Harm Reduction Coalition stands in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico in their demands for an end to government corruption, and we celebrate and march forward alongside them as former governor Ricardo Rosello steps down in the wake of massive protests, putting an end to his legacy of malfeasance and gross negligence. We celebrate the protestors’ resistance.
We bear witness to the hundreds of thousands of people who fled the island or died in the wake of hurricane Maria because the relief aid was so poorly managed. We honor the millions of people in the Puerto Rican diaspora–past and present–who have suffered irreparable harms caused by an oppressive regime and more than a century of U.S. colonialism.
If you care about harm reduction, you should care about what’s happening in Puerto Rico. In case you’re not aware yet, last week the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (Center for Investigative Journalism) published nearly 900 pages of text messages between Rossello and some of his closest advisers, cabinet officials, and lobbyists. These texts included threatening to shoot Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of San Juan; making homophobic and misogynist slurs; and even joking about people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria. Public outcry was swift and fierce with over a million people at Monday’s protest that shut down a major highway and brought the city of San Juan to its knees.
Protesters chanted in chorus: ¡Ricky renuncia y llevate la junta! (Ricky resign and take the cabal with you!). Late Wednesday the embattled governor resigned, quickly turning the demonstrations into celebrations. For now, the people are victorious, but the struggle isn’t over. There’s a long way to go before the people of Puerto Rico are freed from the shackles of colonialism and oppression.
Rossello and his cabal are yet another example of consolidated, abusive power manifested by dominant hierarchies grounded in structural violence. Their words and actions are reflections of the colonial mindset: An unrelenting drive to dominate the world’s resources while maintaining a societal structure that keeps us—the oppressed—in a constant state of struggle (read: distraction).
But we’ve had enough. Many people believe we’re standing on the precipice of social change similar to the Industrial Revolution of a few hundred years ago, or even the Agricultural Revolution of ten thousand years ago. Millions of people around the world are awakening to a new state of consciousness, fueled by centuries of unlimited growth, material consumption, structural violence, and the commodification of black and brown bodies.
Fueled by a long history of resistance, people on the island and throughout the diaspora have been pushing against these simmering forces for generations that are now erupting in a critical moment of change. Besides the governor’s resignation, there are a number of additional demands including:
- Corporations and individuals who profited from the crisis must be investigated and those who broke the law should be prosecuted.
- All Puerto Rico bankruptcy proceedings must be halted until the political conditions on the island stabilized. Whoever assumes power should immediately start a process of auditing the debt, protecting essential services and pensions in the bankruptcy proceedings, and reject further austerity.
- Re-establish the budget of the University of Puerto Rico.
- Make public the demographic profile of the people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria.
- Declare a state of emergency to address gender-based violence on the island.
- Stop the implementation of charter schools.
You can learn more here.
Harm reductionists and our social justice comrades all over the world are moving away from capitalist patriarchal values like hierarchy, individualism, and centralized power, and moving toward the intersectional values of inclusivity, cooperation, nurturance, interrelationship, and love–all of which are embodied in the harm reduction philosophy.
“Harm Reduction as a social movement stands on the basic principles of radical social justice and human rights,” states Rafi Torruella, Executive Director of Intercambios Puerto Rico. “[W]e are now confronting, literally, those in our political class who are deeply corrupt and show no sensibility or compassion to diversity and our basic humanity. Our call from Puerto Rico is for harm reductionists to stand in solidarity with, and celebrate, our resistance as we create a new decolonized Puerto Rico that stands proud as we work toward radical inclusion through radical love.”
At Harm Reduction Coalition, we believe that the issues that impact one, impact us all. By standing in solidarity with Puerto Rico and other communities fighting to break free from oppression, we are challenging ourselves to get rooted in principled struggle and intersecting issues. One way to do this is to examine and address the institutional racism that shows up in our individual and collective beliefs and practices. Part of this work means deepening our collective understanding of complex issues, like the history of structural violence and colonialism in Puerto Rico.
We don’t claim to be experts on any of these issues, but we know the war on drugs/people will never end if we don’t seek out information that the nightly news won’t give us. Join us in our evolution, and take some time to learn about the history of Puerto Rican resistance, resilience, and revolution by checking out the resources below. And if you’re planning to come to the conference next year, make sure you do your damn homework and arm yourself with this knowledge so you/we don’t perpetuate harm!
The people of Puerto Rico have suffered under the colonizers’ hands for centuries, but they do not suffer alone. We see you Puerto Rico. We see you and stand with you because harm to one is harm to us all.