For sale, Tropical island, Newly vacated.
Nearly three decades before becoming the celebrated progenitor of the Nuyorican Movement, Jesús Colón described “two Puerto Ricos” — one of “vendepatrias (those who sell out their country)” and “North American absenteeist capitalism,” the other possessing a rich “revolutionary tradition: the Puerto Rico of Betances and Albizu Campos, of Ruiz Belvis and Hostos; the Puerto Rico that will someday astonish the world”:
The Puerto Rican vendepatrias are internationally known and very much aware of the advantages of joining the forces of exploitation, abuse, and oppression of other countries. When they come to the United States, they are well received at the airports by the representatives of the great magnates. They lodge in the best hotels where they are wined and dined, where long conversations take place to deliberate new ways and means of extracting the last drop of energy from the emaciated bodies of the workers and peasants from the colony. … There is complete unity and understanding among the exploiters.
Señor Colón, meet Congressman Raúl Labrador of Idaho.
Congressman Labrador was born and raised in Puerto Rico, until his mother brought him stateside at the age of 13 so the island’s lack of opportunities wouldn’t hinder his ambition. (His father stayed on the island till his last breath.) After some missionary work in Chile for the Mormon Church in the late 80s, Labrador graduated from Brigham Young with a degree in Spanish — and a focus on Latin American literature, no less. He went on to receive his law degree from the University of Washington in 1995 and practiced immigration law until he was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in 2006… as Republican.
Then, in 2010, he won the first of Idaho’s two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating the Democratic incumbent by 10 points.
Labrador is a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right-wing voting bloc whose names include Louie Gohmert of Texas (who believes terrorists send their pregnant women to the United States in hopes of raising “terror babies“), Tim Huelskamp of Kansas (who compared activists supporting a woman’s right to choose to the pro-slavery radicals of the antebellum United States), and last and certainly least, Steve “Legitimate Rape” King of Iowa.
Congressman Labrador sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources, whose purview includes the Land of the Free’s colonial possessions, of which Puerto Rico is the oldest and most populated. It was the Natural Resources Committee who introduced a debt restructuring proposal last month to create a financial control board that would govern the people of Puerto Rico by fiat.
As you might’ve heard, Puerto Rico is drowning in debt — $72 billion’s worth, in fact. And while the Puerto Rican people are looking for a solution that’ll pull their economy out of its current nosedive without placing an even greater burden on their shoulders, the loan sharks and other vulture capitalists who’ve made a killing by taking advantage of the island’s colonial status are looking to be paid in full — even if Puerto Rico has to close every school, cut every social service, defund every hospital, privatize every last publicly owned entity, or fire every worker to do it.
“To me it’s pretty simple,” Labrador told reporters last month during the House committee’s heated debate over the debt restructuring proposal. “Whatever we do on Puerto Rico cannot affect our states and cannot affect the way we are going to respond to any fiscal crisis in the future for any of the states.”
On Tuesday, as the committee prepared to vote on the bill, Labrador made absolutely clear that, his Puerto Rican birth and upbringing aside, he has no dog in this fight. In an interview with the Heritage Foundation-owned Daily Signal, Labrador pledged total loyalty to his constituents, the people of Idaho, and the U.S. government, saying he “had absolutely no desire to get involved in Puerto Rico issues:”
The people of Puerto Rico get mad at me because I always say my first priority is the people of Idaho. This one just was kind of thrown on my lap when you are on the committee of jurisdiction. So no, it wasn’t intentional and it wasn’t like it felt like a cause to me. I don’t feel any pressure about this. I didn’t come to Congress to solve the problems of Puerto Rico. I came to Congress to solve the problems of the United States.
That’s not all, though I wish it were. According to the Daily Signal‘s Josh Siegel, the congressman doesn’t believe the U.S. Congress should do anything to help the people of Puerto Rico, even if the island is on the verge of finally sinking into the Caribbean:
Labrador acknowledges it is typically against his conservative principles to help a financially struggling entity that he believes is responsible for its own problems.
He even refers to Puerto Rico as a ‘failed socialist experiment in the United States,’ and he derides the island as fiscally reckless enough to think it was a smart idea to ‘build an ice skating rink in the middle of a tropical island.’
Labrador admits he feels resentful towards Puerto Rico, like a tough love father who raised a son that took the wrong path.
‘I do care about what happens to the island,’ Labrador said. ‘I love the people of Puerto Rico. They are some of the warmest people in the world. And at the same time that I care, I am pretty mad about the political decisions that they’ve made.’ [Breathe, Hector. Breathe.]
Yet Labrador says that assisting Puerto Rico through its current fiscal mess will free the island to pursue sustainable economic reform.
And that makes Labrador feel good about what he did.
This is Congressman Raúl Labrador of Idaho.
Congressman Labrador was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but his mother brought him to the United States because decades of U.S. colonialism had turned his homeland into an economic wasteland.
Congressman Labrador got a good education, entered politics, was elected to Congress, and now serves on a committee controlling the fate of his patria.
Instead of helping his brothers and sisters back on the island, Congressman Labrador is doubling down on the same abusive policies that caused him and his mother to flee in the first place.
Congressman Labrador is a vendepatria.
Don’t be like Congressman Labrador.
P.S. The committee passed the bill on Wednesday.
Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and journalist. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.