Chomsky: Trump’s #1 Goal as President

Donald Trump’s policies will devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans.

Noam Chomsky discusses the recent climate agreement between the US and China, the rise of the Islamic State and the movement in Ferguson against racism and police violence. 
Photo Credit: screen grab via GRITtv

[This interview has been excerpted from Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy, the new book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian to be published this December.] 

David Barsamian: You have spoken about the difference between Trump’s buffoonery, which gets endlessly covered by the media, and the actual policies he is striving to enact, which receive less attention. Do you think he has any coherent economic, political, or international policy goals? What has Trump actually managed to accomplish in his first months in office? 

Noam Chomsky: There is a diversionary process under way, perhaps just a natural result of the propensities of the figure at center stage and those doing the work behind the curtains.

At one level, Trump’s antics ensure that attention is focused on him, and it makes little difference how. Who even remembers the charge that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, depriving the pathetic little man of his Grand Victory? Or the accusation that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The claims themselves don’t really matter. It’s enough that attention is diverted from what is happening in the background. There, out of the spotlight, the most savage fringe of the Republican Party is carefully advancing policies designed to enrich their true constituency: the Constituency of private power and wealth, “the masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase.

These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that’s of little concern to the Republicans. They’ve been trying to push through similarly destructive legislation for years. Paul Ryan, for example, has long been advertising his ideal of virtually eliminating the federal government, apart from service to the Constituency — though in the past he’s wrapped his proposals in spreadsheets so they would look wonkish to commentators. Now, while attention is focused on Trump’s latest mad doings, the Ryan gang and the executive branch are ramming through legislation and orders that undermine workers’ rights, cripple consumer protections, and severely harm rural communities. They seek to devastate health programs, revoking the taxes that pay for them in order to further enrich their Constituency, and to eviscerate the Dodd-Frank Act, which imposed some much-needed constraints on the predatory financial system that grew during the neoliberal period.

That’s just a sample of how the wrecking ball is being wielded by the newly empowered Republican Party. Indeed, it is no longer a political party in the traditional sense. Conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have described it more accurately as a “radical insurgency,” one that has abandoned normal parliamentary politics.

Much of this is being carried out stealthily, in closed sessions, with as little public notice as possible. Other Republican policies are more open, such as pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, thereby isolating the U.S. as a pariah state that refuses to participate in international efforts to confront looming environmental disaster. Even worse, they are intent on maximizing the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous; dismantling regulations; and sharply cutting back on research and development of alternative energy sources, which will soon be necessary for decent survival.

The reasons behind the policies are a mix. Some are simply service to the Constituency. Others are of little concern to the “masters of mankind” but are designed to hold on to segments of the voting bloc that the Republicans have cobbled together, since Republican policies have shifted so far to the right that their actual proposals would not attract voters. For example, terminating support for family planning is not service to the Constituency. Indeed, that group may mostly support family planning. But terminating that support appeals to the evangelical Christian base — voters who close their eyes to the fact that they are effectively advocating more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, increasing the frequency of resort to abortion, under harmful and even lethal conditions.

Not all of the damage can be blamed on the con man who is nominally in charge, on his outlandish appointments, or on the congressional forces he has unleashed. Some of the most dangerous developments under Trump trace back to Obama initiatives — initiatives passed, to be sure, under pressure from the Republican Congress.

The most dangerous of these has barely been reported. A very important study in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, published in March 2017, reveals that the Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased “the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three — and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” As the analysts point out, this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in past years only shows how fragile our survival is. Now this program is being carried forward under Trump. These developments, along with the threat of environmental disaster, cast a dark shadow over everything else — and are barely discussed, while attention is claimed by the performances of the showman at center stage.

Whether Trump has any idea what he and his henchmen are up to is not clear. Perhaps he is completely authentic: an ignorant, thin-skinned megalomaniac whose only ideology is himself. But what is happening under the rule of the extremist wing of the Republican organization is all too plain.

DB: Do you see any encouraging activity on the Democrats’ side? Or is it time to begin thinking about a third party? 

NC: There is a lot to think about. The most remarkable feature of the 2016 election was the Bernie Sanders campaign, which broke the pattern set by over a century of U.S. political history. A substantial body of political science research convincingly establishes that elections are pretty much bought; campaign funding alone is a remarkably good predictor of electability, for Congress as well as for the presidency. It also predicts the decisions of elected officials. Correspondingly, a considerable majority of the electorate — those lower on the income scale — are effectively disenfranchised, in that their representatives disregard their preferences. In this light, there is little surprise in the victory of a billionaire TV star with substantial media backing: direct backing from the leading cable channel, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, and from highly influential right-wing talk radio; indirect but lavish backing from the rest of the major media, which was entranced by Trump’s antics and the advertising revenue that poured in.

The Sanders campaign, on the other hand, broke sharply from the prevailing model. Sanders was barely known. He had virtually no support from the main funding sources, was ignored or derided by the media, and labeled himself with the scare word “socialist.” Yet he is now the most popular political figure in the country by a large margin.

At the very least, the success of the Sanders campaign shows that many options can be pursued even within the stultifying two-party framework, with all of the institutional barriers to breaking free of it. During the Obama years, the Democratic Party disintegrated at the local and state levels. The party had largely abandoned the working class years earlier, even more so with Clinton trade and fiscal policies that undermined U.S. manufacturing and the fairly stable employment it provided.

There is no dearth of progressive policy proposals. The program developed by Robert Pollin in his book Greening the Global Economy is one very promising approach. Gar Alperovitz’s work on building an authentic democracy based on worker self-management is another. Practical implementations of these approaches and related ideas are taking shape in many different ways. Popular organizations, some of them outgrowths of the Sanders campaign, are actively engaged in taking advantage of the many opportunities that are available.

At the same time, the established two-party framework, though venerable, is by no means graven in stone. It’s no secret that in recent years, traditional political institutions have been declining in the industrial democracies, under the impact of what is called “populism.” That term is used rather loosely to refer to the wave of discontent, anger, and contempt for institutions that has accompanied the neoliberal assault of the past generation, which led to stagnation for the majority alongside a spectacular concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

Functioning democracy erodes as a natural effect of the concentration of economic power, which translates at once to political power by familiar means, but also for deeper and more principled reasons. The doctrinal pretense is that the transfer of decision-making from the public sector to the “market” contributes to individual freedom, but the reality is different. The transfer is from public institutions, in which voters have some say, insofar as democracy is functioning, to private tyrannies — the corporations that dominate the economy — in which voters have no say at all. In Europe, there is an even more direct method of undermining the threat of democracy: placing crucial decisions in the hands of the unelected troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission — which heeds the northern banks and the creditor community, not the voting population.

These policies are dedicated to making sure that society no longer exists, Margaret Thatcher’s famous description of the world she perceived — or, more accurately, hoped to create: one where there is no society, only individuals. This was Thatcher’s unwitting paraphrase of Marx’s bitter condemnation of repression in France, which left society as a “sack of potatoes,” an amorphous mass that cannot function. In the contemporary case, the tyrant is not an autocratic ruler — in the West, at least — but concentrations of private power.

