Hurricane Maria started in 1898: how America spent more than a century brutalizing Puerto Rico

Nelson A Denis is the author of War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America's Colony, a highly regarded, bestselling 2016 history of the injustices perpetrated against Puerto Rico by successive American governments starting in 1898 and continuing literally to this present day.

In a wide-ranging interview with Truth-Out, Denis relates a capsule history of Puerto Rico and explains how the both the hurricane devastation and the official indifference to the plight of millions of Americans in its aftermath are part of a wider, century-plus pattern of abuse, neglect, exploitation and terror.

When Pedro Albizu Campos led an island-wide agricultural strike in January-February 1934, which succeeded in doubling the sugarcane workers' wages from 75 cents a day to $1.50 per day, the US government immediately:

• Sent down US Army General Blanton Winship as the new governor of Puerto Rico;

• Sent down Col. E. Francis Riggs as the new Chief of Police;

• Winship and Riggs immediately militarized the entire Insular Police force with machine guns, grenades, riot gear and "tommy gun training";

• FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent down hundreds of FBI agents to "collect intelligence" on Puerto Rican Nationalists – particularly Albizu Campos;

• Hoover ordered a secret FBI file program known as carpetas. Over a period of six decades (1930s-1990s) the FBI collected carpetas on over 100,000 Puerto Ricans, totaling over 1.8 million pages;

• Albizu Campos was jailed within 15 months of the agricultural strike in July 1936. He died in 1965.

During those 29 years, 25 of them were spent in prison. During the other 4 years, he was surrounded by a 6-man FBI agent detail – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It required 25 FBI agents to maintain this 6-man rotation.

When Campos returned from prison in December 1947, Public Law 53 was passed in Puerto Rico. This "Gag Law," as described above, abrogated the First Amendment rights of over 2 million Puerto Ricans, in order to shut one of them up (Albizu Campos).

All newspaper communications off the island were controlled by a handful of AP and UPI wire service reporters. There was no television, internet; and radio transmission from PR to the US was virtually nonexistent. Under these conditions, Albizu Campos realized that the only way to get word off island, about its true colonial existence, was to raise a revolution that could capture world attention. Winning was out of the question. The US had just pulverized Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But it was possible to model an uprising after the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland, which could make a powerful moral statement about how the US was treating this island.

For this reason, Albizu Campos and the Nationalists planned the October 1950 revolution. Even though this revolution included the bombing of two towns (Jayuya and Utuado) by 10 US P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes, the attempted assassination of President Harry Truman, and the arrest of 3,000 Puerto Ricans, President Truman dismissed it as "an incident between Puerto Ricans."

The irony of all this, is that George Orwell published 1984 in 1948-49. It was an instant, international bestseller in the UK and US … at the same time that the US was running a totalitarian Orwellian colony in Puerto Rico.

How the United States Economically and Politically Strangled Puerto Rico
[Mark Karlin/Truth-Out]

(via Naked Capitalism)