As Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, grapples with a severe crisis, we are publishing opinion pieces reflecting different views on the situation; these are the writers' personal views.
Much has been written about Puerto Rico's $72 debt crisis, but very little has happened to resolve it.
After promises by congressional leaders were made last December, it is safe to say that no one in Washington, D.C., will deal with this mess until at least July, even after Puerto Rico's governor Alejandro García Padilla said that his government won't have the $422 million needed to pay creditors on May 1.
Everyone's talking about John Oliver's and Lin-Manuel Miranda's viral video, but the reality is this: Congress won't act.
President Barack Obama and the White House lack the political courage to be forceful about this issue, though the fact is that if Obama actually started treating Puerto Rico like he is treating Cuba, he would pretty much guarantee a Democratic victory in November. Think Central Florida and its growing borícua population.
And even though Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has no problem celebrating the accomplishments of brave Puerto Ricans who fought for this country, he won't even make Puerto Rico a legislative priority, instead kicking the island down the street as if it were a old can of Goya beans.
Meanwhile, the political bickering from the island's political class continues to dominate the dialogue in Puerto Rico. If you are for the proposed Fiscal Control Board, you are a neoliberal free-market capitalist pig. If you are against the board, you are as Communist as Fidel Castro. There is no real unity, just more and more political games that have led nowhere.
So while progress stalls (are we even surprised by this), what are Puerto Ricans (yes, they are American citizens) supposed to do?
Last week at Hunter College's summit on Puerto Rico, New York City Council President Melissa Mark-Viverito said it may be time to up the ante to bring more attention to a crisis that is affecting 3.5 million U.S citizens who have been living in a neocolonial world for over 118 years.
“We have to consider civil disobedience,” she said. “I’ll be the first to sign myself up.”
It’s not like Puerto Ricans are not used to engaging in civil disobedience to spur action on issues. The case of Vieques is a recent example, but the cynic in me cannot believe that borícuas will start thinking in terms of a New Borícua Spring.
In the age of mass entertainment and celebrity worship —two of Puerto Rico’s favorite pastimes, next to political bickering— Mark-Viverito's call to action needs to tap into something deeper.
Therefore, I offer several civil disobedience examples that can happen right now if Puerto Ricans are serious, truly serious, about bringing more urgent attention to what is happening on the island.
- Have Hamilton go dark. By now, the Broadway crowd knows that one of the most successful shows ever was created by a playwright of Puerto Rican heritage. What if the show closed and Lin-Manuel told the world that Hamilton won't come back until Puerto Rico got the attention it deserved? Do you think that would get attention?
- Have Puerto Rican baseball players go on strike. This season, there are over 30 major leaguers of Puerto Rican descent, including Chicago Cubs star pitcher Jake Arrieta. They should all walk off the field. No progress on Puerto Rico? No more Arrieta no-hitters. Imagine how the North Side of Chicago would react?
- Have Justice Sonia Sotomayor take a looonggg vacation. Think about this global headline: Sotomayor Takes Break from Bench to Protest Lack of Action on Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis. That’s an hour-long TV special waiting to happen.
- Organize "A Week Without a Puerto Rican." You don’t believe Puerto Ricans aren’t a fabric of this country? What if we all took the week off? People would notice. They would have to notice. I mean, the city of Orlando alone would come to a standstill.
- Cancel the Puerto Rican Day Parade and head to DC. As much as Puerto Ricans love their parade, why are we marching down 5th Avenue this year? Hire thousands of buses, head down to DC and stand united at the Mall. As ridiculous as this would sound, it at least forces the issue to the front pages of the world.
While you might think my examples are silly, that’s the point. Current strategies are not working.
Congress has been lobbied. Nothing happens.
People plead with President Obama. Still nothing.
Puerto Rico politicians are urged to stop working against each other and put Puerto Rico first. Still, nada.
Unless Puerto Ricans just want to break away from the United States (an entirely different topic that would deserve yet another column), we should either commit to a real solution to this crisis or else we are just bound to keep repeating the same mistakes of the past.
A native of Puerto Rico, Julio Ricardo Varela is the politics editor and digital media director for the Futuro Media Group, which produces Latino USA, In The Thick, Humanizing America, and America By The Numbers With Maria Hinojosa. He is also the founder of LatinoRebels.com.