The collapse of centrist governing institutions has been evident in elections: in France in mid-2017 and in the United States a few months earlier, where the two candidates who mobilized popular forces were Sanders and Trump — though Trump wasted no time in demonstrating the fraudulence of his “populism” by quickly ensuring that the harshest elements of the old establishment would be firmly ensconced in power in the luxuriating “swamp.”

These processes might lead to a breakdown of the rigid American system of one-party business rule with two competing factions, with varying voting blocs over time. They might provide an opportunity for a genuine “people’s party” to emerge, a party where the voting bloc is the actual constituency, and the guiding values merit respect.

DB: Trump’s first foreign trip was to Saudi Arabia. What significance do you see in that, and what does it mean for broader Middle East policies? And what do you make of Trump’s animus toward Iran?

NC: Saudi Arabia is the kind of place where Trump feels right at home: a brutal dictatorship, miserably repressive (notoriously so for women’s rights, but in many other areas as well), the leading producer of oil (now being overtaken by the United States), and with plenty of money. The trip produced promises of massive weapons sales — greatly cheering the Constituency — and vague intimations of other Saudi gifts. One of the consequences was that Trump’s Saudi friends were given a green light to escalate their disgraceful atrocities in Yemen and to discipline Qatar, which has been a shade too independent of the Saudi masters. Iran is a factor there. Qatar shares a natural gas field with Iran and has commercial and cultural relations with it, frowned upon by the Saudis and their deeply reactionary associates.

Iran has long been regarded by U.S. leaders, and by U.S. media commentary, as extraordinarily dangerous, perhaps the most dangerous country on the planet. This goes back to well before Trump. In the doctrinal system, Iran is a dual menace: it is the leading supporter of terrorism, and its nuclear programs pose an existential threat to Israel, if not the whole world. It is so dangerous that Obama had to install an advanced air defense system near the Russian border to protect Europe from Iranian nuclear weapons — which don’t exist, and which, in any case, Iranian leaders would use only if possessed by a desire to be instantly incinerated in return.

That’s the doctrinal system. In the real world, Iranian support for terrorism translates to support for Hezbollah, whose major crime is that it is the sole deterrent to yet another destructive Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and for Hamas, which won a free election in the Gaza Strip — a crime that instantly elicited harsh sanctions and led the U.S. government to prepare a military coup. Both organizations, it is true, can be charged with terrorist acts, though not anywhere near the amount of terrorism that stems from Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the formation and actions of jihadi networks.

As for Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, U.S. intelligence has confirmed what anyone can easily figure out for themselves: if they exist, they are part of Iran’s deterrent strategy. There is also the unmentionable fact that any concern about Iranian weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) could be alleviated by the simple means of heeding Iran’s call to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Such a zone is strongly supported by the Arab states and most of the rest of the world and is blocked primarily by the United States, which wishes to protect Israel’s WMD capabilities.

Since the doctrinal system falls apart on inspection, we are left with the task of finding the true reasons for U.S. animus toward Iran. Possibilities readily come to mind. The United States and Israel cannot tolerate an independent force in a region that they take to be theirs by right. An Iran with a nuclear deterrent is unacceptable to rogue states that want to rampage however they wish throughout the Middle East. But there is more to it than that. Iran cannot be forgiven for overthrowing the dictator installed by Washington in a military coup in 1953, a coup that destroyed Iran’s parliamentary regime and its unconscionable belief that Iran might have some claim on its own natural resources. The world is too complex for any simple description, but this seems to me the core of the tale.

It also wouldn’t hurt to recall that in the past six decades, scarcely a day has passed when Washington was not tormenting Iranians. After the 1953 military coup came U.S. support for a dictator described by Amnesty International as a leading violator of fundamental human rights. Immediately after his overthrow came the U.S.-backed invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein, no small matter. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed, many by chemical weapons. Reagan’s support for his friend Saddam was so extreme that when Iraq attacked a U.S. ship, the USS Stark, killing 37 American sailors, it received only a light tap on the wrist in response. Reagan also sought to blame Iran for Saddam’s horrendous chemical warfare attacks on Iraqi Kurds.

Eventually, the United States intervened directly in the Iran-Iraq War, leading to Iran’s bitter capitulation. Afterward, George H. W. Bush invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in nuclear weapons production — an extraordinary threat to Iran, quite apart from its other implications. And, of course, Washington has been the driving force behind harsh sanctions against Iran that continue to the present day.

Trump, for his part, has joined the harshest and most repressive dictators in shouting imprecations at Iran. As it happens, Iran held an election during his Middle East travel extravaganza — an election which, however flawed, would be unthinkable in the land of his Saudi hosts, who also happen to be the source of the radical Islamism that is poisoning the region. But U.S. animus against Iran goes far beyond Trump himself. It includes those regarded as the “adults” in the Trump administration, like James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the secretary of defense. And it stretches a long way into the past.

DB: What are the strategic issues where Korea is concerned? Can anything be done to defuse the growing conflict? 

NC: Korea has been a festering problem since the end of World War II, when the hopes of Koreans for unification of the peninsula were blocked by the intervention of the great powers, the United States bearing primary responsibility.

The North Korean dictatorship may well win the prize for brutality and repression, but it is seeking and to some extent carrying out economic development, despite the overwhelming burden of a huge military system. That system includes, of course, a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond — but its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.

Today, we are instructed that the great challenge faced by the world is how to compel North Korea to freeze these nuclear and missile programs. Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation; to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which China regards as a serious threat to its own interests; perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea — which, it is understood, would elicit retaliation by massed artillery, devastating Seoul and much of South Korea even without the use of nuclear weapons.

But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: we could simply accept North Korea’s offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: it calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea’s borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.

The Chinese-North Korean proposal is hardly unreasonable. North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by U.S. bombing, and many may recall how U.S. forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which “the Asian” depends for survival. They are very much worth reading, a useful part of historical memory.

The offer to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea’s border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed. Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by U.S. commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.

The 2017 South Korean elections may offer a ray of hope. Newly elected President Moon Jae-in seems intent on reversing the harsh confrontationist policies of his predecessor. He has called for exploring diplomatic options and taking steps toward reconciliation, which is surely an improvement over the angry fist-waving that might lead to real disaster.

DB: You have in the past expressed concern about the European Union. What do you think will happen as Europe becomes less tied to the U.S. and the U.K.? 

NC: The E.U. has fundamental problems, notably the single currency with no political union. It also has many positive features. There are some sensible ideas aimed at saving what is good and improving what is harmful. Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 initiative for a democratic Europe is a promising approach.

The U.K. has often been a U.S. surrogate in European politics. Brexit might encourage Europe to take a more independent role in world affairs, a course that might be accelerated by Trump policies that increasingly isolate us from the world. While he is shouting loudly and waving an enormous stick, China could take the lead on global energy policies while extending its influence to the west and, ultimately, to Europe, based on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the New Silk Road.

