On 21 October, Jair Bolsonaro, the now president-elect of Brazil, made an announcement via his smartphone that was transmitted to crowds of supporters gathered in São Paulo: “Criminals of the MST [Landless Workers’ Movement], criminals of the MTST [Homeless Workers’ Movement], your actions will be classified as terrorism.” This was delivered as part of a broader threat made to the Left (Mollona 2018)—singling out Fernando Haddad, his Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) opponent in the presidential race, who he promised could “rot in jail” together with the currently imprisoned former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva—which would be “cleansed” after he assumed presidential office.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, one US representative, John Lewis, fueled widespread media debates with a claim that he does not believe Mr. Trump to be a “legitimate” president. In a time when the many antagonizing executive orders and cabinet choices make these debates from mid-January appear like yesterday’s news, it is worth reconsidering them with a closer look at the concept of legitimacy itself.
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.
I spent the last weeks of August and the first days of September in Hungary, close to the European Union’s border with Serbia. Never before had a routine field trip catapulted me into an engagement with issues dominating daily headlines, both in Hungary and elsewhere. What light can social anthropology throw on the current “migrant crisis”?
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.
During my fieldwork in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2013–14, I witnessed the unfolding of the current Ebola crisis that is so heavily affecting the region today. I saw how the regulations put in place to stop the spread of the virus impacted livelihoods, restricting transport and closing businesses, schools, and borders. It is no exaggeration to say that the Ebola outbreak affected every single person I know there. I experienced an unsettling atmosphere of uncertainty: personal plans were put on hold as each day became a struggle to make ends meet. And then there were the fears about Ebola itself, which intensified as the virus spread to the capital. Broadly speaking, people I know became more reliant on those “close” to them in the wake of the Ebola crisis, particularly family members, the providers of financial and practical support and care. However, this approach to support and care runs the risk of transmitting the virus, transforming an intimate relative or friend into an “enemy.” In this piece, I suggest that the Ebola crisis exposes deep-rooted tensions surrounding intimacy in Sierra Leone. Experiences and understandings of the “enemy within,” along with broader notions of transformation, in turn color responses and attitudes toward the crisis itself.