Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Solidarity and Cooperation: Alternative Premises for an Economic National Plan, Part II

The market competition is unjust and unfair. The economic structures protect the interests of the capital owner. Their goal is personal gain, an aim for higher profits. Individualism governs their conduct. By that logic it is intended to address collective problems. The economic and social costs of such behavior are ignored. For this reason, the economic program adopted by the New Progressive Party can not be considered a master plan for the nation’s future. It is simply the agenda of the private business sector, a social group that does not represent the majority of the Puerto Rican people and the diversity of interests prevailing in it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

National Strike Videos

Here is a collection of videos from last Thursday's National Strike, prepared by MRZINE. (Click "Read More" to see the rest).


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Puerto Rico: Ready for the National Strike

by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle

Puerto Rico is getting ready for the national strike on Thursday, October 15. Since governor Luis Fortuño layed off about 17,000 government employees the first week of October, there has been tremendous mobilization from different sectors of the civil society: workers and members of trade unions, women, environmentalists, students, and professors, among others. There have been multiple demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience to protest the economic policies that the government has assured are necessary due to the financial crisis. In total this year, the recently elected government has laid off around 25,000 public employees.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Solidarity and Cooperation: Alternative Premises for an Economic National Plan, Part I

In 2007, a year before the elections, the Private Sector Coalition was incorporated. This alliance is made up of professional organizations from various industries of the country such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Homebuilders Association, the Association of Insurers, Certified Public Accountants Bar, Products Association and the Association of Industrialists, among others. Their biggest concern has been the decoupling of the island’s economic trends of those observed in United States of America. The aim is to increase their participation in the decision making process in Puerto Rico. With these purposes they suggest a plan for the economy that, from their perspective, would create the necessary conditions to give the country more competitiveness. The reduction in taxes paid by corporations, the review of the permit granting process, the diversification of energy sources and the labor market deregulation are some of their proposals. The result, they say, will be a steady growth in the annual production of goods and services by more than 4%. [See Caribbean Business, June 25, 2009]

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Amending the Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act

The new proposal of the Popular Democratic Party: to amend the Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act in order to exempt the island from U.S. Coastwise Trade Laws and to allow Puerto Rico to enter into international commercial treaties (the amendments can be accessed here and here). It is surprising that these proposals have not been immediately rejected by the island's anti-colonial sector. While the proposals have not been able to capture the attention of the media, and much less of ordinary Puerto Ricans, it is important to understand their meaning and their relationship with the 'sovereigntist rethoric' advanced by a sector of that party.

Friday, August 28, 2009

An illusion of recovery?, Part 2 of 2

Note: Article originally published in Spanish for the weekly newspaper Claridad, August 13-19, 2009

As this happens, Wall Street has also been claiming that the recovery is on its way based on the “increase in value” of companies reflected in the stock market. What many of these companies have done is to cut back on costs (such as salaries by firing employees) so that even though they produce less and gain fewer revenues, profits can still be reported. These profits are based, among other things, in an increase in the degree of exploitation of the workers that still remain within the firm.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An illusion of recovery?, Part 1 of 2

On the 31st of July the government of the United States reported that in terms of its gross domestic product (GDP) the economy had contracted at “only” a 1% rate in the second quarter of the present year. This fact, combined with the reported profits of various corporations and the loss of “only” 247,000 jobs for the month of July, has been used to suggest that possibly during the second half of the present year the economy will probably experience the much awaited recovery that would finally put an end to the almost 2 year long recession. Various economists have expressed that such a tendency in the indicators evidences that the stimulus plans of the Obama administration are finally having the desired- even if retarded effect.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Influential Puerto Rican Activist Group the Young Lords Marks 40th Anniversary

From Democracy Now!

This weekend marks the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the revolutionary community organizing group the Young Lords. The group called for self-determination for all Puerto Ricans, community control of institutions and land, freedom for all political prisoners and the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, Puerto Rico and other areas. The Young Lords would also play a pivotal role in spreading awareness of Puerto Rican culture and history, leaving a legacy still felt today. We play excerpts of the documentary Palante, Siempre Palante!: The Young Lords and speak to three of the group’s original members: Luis Garden Acosta, Mickey Melendez, and Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez.

For more information, videos and audio, click here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The colonial crisis in Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican entrepreneurs

In Puerto Rico, the global crisis intensifies our colonial crisis. Following its internal clock, the latter broke out two years before the former. Given the importance of the government for the Puerto Rican economy, the crisis appears as a fiscal crisis. Now that the crisis has become more obvious than ever with thousands of layoffs of public employees (there will be from 30,000 to 45,000 in total), we cannot simply regret the alternatives that were not implemented nor accuse the Fortuño government of being at the unconditional service of capital by taking neo-liberal policies; nor limit ourselves to seek immediate solutions for the unemployed. The insensibility of the Fortuño government cannot be fought with tantrums or partial solutions that remain just as insensible. It is necessary to understand the reasons for the crisis and thus understand the government’s insensibility and also the capacities we have to confront it. In order to achieve this, one of the things we must consider is the origin of that group of local entrepreneurs who have come to conceive themselves, in their most sophisticated versions, as the ultimate representatives of the Puerto Rican people (see “Coalición aboga por la economía.” El Nuevo Día, 4 de julio de 2009, p. 33 ) or, in their most vulgar versions, as the owners of the country (“Pérez Rivera proclama al sector privado dueño de PR.” El Vocero, 19 de junio de 2009. ).