That Europe might become an independent “third force” has been a matter of concern to U.S. planners since World War II. There have long been discussions of something like a Gaullist conception of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals or, in more recent years, Gorbachev’s vision of a common Europe from Brussels to Vladivostok.

Whatever happens, Germany is sure to retain a dominant role in European affairs. It is rather startling to hear a conservative German chancellor, Angela Merkel, lecturing her U.S. counterpart on human rights, and taking the lead, at least for a time, in confronting the refugee issue, Europe’s deep moral crisis. On the other hand, Germany’s insistence on austerity and paranoia about inflation and its policy of promoting exports by limiting domestic consumption have no slight responsibility for Europe’s economic distress, particularly the dire situation of the peripheral economies. In the best case, however, which is not beyond imagination, Germany could influence Europe to become a generally positive force in world affairs.

DB: What do you make of the conflict between the Trump administration and the U.S. intelligence communities? Do you believe in the “deep state”?

NC: There is a national security bureaucracy that has persisted since World War II. And national security analysts, in and out of government, have been appalled by many of Trump’s wild forays. Their concerns are shared by the highly credible experts who set the Doomsday Clock, advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight as soon as Trump took office — the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the U.S. and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. But I see little sign that it goes beyond that, that there is any secret “deep state” conspiracy. 

DB: To conclude, as we look forward to your 89th birthday, I wonder: Do you have a theory of longevity? 

NC: Yes, it’s simple, really. If you’re riding a bicycle and you don’t want to fall off, you have to keep going — fast.


Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is

David Barsamian, the director of the award-winning and widely syndicated Alternative Radio, is the winner of the Lannan Foundation’s 2006 Cultural Freedom Fellowship and the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.


Thirteen dead, thousands displaced as wildfires rip through northern California

By Trévon Austin
10 October 2017

At least 13 people have died and more than 20,000 evacuated, in what authorities are calling one of the most destructive fire emergencies in California’s history. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, an estimated 2,000 structures have been destroyed and 73,000 acres burned.

Firefighters are battling at least 15 different fires spread across eight counties—Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Yuba, Nevada, Calaveras, and Butte.

The largest of the blazes began around 10 p.m. Sunday night and spread rapidly due to 50 mph winds and dry conditions in Napa and Sonoma counties, a region known for its vineyards and wineries. The fires sent smoke as far south as San Francisco, about 60 miles away.

The fire spread so quickly that some residents received an official evacuation notice three hours after they had already evacuated in the face of the advancing flames.

A group of elderly evacuees in Sonoma County, California

A large section of Santa Rosa, a city with about 175,000 in Sonoma County, has been ordered to evacuate. Over 200 patients were forced to evacuate from Kaiser Permanente Hospital and Sutter Hospital, including expectant mothers. At Kaiser Permanente, nurses had to race patients away from the area in their own personal vehicles.

Over 100 patients have been treated at local Napa and Sonoma county hospitals for fire-related illnesses—including burns, smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.

The immediate cause of the fire is unknown but authorities noted that dry conditions made it easy for the fires to spread. Janet Upton, a deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the New York Times that October is typically the busiest month for wildfires in California. Low humidity, dry conditions, a buildup of vegetation, and heavy winds known as diablo winds create prime conditions for wildfires to spread rapidly. “Combined, that’s a recipe for disaster,” she noted.

“I’ve been with the department for 31 years, and some years are notorious,” Upton said, concluding, “I’m afraid that 2017 is going to be added to that list now.”

Governor Jerry Brown issued an emergency proclamation for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties. “These fires have destroyed structures and continue to threaten thousands of homes, necessitating the evacuation of thousands of residents,” his emergency proclamation stated.

“This is really serious. It’s moving fast. The heat, the lack of humidity and the winds are all driving a very dangerous situation and making it worse,” Brown said at a news conference. “It’s not under control by any means. But we’re on it in the best way we know how.”

Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann pointed to a lack of resources that exacerbates the danger posed by wildfires and limits the ability to contain fires when they break out. “As of right now, with these conditions, we can’t get in front of this fire and do anything about the forward progress,” he said. Firefighters have been forced to focus on evacuation efforts.

Because fires are blazing in more than one part of California, firefighters are not able to focus their efforts on properly combating the flames.

Additionally, state and federal budgets have not kept up with the increasing scope and intensity of wildfires. At the beginning of this month, before the latest fires, Cal Fire had used $250 million of its $426.9 million emergency fund which was expected to last until June of next year.

On federal lands, which account for one-third of the state, there is no emergency fund for fighting wildfires, meaning that money is taken from fire prevention and forest health budgets, only exacerbating the dangers.

“So real work on the ground to reduce the intensity of fires isn’t getting done or is being delayed,” the director of Cal Fire, Ken Pimlott, told KQED news earlier this month. “It really just further exacerbates the intensity of fires because we can’t get on the federal ground in particular to get the fuels treated.”

Recent budget cuts have also hampered efforts to prevent and battle wildfires. California’s proposed 2017-18 budget cut funds for local efforts to remove dead trees to just $2 million. Acres of dead trees are a central problem fueling wildfires.

Cal Fire saw funding slashed nearly in half from $91 million to $41.7 million for the extended fire season, increased firefighter surge capacity, Conservation Corps fire suppression crews, and aerial assets.

Active wildfires were reported across the state this weekend. A fire burning through Orange County in Southern California burned multiple structures and forced residents of about 1,000 homes to evacuate. The wildfire spread over more than 4,000 acres and has burned at least six buildings in Anaheim.


Puerto Rico is facing an historic crisis

Puerto Rico is facing one of the worst human disasters in its history following two powerful hurricanes that devastated the island. The scale and scope of the crisis are still not fully known. What is clear, however, is that Puerto Rico’s colonial overlords in Washington are determined to do as little as they can to help the victims. The federal response has been painfully slow and totally inadequate to meeting the island’s needs.

Donald Trump added insult to injury last weekend when he lashed out at the mayor of San Juan on Twitter for daring to appeal for more federal aid. Trump complained that Puerto Ricans “are not able to get their workers to help” and “want everything to be done for them.” Meanwhile, in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, protesters took to the streets to demand immediate emergency relief. In the midst of this developing situation, two Puerto Rican artists and activists, Jael Pimentel and Yara Liceaga-Rojas, talked with Dorian B.about the crisis–and about resistance on the island.

Families line up for water in Puerto Rico

Families line up for water in Puerto Rico

WHAT ARE conditions like on the ground in Puerto Rico? How severe is the humanitarian crisis?

Jael: There are many parts of the country outside the San Juan metro area that are completely without electricity, without any form of communication. Their roads are blocked and in many cases their situation is unknown.

Yara: There are massive infestations of mosquitos and rats because of the accumulation of rotting garbage. There were many animals killed during the storm, and they haven’t been removed. At several cemeteries that were badly flooded, bodies have been forced from their graves by the water and are now just lying out in the open. Conditions are seriously unsanitary.

