Academic journal article Social Justice

Political Surveillance, State Repression, and Class Resistance: The Puerto Rican Experience

Academic journal article Social Justice

Political Surveillance, State Repression, and Class Resistance: The Puerto Rican Experience

Article excerpt

PERHAPS THE MOST NOTICEABLE FEATURE OF THE WAY IN WHICH THE U.S. MEDIA deal With Puerto Rico is the obvious and profound lack of familiarity With, and concern about, the issues affecting this Caribbean island. To talk about Puerto Rico in the mainstream U.S. imagination is to talk about exotic beaches with beautiful palm trees and friendly people. It is also to celebrate images of sexy Ricky Martin living la vida loca, or of Jennifer Lopez' provocative dresses. Many certainly noticed last year's overdue release of the Puerto Rican political prisoners, even though the media's decision to turn their release into a political circus made it difficult to understand this event in its appropriate context and history.

Not appearing on TV or in newspapers are the less glamorous, but more real, images that have to do with the day-to-day struggles of poor people and the social problems affecting Puerto Ricans. Seldom making it to the news is the Puerto Rico of intense contradictions and clashes between social and economic forces. Take, for example, the current fight to kick the U.S. Navy out of Vieques, a 54-squaremile island just off the east coast of Puerto Rico, which has been used as a U.S. military target range for more than six decades with devastating ecological and human consequences. This struggle has created a level of unprecedented national consensus, and for the first time in memory all sectors of society -- nationalist and pro-statehood organizations, poor and rich -- have joined efforts to oppose the U.S. military in Vieques.

Within the island's penal system, prisons are so overcrowded and inhumane that the government has had to pay over $120 million in fines in the last 20 years. A 1997 inmate strike mobilized half the island's inmate population to protest the inhumane conditions and treatment of prisoners inside the correctional system. Moreover, last year the governor was forced to admit to and apologize for the more than five decades of surveillance and illegal state repression of thousands of pro independence citizens. Since 1993, over 80 public housing projects have been occupied by the National Guard, a situation that is paving the way for some local governments in the U.S. to do the same (Montalvo-Barbot, 1997). [1] Finally, this island of just 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, the oldest colony in the hemisphere, is still more lucrative for U.S. corporations than are Mexico and Brazil (Gonzalez, 1998). This is the real Puerto Rico, one that the media -- and the government -- do not want you to know about.

Puerto Rico has long been a testing ground for oppressive U.S. policies, both economically and politically. NAFTA, for example, with its emphasis on low wages, tax breaks, and lack of trade barriers, was first developed and tested in Puerto Rico during the 1950s before being exported elsewhere in its different permutations (Cordero-Guzman, 1993). Puerto Ricans have also been used as guinea pigs to test the newest U.S. repressive mechanisms. In 1936, the grand jury was used for the first time to imprison political dissidents in the case of Puerto Rican Juan Antonio Corretjer, who went to jail for refusing to testify and cooperate with the grand jury. Even the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO was first tested and fine-tuned against left activists in Puerto Rico before being turned against the Black Panthers (Bosque-Perez et al., 1997).

At the same time, Puerto Rico has a long and proud history of resistance and struggle. Despite the brutal repression and tactics used by the U.S. to crush colonial resistance, there is a strong and militant Left in Puerto Rico.

This essay will look at the intersection of the repressive and surveillance apparatuses and the need to secure corporate profits in the context of a colonial regime. I will pursue this relationship from three separate but related events: (1) the history of political surveillance (and resistance) since the 1930s as it is signified through the scandal of las carpetas (files) or listas de subversivos; (2) the development of the current policies of incarceration and crime control since the 1980s; and (3) the logic behind the colonial policy of quasi-forced migration of Puerto Rican workers to the U. …

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