NEW YORK — Ahead of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York on Sunday, members of the Puerto Rico Not For Sale campaign are set to protest on Friday outside National Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc.’s (NPRDP) scholarship gala at Gotham Hall in Midtown Manhattan.
Puerto Rico Not For Sale, a grassroots coalition of anti-imperialist groups aligned against the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico —a federally imposed body charged with overseeing Puerto Rico’s budget and finances— is mobilizing to condemn honorees Ivan Baez, vice president of Genera PR, the private energy company given control of energy generation in Puerto Rico earlier this year, and Louis Molina, commissioner of the New York Department of Corrections (DOC).
The coalition says Baez and Molina represent corporate interests and the exploitation of Puerto Ricans, calling for their immediate removal from the list of honorees.
NPRDP responded to the calls for removal last week, saying it was not honoring Baez as a Genera PR executive but rather his work as a philanthropist during his time as Walmart’s director of public and government affairs, according to El Nuevo Día.
What’s at Stake
The protest comes at a time when the Puerto Rico government continues to take steps toward energy privatization.
In July 2017, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) declared bankruptcy, leaving the island vulnerable to the impact of Hurricane María months later. As the energy infrastructure fell apart, in 2021 PREPA handed over its energy operations to LUMA Energy, a private company overseen by Houston-based Quanta Services Inc. and Canadian company ATCO, to manage the island’s energy distribution.
The government claimed that through privatization there would be a reduction in blackouts. Instead, residents have had to deal with soaring energy costs and regular disruptions. This week’s record high temperatures in Puerto Rico left over 100,000 people without electricity.
Genera PR, a subsidiary of New Fortress Energy, was selected earlier this year to operate and maintain PREPA’s power generation, securing a 10-year agreement through a public-private partnership. After a 100-day transition, they are set to be fully operational by the end of June.
Groups like Puerto Rico Not For Sale say the government’s endorsement of privatized infrastructure favors profit and neglects citizens’ needs, and condemn individuals like Baez for representing efforts to undermine Puerto Ricans.
“We should not be honoring people that are following corporate and neoliberal policies that exploit our people,” said Lorraine Liriano, a member of the campaign’s steering committee.
Commissioner Molina represents another institution that consistently oppresses Puerto Ricans in New York, say protestors.
On June 1, the DOC decided to no longer disclose deaths in city jails.
NY Boricua Resistance, a member of the Puerto Rico Not For Sale campaign, condemned the DOC, stating on Instagram: “Puerto Ricans, especially Black Puerto Ricans, are arrested and incarcerated in disproportionate numbers, and the parade itself is not exempt from the realities of violence.”
Molina’s leadership is also under investigation following another report filed in federal court, saying that the commissioner proactively withholds information from the public about Rikers.
Though the first Puerto Rican Day Parade took place in 1958, the history of the procession begins in the 1950s, according to the Centro, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the City University of New York’s Hunter College.
Puerto Rican activists Gilberto Gerena Valentína and Antonia Denis advocated for a parade that would demonstrate the power and presence of Latinos in the city, leading to the Hispanic Day Parade held in 1955 that brought these communities together.
However, differing views between Puerto Ricans and other Latinos led to the formation of an individual committee that would organize the first Puerto Rican Day Parade in 1958. Though the event spawned from community-led efforts, the incorporation of the parade in 1995 as a 501(c)(3)non-profit organization allowed for revenue growth and increased programming, as documented by Centro.
“The Puerto Rican Day Parade was created for a voice of our people, a community voice—not to be the voice of corporate America that is oppressing us,” said Liriano.
Demands for Authentic Representation
The Puerto Rico Not For Sale campaign is focused on abolishing the U.S.-imposed fiscal control board on the island and the end of Act 60, which gives tax incentives to foreign investment to the detriment of locals. The group also seeks the independence of Puerto Rico.
“The parade should be the opportunity for the community to amplify its struggle, its culture, and its identity because all of that is under attack,” Liriano said, adding that the parade should be representative of the working class and community activists.
For Friday’s protest, the chapter will bring together the efforts of groups like A Call to Action on Puerto Rico, Colectivo Solidaridad, Comité Organizador Tribunal Internacional Sobre Crímenes de EAU en Puerto Rico, Jornada Se Acabaron Las Promesas, NY Boricua Resistance, Philly Boricuas, and the ProLibertad Freedom Campaign.
Protestors are set to gather in Midtown at 5:30 p.m., with the program shortened to 6:15 pm to reduce protestors’ exposure to unhealthy air quality currently afflicting New York.
NPRDP did not respond to Latino Rebels’ request for comment as of press time.
Mariana Martínez Barba is a summer correspondent at Futuro Media and is currently studying at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. Twitter: @marianamtzbarba