Many people are ill. The lack of air conditioning in the hospitals is leading to the spread of bacteria and bacterial infections. There are many hospitals in really bad condition, so much so that family members of patients are no longer being let in because it’s unsafe.

Jael: Not only that, but people have no food. I have a cousin who waited in line for four hours. She was given three cans of spaghetti for five people.

Yara: Supermarkets are empty. Gas is being rationed out. You have to wait up to seven or eight hours in your car to get gas, only to be sold $10 to $15 of gas.


Several grassroots organizations are taking donations to support ongoing efforts to bring immediate relief in Puerto Rico, reach the most vulnerable populations and foster an equitable rebuilding of the island. SW urges its readers to prioritize these grassroots efforts over mainstream NGOs.

— Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico

— Hurricane Maria Community Relief and Recovery Fund

— Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico (donate via Paypal to

— Feminist Solidarity Post-Hurricane Relief Fund organized by Colectiva Feminista

Jael: There are endless lines for everything. I really want to stress this because someone like my father, who is 85 years old, has tried to wait in lines twice already, but has had to leave because of his physical condition. He woke up at 3:30 a.m. one day to cue up for five hours to get gas. The elderly simply cannot stand in line for five hours. There are many people who are unable to access a lot of basic supplies.

HOW MUCH do we know about the loss of life so far?

Yara: The number of dead is far higher than the current official count, which as of this interview is 16. There are no mechanisms in place to actually locate and count the dead. So we really don’t know the number, and it could climb into the hundreds.

The Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico has written a report on the overwhelming number of critically ill people in Puerto Rico’s hospitals. But not only that–they spoke with hospital officials who informed them that there are dozens of deceased people in hospital morgues around the country, who are not yet included in the official count because no one has been able to register or identify them. With little or no air conditioning, these bodies are also quickly decomposing.

Jael: There are many people who have died in remote places. Their families and friends are burying them because there’s no way to transport them to hospitals in town. You know you’re supposed to register the bodies of the deceased, but in an emergency situation like this, you have to either bury the person or leave them on the ground.

This is a full-scale public health crisis. And the U.S. government is really not doing anything to address it. There are medical organizations that could be sent, helicoptered in, to different parts of the island to bring medical professionals who are trained to treat people and provide emergency relief. But that isn’t happening.

People with disabilities are also particularly vulnerable right now. They can’t go out and wait in these five-, six-, seven-hour lines for a couple of cans of spaghetti. What is happening to people in this situation? We don’t yet know. There is still so much we have to find out.

There’s also a shortage of medication. Puerto Rico has high rates of diabetes. There are also a lot of cancer and HIV patients who aren’t receiving medication or treatment. Often this is because the medication needs to be refrigerated, and there is no power for that. For people who depend on daily medication, the health consequences are frightening.

IN THE midst of this crisis, there have been many reports about relief supplies sitting in ports that aren’t getting to those in need. Why aren’t these materials being distributed?

Yara: The government authorities at the ports are refusing to distribute the donations, the food and the supplies arriving on the island. This is where the large military presence comes in.

The U.S. military and state national guards are supposedly being mobilized to distribute these supplies all across the archipelago. From what we know, this distribution hasn’t happened yet. What we are constantly hearing from everyone who can post online is that barely anything is being distributed.

Jael: When food arrives at the ports, instead of treating it as emergency supplies, the authorities are going through a long, bureaucratic process. They check every shipping container and make sure their contents meet requirements and regulations, which takes a very long time, especially now when much of that has to be done manually rather than electronically.

But this situation urgently demands a different approach. Officials at the ports must release these containers and distribute the goods because people are dying.

The other point is that the authorities and shipping companies claim that there are not enough drivers to distribute the goods. But we’ve heard multiple stories of people being turned away at the ports when they show up with their own trucks because they’re told they don’t have the right kind of license.

All of the reports that we’ve heard repeat the fact that people are extremely frustrated and angry with the government–the federal government as well as the government of Puerto Rico–and that people are taking matters into their own hands to organize relief themselves.

CAN YOU describe some of what ordinary Puerto Ricans are doing to organize relief?

Yara: People are getting very creative in organizing various kinds of solidarity. Some arts communities, like El Local or Casa Taller, have been making and distributing food. The infrastructure of gas and stoves has collapsed. So these organizations have been giving out meals for free.

People have been going to San Juan’s main financial district, the Milla de Oro, to find buildings with functioning electricity. They’re bringing power strips down there and helping people charge their phones. It’s also one of the few remaining spaces with Internet, where people can communicate with family and friends, both on and off the archipelago.

The initiative to bring power strips to the financial district is quite brilliant because people really don’t have any way to charge their phones, which is the only means of communication with the United States. Most of the information that we know has come through speaking with friends and family on the phone or looking at the things they’ve posted on social media.

Jael: It’s important to emphasize that people are forming many grassroots organizations. Those are the organizations that we’re trying to find ways to donate money to, because that’s what they need.

Yara: And, of course, we also have to recognize that many people are also trying to leave the island right now to escape to safety. But in response, the airlines have jacked up ticket prices to several times the normal cost. So it’s very hard for most people to leave.

And this brings up another issue, which is that, as you might imagine, the crisis unfolding right now is not touching everyone on the island. The rich and the big business owners are doing fine.

The owner of one of the island’s biggest malls, the Plaza las Américas, has electricity in their mall. But it’s closed to the public. The wealthy are hiring others to supply them with generators, water supplies and other materials, while people around them are suffering.

CAN YOU talk about this crisis is affecting the millions of Puerto Ricans who live in the diaspora in the continental U.S.?

Yara: Here in the U.S., we are working really hard to do what we can for our friends and family on the island. Doing this interview is an important part of that work, because people in Puerto Rico really want people here to know what is actually happening. The full story is not reaching the mainstream news.

There are many people who until this day do not know the status of their family members. Many people in Puerto Rico are actually asking those in the U.S. for information about what’s going on, because they can’t gain access to information themselves.

Jael: At the same time, many people on the island have taken it upon themselves to check on the family members of people in the diaspora. People have offered their help through social media and gone to the houses of friends and relatives, which those of us here in the U.S. are trying to reach. One man did this for me and assured me that my parents are okay, after several days of not hearing from them.

Those of us who live in the diaspora have more political rights. We can vote in presidential elections and impact state politics, and we can apply pressure through protests and other actions.

The main demands that I think we need to call for are the cancellation of Puerto Rico’s debt and the repeal of the Jones Act.

There is no way Puerto Rico can recover from this disaster without canceling the debt. Before the storm, people were already going through immense suffering because of the destruction of the social infrastructure due to the onerous debt and austerity measures. The situation was already so bad. Now it’s gone over the edge.

The second thing is that we must demand the repeal of the Jones Act. This law, which forces all incoming ships to first dock in the U.S., not only damages the recovery effort, it makes economic stabilization very difficult. Our taxes are higher, the prices of consumer are goods are higher, and our commercial relationships are restricted. We can’t be economically independent under these conditions.

THE ONGOING reality of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. How do you think this colonial relationship is impacting the current disaster?

