Jan Susler and Laura Rivera of the National Lawyers Guild presented today, Monday, June 20 to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization on the case of Puerto Rico, highlighting the ongoing struggle to end 124 years of colonialism in Puerto Rico.
The oral statement delivered by Jan Susler (above) follows:
I am here today on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, the oldest and largest public interest / human rights bar association in the United States. In the face of the Fourth International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, the United States continues to thumb its nose at international law and the 39 annual Resolutions of this august body, as we mark 124 years of unrelenting U.S. colonialism over Puerto Rico, even as most Puerto Ricans favor an end to colonialism.
Today, colonial rule looks like disaster capitalism leveraging ecological catastrophes to transfer more wealth from the Island to the metropolis. In 2016, U.S. congress used a debt crisis founded upon an odious debt to install an unelected body to manage Puerto Rico’s finances. The Fiscal Oversight Management Board, dubbed “la junta,” pushed through a debt service plan that starves Puerto Ricans of basic services for the benefit of debt holders, usurping the elected legislature’s authority.
La junta’s plan slashes pensions for already underpaid public school teachers, a move upheld by a U.S. court despite a contravening Puerto Rico law. The plan will also shutter scores of public schools. And it urges privatization of the system’s crown jewel, the University of Puerto Rico, which has seen its budget halved and its undergraduate tuition tripled.
The electric utility, which suffered massive infrastructure damage in 2017 with Hurricane Maria, has been transferred to a private consortium that now holds a 15-year contract. Though it promised to reduce costs and power outages, it has instead raised rates, now among the highest in the U.S., even as outages increase in frequency and length.
Colonialism’s other wealth extraction policies include tax breaks approved by the ruling elite. Projected public benefits have not materialized. But private investors are reaping profits, appropriating national patrimony, blocking public access to prized beaches, building environmentally destructive projects, increasing real estate prices, displacing Puerto Ricans and disrupting communities.
Debt collection enables the colonial power to “impose a slow death on people.” With many Puerto Ricans unable to afford the spiraling cost of housing, energy, and food, a new exodus is underway. Twelve percent of the population left Puerto Rico between 2010 and 2020.
Yet Puerto Ricans resist — mutual aid societies, environmentalists, and women and LGBTQI people protest the latest manifestations of colonialism and take care of each other.
In this moment of crisis, the Special Committee should prioritize the colonial case of Puerto Rico by keeping it under continuous review and by urging the General Assembly to take it up. We ask that you make part of the official record the attached longer submission.