13 March 2017

Hong Kong political integration v Puerto Rico 'protectorate' status

A look at how Washington treats Puerto Rico shows the hypocrisy of its claims about Beijing’s role in Hong Kong

Alex Lo

The US State Department thinks Beijing is interfering in Hong Kong affairs. It’s a bit like a serial killer accusing a pickpocket of being a criminal. Some examples?

State-run newspapers ran an op-ed campaign against appointing a pro-democracy scholar to a senior position at a local university. A bookseller and a tycoon in Hong Kong might have been coerced into going back to the mainland. Beijing has championed the former chief secretary to be the next chief executive. A Basic Law interpretation by the standing committee of the nation’s parliament aims to disqualify local secessionist lawmakers.

To compare like with like, let’s consider Puerto Rico, a US protectorate. Exactly a century ago, Washington granted US citizenship to a million people on the island. It promptly drafted 2 per cent of the population into fighting in world war one. That set off a century of ruthless American exploitation that is unabated today. Beijing formally controls the foreign and military affairs of Hong Kong while we still run our own trade, currency, border control, government, tax, law, water, energy and much else.

The Puerto Rican government has no control of much of anything. According to Nelson Denis, author of War Against All Puerto Ricans, US federal agencies now run the island’s banking and legal systems, foreign trade and relations, shipping and maritime laws, broadcasting regulations, postal service, immigration, social security, customs, transportation, defence, the environment, territorial waters and air space. It uses the US dollar as its official currency. It is poorer than the poorest US state, Mississippi.

Yet, its government has recently raised the retirement age and public pension contributions while cutting benefits. It has raised rates for water, gas, electricity and sales taxes from 10 to 60 per cent. More schools and clinics are shut. Why? Because it has become a municipal bond debtor being targeted for privatisation by Wall Street and US hedge funds. Puerto Rico has a public debt of US$72 billion, equivalent to three-quarters of GDP.

Poll after poll has shown most Puerto Ricans want to join the American union. Yet, last year, all three branches of the US government declared the island to be no better than a colony.

The Obama White House said it was a US territorial possession without sovereignty, and the Supreme Court agreed. The US Congress created a financial control board to run its economy and government, to make sure American financiers got their pound of flesh.

Interference? It’s all relative.