What does the decay of a once-proud empire look like? If you are reading this on an I-pad in an airport, perhaps even the faint reflection of your own furrowed brow is not enough of a clue. The early warning sings are more clearly observed on the periphery, in this case the Caribbean, home of the world’s last, best colony. For over a month, students at the University of Puerto Rico have been striking against a regime of privatization imposed by a governor whose strongest ambition is to pursue a more perfect union with a body politic actively engaged in expelling his own people.
How many times have we seen this passion play before? The sight of young idealists, not yet hardened by the cynical realities of hypocritical compromise, being beaten, and in this postmodern age, tasered, followed by those shell-shocked elders, who never felt comfortable staying quiet, wheezing and choking from tear gas, fleeing a palace of luxury from which the propertied classes unleash their goon squads? Even the hardly progressive Anibal of our discontent could hardly believe what he was seeing.
In search of the family I belong to, the people of Puerto Rico, I have found myself embracing the artificial light of Plaza Las Américas. That’s why the students brought their plena politics up and down its escalators last weekend. But the University is the space where reality plays out, and this largest mall of the Caribbean, even with its new T.J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory, has become our diabetic coma of pan, tierra, and Yanquilidad.
Even La Comay knows better. Ese viejito, Jim Bunning, ostensibly a laughable representative (sorry, Senator) of America’s Greatest Generation decay, is in reality the same-o same-o that Basquiat died for. For those of you who missed it, the partial transcript from last week’s Puerto Rico “Democracy” Act hearings of this exchange between Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Rubén Berríos, the leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party:
We get three Puerto Ricans together, we can get an argument anytime.
That’s what I mean about the cavalier, condescending attitude of Congress..
Well I happen to have lived in Puerto Rico for quite a while—
And I understand Puerto Rico pretty well.
In fact I played for Marianel and had the—
It was not Marianel, that was in Cuba, we played for Caguas, in Puerto Rico.
I managed Caguas. So I have a very strong affinity with Puerto Rico and I am troubled by self-determination…
Yes, troubled, we are all troubled by the pain on the periphery.
And, below the radar, of course, we are slowly undone by the chaos in the colony.
One thought on “Chaos in the Colony”
1) The privatization/accommodation drive is the primordial drive in Puerto Rico’s politics. It has been that way since Spanish colonial times. The new thing is not that students are protesting -I was myself part of a previous generation of student protesters- but a) that the students are so well organized and b) that the administration wildly underestimated the generalized discontent amongst the general population. The stars, as it were, aligned.
2) No sympathies with Berrios here. He has been at the helm of the Independence Party almost as long as Fidel has been in power. No good indication of how politics would evolve if Puerto Rico were independent! Berrios is an authoritarian pig. Period. Indeed, it is in no small measure thanks to Berrios’ maddening clinging to power that new ideas as to what to do with the colonial situation have not found a fertile ground. Berrios is the beheader of new independentist talent. He has done everything in his power to derail or co-opt any new independent talents in the movement.
So, yes, Bunning is out of touch and cavalier; but I doubt he is more out of touch and cavalier than Berrios. It makes no difference to me that Bunning is a gringo and Berrios a Puerto Rican independentist. Whatever. They probably deserve each other.
Until Puerto Rico’s liberals get their shit together consistently -and it remains to be seen if the student movement can become something larger than their limited set of demands- we will get a Mr. Bunning on the other side of the negotiating table; we will deserve nothing better. It is sad, frustrating and enraging. But that’s the truth.