Jael: We have to recognize the connection with colonialism. This is why the Jones Act was passed into law–to deny Puerto Ricans access to anything that the U.S. doesn’t approve of. Trump has lifted the Jones Act for only 10 days. Ten days is nothing. It’s going to take a lot of time to get to and treat all of the people on the island who are starving and suffering. That’s not enough time.

We continue to feel like the United States wants to keep Puerto Rico trapped, wants to keep it locked in an imperialistic relationship and isn’t doing enough to help on the ground. Not nearly enough. The U.S. state can go to any country, invade it, find oil and all kinds of things. They organize and do it. And for Puerto Rico, they’re not doing anything.

Yara: I think that both the U.S. and Puerto Rican governments are scared that people on the island will soon begin to resist, to resist what is happening.

People on the ground are living in shock right now. This shock has different stages, from the initial shock to the mobilizations in the streets. People are protesting, because there is obviously no plan, no strategy by the authorities to resolve this crisis, and the situation is quickly deteriorating. Both the governments of the United States and Puerto Rico have failed miserably.

Jael: It’s incredible to watch Trump say that Puerto Rico is hard to reach because it’s in a “big ocean.” He has clearly shown that he has no respect or regard for the people of our country, and he couldn’t care less what happens to us. His response has been absolutely deplorable.

I also want to say that one of the main arguments we’ve heard so far is that Puerto Ricans deserve to be helped because we are American citizens. That may be true, but it’s a bad argument to lead with. We deserve to be helped not because we’re citizens, but because we’re human beings. We have fundamental rights that are being totally violated in this crisis.

Trump’s photo-op in Puerto Rico

By Rafael Azul
4 October 2017

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving millions without electricity, water and other basic necessities, US President Donald Trump did a quick fly-in and fly-out Tuesday to pronounce what a wonderful job his administration has done to address the crisis.

Trump’s entourage included his wife Melania, some cabinet members, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jenniffer González, chairwoman of the Puerto Rico Republican Party and the island’s nonvoting member of the US House of Representative.

The president’s handlers made sure that Trump—who clearly did not want to be there—appeared in public as little as possible to prevent any opportunity for public protest. After a little more than four hours, the president flew off, an hour ahead of schedule.

The people the president did speak to were preselected. He visited an upscale neighborhood in Guaynabo, west of the capital city of San Juan, which has been one of the fastest areas to have electricity, communication and other services restored. At a local church, he threw rolls of paper towels out to a crowd in the most demeaning fashion, later saying, “There’s a lot of love in this room, a lot of love. Great people.”

During his press conference, however, Trump could hardly contain his contempt for the population of the US territory. The recovery effort and the current situation on the island, he claimed, was “really nothing short of a miracle,” adding that it was nothing like the “real catastrophe” that occurred during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Following the press conference, Trump visited the Muñoz Rivera housing project in Guaynabo. One of the housing project residents, Raúl Cardona, told Trump “he should visit the central parts of the islands, where a lot of people have no food, no water, where a lot of people have died. What he saw in Guaynabo was nothing compared to the rest of the island,” Cardona told the ElNuevo Día newspaper about his words with Trump.

Only four percent of the island’s 3.4 million residents have power, more than half do not have clean water, and many residents are washing in rivers. With temperatures in the 90s, the lack of air conditioning and medical attention could lead to further fatalities, particularly among the elderly and infirm. Roads are blocked with debris and standing water is attracting mosquitos that can carry deadly diseases.

Thousands remain in shelters, gasoline is scarce, ATMs are out of money, and many of the supplies sent to the island have been left on docks because of the lack of diesel for trucks. Public schools, which suffered devastating destruction, may not open for six months or more, officials have said.

Trump repeated the official claim of 16 hurricane-related fatalities. After the president left, Governor Ricardo Rosselló raised the death toll to 34. The number of fatalities is expected to grow once rescuers reach more isolated rural and mountainous areas.

Earlier in the morning, the island’s Secretary of Public Health Héctor Pesquera announced there were more than 100 cadavers in hospitals around the island, which are currently being examined to determine if they died as a result of the hurricane, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century.

Governor Rosselló—the MIT-trained politician who was a Clinton delegate during the Democratic Party convention last year—dutifully suppressed this information during Trump’s visit. The president later praised Rosselló for “not playing politics.”

Trump previously denounced Puerto Rican residents for the massive debt owed to the Wall Street banks, which is the result of the island’s colonial legacy, a decades-long economic recession and wholesale looting by financial speculators who control Puerto Rican debt. Rosselló and his predecessors have imposed savage austerity measures, and the island, which declared bankruptcy last May, is currently under the dictatorship of a financial oversight board imposed by the Obama administration.

During a press conference, Trump—who is proposing the largest tax cut for corporations and the rich in history—complained that the recovery effort was costing the US government too much money. “Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Rosselló, who has revised upward his government’s estimate of the cost of rebuilding the island’s infrastructure to $90 billion, is seeking a low-interest emergency line of credit as soon as possible, saying otherwise the government will run out of public funds by next week.

Trump has complained that Puerto Rican residents are not helping themselves enough and are essentially expecting government handouts. Last week he poured scorn via text message from his luxury golf course on local officials, including the mayor of San Juan, for complaining about the slowness of the administration’s response.

Shortly after Trump had left the island, US federal authorities denied Puerto Rico’s petition that recipients of food stamps (which are used by 46 percent of the population) be allowed to purchase meals in fast-food restaurants, given the scarcity of food in the island’s supermarkets.




Memento Mori: a Requiem for Puerto Rico

Photo by Chief National Guard Bure | CC BY 2.0

Puerto Rico is not large enough to stand alone. We must govern it wisely and well, primarily in the interest of its own people.

–Theodore Roosevelt

Puerto Rico is dying.

Let those words sink in.

Three and a half million people are without power, water, fuel, food, and support. This isn’t some uninhabited atoll. This is where I grew up. This is where my family lives. This is my home.

And my home is dying.

I have been desperately trying to come up with the right words to express what I feel and what I think for the better part of a day. My social media has as of late provided me with a space to write my remarks, observations, and more often than not, rants about the situation on Puerto Rico. I shared my anxieties when hours, then days passed without a word from my family. I cried in silent sobs at the pictures that slowly started to come out of the island. Despair began to unite the large Puerto Rican diaspora as we comforted each other, and waited as the absolute silence became more and more unbearable.

“Have you heard from…”

“Does anyone have any information about my hometown…”

“My mom, she’s not well, I can’t reach her…”

“I can’t find my partner…”

It was only last Friday when I had proof of life from my family in my hometown of Arecibo. And it was on Sunday that I was finally able to speak to them over the phone. Speak… more like share moments of absolute joy and tears of happiness. Of feeling born again. And with that memory fresh in my mind, I sat down to write.

Nothing came except tears. I’m crying as I write this.

How can one put into words how it feels to be completely powerless as the world I’ve always known slowly turns into Hell for those that I love the most? How can one fully express in words that could convey, in any way, the overwhelming sense of constant pain, of horrible uncertainty, the fear of loss, and the fury over what is, in the end, an unnatural disaster? And how can I live with myself for not being there?

