June 30 was a historic day for Puerto Rico, albeit an unhappy one. US President Barack Obama signed into law the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which imposes a fiscal control board with extraordinary emergency powers over the government of Puerto Rico. The islands, which are a US territory, are grappling with more than $70 billion of debt, and the board was promoted as a kind of relief measure.
But Puerto Ricans have no say whatsoever. Many see the board, whose powers go well beyond those of other fiscal boards found in recent US history, as colonialism at its plainest.
The junta, or “board” in Spanish, will be composed of seven members appointed by the president, some of whom are chosen from lists provided by Congress. Members will have complete control over the budget, revenues and operation of the government of Puerto Rico. Its decisions are final and cannot be appealed, nor are its members held accountable if something goes wrong.
On the night of June 29, after the US Senate approved the bill in a 68-30 vote, social media users who were following the Senate's proceedings expressed feelings of sadness, uncertainty and most of all, impotence. For Twitter user and research director of the Center for a New Economy, Deepak Lamba-Nieves, PROMESA is an act of violence:
The #PROMESA vote was another violent spectacle of imperial power. They slowly braided the whip they will try to use against us.
— deepak lamba-nieves (@deepakln) June 30, 2016
Immediately after President Obama signed PROMESA into law, citizens organized a permanent civil disobedience camp in front of the Federal Court building in the capital city of San Juan.
— Juventud Trabajadora (@Juventud_PPT) July 4, 2016
Social media has proved vital to their efforts. Through their Facebook page, Campamento Contra la Junta (Camp Against the Board), they document their activities and ask for necessary supplies.
On the night of July 3, personnel from the Federal Court building lit lamps powered by generators that emit carbon monoxide gas near the protesters, presumably to break up the civil disobedience camp, as stated in this Spanish-language post from their Facebook page. Both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Amnesty International have urged the federal government to guarantee the safety of the protesters.
A recent post on the civil disobedience camp's Facebook page clearly states their goals and intentions:
Somos un grupo de Boricuas que desde la convocatoria del #CampamentoContraLaJunta el 29 de junio de 2016 adoptó la postura de resistencia pacífica en contra de la imposición del proyecto HR5278 mejor conocido como PROMESA o la Junta de Control Fiscal. Además, nos encontramos acampando en contra de la deuda, que NO reconocemos como nuestra, y el coloniaje. Queremos ser clarxs y transparentes por esa razón repetimos: SOMOS UN CAMPAMENTO DE RESISTENCIA PACÍFICA. CUALQUIER TIPO DE VIOLENCIA EJECUTADA EN EL ÁREA NO SERÁ PROPICIADA POR NINGÚN MIEMBRO DEL CAMPAMENTO.
We are a group of Boricuas (Puerto Ricans) who since the call went out for the Camp Against the Board on June 29, 2016, have assumed a position of peaceful resistance against the imposition of HR 5278, better known as PROMESA, or the Fiscal Control Board. We also protest against the debt, which we do NOT acknowledge as ours, and against colonialism. We wish to be clear and transparent on this matter, so we repeat: WE ARE A PEACEFUL RESISTANCE CAMP. ANY TYPE OF VIOLENCE PERPETRATED IN THE AREA WILL NOT BE CONDONED BY ANY MEMBER OF THE CAMP.
An editorial published by independent news site El Post Antillano urged Puerto Ricans to disobey whatever austerity measures the fiscal control board ultimately imposes. The strategies to be used, however, can and should be pluralistic:
Siendo esta una relación entre un gobierno autoritario y despótico, y un pueblo esclavizado, es momento de medir y ponderar de forma profunda cual debe ser nuestra respuesta. Y atención, que no debe de haber una sola respuesta en específico, pues no somos un pueblo homogéneo. Somos muchos pueblos, mucha gente, muchas personas, en un solo pueblo.
This being a relationship between an authoritarian and despotic government and an enslaved people, it is time to measure and ponder deeply what our answer should be. And mind you, it shouldn't be a single specific answer, since we are not a homogeneous people. We are many peoples, many persons, in one single nation.
Blogger and feminist activist Amárilis Pagán Jiménez called on everyone to “reclaim the political sphere,” which is usually associated with corruption due to the actions of the old political parties that have alternated power for the past decades:
En este momento estamos obligadas a rescatar el espacio político cedido gracias a la manipulación perversa de los partidos antiguos y de los sirvientes que se benefician del estatus colonial y de las desigualdades. Ya hemos pagado un precio demasiado alto: asesinatos por homofobia, una colonia endeudada, violencia hacia las mujeres, medio país en pobreza, cierres de escuelas, gente sin servicios de salud.
Hablemos de política, seamos políticas y políticos sin miedo y sin vergüenza porque la política no es sucia ni degradante. Lo que sí es sucio es dejar el país en manos de la politiquería que nos vendieron como única posibilidad. Nos merecemos mucho más. Y ahora mismo el país necesita mucho más para combatir los efectos de la Junta de Control Fiscal.
In this moment it is our obligation to reclaim the political space we have yielded thanks to the perverse manipulation of the old political parties and the servants who benefit from the colonial status and inequalities. We have already paid too high a price: killings by homophobes, an indebted colony, violence against women, half the country in poverty, school closings, people with no medical services.
Let's talk about politics, let's be political without fear and without shame because politics is neither dirty nor degrading. What is dirty is to leave the country in the hands of partisan politics, which was presented to us as the only possibility. We deserve much more. And right now the country needs much more to fight the effects of the Fiscal Control Board.