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Privatization of Academic Journals: "The Dark Side of Online Journals"

Scholars are not exempt from dealing with materials and conditions that subsume the production of knowledge at the university to particular interest groups. This, obviously, occurs in private universities, where private funds are used to establish departments, purchase materials, employ intellectuals and support staff. Nonetheless, it also occurs in public universities, where high officials that respond to private interests (syndics, presidents, chancellors, etc.), channel public funds and, in general, direct the bureaucracy. Even in the case of the so-called public universities, aside from the control over top level bureaucrats that subsequently gives them control over the organization, private companies colonize the production of knowledge by controlling the materials needed by academics to do their jobs efficiently. Thus we see that students' access to universities more and more often depends on higher tuitions, which force students to take private grants and loans. Similarly, intellectuals access their materials through grants created by private companies for their own purposes.

One of the best examples of de facto privatization in public universities is the case of the academic journals, which are now controlled by big publishing companies. The article “The Dark Side of Online Journals”, by Lisa Richmond, explains how the privatization of journals--which are a very important instrument in the production of knowledge--ultimately directs researchers into considering certain problems while excluding others, consequently, leading them to work to generate a prestigious journal so that it can be sold back to the academy by the publishing companies at extravagant prices, as opposed to working to produce the knowledge we all need to solve our problems.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Constituent Power, Coup in Honduras, and a Brief Comment about Puerto Rico

By now, the 'official' justification for the coup in Honduras has been that President Manuel Zelaya intended to amend the constitution in order to perpetuate himself as president. In fact, the same day of the coup, a non-binding referendum was scheduled to take place and the coup was the last attempt to stop that electoral event (the referendum had already being declared 'illegal' by the Electoral Court, the Supreme Court of Justice, and even Congress had adopted a law prohibiting the realization of electoral events 180 days before a general election). Why so many efforts in preventing a non-binding referendum to take place?

Those who opposed Zelaya as well as many political analysts from Honduras and the United States, insisted that the June 28 non-binding referendum was about allowing the President's re-election. The Constitution of Honduras, as most Latin American constitutions (unlike the U.S. Constitution and most European constitutions), do not allow anyone to run for President for a second time. There are philosophical reasons for such prohibition (as the importance that is given to the alternation of power in democratic and republican theory), but perhaps the most important historical reason in the Latin American context is that, in countries that have experience numerous dictatorships, the idea of anyone being in power for more than 5 or 6 years (even if democratically elected), is always seen with suspicion.

However, the Constitution of Honduras goes farther than most as it contains clauses that establish that the Presidential term cannot be amended (Articles 374 and 239). This type of clause is usually known in Latin American and European constitutional theory as cláusula pétrea or cláusula de intangibilidad (usually known in Anglo-American constitutional theory as eternity or unamendable clauses, and sometimes simply as 'entrenchment'), as it puts certain provisions or principles outside the scope of the amending power. These clauses are very common through constitutional systems around the world, the most common examples are those that establish that the republican form of government cannot be altered (a cláusula de intangibilidad included in many Latin American and European constitutions, as well as in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico).

But the re-election issue was not the only and probably not the real reason for the great concern that some groups had with the celebration of the non-binding referendum. In fact, the referendum did not ask electors whether they wanted the constitution to be amended in order to allow for the re-election of Zelaya (see the Official Decree calling for the referendum, see also here and in English, here and here), but whether they wanted to convene a Constituent Assembly in order to adopt a new constitution. This new constitution might or might not allow for re-election, but also opened the possibility for popular organizations and groups of the left to push forward different social and economic reforms (see for example, here, here, here, and here). Of course, these possible constitutional reforms (associated to countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador), along with the leftist inclinations that Zelaya had been showing particularly at an international level, represented a threat to the interests of different elites (both national and international) (see here, and for an overview of some of the conservative politics of Zelaya, see here).

In fact, the argument that Zelaya intended to perpetuate himself in power is much more weaker than it might appear at first view: if the non-binding referendum had taken place, and if people had supported the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, a binding referendum must have been celebrated in the November general elections in which electors would have been asked again about the adoption of a new constitution (the so-called fourth ballot, that by the way would have required Congress' support). This means that even if the new constitution created allowed for re-election, Zelaya could not have benefited himself from that change because a new President (that could not have been him) would already be in power by the time the new constitution came into effect (nevertheless, Zelaya could have run for President again in the future and subsequently run for re-election).

So, the principal argument of the coup perpetrators is that because the non-binding referendum had the ultimate objective of amending the constitution in order to allow for re-election, and that because the Constitution of Honduras prohibits that kind of change, Zelaya intended to violate the constitutional order and therefore should be immediately removed from office (an argument they claim is supported by Article 374 and 239 of the constitution but that, as we have seen, rests on a false premise). Moreover, they insisted that the constitution could only be amended by Congress, not through a Constituent Assembly (and that is what Article 373 establishes, that is, that the power of constitutional reform rests with the Congress, and Article 5 allows that body to subject amendments to popular ratification). Following this logic they have presented themselves as guardians of the constitution, pretending that there has only been a transition instead of a coup, and issuing an international arrest warrant against Zelaya. By now, popular protests have forced them to suspend the individuals rights guaranteed in the constitution that they were defending so vehemently.

Zelaya's argument for insisting in celebrating a referendum that had been declared illegal by several public institutions can be summarized as follows (for an analysis of these arguments, see here). First, the referendum (which he insisted rested on Article 5 of the constitution, which establishes the right of the people to be consulted about important issues) was non-binding, and that meant that it was equivalent to a public opinion poll and therefore there was simply no legal justification for it being declared illegal. Moreover, citizens were not even asked about re-election, but about the adoption of a new constitution through a Constituent Assembly. Zelaya also rested in the precedents from countries like Colombia and Venezuela, who adopted new constitutions through constituent assemblies even when their old constitutions did not allow for such form of constitutional change. Nevertheless, both the Colombian and Venezuelan Supreme Courts (in 1991 and 1999, respectively) determined that the people always retain the right to exercise their constituent power through a democratically elected Constituent Assembly regardless of what the ordinary amendment process contained in the constitutional text establishes. Finally, it is a generally accepted principle in contemporary constitutional theory that the limits to the power of constitutional reform included in a constitution (the cláusulas de intangibilidad) only operate against the constituted powers (that is, they limit Congress' amending power), but never against the people in the exercise of constituent power, which is considered unlimited. In my view, and regardless of other criticisms that one may have, President Zelaya had, and has, the best arguments.