How can I explain to people that Puerto Rico, my home, my island, my heart and soul, is dying?

The fear of death is an eternal companion in these situations. So as my country slowly agonizes, would it be appropriate for me to write a eulogy for its seemingly inevitable death? Perhaps some choice words as a send-off to the oldest colony in the world?  As Donald Trump, the biggest psychopath to occupy the Oval Office so far, finally relents to growing public pressure and announces that federal funds will be made available in full to Puerto Rico, and as more aid slowly makes its way to the island, could I dare hope for a stay of its execution? Or is this just another delay in its pre-ordained death-by-empire?

President Trump’s message to Puerto Rico was clear: pay up and drop dead. The island is expected to pay its imaginary debt for the dubious “privilege” of being an imperial colony in the way it’s always done so: in blood. Wall Street’s interests have priority over securing the very survival of nearly four million people. God forbid that millionaire Wall Street bondholders suffer the horror of payment forfeiture over a minor inconvenience like Hurricane María, only the worst storm in eighty years!

The president initially denied full federal assistance to the island and refused to suspend the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, or Jones Act, that has for nearly a century strangled commerce to and from Puerto Rico. Because of this stubbornness an obviously colonial World War One-vintage piece of legal protectionism continues to choke the island as its inhabitants are left to fend for themselves. Colonialism is a self-perpetuating state of exception that thrives on crises precisely because the beneficiaries are always the colonizers and their local flunkies who maintain and benefit from the illusion of “self-governance.”

While Homeland Security steadfastly holds on to its refusal to wave the Jones Act, Herr Trump was later forced by public pressure to amend his remarks on aid, and the USNS Comfort hospital ship is now scheduled to arrive on the island in three to five days (as will our bloviating commander-in-chief himself at some point) any help received from the American imperial mainland now carries with it a stigma, a sense of being a discarded, second-hand lifeline. This is extremely revealing. It’s been over a week since Hurricane María cut a path of destruction in Puerto Rico nearly beyond the scope of living memory, a week that passed before Trump made any remarks at all. It was a week filled by hysterics over kneeling, Russia and North Korea, a week of forgetting that Puerto Rico even existed.

American colonialism is not just confined to its territories or its Native American population. A successful empire can choose to either exalt itself to its population, thereby becoming an object of national pride, or hide itself by dulling that population’s senses and intelligence, negating that it has an empire in the first place. The United States pursued the second path. Successfully, I might add. Puerto Rico’s imperial masters also relied on their own profoundly ignorant population on the mainland that, fueled by the systemic racism on which the United States is built on, and a blinding allegiance to patriotism, considered Puerto Ricans to be just another group of Hispanic vermin. To this day nearly half of Americans do not even know that Puerto Ricans are “fellow citizens”, at least in name. And make no mistake. The white supremacist regime that attacks NFL players and Black Lives Matter activists for having the nerve to protest is the same regime that established the fiscal control board, the biggest killer in Hurricane María’s wake. These things are directly related, and the fiscal control board’s austerity measures ensured that it has blood on its hands.

The United States has perfected its colonialism on the island of Puerto Rico to such a degree that when it decided to take away the island’s limited self-rule, the vaunted “commonwealth”, and instead installed a fiscal control board, it did so with the applause of many islanders. Many Puerto Ricans, conditioned by school, church, political party, and kin to accept their inferiority to the gringo as natural law, felt unfit to govern themselves. We so desired to be our masters that we welcomed punishment for engineered transgressions tailor-made by vulture capitalists in the metropole and on the island itself.

And then came María. The other killer phenomenon to approximate María’s devastation and raw power was Hurricane San Felipe II, in 1928. Yet María’s devastation attacked an island that, in many ways, was in worse shape than the relatively pre-industrial Puerto Rico of the 1920’s. Hurricane San Felipe was nature’s killer. Hurricane María, however, has only exposed colonialism’s murderous true self. There is nothing natural about this killer.

María found the perfect target: an island whose infrastructure was crippled by decades of colonial neglect, the product of an idled and corrupt political class that blindly follows orders from Wall Street and Washington. These quisling parasites, like the island’s cravenly telegenic current governor Ricardo Rosselló, coasted to power on the artificiality of petty political partisanship fostered by the main political parties on the people for decades in order to divide and lord over a population lulled by consumerism, Christian conservatism, and Cold War-era paranoia.

Now that same political apparatus has fallen apart. Long lines await supplies and fuel that are not being delivered. Two deaths were reported at an ICU when its generator failed, drained bone-dry as its diesel fuel never arrived. Governor Rosselló has been busy with a nonstop photo op tour since the hurricane passed. His Facebook page and Twitter account are filled with photos of his smiling face. But it is all smoke and mirrors. More and more mayors are voicing their rage at the lack of supplies. Whole shipments of supplies and fuel await distribution.

The situation has laid bare the reality that there was never a plan put into place. It has also revealed that FEMA has utterly failed in its role. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, acting in every way much more responsibly than our delusional governor, has denounced that FEMA has done the impossible to tie up any aid effort with red tape, asking for interminable memos and paralyzing aid distribution. It is quite telling that at one point in an interview journalist David Begnaud, who’s done a commendable job covering Puerto Rico, briefly mistakenly calls Mayor Yulín “governor”. Deep down, though, I’m sure that when he caught his slip and corrected himself he wished that his momentary lapse would have indeed been fact.

This official paralysis and complete disregard for reality often leaves first responders and National Guardsmen mobilized to help with distribution literally empty-handed. And this crass stupidity is not limited to help on the national level. Cuba has offered help in the form of doctors and a brigade of electrical workers to help shore up and rebuild the island’s ravaged infrastructure. Cuba! Yet cruelly, but predictably, the American government denied them entry on political grounds.

FEMA’s (in)actions border on being criminally negligent, even going as far as kicking roughly 400 refugees out of the San Juan Convention Center in order to conveniently take it over as their center of operations alongside the Puerto Rican central government. Federal and local agencies have become shining examples of feckless inaction, fetid bureaucracy, and unfettered bullshit. In typical Trumpist fashion, FEMA’s response has been to accuse the media of biased reporting, but the true bias is self-evident.

Puerto Rico is dying, yes. It is a victim of the stupidity of its political class and the racist vindictiveness of its colonial masters. Colonialism will always be a humanitarian crisis.

But Puerto Rico isn’t dead yet.

In fact, something seems to be happening. The lack of governmental aid, the realization that American aid is essentially a fantasy, the uncalled-for curfew that’s tailor made to pacify anxious shareholders stateside and not help the citizenry, and the need to rediscover communal bonds of mutual aid have done something to Puerto Ricans. I confess to standing in awe of the newly found resilience, the furious indignation turned into action, and the unbreakable bonds of basic humanity that have returned with a vengeance. And with it comes a growing sense of indignation, of anger towards our colonial masters. Anger, blessed anger, the engine of political and social change par excellence.

