Late in December, Jose B. Carrión, chairman of the federally-imposed Fiscal Control Board for Puerto Rico, penned an email to Governor Alejandro García Padilla and governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló. A PDF copy made the rounds on Facebook with the velocity of a really cute cat video, but for opposite reasons. Carrion’s suggestion to increase the cost of the ferry that transports travelers from Fajardo, on the east coast, to the tiny offshore island of Vieques was a point of contention for many.
It’s not the only cut the board is pushing, of course. “Right-pricing” other services — like tuition for the University of Puerto Rico — were joined by a call for more private sector investments and fairer corporate taxes. None of these, the ferry cost changes included, are solutions that value people power. They’re austerity measures that will only strengthen the United States’ grip in its continued colonial exploitation of its territory.
Mainstream media coverage of the surge in protests as a massive wave of resistance swells is lacking, to say the least. But those entities aren’t the only route to understanding, learning about and supporting the people’s fight.
Here are some suggestions for how you can take action and be a true ally for Puerto Rico.
Get educated about Puerto Rico's history
Photo via War Against All Puerto Ricans blog.
After the United States took possession of Puerto Rico when it won the Spanish-American war in 1898, it didn’t take them long to begin implementing exploitative laws and practices. Consider the economically stifling results of the Jones Act of 1920 (imports must still be delivered on U.S.-made ships, built on a U.S. shipyard and run by a U.S. crew), the dangerous contraceptive trials on unwitting women in the ’50s, the U.S. Navy testing (and contamination) in Vieques until 2003, and now the imposition of La Junta de Control Fiscal. The United States’ treatment of Puerto Rico is historically abusive—and has played a significant role in the island’s currently precarious position. That’s not to say that Puerto Rico’s own government doesn’t have its issues, because it certainly does, but recognizing the role of the U.S. in its perpetual downturn is important.
War Against All Puerto Ricans is a powerful tool in that effort. Nelson A. Dennis’ book relates the story of the National Party and its president, Pedro Albizu Campos, and the insurrection efforts in the ’50s, from the formative events before to the aftermath. On his website, there’s even more historical context and explanations of lesser-known (but crucial) events, as well as up-to-date analysis of what’s happening currently. Read up here.
Follow the leaders of the resistance on the island
Lily Díaz, 22, Media Committee, she makes videos of events and posts them on social media for El Campamento. Photo: Stephanie Segarra for Remezcla.
At the forefront of the fight is Campamento Contra La Junta, the group that coalesced the people’s grieveances against PROMESA into a movement by setting up camp at the US District Court of Puerto Rico in San Juan immediately after the bill became law. It’s been six months, and they’re holding fast—their efforts have gotten more concentrated, more powerful. With its weekly open meetings, the camp is an epicenter for organizing, but it’s also an educational hub where anyone is welcome to visit and learn from the activists. Through Facebook, you can learn about their actions—and those organized by other groups they support—as they’re announced, streamed live and reported on throughout and after.
A second encampment in Puerto Rico is located in Peñuelas, just two hours southwest of San Juan. They’re focused on stopping Guayama’s Applied Energy Systems plant from dumping its toxic carbon ash there through education, awareness and direct actions. The Campamento Contra Cenizas de Carbón en Peñuelas was one of the groups that helped organize the November efforts in which more than 60 people (including senator and Vice President of the Puerto Rican Independence Party María de Lourdes Santiago) were arrested during protests that included human blockades of delivery trucks attempting to enter. Their work is ongoing, as the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico recently validated the right of EC Waste in Peñuelas to continue accepting AES ash.
Incoming governor Ricky Rosselló is anti-LGBTTIQ rights—he’s already denounced the right of students to wear uniforms based on their preferred gender and clarified his belief that sex ed and gender perspectives should be delegated to parents, not schools. Puerto Rico Para [email protected] is one of the island’s strongest defenses against his dehumanizing agenda. Now, in its 14th year of operation, the nonprofit is seeking financial contributions as reinforcement for the battles they’ll undoubtedly face this year.
Support these organizations speaking directly to the diaspora
Photo via ComBo Facebook
Comité Boricua en la Diáspora (ComBo) is a Bronx-based effort launched in May of last year by Puerto Ricans of all generations born on the island and in the States. Employing grassroots organizing in their resistance, their Facebook and Instagram channels are constantly pouring out updates in the fight against colonialism, the Fiscal Control Board, cenizas in Penuelas and more. They don’t limit their content to the Boricua fight only, either; struggles around the world are also emphasized in their content.
Based in Aguada, Vive Borikén, is a nonprofit founded in 2015 with the goal of uniting the island with the diaspora through education, community organizing and collaboration. Working in partnership with local and U.S.-based groups and initiatives, they support urban revitalization, expanding local agriculture, the preservation of natural resources, the growth of small businesses and other issues that directly affect the quality of life on the island. All of their Facebook content is in English or translated.
A second group working to connect the island with the diaspora is Defend Puerto Rico, a multimedia platform that uses personal stories told in both English and Spanish as a way of humanizing and contextualizing the greater struggle.
The Puerto RICO Project advocates for the many Boricuas sent to Chicago with one-way tickets under a false promise of drug and mental health treatment upon arrival. Organizer Melissa Hernandez is working hand-in-hand with Senator William Delgado and other local organizations to provide the help and services this population desperately needs.
Shop the local economy
Puerto Rican brand Suxess Clothing. Photo via Suxess Lookbook.
You can contribute to Puerto Rico’s small businesses without actually traveling to the island. (Hello, the internet.) Brands of Puerto Rico has gathered a mighty selection—clothing, makeup, coffee, beauty products, jewelry, books, even homemade sofrito — and offers delivery to virtually anywhere. For indie tunes in physical form, check out Discos Diaspora, the Boricua imprint responsible for releases and reissues from Buscabulla, Alegría Rampante and the metal powerhouse Zafakon.
If you’re visiting, be conscious of the businesses you patronize. Avoid corporations like Walmart and Walgreens, eat at local spots rather than chains and peruse stores where Puerto Rican-made goods are sold. You’ll get to know the island more genuinely by engaging the people and products fueling its small business economy.
Those are just a few examples; it’s not difficult to explore on your own from there. And generally, once you’re actively mindful of shopping Puerto Rican-made, you’ll likely find yourself noticing more opportunities to buy over time.
Contact politicians via email, social media and by phone
Governor Ricardo Roselló. Photo via El Nuevo Día
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the powers that be, but it’s a good place to start. Send your complaints and concerns to the politicians and businesses listed below — it doesn’t take long, and every individual correspondence adds to the greater impact.
Ricardo Rosselló, Governor
Message his Facebook page, leave a note through his website (email and Whatsapp provided) or Tweet to him.
La Junta de Control Fiscal/Financial Oversight and Management Board
Send emails to [email protected]
José B. Carrión, President of the Fiscal Oversight Board (La Junta de Control Fiscal)
Email him through the insurance brokerage firm over which he presides as partner and president ([email protected]) or, better yet, call his direct line at 787-641-2741.