I would like to end by briefly considering a truly unique cláusula de intangibilidad contained in the Constitution of the Commonwelth of Puerto Rico, one that is directly related to our political status as well as to our possibilities of convening a true Constituent Assembly. The clause is contained in the second sentence of Section 3, Article VII and it reads as follows: “Any amendment or revision of this constitution shall be consistent with the resolution enacted by the applicable provisions of the Constitution of the United States, with the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act and with Public Law 600, Eighty-first Congress, adopted in the nature of a compact”.

The principal objective of this provision is to ensure that Puerto Rico would not attempt to unilaterally modify its relationship with the United States through constitutional reform. For example, according to the clause, Puerto Rico would not be able to include in its constitution (even after carefully following the amending procedure established in Article VII), a provision that states: “Only those laws adopted by the Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly will apply in Puerto Rico”. Such a provision would be contrary to the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act, which mandates the application of U.S. laws in the island. It is interesting to note that the original draft of the constitution that was sent to U.S. Congress did not include the cláusula de intangibilidad quoted above, but the U.S. Congress required its inclusion under the threat that otherwise Article VII would lack any legal effects (for a more detailed analysis, see here).

Nevertheless, if we take seriously the Colombian and Venezuelan precedents, as well as the arguments advanced by Zelaya, we begin to understand that the clause quoted above cannot have the power of placing limits on the the people's constituent power. In other words, that if we develop the capacities for convening a true Constituent Assembly, we would be in a position to alter and re-create our constitutional order without being subject to any legal limits and that would include the power to unilaterally modify our relationship with the United States toward independence.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Popular Sovereignty, Ultimate Powers, and Translation Errors

Héctor Ferrer's recent speech before the Popular Democratic Party's General Council on June 7th was quickly cheered by the "sovereigntist" wing of that party. The celebration was at least in part a reaction to Ferrer's affirmation that it was necessary to "strengthen the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, through a Compact of Association based in a non-colonial and non-territorial Commonwealth [Estado Libre Asociado], based on popular sovereignty emphasis added). The reference to "popular sovereignty" appeals to free association supporters, for whom the mere reference to the word "sovereignty" (regardless of the context) is sufficient evidence of the party's clear movement toward a sovereign Puerto Rico. However, the national press put a damper to their celebration by noting that Ferrer defended "popular sovereignty" and not "national sovereignty".

Does it make sense to talk about popular sovereignty and national sovereignty in the context of the debate about Puerto Rico's status? Yes and no. Let's begin by briefly examining both conceptions of sovereignty. According to the thesis of popular sovereignty (generally associated with Rousseau), the bearer of sovereignty is the people, whose elected representatives, once elected, are required to put into practice the will of the citizenry. In other words, the government must act in conformity with the citizen's mandate, regardless of how wise or convenient that mandate is thought to be. Moreover, the people retains the right to exercise its sovereignty directly, even after regular elections take place. This theory has different strands and in contemporary times is associated with mechanisms such as recall referendums and popular initiatives to amend the constitution, which are present in the constitutional orders of countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

According to the thesis of national sovereignty (generally associated with Sieyes), the bearer of sovereignty is the nation, not the citizens. This means that public officials are supposed to represent the will of the nation and, once elected, are not required to act according to the will of their constituents. Universal suffrage appears here as the means through which the nation elects its representatives (the nation's representatives), not as the expression of a citizen's mandate for the adoption of determinate public policies. Rousseau criticized this view for separating the popular will from that of the nation. As he expressed in a famous passage on the English political system: "The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing. In the brief moment of its freedom, the English people makes such a use of that freedom that it deserves to lose it". The idea that a government is not obliged to act according to the will of the citizens might sound undemocratic (and it certainly is undemocratic), but the fact is that the doctrine of national sovereignty is the one followed by "liberal democracies" (as the United States and most European countries) follow in practice the doctrine of national sovereignty. In the context of Puerto Rico, a good example is the referendum on adopting a unicameral legislature: although a great majority voted in favor of such proposal, the existing legislature decided that it was not a good idea and the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico sanctioned the decision.

In a sense, the distinction between popular and national sovereignty is only relevant for the constitutional orders of individual states. That is to say, when one speaks about sovereignty in the context of the international status of a particular country the distinction becomes unnecessary: from the (juridical) perspective of international relations there is only one kind of sovereignty. Under that view, for example, both under Allende and under Pinochet, Chile was equally sovereign (and this shows, as we have previously argued, that becoming a "sovereign state" is not enough for solving the people's problems). In international relations, the idea of "popular sovereignty" is generally seen as an "internal" issue, because the recognition of a territory as a sovereign state does not depend on how its governmental structures are organized. However, it is also true that to talk about "popular sovereignty" or about "national sovereignty" (as they were defined previously), has important implications with respect to the international status of a country: a basic consequence of both conceptions is that the people or the nation can only be subject to the laws and constitution adopted by themselves (that is to say, they cannot be subject to laws adopted by another people or by another nation, as it happens in colonies). In that sense, in Puerto Rico (as in any colony), to talk about popular or national sovereignty is also to talk about the international status of the country.

