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Puerto Rico, Puerto Pobre: A dialectical history of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico

Benjamin Perez Gonzalez

Aug 2, 2023

“Puerto Rico, Puerto Pobre,

clavado con los clavos del destierro,

En una cruz de dólares tus huesos”

-Pablo Neruda

“They make slaughter and call it peace.”


Colonialism, according to the proclamation of the United Nations in 1960, represents one of the biggest violations of human rights and the forces of history show that colonialism is one of  the greatest evils that can ever be imposed upon a people. Colonialism manifests itself through the oppression of a foreign people and the super-exploitation of the resources, minerals and wealth of their land. As Fannon once said, “For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”

The island(s) of Puerto Rico, the world's oldest colony, remains to be misunderstood at best to the American public, and unheard at worst. Puerto Rico was first colonized by Spain in the 15th century and then invaded and occupied by the United States since 1898. Yet little is spoken about this in the U.S. mainstream media or by any NGO that proclaims the “protection of human rights” that is sponsored by the United States government. When we hear about Puerto Rico we might think about Bad Bunny, the flamboyant culture, the beautiful beaches or when hurricane Maria devastated the island(s) in 2017. The ruling class and their media apparatus never truly seriously discuss the issue of Puerto Rico, could it be because it is an issue that they want to hide and deny? Let’s take a look.​

As a history teacher in the public schools of the United States I was able to experience how children are indoctrinated with deceitful chauvinism and lies about a republic founded on democracy and equality. Furthermore, students are presented with a euphemistic and romanticized version of colonialism and imperialism, often called expansionism, with mystical names as the Manifest Destiny or the Monroe Doctrine.  The Founding Fathers are glamoured as freedom fighters and men of justice. However, little is said that the United States was founded by a slavocracy, which continued a legacy of genocide, slavery, and  land theft. Ironically enough, the United States was founded as a Republic against British colonialism. In fact, The Declaration of Independence advocates for the total liberation and self determination for the people of the Union. The iconic text follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”.  That whenever any form of government becomes destructive it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and there is nothing more destructive that can be done against a people than colonialism! However, when reading the textbooks taught in the public schools of the United States, little is said about imperialism, colonialism and the ugly truths of capitalism. The imperialist ruling class does not only dominate through the hegemony of violence, but also, through culture hegemony,and their domination of ideas, establishing in the process, their ideology which is rooted in the justification of capitalism and its highest stage: imperialism. Imperialism, as Claudia Jones stated, gave birth to racism, and also, to the most atrocious forms of bigotry and hateful ideology. The ideology of the ruling class is enforced upon the masses of the people through their corporate mainstream media,including their newspapers, the news, social media, music, and through the (mis)education system, in which students are presented with historical fallacies and imperialist propaganda. Conquest is justified and the enslavers are exalted.Therefore, it is natural, that colonialism and the issue of Puerto Rico is completely ignored in US textbooks, and for that matter, in almost every other aspect of society. Students, and the American public, are told that the United States does not have colonies but rather “territories'' and perhaps the greatest lie of them all: that the United States interest throughout the world (including their invasions, coups, sanctions, and occupations) are to spread democracy and to further the “will of the people” that they invaded and sacked. The imperialist ruling class, throughout history, have always used euphemisms and lies to justify their plunder. The Roman Empire called their bloody rule over the ancient world “Pax Romana”, and more recently, the British Empire referred to themselves as “Pax Britannica” during their international reign of colonialism and slavery.Regardless, of the denial of the imperialist ruling class, the entire world can see their words as for what they are: imperialist lies. The United States is the biggest, most powerful empire in the history of humankind. Empires seek to super exploit the land of foreign nations, in the process plundering and subjugating entire peoples. Capitalism undergoes a dialectical transformation which evolves into its highest stage,that being, as we already know, imperialism;  a process that we must clarify as not peaceful or just, but as the entire opposite, as ruthlessness established as law and tyranny as supreme. Colonialism is what empires do, establishing a state of warfare and oppression between the colonizer and the colonized. Colonialism can be defined as the act of power and domination of one nation, by acquiring or maintaining full or partial political control over another sovereign nation. According to the United Nations, in their Declaration of 1960, regarding the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries stated:  “The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights”.

The struggle against imperialism and for the independence of Puerto Rico is not a new development. The Tainos, the indigenous people of the Caribbean, were in the front lines, as the first warriors against imperialism with the arrival of Columbus in the New World in 1492. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Tainos had a society which was characterized by their communal land ownership, matriarchal hierarchies, and elaborate knowledge of agriculture. In fact, in the Taino language there wasn’t a definition or words for the term private property. However, with their superior art of killling and metal weaponry (along with the practice of genocide) the Europeans were able to impose a system based on private property and slavery. As colonialism was installed, the Tainos were annihilated, and new figures of struggle arose. However, none were more popular than the figure of Ramon Emeterio Betances, the “Doctor of the poor and enslaved” as he was called. Betances was a revolutionary, abolitionist medical doctor, who elevated the call for the liberation of Puerto Rico and the abolition of the slavery. His figure, and the struggle of independence can best be captured during the Grito de Lares in 1862, a popular rebellion, coordinated with Cuba, for the liberation of both islands, along with the abolition of the slave system. Since then many figures, movements, prophets, and uprisings have risen and fallen, but in the end the call is the same: the total liberation of Puerto Rico and the end of U.S. colonialism.

The history for the independence of Puerto Rico represents a struggle for justice, dignity and essential human rights; and at the same time, against imperialism and colonialism. It is for this exact reason, I would argue, that the U.S. mainstream media and the imperialist ruling class completely ignores the issue of Puerto Rico, because if they didn’t, they would be forced to recognize, in front of the American people and the eyes of the entire world, the violation of basic human rights and the atrocities which the U.S. government have perpetuated against the people of Puerto Rico.


​Benjamin Perez Gonzalez graduated in Sociology and Political Science from Florida International University and is current a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico. They are also a teacher, writer and activist.

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