Puerto Rico, Trapped Between Colonialism and Hurricanes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Puerto Rico, Trapped Between Colonialism and Hurricanes

Puerto Rican Graffiti. Photo by Flickr user Juan Cristóbal Zulueta. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Puerto Rican Graffiti. Photo by Flickr user Juan Cristóbal Zulueta. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

You came to Puerto Rico for the golden sand and sun—gold, you will recall, was also the basis of our first colonizers’ initial attraction. For the endless piña coladas and rum-spiked mysteries. For the colonial charm and quaint, humble lifestyle. Poverty looks so alluring in the Caribbean, what with the bright colors, crystal-clear waters and the backdrop of lush greens—besides, it’s only for a week. Your friends say it’s the hottest Spring Break spot; the newspapers say it’s a debt-ridden disaster; your parents say it’s dangerous and that the water is undrinkable; and the brochures say it’s a (tax) haven, an absolute paradise. So here you are, in your bathing suit and sarong, mojito in hand, ready to focus on your one task for the week: getting a tan.

But it turns out that the sun isn’t nailed onto the sky, and it doesn’t run on one-million 100-watt light bulbs that never fail. The tides rise and the swells are ferocious. Coconuts, palm trees and branches are potential projectiles. And a hurricane is heading straight for your worry-free fantasy.

So you try to catch a flight out of this paradise-turned-inferno, because a hurricane was not on your must-see itinerary. Instead, JetBlue takes you to a hurricane shelter in San Juan, a hot and humid coliseum, where your beach chair is replaced by a cot; your piña colada by a Walgreens water bottle; your dream, by our reality.

The power was out in my house as I imagined the scenario above, which had taken place the day before, right before Irma’s arrival. After Irma’s passing the next morning there were more than a million households without power. The Electric Power Authority (AEE) was predicting the outages would last two to four months, and almost 80,000 households had lost water service as well. Over 6,200 people were in shelters on the northeastern side of the island, and Puerto Rico’s agricultural industry had suffered $30.4 million in losses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Governor Ricardo Rosselló were still evaluating infrastructural and residential damages. And now a powerful new storm was heading our way: María.

Puerto Rico is no stranger to crisis. Before Irma’s rampage through the archipelago, Puerto Rico was already in the midst of one of the most devastating financial and socio-political crises in its recent history, with an unaudited $74 billion debt under its belt, $49 billion in pension obligations, and several decades’ worth of illegal bond issuances and trading related to its status as an overly-advertised tax haven. Neoliberal policies such as draconian budget cuts and extreme austerity measures had already rendered life in Puerto Rico quite precarious. And the whole thing was being overseen and managed simultaneously by Governor Rosselló, an unelected and antidemocratic Fiscal Control Board, and judge Laura Taylor Swain, all of whom were going back and forth on the country’s fiscal management and debt restructuring processes.

But even as Hurricane Irma headed straight towards it, for many outside of the country, Puerto Rico is a mere blip on CNN’s news ticker, an enchanting US-owned island on a tourist brochure, that exotic place where the music video for “Despacito” was filmed (and made all the better by Justin Bieber), a pebble sinking between an ocean and a sea that have seen too much.

But Irma’s passing and aftermath have once again brought to light Puerto Rico’s primordial conundrum: colonialism.

Puerto Rico has been a US colony (the US prefers the euphemistic designations of “commonwealth”, “unincorporated territory” and “free associated state”) for 199 years, a relationship that has led to the country’s being trapped in a steep downward spiral. The current fiscal and socio-political crisis is only one of the side effects of this relationship.

Hurricane Irma’s passing underscored the damage done by the neoliberal austerity measures imposed by the Fiscal Control Board and the crimes committed by corporations taking advantage of Puerto Rico’s colonial status. For starters, as a result of the massive closure of public schools, only 329 schools across the island were available as hurricane shelters compared with the 372 available during Hurricane Bertha’s passing in 2014.

Puerto Rico’s infrastructure also finds itself in an advanced state of deterioration, including roads, bridges, the University of Puerto Rico and public service buildings all of whom were critically endangered during Irma’s passing. A good part of the country’s “essential infrastructure” is on the coast, making it vulnerable to flooding, high tides and storm surges, especially during hurricanes of Irma’s or Maria’s intensity.

It is notable that much of that infrastructure was built to benefit the tourist industry and mercantile trade with the US, and the US alone. Money invested in infrastructure tends to go towards revitalizing these “essentials”, not to repairing the potholed roads in our communities, remediating asbestos-filled buildings or replacing crumbling light poles at the mercy of hurricane winds. All of this is further proof of our colonial market dependency and the essentially colonial nature of the tourist industry, which caters particularly to PR’s relationship with the US.

Even the disaster declaration signed by the US President authorizing FEMA assistance for Puerto Rico second-rate, allowing only for search and rescue, public health and safety, and debris removal. It didn’t include rebuilding or even restoration of power, and with the current fiscal crisis and the Fiscal Control Board’s silence since Irma’s passing, rebuilding and restructuring will be a tough feat for Puerto Rico given the lack of available resources.

Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico’s Carla Minet said:

The budget cuts, in an already weak economy, will probably make the storm’s social impact worse.