But when Ferrer talks about popular sovereignty (interestingly, it has been pointed out that in the original document read by Ferrer, "popular" appeared with a capital "P", as in Popular Democratic Party), he was not referring to popular sovereignty as defined in the previous paragraphs. Instead, he seemed to be interested in doing three things. First, he attempted to settle down the "sovereigntist" wing of the party, which can be done easily by simply uttering words that could be interpreted to point towards free association: that group is characterized for happily clinging to anything that allows them to justify their loyalty to the party. Second, Ferrer made an effort to keep happy the more conservative sector of the party, happy, because the idea of "popular sovereignty" can be understood (as in international relations) merely as an issue of our internal government; that is to say, who "rules" inside the country (as Ferrer stated: "para que quede claro que aquí mandamos los puertorriqueños" or "so it is clear the here Puerto Ricans rule").

Third, Ferrer reproduced the conception of sovereignty adopted by the PPD in the 2008 Assembly: sovereignty as the power to "delegate competences to the United States" or what is the same thing, sovereignty as the power to alienate sovereignty. This is exemplified in a part of his speech that has not received any attention, where Ferrer indicates that it is necessary to develop the Estado Libre Asociado so that "Cabotage Laws don't apply to us" (my translation). We agree that U.S. Cabotage Laws should not apply in Puerto Rico, but Ferrer's silence about the general application of U.S. laws in Puerto Rico betray his position: according to the type of relationship proposed by his party, other laws of the United States (that are not the Cabotage Laws) would continue to apply in the country. Evidently, an arrangement like this constitutes the negation of the very idea of sovereignty because it supposes its alienation: giving someone else the power to decide for oneself in the future.

Incidentally, this contradictory conception of sovereignty is also expressed in a common definition of the concept as "el poder último" (the ultimate power), as in the phrase: "un pueblo es soberano si tiene el poder último para decidir sobre sus asuntos" (a people is sovereign when it has the ultimate power to decide over their issues) (see for example, here). This is the usual definition of sovereignty in English. Our leaders waste no time in rendering English to Spanish. However, último and ultimate are cognates, but they are faux amis, as último in Spanish means "last", whereas ultimate in English has a very strong connotation of goal and fundament. Whereas Spanish recalls a linear logic, English recalls a circular logic. "El poder último " is a bad translation of "the ultimate power" of the people. The idea of unconditional or autonomous power is lost--or rather perverted in translation. In order to present what they want, both to their colonial masters and the people they rule, they use an English term to disguise a logic in Spanish, and a Spanish term to hammer a logic into English. They want the so called poder último (ultimate power) over their people so that they can literally get the poder último (last power) from their masters. After everything is said and done, they want to rule. A more appropriate translation of "ultimate power", such as "poder máximo", is not an appealing term for those who just want the last word on what powers are to be alienated.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Neo-liberalism, the crisis and the catastrophic situation of the worker in the USA

Note: This is part 3, section 2 of our series on the situation of the worker.

The neo-liberal period that has gone into crisis is not simply characterized by the privatization of public assets. As we have mentioned before, privatization is a normal part of the expansion of capital in its need to penetrate every social relation in order to guarantee that the worker depends intensely on the market and thus remains in a condition to be exploited as much as possible. What defines neo-liberalism is the way in which this privatization occurs.

Transnational companies, the hegemonic US dollar, the international financial system and the worker’s indebtedness play fundamental roles in this privatization (for analyses emphasizing these aspects see here). All of these structures were expanded during the post-war period thanks to the pact between capitalists and workers, sponsored by reformers. While the weapons of the capitalists grew, those of the workers did not develop as to offer significant resistance, for they had unions that, for the most part, negotiated with the capitalists the means to obtain better working conditions and consumer goods without effectively developing alternative structures aimed at liberating themselves from capital's needs. When the pact became an obstacle for the capitalists, workers were in no position to oppose the assault of their adversaries.

One of the most characteristic and important elements of this period is the importance of credit for the appropriation of wealth by the capitalist. Besides the usual mechanism of appropriation of wealth (buying from the worker her capacity to work, which will produce a surplus, for just what she needs to reproduce herself) neo-liberal capitalism, especially in the USA, substitutes wage increases for loans. The worker’s debt has always existed, but this systematic indebtedness has new characteristics. People in the USA can buy more goods, which are produced on other parts of the world, because even though their salaries remain stagnant since the 70’s, they use their credit as a mean to satisfy their growing needs. Meanwhile, the interests paid by the workers finance more loans or production, as much in the USA as in the rest of the world. The capitalists also use the workers’ IOU’s to speculate.

The more the US workers get into debt in order to buy, the more the sweatshops owned by transnational companies on the other side of the world produce. The transnational companies generally employ workers on peripheral countries for standardized processes of manufacturing, and highly skilled workers on the USA and other wealthy countries for sophisticated processes, such as design and research. The workers debt, increasingly tied to complex financial derivatives, is sold to foreign investors who find in them a relatively sure investment. The wealth produced by workers on the other side of the world serves to finance research and development, buy advanced machinery and equipment, and finance the US worker’s debt, whose labor capacity is more expensive given the amount of value concentrated in her country, requiring her to have more expenses, such as costly trainings.

The expansion of capital in this system implies the expansion of the US worker’s credit and the super-exploitation of workers in the peripheral countries. Ensuring the credit increase and the US workers’ buying power becomes a must. This requires the assault on old institutions and organizations, in the USA as well as in the rest of the world, in order to re-privatize them to make them profitable, especially from the point of view of speculative capital. For instance, the structures of the welfare state were funded by the workers through their taxes and the minimal contributions made by companies out of the surplus they extracted from the workers, in order to keep them healthy, well educated, etc. We should note that they were already private in the sense that they only provided healthcare and education in as much as it was necessary for capitalism. Neo-liberal privatization in this case consists of canalizing the funds out of the state into banks or insurance companies, who are always happy to raise their interest or their insurance policies, and buying the services from private providers. The capitalist must provide credit and sell the worker the means to be healthy and trained in order to speculate and finance other entrepreneurships that create the conditions for her to be able to pay the expensive insurance policies and debts. The function of keeping workers healthy and trained continues with a more properly capitalist organization, with the peculiarity of supporting and being supported by the debt system.

