Across the San Juan bay, Puerto Rican millennials established an occupation-style camp. They are seeking to abolish the PROMESA (promise in Spanish) bill, a piece of American legislation that was signed by President Obama in June. These young activists, along with a plethora of Puerto Rican artists, are demanding an end the island’s colonial legacy while “sitting the long wake for a murdered future, rousing the spirits of the rebellious dead,” according to Matt Haiven of ROAR.
In 2016, Puerto Rico’s debt equated up to $72 billion, however, the island cannot file for federal bankruptcy protection (Chapter 9). The bill proposes that a board oversee Puerto Rico’s finance, a move that many are dubbing a “colonial control” board. Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is due to its continuous exploitation by Spanish imperialism and U.S. exploitation, as stated by Haiven:
“The history of colonialism is key to understanding today’s debt crisis. Focusing much more on the nearby and lucrative colony of Cuba, Spain dramatically underdeveloped and largely ignored Puerto Rico, which had the felicitous effect of allowing the islanders to develop their own forms of subsistence agriculture in the lands left fallow by the coffee, sugarcane, tobacco and other plantation industries.”
PROMESA would also make room for minimum wage to be cut, a slash to public services, and more privatization, which would mean more profits for corporations.
In response to the political turmoil, artists are creating murals around cities in Puerto Rico to draw attention to the issues, and create an atmosphere of resistance. They do not see art and politics as being separate entities, but necessary topics that are intertwined.
One local artist in Puerto Rico states, “We want people to see it and realize they can’t just sit there and complain and wait for their problems to be fixed. Do something. It doesn’t have to be marching in the streets—although of course, yes, we need to do that too—it can be just talking to your friends and family.”
Murals incorporating black paint in different places in Puerto Rico are also catching on, as the color has come to represent financial exploitation. Local artists painted a once infamous door in Old San Juan with the color black in order to protest capitalist intervention from the United States.
“These artists are from a younger generation eager to see new alternatives emerge from what has felt like a political stalemate of their parents,” continues Max Haiven. “Inspired by the militancy of the Nationalist struggles of the past, they are furiously trying to hold open a space for something new and radical to emerge, though they can’t necessarily offer a roadmap to a better future.”