by Dr. Bruce Arnold
In a recent period of history, traditional colonialism largely came to an end. Especially in the years after World War II, many former colonies fought for and gained political independence from their former masters. However, political independence didn’t confer complete independence. Those countries were still subject to the imperialistic nature of capitalism in the modern era. Whether or not a country’s governmental processes are ruled by the power structure in, say, the UK, France, or the USA, many decision are still made which keep them subservient. For instance, multinational corporations can move factories in and out without any consent of the people who live there, regardless of economic conditions, environmental impact, etc. And the international financial bodies, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, ensure that these countries stay in debt, in poverty, and in a state of virtual peonage to the 1%.
This isn’t an abstract notion. It is daily reality to billions of people the world over. Recently, we saw a striking enactment of the nature of neo-colonialism, as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc over wide swaths of the Caribbean and North America. In states such as Texas and Florida, the disaster response from government, businesses, and NGOs, was immediate and powerful, In Puerto Rico, a colony of the USA in all but name, the response was pitifully inadequate, and continues to be.
One glaring example of how this is working out concerns the electrical power distribution infrastructure. In places like Texas, most of the work is being done by utility companies which have mutual aid agreements with each other. Workers from electrical power companies which were not affected by the storms have been deployed to areas that were. In Puerto Rico, a contract was given to a tiny utility company called “Whitefish,” based in Montana, to restore the power grid. Whitefish had only two employees at the time Maria hit. One of them is a close associate of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. They have no track record of doing this kind of work and are being paid millions to do it by the Puerto Rican electrical power authority. In other words, wealth is being extracted from Puerto Rico and being paid to Whitefish owners in the US. In the old days of colonialism, they used to extract raw resources such as minerals and spices to make money. Now, they just extract money.
This would be a great time to create a sustainable power structure in Puerto Rico. Blessed with lavish sunshine and wind, the new grid could be based on these renewable sources. It’s not a fantasy. China, according to the BBC, installed more than 34 gigawatts of solar power in 2016. That’s right, in one year. By contrast, Puerto Rico’s total electricity production prior to Hurricane Maria was 4.878 gigawatts. This clearly indicates that it could be done in Puerto Rico.
But creating a self-sustaining energy production capacity doesn’t serve the needs of the old-line power corporations. They want to sell natural gas, petroleum and coal. They have to keep their markets dependent on non-renewable sources. The people who actually live in Puerto Rico are given no choice.
As Marx said in a letter on British rule in India, “The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”