The problem, however, is that the capitalist need for taking over old institutions leaves the worker in a precarious situation. This is a serious problem because the worker has to pay her debt so that the system works. The crisis explodes when one of the parties of this delicate financial framework becomes unable to pay.

This is what happened with the real estate system in the USA, the center of global capitalism. Many workers who were already indebted up to their noses, mortgaged their houses with variable interests (interests that raise with time). The lenders who now have been demonized for lending to workers with bad credit (the infamous subprime lending) followed the global logic by which the value of the houses would increase as the interests would be used to finance projects that would increase global wealth, therefore increasing the value of real estate. Their fantasy did not consider, among other things, that the worker’s wages were stagnant. When the higher interests set, with stagnant wages and indebted to their noses, these workers were unable to pay all their debts, even the house mortgage, which is the last thing one stops paying. The complexity of the financial framework, where subprime mortgages were packed with prime mortgages, insured against losses, bought and sold, etc., created a domino effect, which initially affected workers with good credit and then everybody else. The worker does not pay her debts because the financial system collapses and breaks her leverage, and the financial system collapse because the worker cannot pay her debts. Eventually this comes to the industrial sector, which starts taking the usual measures for a crisis (layoffs, reduction of wages, etc.) Not only the value of the houses disappears, but also the salary of the workers, and their possibilities of payment of debt along with it. The main global implication of this process is that commodities produced abroad are not selling in the USA, so that at the global level we see the corresponding processes of crisis at the national level.

To get an idea of the crisis, the estimate for evictions for this year is 3,000,000 (the media, looking at them from the point of view of capital calls them “foreclosures”) (Reuters, April 16, 2009). There are millions of people who have been forced out of their homes while the effort put to build the houses goes to waste. For March, the unemployment rate in the USA was 8.5%, while Latin Americans in this country had an unemployment rate of 11.4% (the participation rate in the USA for January was 65.5%, Bureau of Labor Statistics).

In other parts of the world, the situation worsens to the point where there has been food shortages. In Puerto Rico, where the Comonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) has been incapable of creating jobs for the population, the unemployment rate stands currently at 13% with a participation rate of 44% (January, Junta de Planificación). In sum, there are millions of capable workers who remain unemployed, tools, machinery and finished products not being used, while there are immense needs for them.

People from the USA have always thought of themselves as the center of the universe; in the case of the post-war and neo-liberal periods with its crisis they were not far from the truth. Used to solve their problems through the neo-liberal institutions, which promote an extremely individualistic, partial life, in what appears as a wondrous, shifting and expanding world beyond their control, they find themselves ill equipped to phase the global crisis. It would be easy to fall for the reformist rehash of neo-liberalism, but the real challenge is to get rid of the very organization which causes the problem.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Nomination of Sonia Sotomayor

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States has already triggered the usual discussions among lawyers about the quality of the past decisions of a nominee for that position (see for example, here). In addition, several of Sotomayor's expressions outside court that tend to indicate her political positions about certain topics have been put into question. For example, the fact that in a conference Sotomayor expressed that appellate judges make "public policy" (see here), something that should be obvious (see here), has caused upheaval among commentators that cling to the idea that judges only interpret (and never make) the law. Similarly, her position in a law review article about the role that the race and gender of a judge plays in judicial decisions (see here, and for a much more interesting analysis of a part of that article that has been seldom commented, see here), or the fact that in her Yale bachelor's thesis she made an expression in favor of Puerto Rico's independence (see here) have become objects of discussion in a mediatic system that depends on its capacity to sell controversies. The fact that a Puerto Rican woman has been nominated to the highest court in the U.S. has also been emphasized and, naturally, that has been the center of the discussion in the island (for an interesting analysis, in Spanish, see here).

It is not our intention to negate Sotomayor's merits or to deny the satisfaction that one might feel when the daughter of two Puerto Ricans that emigrated to the U.S. during the mid 20th century, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx, has the possibility of been confirmed to one of the main positions in the government of that country. However, we think it is important to mention the following. The appointments of persons from minorities to high ranking governmental positions are usually presented as substantial victories, as if, from that moment on, these groups had a true representative in a position of power. But one must not forget that being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, or to any other position of power (as the Presidency), is to be at the service of a structure that hides and reproduces, through the appeareance of equality of the "liberal rule of law", important relations of power. Relations in which the great parts of the population, in particular those with similar backgrounds to that of Sotomayor, occupy the less privileged position. In that sense, it is not the case that subordinated groups will now have someone in the Supreme Court whose function will be to protect their interests, but that a person that belongs to a historically subordinated group has been called to form part of a juridical apparatus that, at least in part, protects those very relations of subordination.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sovereignty Beyond the State as an Actor

Translated by Zinnia Cintrón

Some advocates of independence, define sovereignty in light of international relations as the authority that a state has to govern itself. Therefore, to achieve sovereignty, there can not be an external force subordinating the state as it pleases. A country is independent when it is not subordinated to another authority and a colony when it has to surrender itself to another power.

This mental picture of sovereignty, untangles the foul-ups caused by the “Populares” colonialists in relation to what it means to have sovereignty. We are not sovereign and we will not be as long as the USA submits Puerto Rico to its institutions. We could also argue that we are not and will not be sovereign if we are subordinated to the dictates of the international capitalist market or the transnational companies.

