On January 16th, 2019, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Federal Court throughout the day to show their complete rejection of the Corporación del Fondo de Interés Apremiante (COFINA, or Urgent Interest Fund Corporation) agreement. The demonstration, led by the Frente Ciudadano por la Auditoría de la Deuda (Citizen Front for the Debt Audit), is one of many that will take place in the coming months to fight against a debt that, according to the Colectiva Feminista en Construcción (Feminist Collective in Construction), is illegal, illegitimate, and unsustainable. It is illegal because it was contracted under the threat of the collapse of public services, it is illegitimate because it serves the interests of creditors above the interests of the people of Puerto Rico, and it is unsustainable because of the social cost that the “payment” entails. However, even though we have been talking for several years about the austerity measures imposed on us to pay the debt, we tend to forget about the groups of people that will bear the burden of the austerity measures and cuts.
The processes of “crisis” and the implications of paying a debt that we are not responsible for, through the imposition of austerity measures on our economies, hit women, trans people, working-class women, women who are heads of households, and immigrants hardest. This is due to the social, political, and economic structure that is systematically organized around sexed and racialized bodies. The systematic precariousness of our lives can be observed if we evaluate the duties and conditions that are socially imposed on us:
Domestic and care work are conveniently invisible to the commercial economic system. Governments have benefited from this for a long time. Unpaid domestic labor and care work have supported life for centuries without economic consequences for the state, and employed women still have to endure second and third shifts. Not to mention that “paid” care work is mainly carried out by poor and racialized women without any rights or benefits.
Professions traditionally dominated by women, like nursing or teaching, are financially less valued by a system that considers them extensions of reproductive work.
In the twenty-first century, wage inequality between men and women continues to be perpetuated.
The imposition of motherhood is a way to control our bodies and our lives. It is not by chance that the government is now trying to pass PS 9501, whose main purpose is to hinder the right to end a pregnancy, at the same time that they are trying to get rid of workers to supposedly save money and pay the debt.
Cuts in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits are projected in a country where a large sector of the population is comprised of female-headed households below the poverty level.
All of these elements demonstrate that when we speak of machista violence we are not only referring to violence against women by their partners, be it psychological, verbal, or physical. Such violence is also the result of the kind of gender violence that is systematically exerted against poor women through the austerity measures promoted by the private sector, and imposed by the government.
To talk about gender violence is not only to talk about the “Ley 54.”2 We also need to talk about cuts in TANF benefits because they mainly affect female-headed households; we need to talk about the closing of schools because more than 75 percent of teachers are women; we need to talk about layoffs in the public sector because most of them are women; to mention just a few issues.
Therefore, it is necessary to conduct a different political and economic analysis from the perspective of Black and working-class feminism, one that takes into account the social order imposed by patriarchal and racial capitalism. We need an analysis that recognizes that not all people who live in Puerto Rico have the same privileges and that we must fight for a decent livelihood for the populations most vulnerable to this system. Likewise, we must also fight for the well-being of all living beings on the planet, and finally break free from a system rooted in oppression. For these reasons, the Colectiva Feminista en Construcción (Feminist Collective in Construction) proposes:
To promote the slogan “We don't owe, we won't pay!”
To carry out a national campaign to explain why the people of Puerto Rico, especially the poor, should not pay a debt that we did not create.
To demand an audit of the public debt of Puerto Rico to unmask and name those who have increased the debt through undemocratic and corrupt processes for decades.
To demand accountability from the people responsible for the current crisis.
In December 2018, we participated in the Jornada Latinoamericana y Caribeña contra las Deudas Ilegítimas (Latin American and Caribbean Day Against Illegitimate Debts), where we learned about the struggles of various countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe against the payment of illegal and odious debts. In these forums and discussions, it became clear that we must create a broad, diverse, and radical movement in Puerto Rico to fight against paying an illegal, colonial, racist, and patriarchal debt.
Originally published in Spanish by 80 Grados, January 25, 2019. www.80grados.net/la-deuda-y-la-violencia-machista-estructural/.
Proyecto del Senado 950 (2017–2020), “Ley para la protección de la mujer y la preservación de la vida dentro de los procedimientos de aborto en Puerto Rico,” media.noticel.com/o2com-noti-media-us-east-1/document_dev/2019/03/05/Entirillado%20P.%20del%20S.%20950_1551807772542_36934087_ver1.0.pdf.
Domestic Abuse Prevention and Intervention Act, Act No. 54 of August 15, 1989, www.bvirtual.ogp.pr.gov/ogp/Bvirtual/leyesreferencia/PDF/Y%20-%20Inglés/54-1989.pdf.