Minet added that a pre-Irma forecast by the Center for a New Economy’s policy director, Sergio M. Marxuach, predicts that the recently approved the Fiscal Plan would result in another lost decade, continued population loss due to migration and lower birth rates, lower employment, less access to public education, pension cuts, worsening health outcomes, higher mortality and lower life expectancy, and, ultimately, higher rates of poverty and inequality. “Now add in the cataclysm of a monster hurricane that the plan never accounted for,” said Minet.

The Fiscal Control Board is likely to use Irma as an excuse to aggressively push the many policies it has in line, such as the privatization of PR’s Electric Power Authority (AEE). Nor would it be surprising if Gov. Rosselló and the Fiscal Control Board used the occasion to dismantle and privatize the University of Puerto Rico, the only public higher education institution in the country, as well as a number of other public institutions that are defenseless against the colonial rule of the Fiscal Control Board and its blatant neoliberal attacks.

Now, barely two weeks after Irma’s passing, we’ve just been hit by another category 5 hurricane, María. This just as some household have just got back their electricity supply, and while others are still living in the dark; while the ground is still strewn with fallen trees and light posts waiting to take on second lives as projectiles; while many, both locals and refugees from neighboring Caribbean islands, are still recovering from the loss of their homes, their entire reality; and while crisis and colonialism continue to hold hands, as they do every day.

And so, you’re sitting in your cot with your straw hat on, hundreds of locals scrambling around you with what’s left of their lives stuffed into a bag or a suitcase, wondering why JetBlue dropped you off here and high-tailed it; why the shelter is so understaffed; why the power went even though it hasn’t yet started raining and not a gusts of wind has blown; why CNN wasn’t covering Irma’s passing over Puerto Rico. “I’m here, send over an Embassy representative for me!” you yell in your mind as you stare at the screen of your almost-dead smartphone. Why, you wonder, has life had been so unfair to you, ruining your longed-for vacation in the Island of enchantment.

Then your thoughts are interrupted as you spot a window and you walk gloomily towards it and look through pigeon-christened glass, and watch as the storm clouds gather and gusts of wind batter a US flag—oh, and a Puerto Rican one too.

Imperialism: Colonialism: How It Made And Destroyed Peoples Lives In Africa

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘HISTORY’ ON GOOGLE+)

Imperialism and the Partition of Africa
Imperialism and the Partition of Africa
Imperialism and the Partition of Africa

Imperialism, or the extension of one nation-state’s domination or control over territory outside its own boundaries, peaked in the 19th century as European powers extended their holdings around the world.

The huge African continent (three times the size of the continental United States) was particularly vulnerable to European conquest. The partition of Africa was a fast-moving event. In 1875 less than one-tenth of Africa was under European control; by 1895 only one-tenth was independent.

Between 1871 and 1900 Britain added 4.25 million square miles and 66 million people to its empire. British holdings were so far-flung that many boasted that the “sun never set on the British Empire.” During the same time frame, France added over 3.5 million square miles of territory and 26 million people to its empire.

Controlling the sparsely populated Sahara, the French did not rule over as many people as the British. By 1912 only Liberia and Ethiopia in Africa remained independent states, and Liberia was really a protectorate of U.S.-owned rubber companies, particularly the Firestone Company.

By the end of the 19th century, the map of Africa resembled a patchwork quilt of different colonial empires. France controlled much of North Africa, West Africa, and French Equatorial Africa (unified in 1910). The British held large sections of West Africa, the Nile Valley, and much of East and southern Africa.

The Spanish ruled small parts of Morocco and coastal areas along the Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese held Angola and Mozambique, and Belgium ruled the vast territories of the Congo. The Italians had secured Libya and parts of Somalia in East Africa. Germany had taken South-West Africa (present-day Namibia), Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania), and Cameroon.

Britain had the largest empire and the French the second largest, followed by Spain, Portugal, and Belgium. Germany and Italy, among the last European nations to unify, came late to the scramble for Africa and had to content themselves with less desirable and lucrative territories.

There were many different motivations for 19thcentury imperialism. Economics was a major motivating factor. Western industrial powers wanted new markets for their manufactured goods as well as cheap labor; they also needed raw materials.

J. A. Hobson and Vladimir Lenin both attributed imperial expansion to new economic forces in industrial nations. Lenin went so far as to write that imperialism was an inevitable result of capitalism.

As the vast mineral resources of Africa were exploited by European imperial powers, many Africans became laborers in mines or workers on agricultural plantations owned by Europeans. The harsh treatment or punishment of workers in the rubber plantations of the Belgian Congo resulted in millions of deaths.

However, economics was not the only motivation for imperial takeovers. In some instances, for example the French takeover of landlocked Chad in northern Africa, imperial powers actually expended more to administer the territory than was gained from raw materials, labor, or markets.

Nationalism fueled imperialism as nations competed for bragging rights over having the largest empire. Nations also wanted control over strategic waterways such as the Suez Canal, ports, and naval bases. Christian missionaries traveled to Africa in hopes of gaining converts.

When they were opposed or even attacked by Africans who resented the cultural incursions and denial of traditional religions, Western missionaries often called on their governments to provide military and political protection.