However, to limit ourselves to see the state as an actor that directs itself is dangerous. We can not loose perspective of the fact that the ones that actually act and control themselves (through the state), are human beings. First of all, if we only see the state, we will uncritically assume the privileged position of the powerful groups for whom the concrete problems of the people are unimportant and the priority lies on what they can do with the state for their own benefit. To develop our own strategy (i.e. an anti-colonial strategy) becomes impossible. If we limit ourselves to see the state without the social relations that comprises it, we miss that there are states which – irrespectively of them being submitted to an external power or not – are constituted in such a fashion that, being human creations, ultimately dominate them instead of being at their service. They become authorities internally external. If we reduce the sovereignty problem to the state that governs itself, we consequently facilitate the mental image of an international community with individuals in equal conditions, also hiding the fundamental problem of interdependence based on power relations, not only due to the US hegemony that submits what are supposed to be sovereign countries to its institutions, but also because of the transnational capital that subordinates even the powerful USA to its necessities.

We, the independence advocates, need for our concept of sovereignty to take into account these problems in order to be able to fight for a genuine sovereignty by attacking the multiple dimensions of colonialism. We must conceptualize the state as an actor to be able to understand international relations, but this concept can not hide the way that individuals, using the state's powers as well as those of structures beyond the state to solve their problems, give them life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The New Status Plebiscites: What is the Problem?

According to the press, in the next few days the Resident Commissioner in Washington, Pedro Pierluisi, will present to Congress a bill that would allow for the celebration of a new plebiscite on the status of Puerto Rico. In contrast to previous plebiscites, the proposed legislation would require two different electoral processes. In the first one, electors would be asked whether they desire (or not) to continue the current territorial status. However, if the current status is rejected, a second plebiscite in which electors would choose among the alternatives recognized by the United Nations (integration, free association, and independence), would take place.

We are already familiar with the most obvious critiques to this proposal: that Pierluisi does not have the required votes in Congress; that the U.S. would never commit to respect the result of a process in which statehood is one of the alternatives; that plesbicites are not the right mechanism to deal with the status issue; that this plebiscite is an electoral ambush designed to eliminate the commonwealth option from the ballot in order to create an artificial majority in favor of statehood. The fundamental problem with Pierluisi's proposal, however, is that it assumes that colonialism is a legitimate political option.

In other words, the proposal recognizes the right of the people to decide 'freely and democratically' if they want to continue a colonial relationship (to remain as a territory). Such a position contradicts both freedom and democracy: both concepts, in addition to being incompatible with colonialism, find their limit in their own negation. By way of explanation, the concept of 'freedom' does not include the right to decide not to be free, because that right supposes the negation of liberty; to reject self-government through voting does not constitute a democratic exercise because it would result in democracy's abolition. Furthermore, an electoral process in which colonialism appears as a valid alternative, as one of the options that would be 'respected' by the empire, could hardly be characterized as part of an exercise of decolonization.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Is Free Association Superior to Independence?

Those who are willing to defend free association and the "delegation of competences" to the United States have not explained why free association is superior to independence. It is not enough to say, as many do, that free association represents "a better reflection of the historical aspirations of our people". That response not only cannot be considered an argument in favor of the convenience of free association, but does not take into account that those "historical aspirations' (assuming they are actually consistent with a claim to free association), are not developed in a vacuum, but result from a series of complex relationships that include colonialism itself as well as the positions of political leaders that people have trusted at certain moments. The fact that in electoral terms free association is more viable than independence is merely the enunciation of an empirical fact, of something that appears to be that way, but does not say anything in favor of that political alternative. For instance, if at some point in our history, it becomes obvious that a considerable part of the people aspire to a military dictatorship, that would not be a reason for us to support dictatorship nor to say that dictatorship is superior to democracy. On the contrary, it would be an urgent reason to, via work at a grassroot level, attempt to mobilize the population toward other political positions. And of course, that should be the priority of the independence movement.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Workers and their Situation this 1st of May, Part 2

The capitalist crisis and the reform; everything changes but the subordination of work

Note: This article consists of three parts. Part 1 can be found below this article.
Translated by Zinnia Cintrón

Crisis arrive when the fashion in which capital organizes the conditions to exploit workers becomes ineffective; the same necessities that workers keep creating, forces the system to handle too many problems as to maintain capitalists' profits This is a typical problem of any imperial system as it tries to superimpose the necessities of one over the necessities of many and this position cannot be kept intact for a long time. The one in the power position becomes careless to the necessities of the majority which, simultaneously, grow and become more complex. Consequently, reforms need to be done periodically. Work (subordinated to the capitalist market as salable labor power), progressively achieves political and technological developments in accordance to capitalism's requirements. However, as time goes by, unavoidable problems arise which have no effective solution within the fashion in which capital organized society originally. At those times, capitalists have to engineer a reorganization of society without altering the foundation of capitalism: for workers to be forced to sell their labor and to buy everything that she needs in such a way that capitalists can employ them, pay them for the cost to reproduce her labor power and keep the total value of what is produced (refer to the last paragraph of Part I).

The wear and tear of the ways in which capitalists organize global production becomes more complex as capitalists find a way to reproduce capital (take the accumulated money, buy tools, materials and labor for production, and sell to have even more money) as fast as possible and, frequently, accumulated capital has no exit, especially if they have managed to impoverish workers to the point that they cannot buy even a negligible part of all the wealth produced. They then find, within financial, risky acrobatics, a way to stay in the reign of money and to avoid dealing with what pertains to this world, to work, specially with workers that sweat, get tired, get sick; that want other things besides merely making money; that refuse to march to the monotonous sound that money plays.

