Last Thursday, I have to confess, that I was glued to my television as the "paro nacional" ran its course. The whole thing was surreal. Really, I bet nowhere in the world do they protest with as much emotion, creativity, and exuberance. Witnessing the wide variety of ways people chose to declare their righteous indignation was truly a spectacle. I could even imagine outsiders believing that they were witnessing a parade, carnival style, instead of a protest.
One of the things I noticed was how many people participating in the "paro" claimed that the government of Governor Luis Fortuño was violating their rights or those of the thousands fired as a result of "Ley 7." While it is easy to mistake righteous indignation, for the violation of ones' rights, the uncomfortable truth is that while there are many laws, very few of them guarantee one of certain rights.
Here in Puerto Rico there are two documents which establish our rights as a citizens of Puerto Rico and of the United States of America. Of course, these documents are the Constitution of the Freely Associated State of Puerto Rico and the Constitution of the United States.
It was the famous author Voltaire who said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." So I congratulate the organizers of the "paro" (Todo Puerto Rico Para Puerto Rico) for their peaceful assembly and communication of their grievances. What we witnessed last Thursday was democracy in action; the citizens of Puerto Rico exercised their rights guaranteed under section 2 article 4 of the Puerto Rican Constitution and the first amendment of the United States Constitution.
However, nowhere, in either of these documents is there any discussion of an individual's right to have the government provide a job for its' citizens. Although, the copy of the Puerto Rican Constitution available from the Oficina de Servicios Legislativos de la Asamblea Legislativa de Puerto Rico does recognize the existence of the following human right:
- The right of all person to obtain a job.
Surreal is as surreal does
It just gives me a headache when I try to make sense of someone participating in a protest against their government, while wearing a t-shirt of a revolutionary and totalitarian who executed people for doing exactly what he was currently doing. I assure you, in 1959, the citizens of Cuba did not have the right to free speech.
Still today, very few other countries in Latin America would permit the type of protest Puerto Rico held last Thursday. Can you imagine what would be done in Cuba with the leaders of a major protest against Fidel Castro? Or what might happen with someone who protested against Hugo Chavez by burning tires in the middle of the busiest street in Venezuela?
It boggles the mind to consider the paradise we live in compared to most of the world. As most of the world suffers through, living on less than $2 a day, we protest over spilled champagne.
You might think I'm insensitive to the plights of the families affected by "Ley 7." However, you'd be wrong. I've been laid off, twice, so I know what it's like to lose your job. But let's not lose sight of the reality that each of the people fired choose to work for the government, and even though they knew the government was struggling with a major deficit they choose to stay working for the government. I hope they were prepared for the unthinkable, but with most Puerto Ricans in debt up to their neck, and a negative savings rate, I'm afraid their future looks bleak.
As a country we've been living above our means for way too long, and "El Cuco" is coming. As citizens, some of us, have also been living above our means. Well the system that we created is failing, or as Gil the Jenius puts it "the fabric of Our society is unraveling."
It's now clearer than ever, nothing can be done to save life in Puerto Rico as we know it. As it stands, the "nature" we have evolved in the last 50 years is our biggest obstacle. Only massive cultural change can set up the conditions for us to rebuild our system, our society. And that my friends, is only going to happen when our current system finishes its self-destruction.
Flickr Creative Commons Contributor: SEIU International