The following is the full text of an English letter written by A Call to Action on Puerto Rico (ACTAOPR) and delivered yesterday to Rev. Msgr. Joseph Grech, First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. According to A Call to ACTAOPR, “the letter has been signed by many notable members of the Puerto Rican community living in the United States and Puerto Rico.” In addition, ACTAOPR gave Rev. Msgr.Grech a gift for Pope Francis: a hand-crafted Puerto Rican flag made by Sara Toldeo Vélez.
September 21, 2015
Holiness, Pope Francis
00120 Vatican City
We send you a cordial greeting on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico. We who write this letter are conscious of your commitment with the oppressed of the earth. We recognize in you the voice of the Church who stands with the poor and expresses itself in favor of building a new world of social justice, respect for the sovereignty of nations, respect for human dignity, human labor and the right of all peoples to live in peace, equality and freedom. For this reason, we ask that you lift your voice and intercede on behalf of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States (USA) since 1898 when it was invaded militarily by the North American army. As a colonized country Puerto Rico has no control over its destiny and its political and economic subordination impedes its ability to develop fully as a nation. Colonialism has created a form of Stockholm syndrome in the minds of many of our brothers and sisters who find it difficult to believe that another Puerto Rico is possible outside of the colonial framework.
At present, Puerto Rico is undergoing a profound economic crisis both as a result of the neoliberal policies of the capitalist colonial model and because its geopolitical strategic value, as a military bastion of US interests in the Caribbean, has decreased. Puerto Rico has a huge public debt and a limited capacity to collect taxes due in part to major tax evasion by large foreign capital corporations who extract billions of dollars annually in profits but do not reinvest them in the Puerto Rican economy.
Since it is not recognized as a state of the USA, the US Congress does not allow Puerto Rico to avail itself of the US bankruptcy laws like other states and municipalities. On the other hand because of this disgraceful colonial situation, Puerto Rico cannot create laws that would allow it to deter attacks by the credit agencies and vulture and wolf funds of Wall Street. The Puerto Rican governments from both political parties, who have taken turns being in power, have been at the service of big capital and have dedicated themselves in a negligent and criminal fashion to profiting from the peoples’ money. They have seriously compromised Puerto Rico’s credit worthiness and have subordinated the true interests of the nation to that of big capital and Wall Street.
At this historic, dramatic and painful time for the vast majority of the people, the governing sectors of the colony once again submit to the powerful imperial corporate elite in the U.S. and continue to conspire against the best interests of Puerto Rico. Capital’s greed insists on imposing its austerity measures and demanding the greatest sacrifices of the poor and working people of Puerto Rico. It proposes that Puerto Rico surrender its future as a nation in order to pay the debt to the Wall Street bondholders. The big interests insist that Puerto Rico close schools, universities and hospitals, lay off public employees, eliminate workers’ rights such as the minimum wage, overtime, Christmas bonuses, vacation and sick days and many other benefits.
We believe that the alternative for the people of Puerto Rico is to recognize and overcome the problem of colonialism and political subordination to the US, as this is the basis for the present fiscal crisis. One example of this is that because of its colonial status Puerto Rico cannot establish beneficial trade agreements with sister nations in the Caribbean and around the world. The US empire forces Puerto Rico to use its merchant marine which is the most expensive one in the world.
We also state that the public debt is immoral and unpayable because it is the product of policies that are designed to maintain Puerto Rico in a state of increasing indebtedness and are geared towards privatizing services that are strategic to Puerto Rico’s national development such as education, health care, electricity and potable water among others. We know that we are not alone in this call for justice and equality for Puerto Rico. The nations of the world, grouped together in the Special Committee on Decolonization of the United Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish), and the countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, among others, have recognized the colonial character of Puerto Rico and its right to full self-determination and independence.
A concrete example of this international solidarity with the colonial case of Puerto Rico is the demand made to the US government for the immediate release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican political prisoner, who has been imprisoned for 34 years in the empire’s prisons for his determined and militant participation in the Puerto Rican anti-colonial struggle. Thus this is a very special request that we ask of Your Holiness, to intercede on behalf of Oscar Lopez Rivera. We can assure you that at this time there is no greater consensus within the Puerto Rican family than the recognition that it is an injustice for this brother to be imprisoned for demanding the independence of his country.
We know that we are not alone and that the Church which you lead accompanies us because you have said: “No actual or established power has the right to deprive peoples of the full exercise of their sovereignty. Whenever they do so, we see the rise of new forms of colonialism which seriously prejudice the possibility of peace and justice.”
We recognize ourselves in you when you call attention to the new colonialism “which takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of Mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.”
We join our voices to yours to demand: “Let us say no to forms of colonialism old and new. Let us say yes to the encounter between peoples and cultures. Blessed are the peacemakers.”
In light of the above, we respectfully ask that when you address President Obama, the Congress of the United States and the United Nations, that you remind them that colonialism is a sin against humanity and that it is urgent that they address with utmost priority the colonial problem of Puerto Rico as well as Oscar Lopez Rivera´s freedom.
With our best wishes to Your Holiness, we thank you for receiving us and for advocating for our cause.
Peace and Solidarity,