Under the usual rhythm of life within capitalism, given that production is achieved primarily to increase capital, noxious necessities arise and people lead lives full of frustration and dissatisfaction. In their daily lives as waged sworkers, workers cannot be creative in their work, learn almost nothing, and harm themselves. Furthermore, they usually cannot buy what they produced; if they can buy it, it is usually of poor quality, and, if at a certain moment they can get what they could not buy, they produced more wealth that (at this point) they cannot afford. Being that they are not able to control what they are creating, but still have the necessity of creating, they frequently find obsessive distractions. Many of these are packed and sold by capitalism sooner than later. When crisis detonate, capitalists demand more and bigger sacrifices from workers and, in the worst case scenarios, they fire these people and close their factories and shops for the sake of saving their capital until the situation improves. Because workers cannot buy, it is senseless for any capitalist to put their capital “into production”. In the meantime, the things that workers need are not being produced and the ones that are already produced (including the tools and materials to produce) are kept under lock while workers go through extreme misery.

At this point, capitalists do not waste any time to mobilize the rest of society to come to their rescue. This is not too difficult when, indeed, the immense majority needs capital to circulate. It cannot be forgotten that, under this arrangement, the only way to satisfy personal necessities is by satisfying the necessities of capital itself. For this reason, intellectual reformists have almost all the work done since people notice that if capital does not circulate to employ them, their quality of life will worsen.

Reformists that are more empathic towards workers and that are aware of the system's logic, recognize at this point that even when capitalism exploits people and leads us to another crisis, we need to save it because we cannot achieve a dramatically different society if the immediate problems are not solved beforehand. Certainly, but the way to attack the immediate problems cannot rely entirely on capital exploiting us. We need to solve the immediate problems by establishing basic conditions that imply the society that we want: one where work is not subordinated to its creations. The same applies for any project. For example, if one wants to build a round table, one does not collect the tools, materials, techniques, and plans that would be used to build a bench and then say: “at least we can eat on it”. If the conditions available provide only the means to do the usual things, one must modify them to fit the purpose pursued.

The course that the reorganization of the crisis will take or even if it will be successful (or not), will depend on how well organized workers are. As soon as their intellectual leaders limit themselves to use the plan based on capitalism, it will not matter how well organized they are; it will only be an issue of getting concessions – that the leaders generally enjoy more than anybody – and then wait for the empire's time, the cyclic movement, the return of the pendulum or the eternal return that will supposedly bring another advance. This story is told in every crisis and here we are again. If there are pendulums, cyclic movements, and eternal returns, it is mostly because of the implementation of those stories. When, on the contrary, leaders and intellectuals who take very seriously the plan for a new society develop – a plan that having work at its core, is not monolythic as capital is, but dynamic –, not only concessions that solve the immediate problems are granted, but also the structures that announce a new society commence to emerge

Monday, May 4, 2009

Workers and their Situation this May Day, Part I

Note: This article consists of three parts which will be published during the rest of the week.

The importance of work

For many people, May 1st or the International Worker's Day, represents an angry shout of protest against the brutal inequities and atrocities that come from a system in which benefiting the majority is not important. Instead, priority is given to the accumulation of profits for a minority that has control (directly or indirectly) over the means that we need to satisfy our necessities. Since its original vision in 1886, founded on reducing the working day to eight hours, up until now with the pro-immigrants assertions in the United States or the strike against the privatization projects that Luis Fortuño's Government is planning to implement in Puerto Rico, this day symbolizes a flag for the diverse international groups and organizations that are aware of the exploitation, domination, and oppression that, in one way or another, become present in their lives under the actual socioeconomic regime.

One of these forms of oppression is the fact that the importance of work is not recognized. Some people (the most reactionary supporters of capitalism), disregard that work creates, reproduces, and increases wealth. They also ignore that work also creates the means and conditions necessary for capitalism to exist. The reformists, on the other hand, simply limit the work possibilities: it becomes solely a mental activity within a universe of ideas; an activity that establishes norms, contracts, and institutions in an already institutionalized universe; an activity that creates signs and language in a “textual” world. What they all elude is that human beings must satisfy their natural necessities and that, by working with the means and conditions that they have created, they generate within themselves the strength, intelligence, craftsmanship, technique, and knowledge that exposes them to new necessities. Human nature is not based on being rational, selfish or an absolute “other”; it is founded instead on the fact that, by working, humans create their own nature.

Currently, capitalism is undergoing its most precarious crisis since the thirties but the most conservative versions have kept quiet. Discussions of reformist tendencies have reappeared to discuss the issues of saving, fixing or regulating the system. However, what is really imperative is to analyze profoundly the necessity and desirability of the capitalist system and its logic. To do so, we must position ourselves within the perspective of the workers.

Within capitalism, work unravels fundamentally under the market conditions that were previously established. Once the means and necessity for expropriation were developed, the workers lost their properties (certainly becoming “free” considering that they lacked the support as well as the responsibilities of their previous relations) and had no other alternative but to sell their labor power in the market. Consequently, the one with the work tools and materials, employs workers who produce society's wealth, but instead of receiving the value of their production, they are only compensated with the market value of those things that they need to reproduce their labor power (housing, provisions, education, entertainment, etc.). In other words, workers get paid only to ensure their capability to return to work the next day under the same conditions. Capitalists increase their wealth by employing workers to sell what the workers produced, they pay their debt, and keep the remaining quantity. As a result of the control that they have over the means of production (that in this case consist of merchandise that only capitalists can buy and organize to produce), they dictate to workers what to produce and how to produce it so as to when society's wealth increases, capital increases as well. Moreover, this explains the blindness of the most fanatic defenders of capital as they envision everything from the equal market realm; overlooking the unfairness that exists in work issues. It also explains the reformists' insistence to create jobs and even jobs that pay more or the fair wage, as this does not affect the origin of the problem itself at all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Alliances and Pro Independence Congresses

The idea of convening a Third Pro Independence Congress has been gaining strength among independence supporters. According to Carlos Gallisá, one of its principal proponents (Noel Colón Martínez and Juan Mari Brás are also among those who support the idea), one of the main objectives of the Third Congress should be to “work out alliances with sectors that go beyond the independence movement, like the sovereigntists inside the PPD [Partido Popular Democrático], community, environmental, and other organizations that make possible a joint action plan that serves as a foundation to the so needed opposition in a broad front for decolonization and social justice” (my translation, see here).

