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Puerto Rico will be rebuilt, but for who?

By David J. Muhammad -Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Oct 5, 2017 - 7:19:26 PM

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On September 18th, Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean on a path that cut directly through the island of Puerto Rico, destroying entire towns and rendering it powerless.  The catastrophic storm, the most damaging since 1928, landed just before the anniversary of the Grito De Lares (September 23, 1868) uprising that ended slavery in Puerto Rico, giving birth to the Puerto Rican Independence movement.  As with Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian Earthquake in 2010, these events expose the disaster capitalists who appear under the guise of infrastructure rebuilding efforts. 

Under the U.S. Government appointed Fiscal Control Board and debt restructuring plan “PROMESA,” Puerto Rico has suffered austerity measures that have closed schools, led to massive public-sector layoffs, and privatization of public utilities.  According to The Intercept on September 12, 2017, plans for sale of the Puerto Rico Electrical utility PREPA were underway after the passing of Hurricane Irma. 

This move would have appeased Puerto Rico debt holders, who have grown rich from the Island’s outdated infrastructure and dependence on imported goods with high tariffs.  These are the same ones who profited off of the economic collapse in Greece, caused the 2008 banking crisis, and are involved in gentrification and privatization efforts in major U.S. cities. 

This began long before Trump, and all throughout the Obama administration and is the culmination of the colonial master/slave relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico since 1898.

I’ve watched the horror of towns familiar to me from my childhood destroyed, and like many others await news regarding loved ones and family friends. The Puerto Rican people have been a prey in the hands of colonial masters for over 500 years, since the arrival of Columbus, till the present.  The rejection of aid in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane from Cuba and Venezuela and the inability to trade with its Caribbean neighbors reveals the fear by the U.S. that Puerto Ricans would entertain the idea of independence.  What the world is witnessing is a slow televised genocide that exposes the real colonial status of the Puerto Rican people.

I was reminded of a time when I traveled to Puerto Rico to visit with former political prisoner Rafael Cancel Miranda, who participated in an armed attack on congress in 1954 led by nationalist figure Lolita Lebron. 

Student Minister Abel Muhammad and I had met him while in Chicago, where he expressed his love for the Nation of Islam and the members of the FOI who protected his life while incarcerated and he extended an invitation to me to visit him in Puerto Rico.  On my visit, he shared with me how his father, led by Pedro Albizu Campos, participated in the 1937 commemoration of the Grito De Lares where U.S.-led forces fired on the parade, killing 19 nationalists and wounding 200, known as the Ponce Massacre.  In that moment, he realized Puerto Rican independence would be his lifelong struggle. 

He took me to the town square of Cabo Rojo, where there is a monument to the founder of the Puerto Rican Independence movement, Ramon Emeterio Betances, who was of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage.  While there, he pointed to a monument in honor of him from four nations he represented: Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, reflecting his vision of a unified Caribbean.

He saw a union of island nations, each with sovereignty but united by history and culture.  America saw differently, and desired the former Spanish colonies for total dominance in the hemisphere.  Many historians acknowledge that the United States government created a false-flag incident by sinking the USS Maine to justify going to war with Spain in 1898.  America now had to decide what to do with an island of mixed-race Spanish speaking people, granting “citizenship” to Puerto Ricans with the Jones Act of 1917, allowing them to be taxed, serve in the U.S. military, while denying economic independence or trade with fellow island nations. 

Albizu knew the hypocrisy of the United States Government; it’s treatment of the darker people, and the colonial status of Puerto Rico. 

“Puerto Ricans could never aspire to be a province, not to mention becoming a state.  In the United States Senate, a dark skinned or a Black person isn’t even allowed to speak.  Black people aren’t allowed in, even if they suspect you of having a Black grandfather,” he stated on September 23, 1950.  The fiery bow-tied orator condemned the wickedness of America’s use of Puerto Rico as a military staging ground to attack its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors, decrying the economic stranglehold on the island under the Jones Act, that prohibited goods to be shipped from any place other than the United States.  He declared that  America “wanted the cage, but not the bird.” 

Albizu exposed the Rockefeller Foundation for poisoning Puerto Ricans with cancer for population control.  After several conflicts between U.S. authorities and Puerto Rican nationalists, Albizu was jailed for having inspired the uprisings.   While incarcerated, he accused the United States government of poisoning him with radiation so it would appear as though he died of illness rather than having been assassinated, leading to his death in 1965. 

This is the island where birth control pill tests were conducted on unknowing women, spreading cancer and leading to 39 percent being sterilized by 1981.  Many now question if the Zika virus has similar origins.

The crisis took my mind to the account in the 18th Chapter of the Holy Qur’an of Moses traveling with the Wise Man, a divine man whose presence brought tragedies that ultimately led to the establishment of justice.  One of those tragedies was the sinking of a valued ship to prevent a wicked ruler from possessing it, only for it to be restored in the hands of its rightful owner.  Perhaps in this tragedy, the Puerto Rican people can recover the self-determination that has been denied for so long.

David Muhammad is a Student Assistant Minister at Muhammad Mosque No. 3 in Milwaukee.