Hence it was said that “the flag followed the Bible.” The finding of the Scottish missionary David Livingstone by Henry Stanley, an American of English birth, was widely popularized in the Western press. Livingstone was not actually lost, but had merely lost contact with the Western world.

Explorers, adventurers, and entrepreneurs such as Cecil Rhodes in Rhodesia and King Leopold II of Belgium, who owned all of the Congo as his personal estate, also supported imperial takeovers of territories.

Richard Burton, Samuel and Florence Baker, and John Speke all became famous for their exploration of the Nile Valley in attempts to find the source of that great river. Their books and public lectures about their exploits fueled Western imaginations and interest in Africa.

Cultural Imperialism

Cultural imperialism was another important aspect of 19th-century imperialism. Most Westerners believed they lived in the best possible world and that they had a monopoly on technological advances.

In their imperial holdings, European powers often built ports, transportation, communication systems, and schools, as well as improving health care, thereby bringing the benefits of modern science to less developed areas.

Social Darwinists argued that Western civilization was the strongest and best and that it was the duty of the West to bring the benefits of its civilization to “lesser” peoples and cultures.

Western ethnocentrism contributed to the idea of the “white man’s burden,” a term popularized by the poet Rudyard Kipling. Racism also played a role in Western justifications for imperial conquests.

European nations devised a number of different approaches to avoid armed conflict with one another in the scramble for African territory. Sometimes nations declared a protectorate over a given African territory and exercised full political and military control over it. At other times they negotiated through diplomatic channels or held international conferences.

At the Berlin Conference of 1884–85, 14 nations decided on the borders of the Congo that was under Belgian rule, and Portugal got Angola. The term spheres of influence, whereby a nation declared a monopoly over a territory to deter rival imperial powers from taking it, was first used at the Berlin Conference.

However, disputes sometimes led European nations to the brink of war. Britain and France both had plans to build a north-south railway and east-west railway across Africa; although neither railway was ever completed, the two nations almost went to war during the Fashoda crisis over control of the Sudan, where the railways would have intersected.

Britain was also eager to control the headwaters of the Nile to protect its interests in Egypt, which was dependent on the Nile waters for its existence. Following diplomatic negotiations the dispute was resolved in favor of the British, and the Sudan became part of the British Empire.

War did break out between the British and Boers over control of South Africa in 1899. By 1902 the British had emerged victorious, and South Africa was added to their empire. In West Africa, European powers carved out long narrow states running north to south in order that each would have access to maritime trade routes and a port city.

Since most Europeans knew little or nothing about the local geography or demographics of the region, these new states often separated similar ethnic groups or put traditional enemies together under one administration. The difficulties posed by these differences continue to plague present-day West African nations such as Nigeria.

French and British Rule

The French and British adopted very different approaches to governance in their empires. The French believed in their “civilizing mission” and sought to assimilate the peoples of their empire by implanting French culture and language.

The British adopted a policy of “indirect rule.” They made no attempt to assimilate the peoples of their empire and educated only a small number of Africans to become civil servants. A relatively small number of British soldiers and bureaucrats ruled Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa.

In East Africa, the British brought in Indians to take jobs as government clerks and in commerce. Otherwise, the British tried to avoid interfering with local rulers or ways of life. Although the British and French policies were radically different, both were based on the belief in the superiority of Western civilization.

European colonists also settled in areas where the climate was favorable and the land was suitable for agriculture. Substantial numbers of French colons settled in the coastal areas of North Africa, especially in Algeria and Tunisia, while Italians settled in Tunisia and Libya.

British settlers moved into what they named Rhodesia and Kenya. In Kenya, British farmers and ranchers moved into the highlands, supplanting Kenyan farmers and taking much of the best land.

The Boers, Dutch farmers, fought the Zulus for control of rich agricultural land in South Africa. The Boers took part in a mass migration, or Great Trek, into the interior of South Africa from 1835–41 and established two independent republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

Dutch farmers clashed with the British for control of South Africa in the Boer War. In Mozambique and Angola, Portuguese settlers (prazeros) established large feudal estates (prazos). Throughout Africa, European colonists held privileged positions politically, culturally, and economically. They opposed extending rights to native African populations.

A few groups, such as the Igbos in Nigeria and the Baganda in Uganda, allied with the British and received favored positions in the colonial administrations. However, most Africans resisted European takeovers.

Muslim leaders, such as Abdul Kader in Algeria and the Mahdi in Sudan, mounted long and effective armed opposition to French and British domination. But both were ultimately defeated by superior Western military strength.

The Ashante in Ghana and the Hereros in South-West Africa fought against European domination but were crushed in bloody confrontations. The Zulus led byShaka Zulu used guerrilla warfare tactics to halt the expansion of the Boers into their territories, but after initial defeats the Boers triumphed.

The Boers then used the hit-and-run tactics they had learned from the Zulus in their war against the British. The British defeated the Matabele and Mashona tribes in northern and southern Rhodesia. In the 20th century, a new generation of nationalist African leaders adopted a wide variety of political and economic means to oppose the occupation of their lands by European nations and settlers.