Presented as an historical sequel to the 1943 and 1944 Pro Independence Congresses, it is undeniable that this initiative has at least the potential to create a great deal of enthusiasm among independence supporters. We would like to briefly consider here the idea of political alliances, in particular the proposed alliance with the “sovereigntists inside the PPD” (or, what is the same thing, free association supporters), which occupies a privileged position in most proposals in favor of the Third Congress. We should make clear from the beginning that we are not against political alliances. On the contrary, we believe that alliances have always played an important role in the consolidation of left-wing movements, as has been demonstrated in Latin America's recent history. Nevertheless, we understand that in order for a political agreement to be characterized as an alliance, it must have, at the very least, two main characteristics.

First, for all practical effects, an alliance should result in the creation of an entity that is distinct to the political movements that comprise it. In Uruguay, for example, the Broad Front (Frente Amplio) is composed by more than ten political parties and groups. In the election of 1932 in Puerto Rico, the Partido Socialista and the Partido Unión Republicana achieved a legislative majority through an alliance known as The Coalition (which, of course, was not a particularly progressive alliance). More recently, the Nuevo Movimiento Independentista and the Congreso Nacional Hostosiano formed the MINH (Nuevo Movimiento Nacional Hostosiano). But at least until now, all 'negotiations' between independentists and PPD sovereigntists have ended with the former voting in favor of the PPD in the general election. That was the case, for example, of the 2008 electoral process. What took place in 2008, of course, was not an “alliance”, but an example of how a political party can be effective in getting votes from electors not affiliated to it. A genuine alliance between independence supporters and PPD sovereigntists (we will consider below if this would be in fact a good idea), would require the latter to be willing either to abandon the PPD and to create -together with independence supporters- a new political group, or to subordinate the PPD to the decisions of a new entity (that would also be directed by independentists). Both possibilities are extremely improbable: if something is clear about the so called “sovereigntists” of the PPD is their profound loyalty to their party (they have come so far as to imagine that the PPD has been a “sovereigntist” party since the 50s, see here).

The second characteristic that a political agreement should have in order to count as an alliance is that it must advance the interests of each of the organizations that conform it. The main interest of the PPD sovereigntists is that Puerto Rico and the United States sign a treaty of free association, and the main interest of independence supporters is that the island achieves independence (or at least that it moves closer towards it). At first glance, there seems to be an important similarity between the interests of these two groups that would justify every attempt at an alliance: after all, both groups want Puerto Rico to become a sovereign country. However, as we have argued before, the “sovereignty” of free association supporters does not even satisfy the basic criteria of sovereignty in a juridical sense, and much less comes close to the goals of what we have identified as true sovereignty (soberanía plena, see here and here). Moreover, although it appears as if free association would move us closer to independence, there are important indications to the contrary. In particular, sovereignty under free association would legitimize the relation of political subordination of Puerto Rico to the United States. In other words, the exercise of power of the United States in Puerto Rico (the so called “competences” that would be delegated to the United States through a free association treaty) would no longer be considered an imperial practice, but the juridical manifestation of the Puerto Rican people's exercise of self-determination according to international law. When one considers this in light of the economic project shared by free association supporters (that is, that Puerto Rico becomes a 'player' in the international capitalist market through the power of entering into international trade agreements, and as a result creating new employments through the establishment of new multinational corporations in the island) any possibility of true sovereignty vanishes.

While the Third Pro Independence Congress is an interesting initiative, one of its principal objectives should not be to enter into an alliance with the “sovereigntists inside the PPD”. The Third Congress should instead attempt to strenghten community based action, opening new possibilities for independence support to emerge from below. In that sense, promoting alliances with community and environmental organizations is a step in the right direction. As independentists, we cannot have as our goal that the leaders of the PPD (which as a political party has a solid political base) support free association, but to develop the conditions for people to see in independence the real possibility of solving their problems.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Los Expatriados

This blog is formed by Puerto Ricans in different parts of the world. Our purpose here is to develop explanations about the Puerto Rican colonial reality that allow us to effectively tackle it.

The work we propose must confront the obstacle of our own implication in the colonial relation that we want to criticize. Our tools are not completely ours, andbelong to conditions that we barely control. In this sense, we are not expatriates because, just as most Puerto Ricans, we live abroad our national territory, but because ourcountry is not fully ours.

Since this problem affects all of us, our job requires us to be able to look beyond the particular problems of our immediate groups, to the source of the common problems. We must therefore transform the instruments at our disposal so that we can tackle that source and not the immediate problems for which they were originally developed. In this way we start developing the means and conditions necessary for truly building our own nation.

The patria we desire cannot be achieved without the peoples of other nations. The case of Puerto Rico, even though having the specificity of being a colony in the classical sense, is not the only one: in varying degrees, no people truly owns its nation. Just as we cannot limit ourselves to deal only with our puny groups within our country, we cannot use tools incapable of dealing with the root of the common problems of the peoples of the world.

We know that the work we do here is only part of all the work necessary for our goal, and that we are not alone in this project. That is why we want this space to be useful to everyone who wants to solve the colonial problem.