A small sliver of Puerto Ricans in Orlando has begun to unleash their wrath on Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), crying “Socialist!” “Communist!” Which is curiouser and curiouser since there is no “state” under the U.S. flag more socialist than Puerto Rico.
Instead of looking to Ocasio Cortez as an example of socialist philosophy, critics should turn their attention to Puerto Rico as an example of socialism in practice. A failed socialist state at that, since the island is weighed down by tens of billions of dollars in debt and living under a special type of federal supervision and federal bankruptcy.
Puerto Rico has been socialist for so long that no Puerto Rican living today who was born or lived on the island has ever known or experienced anything different. Not one. Each was born into a socialist state. All have lived and breathed under the aegis of socialism.
A well-known component of socialism is when the state owns the means of production. As in Cuba. As in Russia. As increasingly is happening in Venezuela. But Puerto Rico, too, has been a socialist state for quite some time.
Let’s count the ways. Puerto Rico:
- Owns and operates the electric power authority
- Owns and operates the water and sewage authority
- Owns and operates the health care system.
- Runs one of the largest public housing systems in the U.S.
- Runs one of the largest public education systems in the U.S.
Puerto Rico used to own the telephone system. And a maritime shipping company. It built and owned the Caribe Hilton Hotel, the island’s first luxury hotel. And so it goes.
Hurricane María proved, although most Puerto Ricans already knew, that much of the infrastructure is crumbling – the electric grid, water and sewage, health care and more.
Which is why Puerto Rico is unloading the assets, most of which have become significant liabilities. The central government sold La Telefónica, often referred to with pride as Nuestra Teléfonica or our telephone company, in the 1990s. The Hilton was sold, also in the 1990s. The maritime shipping company known as Navieras took on so much water it sank into bankruptcy. The government leased the San Juan international airport to a Mexican firm, it leased the toll roads to a private firm.
Puerto Rico has closed many public schools, for which there are no students because they’ve migrated here, selling each complex for $1. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is up for sale. It is privatizing part of the water and sewage system. It’s looking to privatize the ferry authority that provides service to island municipalities Vieques and Culebra, as well as to Cataño across San Juan Bay.
“Puerto Rico is open for business,” the slogan goes.
This is us now. This is us today.
But that was not Puerto Rico in the 20th century. And Puerto Rico is not yet unshackled, for it still controls the island’s principal means of production. And, what’s more, many people appear to like it like that, given the huge protests that erupt each time Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announces the latest effort to unload a white elephant.
The moral of this tale is: Do not point to Ocasio Cortez as a demon socialist because it’s the popular thing to do or because it’s politically convenient. It is, well, ignorant.
Instead, take the time to explore the many ways in which Puerto Ricans may have benefitted – or not – from the socialist state otherwise known as Puerto Rico.
˜˜María Padilla, Editor