22%) with the decline in total divorces since 2006 (7%).
• the island population has been sinking, down by 8% between 2006 and 2013, and
• the fertility rate (per 1,000 women age 15 to 50) went down 35% between 2005 and 2015; with the majority of all births being among couples that have not made a marriage commitment.
Commitment. That’s where the essence of Puerto Rico’s challenge of love and marriage comes into play for the health of economy, quality of life, and the happiness quotient. No sane adult thinks about marriage or children in an island with a sick economy. It’s not about the choice of marriage but the choice of commitment that goes beyond the personal, it’s about how Puerto Ricans will view their strength of community and solidarity. So, the love and marriage crisis we may be facing is not in our personal lives alone but the unity of purpose and resolve to fix the mess we (the voting majority) allowed politicians to make for the past six decades. That’s the civic courage I hope for among the young people I count on to hit the streets and fight like hell in defense of decency and against greed.

trumpThe Puerto Rican Status question is showing signs of being enmeshed in the immigration political rhetoric that dominates much of the national semiotics defining ‘foreignness’ and the venomous side of Trump’s America First ideology.  It does not help that Puerto Ricans are on the losing edge of electoral outcomes and the winners being mindful that most Puerto Ricans, along with Hispanics in general, have an unfavorable view of President Trump.  And while Trump has been low in the polls he will, in the foreseeable future, dominate all the legislative and judicial power centers (including Constitutional destiny) of the country.   There is added irony in the fact that, while the republican and statehood-leaning Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) now also controls the entire apparatus of Puerto Rico’s government, during Trump’s presidency Puerto Rican hopes for statehood are highly implausible.  President Trump’s America First world view has introduced a new nativist national politics peddled as populism.   It is disorienting and more than menacing for democrats, progressives, and all the other political players on the losing side of the 2016 elections.   Jonah Goldberg, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and senior editor of National Review, wrote that “Trump’s version of ‘America first’ isn’t his desire to do what is in America’s best interests — who could oppose that? It’s how he defines America’s best interest — and its best self. With his blind eye to the past, he’s stumbled into old-fashioned nationalism.”   So, where does that put the little colony of Puerto Rico with a population that is increasingly bailing to the imperial mainland?

Trump has been viewed as the deal maker raised to think of people as winners and losers, with a megalomaniacal approach to problem solving that is laced with family self-dealing, a new-wave political huckster disguised with a Paul Revere tricorn patriot hat.  Those qualities, combined with an arguably popular view of Puerto Rico as a foreign country, doom any prospect of statehood for Puerto Rico and, should it continue to receive congressional attention, an intensification to shape the island as America’s consenting and obedient orphan pleading for more autonomy.  The evidence for this is in Goldberg’s warning about how President Trump will define America’s interests, already foretold in the inaugural message and campaign promises on which he has begun to act, starting with the Mexican wall, an overhaul of immigration policy that may spill onto Puerto Rican citizenship rights, America First corporate taxation policy that will discourage U.S. corporate presence in Puerto Rico, reconstruction of social policy and safety-net guarantees at the state and local level, imposition of new tariff rules that will increase the cost of Puerto Rican imports, and unbridled support for the Puerto Rico Fiscal Control Board that will protect bondholders at the expense of the health, education, public employment, and essential government services (police, emergency response, electricity, water, environment, sanitation, etc.).    This is unfolding amidst the willful state of denial among most Puerto Ricans under the illusion that statehood can somehow provide a way out of the economic and political abyss more than 60 years in the making, when Puerto Rico’s dominant political party, Estado Libre Asociado, began and morphed into a Potemkin village ideal euphemistically called the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a bankrupted colony.

Our only hope is a new political resistance, grass-roots tenacity, and support of a popular democracy and economy moving away from the archaic and sterile partisan politics that created the island’s debacle.  But that will have to wait for the shock-doctrine timetable to kick in, perhaps in 2017 as the island’s social and economic pain begins to be felt by those feeling secure today and unable to take flight.

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