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Puerto Rico’s Pursuit of Colonial Reparations: A Path to Justice and Economic Revival

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By: Javier A. Hernandez

For decades, the issue of colonial reparations for Puerto Rico has persisted, recently gaining renewed interest among decolonization advocates. The United States owes Puerto Rico reparations for 125 years of colonization, human rights violations, and economic exploitation. Renowned legal scholars assert that international law supports Puerto Rico’s right to reparations based on the UN Principles and Guidelines on human rights violations.

Historical Context, Challenges & Precedents

The concept of reparations is controversial and challenging to implement. Puerto Rico must seek reparations from both Spain and the United States, though the willingness of either nation to negotiate remains doubtful. The U.S. has historically ignored reparations discussions for African-Americans, Hawaiians, and Native Americans, making it unlikely they would engage with Puerto Rico on this issue. Despite this resistance, examples from other nations provide a blueprint for pursuing justice.

Germany’s post-World War II reparations to Israel and Jewish Holocaust survivors, totaling billions of marks, significantly helped Israel build its economy and infrastructure. More recently, Germany agreed to compensate Namibia for colonial atrocities. Similarly, Jamaica is seeking $8.5 billion from Britain for the transatlantic slave trade. In 2013, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) established a reparations commission to seek compensation from former colonial powers.

In the U.S., President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, recognizing the wrongful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and providing $20,000 to each survivor. These examples illustrate that reparations, while difficult to achieve, are possible and can pave the way for justice and economic development.

Economic & Human Costs of Colonialism

Puerto Rican Economist Dr. José Israel Alameda Lozada estimates the cost of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico from 1900 to 2017 at over $6.1 trillion. This figure includes the total value of land use and human resources exploited during the colonial period. If Puerto Rico secured this amount, it could receive $122.1 billion annually for 50 years, providing a substantial foundation for economic revival.

Additional damages include environmental and military impacts, such as the expropriation and use of Ft. Buchanan since 1923, a potential backpay worth up to $56.5 billion. Decades of colonial and federal political persecution (which included arrests, assassinations, massacres, imprisonment of patriots, banning our national flag and anthem, the Gag Law of 1948, and other such colonial crimes against humanity) and the criminalization of the independence movement also warrant compensation. Based on compensation calculations used in the UK, the estimated 128,000 victims of direct colonial political persecution should receive $142.2 billion.

The psychological impact and humiliation of colonialism and national servitude also demand reparations. With approximately nine million Puerto Ricans globally, a fair compensation of $1,000,000 per person for these cruel damages would total $9 trillion.

Calculating Total Reparations

Combining these estimates, Puerto Rico could justifiably claim $15.3 trillion in reparations. Even if this amount is reduced by half, Puerto Rico would still be entitled to $7.6 trillion, or $153 billion annually over 50 years. Such reparations would transform Puerto Rico into one of the wealthiest nations in the region, facilitating unprecedented economic growth and development after centuries of colonial exploitation and wealth extraction.

Pragmatic Approaches to Support

Recognizing the improbability of the United States and Spain providing such extensive monetary reparations, alternative forms of support and “compensatory financing” must be considered. These measures can facilitate Puerto Rico’s transition to national sovereignty and economic independence:

  1. Debt Cancellation & Economic Reconstruction: The United States must cancel Puerto Rico’s colonial debt and implement a “Marshall Plan”-type economic development and reconstruction program. This plan would compensate for the economic damage caused by over 125 years of exploitative U.S. colonialism, enabling Puerto Rico to build a productive national economy. Historical precedents, such as the U.S. Senate’s commitment to economic support in Senate Bill S. 712 (1989-1991), reinforce the feasibility of this approach.
  2. Annual Economic Assistance: The United States could provide annual block funds as “economic assistance” for 30-50 years, replacing direct reparations and supporting Puerto Rico’s national economic development plan.
  3. Investment Promotion: The United States and Spain should promote investments and the establishment of American and Spanish companies in Puerto Rico. This investment would stimulate economic growth and provide job opportunities for thousands of Puerto Rican professionals, workers, and entrepreneurs.
  4. Export Promotion: Both countries should encourage the importation of Puerto Rican products and services, leveraging trade agreements to boost Puerto Rico’s export economy.
  5. Visa Waivers: Negotiating visa waiver agreements would facilitate free transit for citizens, tourists, businessmen, and students between Puerto Rico, the U.S., and Spain, enhancing cultural and economic exchanges.
  6. Law of Historical Memory: Spain could legislate a “Law of Historical Memory for Puerto Ricans,” granting Spanish citizenship to Puerto Ricans with pre-1898 ancestry. This initiative would open numerous opportunities for Puerto Ricans, fostering stronger political, cultural, family, and economic ties between the countries.
  7. Support from Development Agencies: U.S. and Spanish development agencies, such as USAID and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, could support various economic, agricultural, energy, infrastructure, and community projects across Puerto Rico.


A Six-Point Reparations Plan

To formalize these efforts, a Six-Point Reparations Plan for Puerto Rico is proposed:

  1. Formal Apologies: Spain and the United States should issue formal apologies for imposing colonialism and its disastrous effects on Puerto Rico.
  2. Monetary Compensation: Both countries should negotiate fair economic assistance funds, allowing Puerto Rico to establish a production-based national economy, infrastructure projects, energy projects, and socioeconomic development programs.
  3. Institutional Support: Both countries should support institutions and programs focused on cultural, health, agricultural, industrial, cooperative, maritime, educational, scientific, community, and socioeconomic development.
  4. Program Support: Support for decolonization, international recognition, economic development programs, technology transfer, environmental programs, educational programs, and university programs should be provided.
  5. Free Transit & Trade Agreements: Agreements promoting free transit, investment, and market access between Puerto Rico, the U.S., and Spain should be negotiated.
  6. Colonial Debt Cancellation: The odious colonial debt must be canceled to relieve Puerto Rico of the financial burdens imposed by colonial rule.

The pursuit of reparations is essential for Puerto Rico’s future. As a U.S. state or under the status quo colonial regime, Puerto Rico would have no right to reparations nor a brighter future. Only as a free and sovereign nation can Puerto Rico effectively demand, negotiate, and implement reparations and support measures from Spain and the United States. This article aims to promote this important conversation and inspire action toward justice and economic revival for Puerto Rico.

Javier A. Hernández is a Puerto Rican writer, educator, business owner, and pro-sovereignty activist. He authored “PREXIT: Forging Puerto Rico’s Path to Sovereignty” and “Puerto Rico: The Economic Case for Sovereignty,” among other articles, books, and works on Puerto Rican decolonization and sovereignty. X: @PRexitBook


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