Monday, June 12, 2017

The vote in Puerto Rico and Oscar López Rivera

Suddenly there are headlines and articles talking about yesterday's vote in Puerto Rico for statehood. It s difficult to learn about the vote in the U.S. media before yesterday, and almost impossible to learn about the context in which the vote occurred. Today the typical blurb reads

Puerto Rico voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood on Sunday in a referendum that begins the steps toward sending representatives to Washington, D.C.

The outstanding fact is that turnout was only about 23-27 percent, and that that light voter turnout produced a 97 percent vote for statehood---not a mandate, and probably a recognition that, statehood or commonwealth, Puerto Rico has been driven to default and the far edges of austerity by U.S. imperialist interests. The legitimate independence movement rightly called for a boycott of the vote, and the low turnout was at least in part a validation of the movement's position.

The annual Puerto Rican Day Parade was also held in New York yesterday. At the center of the parade was recently freed political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. Because of a boycott pushed by right-wingers, Oscar López Rivera was also at the center of a great controversy. Among those on the wrong side of this issue were the food company Goya Foods, New York Police Department Commissioner James O'Neill and salsa musician Willie Colon. Colon should have known better. The march organizers generally held to principles, Oscar López Rivera humbly tried to step aside, and Oscar López Rivera was still honored by so many people who turned out for the parade.

Democracy Now ran a great story on the parade. Their story begins as follows:

Tens of thousands took part in Sunday’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade here in New York. Marchers at the parade included Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned for about 35 years. This year’s organizers chose to honor López Rivera as the parade’s first "National Freedom Hero." But after a boycott campaign was organized by a right-wing conservative group funded by donors close to both President Trump and to Breitbart News, Oscar López Rivera announced he would march not as an official honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and a grandfather. Democracy Now!’s Juan González was at the parade on Sunday.

Read the entire story here.

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez got to the point in a brief exchange in which Gonzalez correctly stated that

Yes, it’s actually probably the poorest showing that the pro-statehood party has had in about 50 years, because so few people voted. You have to understand, in Puerto Rico, it’s normal for 78 to 80 percent of the people to vote in a normal election or plebiscite. You’re talking 23 percent. So the statehood party got a little over 500,000 votes. Back in 2012, during the last plebiscite, statehood got 834,000 votes. So they got 300,000 fewer votes than they did in the 2012 plebiscite. The reality is that with the economic crisis that Puerto Rico is facing right now, the last thing on the minds of the people of Puerto Rico is a vote over statehood that Congress—they know that Congress cannot or will not grant.

Claridad remains the best direct news source from Puerto Rico. They made their case on these issues in an op-ed piece which begins with these words:

Con un apoyo firme al Desfile Puertorriqueño en Nueva York y un llamado a extender su celebración en la Isla izando la bandera de Puerto Rico, el domingo 11 de junio, el Junte Soberanista reiteró su boicot a la celebración del plebiscito de estatus, convocado por el gobierno del Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP).

En conferencia de prensa el Junte Soberanista denunció la campaña que se ha levantado en contra del desfile por su dedicatoria al ex prisioneros político puertorriqueño, Oscar López Rivera y recalcó el por qué las organizaciones que integran el Junte no participarán del plebiscito a celebrarse el 11 de junio.

La portavoz del Junte en esta ocasión, la periodista Wilda Rodríguez, apuntó que hasta ahora la campaña de miedo del PNP solo ha atraído a los del “corazón del rollo” para que participen en el plebiscito por lo que dicho partido ha traído “por los pelos” la campaña en contra del desfile puertorriqueño para combatir la apatía hacia el plebiscito. Rodríguez llamó la atención a que argumentos de la campaña de miedo del PNP tales como; miedo al comunismo; miedo al apocalipsis económico de Puerto Rico sin Estados Unidos; (apocalipsis que ya llegó con EE UU); y la mentira de que es inminente la anexión son los últimos que le quedan al PNP. Sobre la mentira del PNP de que la anexión es “inminente” acotó que tanto las dos corporaciones que son los dos partidos institucionales en EE UU así como los poderes legislativo, judicial y ejecutivo lo han desmentido, e incluso lo desmienten para zapatearse de su responsabilidad sobre la crisis económica de la colonia.

Rodríguez denunció que la campaña del PNP en contra del desfile es “traída por los pelos porque el desfile ha honrado antes a nacionalistas y presos políticos y nunca, nunca se había desatado un ánimo como este que quede claro que el PNP no tiene los recursos, ni la influencia, ni el poder económico en la metrópolis para esta campaña, que quede claro, que es obvio que esos recursos y campaña vienen del FBI y la ultraderecha norteamericana, de la inteligencia norte americana”.

Read the entire article here.

Granma, published in Cuba, provided context for the vote in an article which begins:

In San Juan, chants of “the debt is illegal” and “colonial dictatorship” fill the morning air, as students from the University of Puerto Rico block a palm-lined avenue.

Across the street, a board of overseers imposed by Washington is meeting with student representatives to hear their demands as they mull ever deeper cuts to pull this “Greece of the Caribbean” out of bankruptcy.

To some, it’s a necessary corrective to get a stumbling Puerto Rico back on its feet.

But to others like Mariana de Alba, a 27-year-old law student at the protest, it all smacks of colonial subjugation.

“What they’ve come to do is to cut back the public budget and the island’s public services to give it to the big bond holders, to pay off a debt that we don’t even know whether it is legitimate,” she says.

The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico — made up of seven members appointed by the US president and one by the island’s governor — is tasked with getting a handle on the territory’s crushing $74 billion debt.

But in an island proud of a cultural identity expressed in its language, food and music, the board is widely seen as having an intolerable stranglehold on Puerto Rican life.

As in Greece, where the arrival of the European “troika” repulsed much of the population, Puerto Rico had long shrugged off the dangers of unrestrained borrowing — until the crash.

But unlike its Mediterranean counterpart, Puerto Rico is not independent.

Read the entire article here.

The vote is not meaningless, but with Oscar's freedom, a boycott of the plebiscite, a clarification of who is on each side of the struggle, and the on-going crisis in Puerto Rico a new situation exists.

   Photo from Democracy Now!

¡Oscar, bienvenido a casa!

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