Thursday, April 27, 2017
Puerto Rico Students Battle Colonial Austerity For the Right of Independence!
Workers Vanguard No. 1110 21 April 2017
Students Battle Colonial Austerity
For the Right of Independence!
Since March 28, students have been on strike at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the island’s main public university system with a total of 70,000 students. UPR has been the target of $348 million in budget cuts over the past three years and it faces more austerity demanded by the American colonial masters. The students’ main demands are no budget cuts and no tuition increases. The strike is being actively supported by the unions of teachers and campus workers, who have themselves experienced union-busting attacks, wage reductions and shrinking pensions over the past decade. The students’ battle gives voice to the anguish and anger of Puerto Ricans enduring a desperate economic situation—a direct consequence of imperialist colonial domination. Victory to the student strike!
Many strikers today remember the two-month student strike at UPR in 2010, when the students fought against attempts by the bourgeoisie and campus administration to implement tuition hikes and budget cuts. That strike was met with bloody police repression, but it successfully beat back the worst of the government’s and UPR administration’s attacks.
We stand for free, quality public education for all, including open admissions and a state-paid living stipend for all students! But under capitalism, the provision of education and other social services is subordinated to the ruling class’s drive for profit. Our Marxist perspective is for a free, egalitarian society based on material abundance, where education is an actual right. This can only be achieved through a socialist revolution that sweeps away the decaying capitalist system and establishes workers rule in the oppressed colonies and neocolonies as well as in the U.S.
In 2016, the Obama administration imposed a Financial Oversight and Management Board, known as the “junta,” to ensure that Puerto Rico’s debt of over $70 billion is paid to the hedge fund parasites and financial institutions. The capitalist investors claim that Puerto Ricans, almost half of whom subsist below the poverty line, have been living “beyond their means” and must pay. These vultures sucked the blood of Puerto Rico’s economy and for decades enjoyed a tax haven with low-wage labor. The junta’s task is to oversee implementation by the island’s government of the bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress, grotesquely dubbed PROMESA (“promise,” Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act). This law demands budget cuts of $450 million to education alone—in addition to more taxes, the sale of $4 billion worth of public buildings and the slashing of government spending. The governor, Ricardo Roselló, is a union-busting lackey of the imperialists, who is faithfully imposing their austerity.
The Puerto Rican masses are threatened with the destruction of public education, health care, pensions and the privatization of the government-owned public utility company, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The teachers’ pension fund is so depleted that contributions by working teachers flow straight out to retirees. The New York Times (8 March) reported that “none of Puerto Rico’s current teachers can expect to get their money back, because the fund is due to run out of money in 2018.” Since 2008, more than 350 schools in Puerto Rico have closed and today many hospitals have no funding to provide essential services. Workers in the U.S. should take a side with the workers and oppressed of Puerto Rico who are being ground down by colonial oppression and demand: Cancel the debt!
A century ago, Puerto Ricans were given limited American citizenship rights, but they are unable to vote in federal elections and have no voting representation in Congress. When Puerto Rico came under the rule of the U.S. in 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American War, the population was forced to receive their education in English. In 1909, Spanish was banned in all public schools. This was an assault on four hundred years of language and culture under the guise of “civilizing a savage people.” It wasn’t until 1949 that Spanish became the language of public education.
As forthright opponents of national oppression and U.S. imperialism, we favor Puerto Rican independence. Puerto Ricans hate their second-class status as residents of a U.S. commonwealth, but their feelings about independence are mixed. On the one hand, people on the island have a very strong sense of nationhood; on the other, many are fearful of losing the ability to live and work on the mainland and of sinking to the level of poverty of their independent Caribbean neighbors. We oppose any attempts to forcibly impose independence against the will of the population. Thus, we emphasize the right of independence.
The fight against colonial oppression in Puerto Rico would necessarily be directed at the local agents of imperialism and could therefore act as a lever for socialist revolution. Such struggles would also reverberate throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and on the U.S. mainland.
About five million Puerto Ricans live in the United States (the population on the island is 3.5 million), where they are a component of the multiracial U.S. working class in many urban centers. These workers can be a link for class unity of workers in Puerto Rico and the United States against both the imperialists and their local enforcers. Our perspective is to build Leninist parties in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico whose goal is to establish workers rule.
As we said in our article “U.S. Colonialism Chokes Puerto Rico” (WV No. 1075, 2 October 2015):
“A victorious workers revolution in the U.S., in which class-conscious Puerto Rican workers can play a vanguard role, would immediately grant Puerto Rico independence and massive amounts of economic aid, establishing relations on the basis of its freedom to exercise national self-determination. But the spark of revolution could also come from the colonial or neocolonial countries. Workers struggle in Puerto Rico against U.S. colonial domination could inspire the multiracial working class on the mainland in the revolutionary overthrow of U.S. imperialism.”