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Activists call on U.S. govt. to cancel Puerto Rico debt

Boston-based group denounces colonization of island

Karen Morales
Activists call on U.S. govt. to cancel Puerto Rico debt
The activist group “Raíces Borikén Collective” marches on the streets from Villa Victoria in the South End to Copley Square.

More than 100 people on Sunday marched from the South End’s Villa Victoria down Dartmouth Street and to Copley Square to support the end of what the radical Boston-based group Raíces Borikén Collective calls the “colonization” of Puerto Rico.

Bello and Luana Morales lead meditation before the march.

Rally participants prepare to march.

Patricia Chali’Inaru Dones presents a Taíno prayer.

A marcher holds the Puerto Rican flag.

The Puerto Rican rally marches down Dartmouth Street in Back Bay. (right) Bello and Luana Morales lead meditation before the march.

Raíces Borikén Collective organized the guerilla rally and march, which included spiritual, political and cultural elements, to call on the U.S. government to repeal the Jones Act, cancel Puerto Rico’s debt and dismantle the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (also known as PROMESA).

Under PROMESA, the U.S. government established an unelected fiscal control board to oversee Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring.

“We’re artists, activists and organizers, and the majority of us are women and queer,” said Jasmine Gomez, an RBC organizer. “We support the work of dismantling the imperialist white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal system.”

She added, “We’re working to continue the movement of decolonizing Puerto Rico through education and action.”

Patricia Chali’Inaru Dones, a representative of the United Confederation of Taíno people, presented a Taíno prayer before the march began. “Borikén has been colonized for over 500 years,” said Dones, referring to Puerto Rico by its original, native Taíno name.

“I’m calling for a full review of the 1920 Merchant Marine Act, also called the Jones Act,” said Dones. “The archaic Jones Act cripples Puerto Rico and drives up costs of imports.”

She continued, “Los Boricuas including our Taíno people, don’t need to be saved by benevolent outsiders. We just need the tools to save ourselves.”

The Jones Act was enacted in 1920 to regulate maritime commerce and it requires all transport between U.S. ports to be carried on U.S.-built ships. Criticism of the 97-year-old act sparked up again when relief for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was limited and delayed during a time of great need.

One of the rally organizers, Eroc Arroyo-Montano, said the march and rally was a way for everyone to “dance together, sing together, love together and look at our children and say they are better beings than us and we can empower them.”

“As a person of color, I can relate,” said Jared Hicks, a Dorchester resident who joined the march with friends. “But there are things that are unique to Puerto Rico that makes them totally second-class to the eyes of our government, which is unjust and disgraceful. [Being treated as second-class] is what indigenous, black people, undocumented people deal with, all over the country.”

Ushering the crowd of singing and chanting activists, a pickup truck blasting music made its way down the street to Copley Square and arrived at its destination, Arlington Street Church, for a Bomba party, a traditional music style of Puerto Rico. All of the rally’s participants were invited to join the indoor gathering, a welcome reprieve from the 30-degree weather.

Cassandra Lopez-Fradera, another rally organizer, told the crowd, “May we continue to build roots here in Boston.”

Myriam Ortiz, executive director of The City School, a youth leadership and development center in Uphams Corner, said, “Decolonizing our mind is the first step. To free our land, we must free our minds.”

Luana Morales, a Puerto Rican Reiki practitioner and teacher, shared an anecdote with rally participants about how she brought a tobacco seed from Puerto Rico and planted it in her yard.

The tobacco plant did not fully grow because Morales did not plant the seeds in deep enough soil, so she brought the plant inside where it managed to survive the winter, but grew in a contorted manner.

“This plant taught me that sometimes, like our ancestors, we grow up in spaces we’re not meant to survive,” she said. “But guess what, we twist ourselves up and we survive anyway.”

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