Wisconsin and Puerto Rico: Maritza Stanchich Examines Convergences and Divergences

This item is a few days old (March 18, 2011) but a fascinating read. In “Wisconsin and Puerto Rico: Disturbing Convergences” Maritza Stanchich underlines many key points regarding the current political atmosphere in Puerto Rico and places them in the context of recent events taking place in the United States. Here are a few excerpts with a link to the full article below:

News of gutting collective bargaining rights through parliamentary maneuvers by Republican state senators in Wisconsin was greeted with a sense of dé-jà vu in Puerto Rico. An uncannily similar law “Ley 7” was passed two years ago here, but few in the United States caught wind of the coming storm because Puerto Rico is mostly invisible to the U.S. media, perhaps because of its territorial status since the Spanish-American War of 1898.

 [. . .] Yet another disturbing Wisconsin-Puerto Rico parallel: both governors have activated the National Guard for civilian purposes, no doubt in anticipation of massive protests.

Wisconsin is yet another grim reminder of how Puerto Rico integrates into right-wing agendas in the United States, as Puerto Rico has long been a testing ground for policies, be they military, corporate or governmental. To wit, pharmaceutical companies developed the birth control pill in the 1950s by first testing dangerously high doses on underprivileged women here without informed consent; the U.S. Navy bombed the Puerto Rico island of Vieques for more than 50 years to practice simultaneous land/air/sea exercises; Monsanto tested genetically-engineered crops in Puerto Rico as early as 1987, nearly a decade before wide use in the United States (according to Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero, director of the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety).

[. . .] As the state capitol in Wisconsin remains the center of protest, the University of Puerto strike was revived in December when an $800 student fee was imposed, forcing about 10,000 students to drop out during the country’s worst economic crisis in decades. Though student strike leaders publicly denounced last week’s student violence, the negative publicity could jeopardize whatever gains the student movement has achieved. As the campus returned to relative calm by end of week, 20 rallies in solidarity with the UPR struggle were held throughout the United States–including in Wisconsin–and in seven other countries.

With such parallels between Wisconsin and Puerto Rico, also come important divergences. Perhaps the key difference is redress: available in Wisconsin and absent in Puerto Rico.

As Wisconsin voters gather signatures to recall their governor and eight state senators, a mechanism that exists in 19 states, no recall option or midterm elections exist in Puerto Rico. Jesse Jackson lent additional symbolic weight to recent events in Wisconsin, reminding protestors of the importance of maintaining dignity. “If we didn’t have the recall, I don’t know what would happen,” says Jane Collins, a professor of Community and Environmental Sociology at University of Wisconsin, Madison. “The day Republican senators separated the bill, people were so angry and exhausted, that some had to prevent individuals from erupting in the crowd.”

Puerto Rico not only lacks such redress, but also affords concentration of power by highly unpopular elected officials. Fortuño expanded and packed the island’s Supreme Court, which banned protests on the UPR campus. He similarly expanded the University of Puerto Rico Board of Trustees with four fast-tracked appointees and named a commission to restructure the university with members openly hostile to its existence. Attempts continue to dismantle the state bar association, a key advocacy institution founded in 1840. Another audacious move has been to sign a law granting the state absolute powers to declare a state of emergency of whatever type to expedite projects without permits, public hearings, bids or environmental impacts studies. A declared energy emergency–though none has been previously noted–is expected to apply to a natural gas pipeline project called Gasoducto, which is also widely opposed.

No doubt sympathetic Republican governors in the United States are silently observing. 

For full post, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maritza-stanchich-phd/wisconsin-and-puerto-rico_b_836903.html

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