Puerto Rico’s Ouster of Its Governor Isn’t Just About One Administration’s Corruption

By Collier Meyerson

Protesters demonstrate near a police barricade on a street leading to the governor's mansion.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Puerto Rico has a governor and Puerto Ricans are American citizens, but it’s not a state. What is it?

The official status is an unincorporated territory. You might remember from history books that different states were not admitted immediately; they were territories first. The unincorporated territory is the first step, and then they become an incorporated territory. The thing is, Puerto Rico never made the transition from being an unincorporated territory to an incorporated territory, because there was a lot of anxiety from people in the United States, led by some conservative legislators, mostly from the South, who felt that Puerto Rico had a large mixed-race population and wouldn’t be very suitable to be on a path to be accepted as a state. It was somewhat racist. So Puerto Rico has remained an incorporated territory.

There were a number of rulings called the “Insular Cases” that were decided by Supreme Court judges, some of whom sat on the Supreme Court for the Plessy v. Ferguson case, which established the basis for segregation in the United States — as you know, Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned, but the Insular Cases were never overturned. So because of that, Puerto Rico is basically a colony as an unincorporated territory.

What kind of government are Puerto Ricans asking for now?

I guess what’s transgressive or radical about what Puerto Ricans are asking for now is that they’re just sort of saying, “Look, so many of these politicians have been proven to be corrupt that we just want new leadership.” There’s a possibility for a new political party to emerge.

Read the rest here: New York magazine August 8 2019


‘It’s Not Full Citizenship’: What It Means to Be Puerto Rican Post-María

In his new book, “Fantasy Island,” Ed Morales recounts the history of the island’s relationship with the United States.

Mass protests this summer successfully pushed Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to resign as governor of Puerto Rico. (Erika P. Rodríguez)

By Isabelía Herrera

Sept. 19, 2019

Ahead of the two-year anniversary of María, a new book, “Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico,” explores the effects of the disaster, as well as the political struggles of the island. Its author, Ed Morales, who teaches at Columbia University and has reported on Puerto Rico for more than 20 years, unearths the roots of the island’s current crisis by tracing its relationship to the United States since 1898, illustrating how the island has become a colonial outpost. Mr. Morales also interweaves his own family’s migration to New York in his discussion of the United States’ policy toward the island.

I sat down with Mr. Morales to discuss his new book, Puerto Rico’s continued colonial relationship with the United States and the island’s political destiny.

How does your family’s story serve as a blueprint for talking about the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States?

When I was a little boy, I loved maps. I saw a map of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico, and in parentheses, it said “U.S.” underneath it. So I asked my dad, “Why does it say that?” He said, “Oh, that just means that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S.” So I said, “Oh, so it’s not a country?” And he said, “No, no, Puerto Rico is a country, and it’s my country.” It was the first strange contact I had with this idea that Puerto Ricans feel very strongly about Puerto Rico being a country, but the technical status is not that.

What hopes do you have for the island now in terms of its political destiny?

What I see as the best possible future is definitely a change in status, whether it’s a more autonomous relationship with the U.S., or independence. I’m really hoping Puerto Rico can move to a new stage by a vast reduction of the debt, and then come up with a serious proposal to ask for reparations from the United States for having kept it as a colonial territory for more than a century and having repressed its independence movement in the 1950s.

Read the rest here: The New York Times, September 19, 2019


SEPTEMBER 24, 2019

Fantasy Island

Journalist Ed Morales talked about his book, Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico, on the relationship between the U.S. government and Puerto Rico since the latter became a U.S. colony in 1898. This CSPAN Book TV video was recorded at McNally Jackson Bookstore in Manhattan:


KERA Think: July 26, 2019

This week, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have taken to the streets to call for the resignation of the island’s governor, Ricardo A. Rosselló. Ed Morales covers Puerto Rico for The Nation, and he joins guest host John McCaa to talk about how years of corruption, economic problems and the aftermath of Hurricane Maria have led to the current uprising.

How American Colonialism Put Puerto Rico in Crisis

By A.J. Vicens, Mother Jones

Next week marks the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria ripping Puerto Rico apart, killing an estimated 3,000 people and wracking nearly $100 billion in damages on an island already suffering a deep financial crisis. Since the storm passed, the island has seen hundreds of schools close, more than one government official indicted and arrested on charges of corruption, and the unprecedented resignation of governor Ricardo Rosselló after a news organization published 889 pages of texts among the governor and his associates including jokes about hurricane victims, misogynistic and homophobic comments, and documenting efforts to target opponents with disinformation.

Rosselló’s resignation and the massive protests surrounding it brought the bright spotlight of international media for a few weeks, before attention inevitably turned away. It was a familiar dynamic to freelance journalist and educator Ed Morales, who, in his new book Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico, explains how the island’s colonial status and the ways its economy was set up as a captive market for US corporations led to its modern day debt crisis and the neoliberal austerity measures that have followed.

Morales, the son of Puerto Ricans who moved to New York, has been writing about the island since the 1980s. Today he publishes primarily at The Nation. He recently spoke with Mother Jones about his new book, saying he wrote it, in part, to help mainstream audiences learn what America’s ongoing colonialism means for his homeland.

Why is this book timely now, as we come up on the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria?

Too much of the media picture—whether it’s mainstream or even beyond the mainstream—focuses on the last five years or so and the onset of the debt crisis in their analysis of Puerto Rico. A lot of problems we have in interpreting current events suffer from a lack of historical context. One of the early revelations I had was looking at the book by Kim Phillips-Fein about the New York City debt crisis that I lived through as an adolescent, and seeing so many parallels to the criticism of the local government here, for running up the debt that they did, and seeing how what they were trying to do is protect a working class in New York, by giving them educational institutions and parks, which is what the American Dream is supposed to be about, at least in an urban context. Policy came out of this desire to maintain and nourish a working in a middle class, both in the United States and in Puerto Rico, that brought the analysis of the trajectory of both countries histories together.

The way that the media often portrays Puerto Rico is this strange place that’s somehow attached to the US—and we don’t really quite know how that happened, or how it got into trouble—when all along it’s been very intimately related. My whole life I’ve also been sort of obsessed with how Puerto Rico has had a kind of a media blackout. I’ve been reporting about Puerto Rico since the late 80s and found an incredible indifference from editors, or lack of knowledge. Really, it’s only been in the last few years that interest has increased, and then the early reporting about the debt crisis was entirely in the financial trade publications and had a really narrow point of view about what was going on. It was just based on the interest of US investors.

Read the rest here: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/09/ed-morales-puerto-rico-fantasy-island-interview/

KERA: Think

Puerto Rico is Not Free

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the island was devastated. But the destruction of the its economy via U.S. policies began long before 2017. Ed Morales, lecturer Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, joins host Krys Boyd to talk about the difficult past and uncertain future of Puerto Rico, which he writes about in his book, “Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico.”

World Affairs:

The Legacy of US Colonialism

While the US has moved away from the term “colony,” the legacy of its colonial rule endures. In this week’s episode, we’re talking about America’s covert history of expansion and how that has impacted the people who live in those places. Daniel Immerwahr, professor of history at Northwestern University and author of the book, How to Hide an Empire, A History of the Greater United States, and Ed Morales, journalist and author of the new book, Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico, join WorldAffairs co-host Ray Suarez to discuss how Puerto Rico and other American territories navigate their complicated national identities.

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