Puerto Rico’s War on Two Fronts

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Octavio Villegas, Kim Diana Connolly, the author, Trejahn Hunter, Zachary Kileys and Steven Muñoz.

As I prepare for my first trip to Puerto Rico, I find myself trying to get a grasp of the intense situation that I am heading into, as this is no ordinary trip. It is evident to me that Puerto Ricans are facing a war on two fronts. This longstanding war has left the island in a condition of unrest and hardship. The first front arises from earthly factors. Nature has placed the island of Puerto Rico in a geographic nursery for natural disaster and emergency. Moreover, Puerto Rico is vulnerable to devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunami’s, etc. These fierce elements frequently leave Puerto Rico physically torn, a frequency that is steadily increasing as global climate change takes its toll. Currently, the island is working tirelessly to recover from a recent earthquake and hazardous aftershocks, while still battling back from damage done from September 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

The second front is one fabricated by human flaw. A wave of imperialism and colonialism brought to the America’s and nearby islands from Western Europe resulted in exchanging hands of dominance over Puerto Rico. Today, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. This exchange of control over the island and its people, where little to no equality or genuine democratic process is afforded, has bred systemic dependency and despair. Puerto Ricans do not have the same voting rights granted to mainland citizens. Moreover, Puerto Ricans are often viewed as second class U.S. citizens. America has incessantly taken and taken from the islands natural resources and labor for it’s own benefit, indifferent to the negative impacts on Puerto Ricans.

Although the island has endured social, political, and economic adversity, the narrative of Puerto Rico is far from all bad. Like any true war, there are and will continue to be tales of courage, perseverance, resilience, and camaraderie. I have been fortunate enough to read and watch stories describing the Puerto Rican community’s solidarity and home pride pushing them to carry on in the fight through difficult times. So, as an outsider, how do I prepare to enter this war for liberation, disaster resilience, and human dignity? Well, I imagine I must begin by declaring where my allegiance lies. I believe that the circumstances the island faces are worrisome. However, what is most troubling to me is that the U.S. government seems far less concerned in promptly assisting the people, even though we have systemically deprived the island of its self-sufficiency. Accordingly, I find myself in full support of the political, economic, and social rebirth of Puerto Rico. Through this revival, I believe the island will find itself capable of genuine independence and resilience in the face of natural disaster. As an ally to Puerto Rican struggles, I wholeheartedly offer my services as a student-attorney, as an able body, as a social justice advocate, and as a friend.

To help support the work of the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, please click here.

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