Puerto Rico is dying, but if it survives this and rises once again, it may do so inoculated from the diseased colonial mentality that has crushed its collective spirit for so long. It’s a long shot, but it’s worth thinking about now more than ever. This national tragedy has made Boricuas remember that they can, in fact, do things on their own together. That the often-remarked bravery of Puerto Ricans that many feared lost by colonialism’s savage indoctrination (I confess to being amongst those that felt this way) was always there. That fury and indignation lead to freedom. Like many fellow Puerto Ricans that live in exile, we have come forward to join that life-and-death struggle for our homeland, and we do so together, always loyal.

As the white imperialist invader revels in his pettiness and apathy it becomes clear that the Puerto Rican people must resist and fight back in the best way possible: by surviving and thriving together. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll rid Puerto Rico of the American flag’s stagnating shadow over our island and reduce it to a simple funerary shroud wrapped around the corpse of American colonialism, breaking away from that dying empire once and for all.

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Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz is a fifth-year graduate student and doctoral candidate in British and world history at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he specializes in anarchist history. A native son of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, he currently resides in Bloomington. He has published in CounterPunch and in the Spanish-language publication Revista Cruce.

Trump to devastated Puerto Rico: Wall Street must be paid!

27 September 2017

The US colonial territory of Puerto Rico has been devastated by a disaster that has left its population of 3.5 million in the midst of a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.

Much of the island looks like it was hit by an atomic bomb. The already fragile electrical grid has been largely destroyed, leaving millions literally in the dark and without power for air-conditioning or even fans, as Puerto Rico faces 90-degree temperatures and high humidity.

While the official death toll stands at 16, there are no doubt many more fatalities that have gone uncounted, and the threat is that far more people, particularly among the elderly and the sick, some of them trapped in high-rise apartment buildings or small villages cut off from relief, will lose their lives.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told the media, “What’s out there is total devastation. Total annihilation. People literally gasping for air” in the merciless heat. She spoke of people being taken from their homes in “near-death conditions,” including dialysis patients unable to get treatment and people whose oxygen tanks had run out.

At least 60 percent of the population lacks access to clean water, and food is in short supply. Hospitals report that they are within days of running out of medicine, essential supplies and fuel to run generators. Garbage is going uncollected, while many streets are still flooded. Conditions are growing for the spread of deadly diseases, including cholera.

At least 15,000 people have taken refuge in shelters, while many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands more are camping out in homes left in shambles and without roofs by Maria’s 155-mile-an-hour winds. Meanwhile, some 70,000 Puerto Ricans are still in danger from a possible failure of the Guajataca dam, which would wipe out entire towns and villages.

Cell phone service has been wiped out for three quarters of the population. The country’s agriculture has been devastated, with 80 percent of its crops destroyed.

Descriptions of conditions in Puerto Rico as “apocalyptic” are anything but hyperbole.

As in every such “natural disaster,” Hurricane Maria has exposed the deep-going social oppression, poverty and inequality that existed before the storm ever made landfall in a territory where the poverty rate approaches 50 percent, and unemployment 12 percent.

“We’ve not seen any help. Nobody’s been out asking what we need or that kind of thing,” Maria Gonzalez, 74, in the Santurce district of San Juan, told Reuters. Pointing to Condado, the Puerto Rican capital’s tourist area of hotels and restaurants, she added, “There’s plenty of electricity over there, but there’s nothing in the poor areas.”

Nearly one week after Hurricane Maria struck the island with the full force of a near-Category 5 storm, US President Donald Trump took his first public notice of the disaster with a Monday night tweet. “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” Trump tweeted. “Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars…owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”

The combination of ignorance and arrogance contained in this statement is the product not just of Donald Trump’s fascistic and pathological social outlook, but rather an expression of the criminal negligence, parasitism and predatory character of an entire social system. Trump’s apparent intention was to contrast Texas and Florida—both “doing great”—with Puerto Rico, which he suggests is responsible for the catastrophe that has befallen it because of its status as a bankrupt debtor to the Wall Street banks.

The reality is that large portions of the populations of Houston and Florida, the working class and the poor, are doing anything but “great,” having lost their homes, their cars and, in some cases, their jobs, and left struggling to obtain the means to live.

As to Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt—roughly equal to the $72 billion that is now estimated in damages caused by Hurricane Maria—it is the legacy of over a century of colonialism dating back to the Spanish American War of 1898.

The so-called “Associated Free State” of Puerto Rico (established in 1952 following the brutal suppression of a nationalist revolt) supposedly gave Puerto Ricans local self-government as well as American citizenship. It was a second-class citizenship at best, however, without congressional representation or the right to vote in presidential elections.

While at the time Washington fostered the development in its “perfumed colony” of manufacturing, principally pharmaceuticals, textiles, petrochemicals and electronics, through corporate tax breaks and low-wage labor, these measures were later rescinded as cheaper labor platforms became available to American capital in Asia and elsewhere.

Local self-government has been effectively abrogated with the creation of a US-appointed Fiscal Supervisory Board (JSF), which has overriding power over the territory’s budget and is charged with imposing austerity measures aimed at meeting payments to Wall Street bondholders and the predatory hedge funds that sought out distressed Puerto Rican debt.

This is Trump’s main concern—that blood be soaked from the stone of an island thrust back a century in terms of its economic and social conditions.

The shameful failure of the US government to provide adequate relief to the Puerto Rican people is driven by considerations of profit and the interests of billionaire bankers and hedge fund chiefs. They are already calculating how the devastation of Hurricane Maria can be exploited through privatization fire sales of public infrastructure and the reaping of further super-profits off America’s Caribbean colony.

Trump has idiotically attempted to excuse this failure to provide adequate aid by asserting—falsely—that Puerto Rico is “in the middle of a…really, really big ocean.”

No one can claim with a straight face that if Puerto Rico were the target of an invasion—such as Iraq in 2003—the Pentagon would not have already opened its ports and made its airport fully operational. As it is, relief supplies collected by Puerto Rican and American working people in the US sit in warehouses and on docks in Miami and elsewhere because the incentive to aid the island’s people is nowhere near that which drives US wars of aggression across the globe.

The one thing that Washington has been able to do efficiently is dispatch troops and police to the island with the objective of suppressing social revolt.

The disaster in Puerto Rico, like those in Houston and Florida that preceded it, has made it abundantly clear that neither recovery, much less protection, from devastating disasters like those wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria can be achieved outside of a frontal assault on the stranglehold exercised by the ruling financial oligarchy over social wealth and the productive forces of society.

It is the working class of Puerto Rico, united with workers in the United States and internationally, which must accomplish this task through a revolutionary struggle to reorganize society on the foundations of socialist ownership of the means of production and the world’s resources.

Bill Van Auken



There Is No Rehabilitating the Vietnam War

Published on

There is enormous pressure and a lot of money working to rehabilitate Vietnam, to put the guilt and the shame of it behind us. But it was precisely the guilt of the people, their shame at what was being done in their name, and their courage to denounce it that made it impossible for their government to carry out the savagery any longer.

