With the recent default on debt payment (see Franqui Rivera and Colón-Garcia 2015), Puerto Rico became a failed state. State failure is the inability or incapacity of a government to provide services it determines are absolutely necessary to its population. Thus, if a government tries to provide services it deems necessary for its population and cannot pay for them or does not have the structure to deliver them, it can drive itself into failure. It is said it is overstretched and that it does not have the income to provide what it promised. This is the case of Puerto Rico—an island in the Caribbean that became a United States colony in 1898 and has been, since after World War II, a US territory with partial autonomy (all federal laws and regulations apply unless specifically exempted from them, but it is not a federal state and lacks any voting representation in the federal government).
This commentary comes from a discussion panel hosted on Tuesday, September 8, by the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies (CLACLS) at the Graduate Center, CUNY, featuring the authors of the recent FocaalBlog article “Puerto Rico Is NOT Greece: Notes on the Role of Debt in US Colonialism,” Ismael García-Colón and Harry Franqui-Rivera. The authors were joined by Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán on the panel moderated by Teresita Levy.
On Tuesday, September 8, the City University of New York (CUNY) Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies is hosting a free panel discussion and presentation based on the recent FocaalBlog post “Puerto Rico Is NOT Greece: Notes on the Role of Debt in US Colonialism.”
Where: The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
Room 9100: Skylight Room
When: September 8, 6:30–8:30 p.m.
Contact Info: 212-817-8434
The blog authors Ismael García-Colón, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the College of Staten Island and the CUNY Graduate Center, and Harry Franqui-Rivera, Research Associate at Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies, will participate in the discussion.
For more details, please visit the event page here.
Notes on the Role of Debt in US Colonialism
UPDATE: On Tuesday, September 8, the City University of New York (CUNY) Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies is hosting a free panel discussion and presentation based on this blog post. For more details, visit the FocaalBlog event page here.
Early July 2015, at an event discussing the Greek debt crisis hosted by the German Federal Bank in Frankfurt, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble talked about a sarcastic conversation he’d had with United States Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Responding to pressure from the US government for a resolution on the pending Greek debt talks, Schaeuble told Lew that the European Union could take Puerto Rico into the euro zone if the US was willing to accept Greece into a dollar union. In the video of the event, one can appreciate people laughing at Schaeuble’s remarks, made in front of a large projection of the event’s theme “Turning points in history: How crises have changed the tasks and practice of central banks.” Interesting enough, his comments say more about Germany’s intentions and its role in the Greek debt default than about Puerto Rico.
In the opening sequences of Desert People (1967, 49 minutes, Australian National Film Board), we read, “This is a film on two families of the western Australian desert.” But in fact the film’s real subject is the wonderful Gibson Desert—whose textural surface is magically rendered by black and white 35mm film—and the relationship with “its” people as they constantly move across it, stopping only for short moments of rest. This relationship is marked by material scarcity and hard labor. We see boys and men restlessly digging the hard surface of the desert with spears and wooden tools. We see their bodies slowly disappearing inside it, to reappear with handfuls of water, small lizards, and rats. We see women making food out of wild grass. We see families gathering to eat, forced into a momentary standstill by the heat of the sun at midday.
Everywhere we look, it seems, we are faced with the human and environmental devastation caused by contemporary processes of dispossession. How we are to confront this is the urgent political question of the day. Not surprisingly, this question has reinvigorated scholarly interest in dispossession, much of it inspired by the work of David Harvey (2003) on accumulation by dispossession and Peter Linebaugh (2008) on an expanded understanding of what constitutes the commons. These conceptual interventions are clearly both welcome and important, yet their explications of dispossession and commons, in the end, do not adequately address the political question. In brief, Harvey’s assignment of different political logics to the dispossessed in the Global North and South and Linebaugh’s evocative juxtapositions of different various commoning practices do not enable us to bring these struggles into a common relational frame. I suggest that a more sustained focus on uneven proletarianization—the end result of dispossession—will better serve our goal of understanding present protests and political possibilities.