Since 1898, the people of Puerto Rico have not been permitted to govern themselves due to the abundant presence of United States colonialism in every sector of Puerto Rican administration. Because of this political and economic status of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico are collectively, excessively oppressed socio-politically. However, because of the visibly, but also heavily-ignored, racist and racialized structure that has constructed Puerto Rican society, visibly black Puerto Ricans face capitalist oppression on an exceptional level when we consider the intersectionality between race and class. We use the term “visibly black”, because many white or “white passing” Puerto Ricans possibly identify themselves as being a part of the “black spectrum” due to cultural and possible ancestral ties without ever living the experience of being visibly black in a racialized society. Puerto Rico like every other Latin American country is not a country of racial harmony and unity, it is the complete opposite. The current racist and racialized system in Puerto Rico, that was created by Spanish colonialism and is reinforced by United States colonial capitalism, leaves black Puerto Ricans with even less political, social and economic access and privileges than what their white or whiter counterparts collectively have, therefore the system leaves no opportunity for black Puerto Ricans to truly be socio-politically and economically empowered enough for collective progress. This social status of the black population in Puerto Rico, creates a cloud of vulnerability over the black population making this population a target for cultural, economic and political exploitation by a system built to the interest of global white supremacy and oppression.
One of the most visible ways in which black Puerto Ricans are exploited is through the way in which black cultural traditions have been involved in political processes. During the inauguration procession of the current governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo “Ricky” Roselló Nevares of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), one of the few families internationally recognized for their continuous resiliency at keeping Afro Puerto Rican traditions relevant in the present cultural fabric of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, was invited to perform for Roselló and his constituents. To a person unaware of the atrocities committed by the PNP, this performance could appear to be inclusive of “afro-puertorriqueñidad” through “honor” and “celebration” of blackness, however, we know the truth to be that the PNP has exploited Afro Puerto Ricans, through structural violence since it was founded. Under the PNP governance and explicit leadership of former PNP governor Luis G. Fortuño in 2009-2012, Villa Cañona a sector in Loiza Puerto Rico, which has the highest concentration of black Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, was marred by police violence while represented as a “drug and crime ridden community” by the media. The police violence involved blatant discrimination, murders and caused the entire municipality of Loiza to suffer from racist media attention as described by the ACLU documentary “El Color de la justicia”. In the present day, people and institutions refuse to associate themselves with people from Loiza through school admissions and hiring processes because of how the municipality has been irresponsibly depicted. Puerto Rican tradition in the inauguration of Ricardo Roselló and other events that support the most corrupt of politicians in Puerto Rico including those from el Partido Popular Democratico (PPD), support the pattern of expecting black Puerto Ricans to entertain political processes without giving them any tools for political access. This means that outside of the purpose of entertainment in favor of the corrupt politicians and their privileged constituents, Afro Puerto Ricans have no real collective access to analyze the actions of these politicians.
Much of the Afro Puerto Rican populations are concentrated in marginalized areas, like Loiza, which leads us to our next point about economic exploitation. To properly analyze the plight of these black populations in Puerto Rico, we begin with Puerto Rico’s history of slavery and its abolishment. The common but not absolute pattern is, that visibly black Puerto Ricans live primarily in coastal municipalities and Vieques. The explanation being that these areas were rich in sugarcane production therefore were constructed by cañaverales, sugar plantations. On March 22 in 1873 slavery in Puerto Rico was abolished and the newly “freed” blacks and ‘mulatos’ were required to work for three years in the same plantations. Even after these years, black Puerto Ricans were not readily provided with economic and political access therefore they remained living in isolated and impoverished communities in often the swampiest areas of Puerto Rico Ex: El Fanguito; until many were displaced into caseríos also known as residenciales, US public housing projects created by the United States government in the 1950s. For example, many living in the region El Fanguito were forcefully removed from their homes to the caseríos Manuel A. Perez in Rio Piedras and Luis Llorens Torres in Santurce.
Llorens Torres is a mostly if not completely black populated housing project located in Santurce. Santurce was the first free black established community in Puerto Rico originally known as San Mateo de Cangrejos. In 2010 and 2011, the private police organization, Capitol Security Police recruited men from the Llorens Torres to work for $10 an hour to violently attack students who were on strike at the University of Puerto Rico in protest of a $100 million budget cut from the government fiscal plan as anonymous leaders from the student movement have shared with me. The news did not shock me. This past April 19, professors and students associated with the University of Puerto Rico, alike protested in front of the Capitol building calling for the government to audit the debt instead of going through with extravagant budget cuts from all of the education and other public sectors. I immediately noticed that the majority of the Puerto Rican state policemen and policewomen that stood in front of the Capitol building and denied us access to enter the public space, and beat and pepper sprayed protesting students and professors for no apparent reason, were mostly black and some verbally admitted that they were from some of the most marginalized black neighborhoods in Puerto Rico. Keep in mind that the Puerto Rico police force is trained by the NYPD, a very racist and terroristic organization in the United States. The student movement that organized the protest in front of the Capitol building actively calls for the administration of the University of Puerto Rico to create a university that is economically accessible via tuition and socially accessible via admissions processes to people from the same and similar neighborhoods as Llorens Torres and the neighborhoods where some of these police officers were raised. A lack of educational opportunity and political access can cause groups of people to be subjected to being used by the system like robots to carry out and defend the same violence that in turn, further oppresses them.