The Vietnam War, writes Freeman, “must be remembered and condemned for the debacle it actually was.” (Image:

Since the day it ended, in 1975, there have been efforts to rehabilitate the Vietnam War, to make it acceptable, even honorable.  After all, there were so many sides to the story, weren’t there?  It was so complex, so nuancical.  There was real heroism among the troops.
Of course, all of this is true, but it’s true of every war so it doesn’t redeem any war.  The Vietnam War is beyond redemption and must be remembered and condemned for the calamity that it was.  The Vietnam War was “one of the greatest American foreign policy disasters of the twentieth century.”
Those are not the words of a leftist pundit or a scribbling anti-American.  They are the words of H.R. McMaster, the sitting National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.
Why must Vietnam be remembered and condemned for the debacle it actually was?
“It’s important to remember that neither Vietnam, nor Laos, nor Cambodia for that matter, ever attacked the United States.  They never wanted to attack.  They never tried to attack.  They never had the capacity to attack.  They had simply wanted their own way of life.”
 First, the U.S. betrayed its own ideals in the War. In 1946, Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh approached U.S. president Harry Truman asking for the U.S.’s help in evicting the French who had occupied Vietnam as a colony since the 1860s.  Hadn’t the U.S. itself once fought a war of independence to rid itself of European colonial domination?
Indeed, the opening words to the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence were borrowed in sacramental reverence from the American Declaration.  They echo to every patriotic American: “All men are created equal.  They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But Ho was a communist.  So, Truman turned him down and helped the French instead.  That was the “original sin” that made it impossible for the U.S. to ever “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people.  It is what ultimately doomed the War to failure.  But that wasn’t the only cardinal sin the U.S. committed against its own putative ideals.
Eisenhower violated the 1954 Geneva accords that had settled the war with the French and set up a puppet regime in the south.  Hence “South” Vietnam, which, not surprisingly, quickly disappeared once the Americans left.  He crammed a wealthy Catholic mandarin from New Jersey—Ngo Diem—on the people who were overwhelmingly poor, Buddhist, and peasants.
Diem, with Eisenhower’s blessing, then boycotted the elections for national unification that had been agreed to in the accords.  Eisenhower wrote later that the reason for the boycott was that “Our guys would have lost.”  When Diem could no longer suppress the swelling rebellion against his divisive, hyper-oppressive rule, Kennedy had him assassinated.
Second, the U.S. carried out apocalyptic violence on Vietnam, vastly beyond any conceivable moral standard of proportionality.  It dropped three times more tons of bombs on Vietnam than were used by all sides in all theaters in all of World War II combined.  Vietnam is about the size of New Mexico and at the time had a population greater than New York and California put together.
The U.S. lost 58,000 lives in the War.  But more than four million southeast Asians—Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians—were killed, most of them civilians.  That’s 69 southeast Asians killed for every 1 American.  That is not a war.  That is a massacre, and on a scale approaching the Holocaust.
The U.S. sprayed 21 million gallons of carcinogenic defoliants on Vietnam, including the notorious Agent Orange.  More than half of the nation’s forests were destroyed.  Vietnam was the greatest intentionally man-made environmental catastrophe in the history of the world.  Children are still being born with birth defects from the residual poisoning.
On neighboring Laos, which, in 1965 had a population of 2.4 million, the U.S. dropped 270 million cluster bombs.  That’s 113 cluster bombs for every man, woman, and child in the country.  More than 80 million of the bombs are still unexploded today.
It’s important to remember that neither Vietnam, nor Laos, nor Cambodia for that matter, ever attacked the United States.  They never wanted to attack.  They never tried to attack.  They never had the capacity to attack.  They had simply wanted their own way of life.
Finally, the War was founded on and prosecuted with relentless lying.  Your mother once taught you, as all good mothers do, that if you have to lie about something it’s wrong.
The “intelligence” agencies lied to us, unremittingly, about the threat from a nation of pre-Industrial Age farmers on the other side of the world who, after nearly a century of colonial domination, simply wanted to be left alone by western imperial powers.
Five successive presidents lied to the American people about the need for the War and its likely winnability.  None of them wanted to appear to be “soft on communism.”  None wanted to be “the first American president to lose a war.”
The Pentagon Papers revealed that the military was saturated with lies, from field level body counts to strategic reviews of progress.  Truth tellers were drummed out of the service, ensuring that only lies got passed up the chain.  The lies wouldn’t be discovered until it was too late.
In fact, it is precisely our lying about the Vietnam War, both then and now, and our knowledge of those lies, without ever having openly, unambiguously repudiated them, that continues to make the War seem dishonorable.

The dishonor, of course, belongs not to the millions of soldiers who served there but rather to the War itself. It belongs to the institutions—both public and private—that profited from the War and lied to justify it, and to the people whose silence and knowing acquiescence made them complicit in the lies.

It belongs to those who put our soldiers, our children, in the perverse situation not of doing honorable things honorably, but of having to try to do dishonorable things honorably. For, despite the loftiest motives we might invent for its beginnings, that is unquestionably what the War ultimately became.

In March 1965, before the insertion of American ground troops that would make the War irreversible, before the vast majority of the bombings and killings would be perpetrated, a Pentagon briefing for Johnson stated that the true goals in the War were, “…70% to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat; 20% to keep South Vietnam (and adjacent territories) from Chinese hands; and 10% to permit the people of Vietnam a better, freer way of life.”
That is what the psychotic savagery of Vietnam was all about.  It was not bumbling goodwill gone awry as the rehabilitationists would have us believe.  It was not to bring democracy; not to defend against communism; not to help the Vietnamese people.  It was “to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.”  Those are the official, though at the time secret, words of the U.S. government.
We can summon an even greater authority than H.R. McMaster to confirm that the War was wrong.  Robert McNamara was the U.S. Secretary of Defense in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  He is the unquestioned architect and chief strategist of the War.
In his memoirs McNamara wrote, “We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation.  We made our decisions in light of those values.  Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong.  We owe it to future generations to explain why.”
There are no two more disparate authorities on the War than these two men.  They represent the old and the new, Democrat and Republican, civilian and soldier, actor and critic, introspective and retrospective.  Yet they reach the same, damning conclusion.
There is enormous pressure and a lot of money working to rehabilitate Vietnam, to put the guilt and the shame of it behind us.  But it was precisely the guilt of the people, their shame at what was being done in their name, and their courage to denounce it that made it impossible for their government to carry out the savagery any longer.  Would that we had that kind of guilt, shame, and courage among us today.
Remember: if we had to lie about it, it was wrong.  That is as true today as it was then, is it not? And wrong does not get made right by the louder or repeated repetition of original lies. Or, by the artful contrivance of newer, slicker, more personable ones.

Forgetting that lesson, or, worse, laundering it out of our memory so that we might go forward with cleansed consciences and fortified zeal for still more predation, would be a betrayal of itself that only the American people can resist.

Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman writes about economics and education. He is the author of The Best One-Hour History series which includes World War I, The Vietnam War, The Cold War, and other titles.