Since Puerto Rico became a U.S. colony in 1898, the U.S. has found various ways to exploit both the land and the people. These exploitative practices include using the island as a bomb test site, the forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women and ensuring complete political and economic control of the island through The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, as well as the Jones Act. The passage of Act 60 in 2019 is the newest method for controlling and using the island to make a profit without due regard for the well being of native islanders. It is time to abolish these predatory laws and finally recognize Puerto Rican self-determination and sovereignty.
From this point on, in an act of decolonization, I will be referring to Puerto Rico — the name given to the island by Spanish conquistadors — as Borinquen. The word derives from Boriken, the Arawakan word given to the island by its original inhabitants, the Taino.
Act 60 is a predatory law passed just four years ago which has been displacing native Boricuas in Borinquen. The act was passed by disgraced former Borinquen Gov. Ricardo Rossello. Rossello resigned after protests arose over his leaked private chats, which were insensitive and derogatory in nature, as well as reports of administrative corruption. Rosello passed Act 60 in an attempt to mitigate Borinquen’s bankruptcy problems by combining all existing tax laws — which sought to solve the bankruptcy issue — into one all encompassing law. The act seeks to bring in foreign revenue by incentivizing wealthy investors into moving to Borinquen and buying property in exchange for the opportunity to evade taxes. However, the act has not helped the Borinquen economy. Instead, it has made the island dependent on the U.S. and placed the burden of lost tax revenue on native Boricuas who are already at risk of displacement because of the law.
Make no mistake about it — moving to Borinquen as a non-Boricua to avoid taxes or for any other reason is settler colonialism. People coming to Borinquen under Act 60 must buy property on the island within two years in order to qualify for the tax break. Ironically, native islanders cannot even benefit from the law as it is exclusive to foreigners. Many investors buy property not to live in but to turn into rentals or Airbnbs, which prevents native islanders from becoming homeowners. This reckless and insensitive land grab by wealthy investors leads to gentrification, which inflates housing prices and pushes native Boricuas out of their homes. There are even fears that Act 60 could create a “Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans.” However, these settler colonials do not care about the consequences of their actions. They do not care about the rich history of the island or its culture, nor are they seeking to help Borinquen prosper economically or rise from its debts. We have no reason to think these selfish investors care about anything other than building their own wealth and evading taxes. If the law is not abolished, Boricuas will continue to be at the mercy of foreign investors inflating housing prices and raising rents.
One of the most popular destinations for these tax evaders is the municipality of Dorado, where YouTuber Logan Paul moved to in 2021. Dorado is also the municipality where my family has lived for generations and have the potential to be displaced from because of people like Paul. Since moving to the island, Paul has been nothing but disrespectful to the land and its people. These atrocious behaviors include driving illegally over a protected beach during turtle nesting season and calling Borinquen a “third-world country.” Settler colonialists like Paul do not care about the effects their actions have on the land and on native Boricuas.
In addition to the internal issues the island has been facing, politicians and non-voting Borinquen representatives have discussed the passage of the Puerto Rico Status Act 1,557 miles away in D.C. Prior to the midterm elections under the then-Democrat majority House of Representatives, the act passed. It combined a pro-statehood bill and the newly created Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act. The latter bill was co-written by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is important because it would give Boricuas autonomy in determining their status, whether that means becoming a state or becoming an independent nation. Unfortunately, the bill is unlikely to overcome a Senate filibuster, which means it must re-enter the House, which now has a Republican majority.
There are many reasons why Borinquen should not become a U.S. state. For one, if Borinquen became a U.S. state, it would become the next Hawaii — an island rich in culture and language relegated to a tourist hub for wealthy Americans. Hawaii is completely controlled by the U.S. — the same colonial oppressors who participated in the cultural erasure of its people. Hawaii subsequently struggled under the surge of tourists visiting during the pandemic, which put native Hawaiians at risk for infection. An independent Borinquen may have to rely on tourism as a major economic industry, as many island economies do, but it should be on their terms, not decided by the U.S. government.
The U.S. government has made it clear time and time again Boricuas are nothing more than colonial subjects. Boricuas and those in the diaspora are sick and tired of this disrespect — tired of the political corruption and tired of being forced out of our homes so that rich white mainlanders can move in. America does not understand Boricuas. One can gauge such sentiments from watching Bad Bunny’s recent Grammy performance of a very political song called “El Apagon'' about the constant blackouts during hurricane season as a result of various forms of Borinquen government corruption and failed U.S. response. Rather than providing an English translation or providing Spanish subtitles, the Grammys captioned Bad Bunny’s entire performance of “El Apagon'' to a primarily American audience as “speaking non-English” and “singing in non-English.” Borinquen is part of the U.S., and its inhabitants are American citizens and yet, this disrespect proves how the U.S. sees Boricuas. They are seen as not fully assimilated, non-English speaking, second-class citizens.
Act 60 and Boricuas’ second class citizenship are intrinsically connected. They are both byproducts of historical and continued colonialism and are only two reasons why Borinquen must end its parasitic relationship with the United States. We are still fighting for the end of colonization in 2023 and for 124 years of owed reparations. Boricuas have not had the right to self-governance and autonomy since 1492. However, many are fighting back, demanding a Borinquen for Boricuas and for “the gringo to go home.” As a member of the Borinquen diaspora, it is my hope that my ancestral homeland will become an independent nation in my lifetime and that we may at long last experience freedom from our colonial oppressors.
Yssis Cano-Santiago is an Opinion Columnist who writes on Health, Technology and the Environment for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.