Every way in which black Puerto Ricans are exploited by the colonial dictatorship, is political but an explicit example of political exploitation of black Puerto Ricans would be the fraudulent voter processes that have happened throughout every election. In discussing the political make up of Puerto Rico a common question is “why do Puerto Ricans constantly put the same corrupt politicians from the PNP and the PPD in power?” This can be analyzed with a countless number of perspectives that all of course lead back to the psychological effects of United States colonialism, but one of the most harrowing reasons is that politicians have obtained political support in exchange for items such as home appliances and jobs that don’t pay well but pay enough for a synthetic survival. Some of the latest cases of the practice was documented this past November in Santa Isabel and in Maunabo, coastal, so therefore municipalities with higher concentrations of black people. In a community organized discussion in February of 2016 in Piñones, Loiza, residents of Loiza and the municipality of Canovanas, another “black town”, mentioned how employees of both the PNP and the PPD gained support in their respective neighborhoods in exchange for items such as washing machines and refrigerators. The political exploitation doesn’t end there.
The majority of politicians working for the government of Puerto Rico are “blanquitos”. This means that they are elite, privileged white people who often come from families that have built their wealth from primarily being invited to Puerto Rico and given land post 1815. Because of Puerto Rico’s political status as a colony, it is imperative to pay attention to every detail that surrounds the people: “photo journalism” is one of those important details. In the picture below the current secretary of education, Julia Keleher who has decided to close 184 public schools in Puerto Rico is pictured with mostly black students. These children are completely unaware of the corruption and terrorism and colonialism that Keleher brings to Puerto Rico however they are being used as mascots for Keleher to appeal to the public as a servant, a white savior who comes from the United States, “land of opportunity” with no Puerto Rican heritage whatsoever to “save” Puerto Ricans. This picture was posted to her twitter account and was included with the words “why I took the job”. Closing 184 schools to pay off an illegal debt could be interpreted as she took the job to maliciously and intentionally hinder children and therefore the future of the country. We may never know.
Similar photo ops have been used for politicians to gain support around election time and once again, the people pictured in the photos are typically very marginalized and do not have the tools to recognize the oppression that they are being subjected to. Then of course there are the times that the Puerto Rican media displays black Puerto Ricans in a way to manipulate public opinion. After the protest in the Capitol building in April, Metro Puerto Rico published a photo of my face as the cover for an article in a way in which people could easily accuse me of being violent towards the government and especially the police officers who “have to do their job”. The article highlighted that professors denounced the violent tactics that the police officers used against the students. There were hundreds of people there but the only photograph that they published was of me. As Metro Puerto Rico has clearly proven to be against the strikes at the various University of Puerto Rico campuses, the picture was used intentionally for public reaction. People publicly accused me of being a part of ISIS and asked for the government to jail me. Throughout the course of that day not once did I ever hurt anyone or threaten anyone with violence.
So why does all of this actually matter? The examples of exploitation are endless. We coould possibly even involve the way the government has reportedly supported drug trafficking by way of the Dominican Republic and through Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico. In a country, so incredibly systemically violent as Puerto Rico, every action that politicians and their privileged supporters make fuels that violence. The violence here is the lack of access people in general have in the colony when it comes to representation. When black Puerto Ricans, the people who have constructed the majority of Puerto Rico’s cultural identity are denied proper access to the government etc, this creates a world of extreme institutional racism. Institutional racism fuels every ill of colonialism such as poverty. Colonialism exists much easier when the colonized are impoverished in ways in which people are impoverished here in Puerto Rico.
The reason that Puerto Rico is in a crisis is because of United States colonialism. There is a collective lack of access for everybody except the corrupt politicians that play along with the United States colonialism and the “gringo” expats taking advantage of the tax breaks and living in million dollar houses in Vieques, Culebra, Rincon and Viejo San Juan. In order to properly resist United States colonialism, the institutional racism in Puerto Rico must be eradicated. We eradicate institutional racism in any country by empowering black people outside of an aesthetic comfortable for white people. It is great to dance and sing, to recite poems about the beauty of being black, to wear our hair naturally however spaces dedicated to educating black people by black people, spaces of solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood, spaces where critical analysis is accepted and spaces where there can be support in times of crisis must be constructed by black Puerto Ricans who have some level of access to promote necessary communal growth and therefore a national change. Con la boca es un mamey. I am available for this work.
Sources and useful information:
The Color of Justice- full documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs4trwwtwtA&t=244s
Corrupcion e inpunidad- Antonio Quiñones Calderón
Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico:
-esclavitud, Real Cedula de Gracia de 1815