Puerto Ricans take to the streets against Kamala Harris's visit

The visit of the Vice President sparks protests over the occupation of Puerto Rico and the Israel-Palestine conflict

Puerto Ricans protested by displaying signs against Kamala Harris's visit - Drew ANGERER/AFP

On Friday, March 22, Kamala Harris marked her first visit to Puerto Rico since becoming Vice President of the United States to attend a Democratic Party fundraiser, and was met with mass protests. 

In an embarrassing gaff, Harris spent a moment clapping along to a protest song before quickly freezing up after an aide translated it for her. The lyrics called out the longtime US occupation of Puerto Rico: “We want to know, Kamala, what did you come here for? We want to know what you think of the colony.”

Protests were organized by pro-Puerto Rican independence organizations such as Jornada Se Acabaron Las Promesas, Comuna Caribe, Boricuas for Palestine, and Communists Workers and Students for Social Change. “The world is going through a time of desolation and violence, in which very powerful countries like the US threaten world peace,” Yanina Arias, an activist with Jornada, told Peoples Dispatch. “Given this context, it seems to us a horror and an absolute lack of respect that while millions of human beings are victims of extermination, the Vice President of the United States visits our island to continue squeezing her lackeys.”

In the entrance to the old San Juan neighborhood, protesters took down flags of the US and colonial Puerto Rico and replaced them with Haitian, Palestinian, and Puerto Rican independence flags. Protesters also hung banners that said “stop the bombing” and “Zionism is terrorism,” in solidarity with Palestine. Protesters concluded the action by burning the US flags.

“Harris came to take thousands of dollars for [Biden’s] re-election campaign, while the people of Borikén live in extreme poverty and with a country collapsed by the corruption of those who today donated ill-gotten money to his campaign,” she said.

Jornada was established in opposition to the PROMESA Act, signed into law in 2016 under Barack Obama, which established the control of the unelected Fiscal Control Board (FCB) over the island’s economy to restructure the island’s USD 74 billion debt. In effect the imposition of the FCB tightened US control over Puerto Rico and brought with it a wave of harsh austerity measures. Conditions on the island have deteriorated especially after the devastating Hurricane María in 2017, and Puerto Ricans have had to take to the streets to fight public school closures, cuts to the public university, social services, and public pensions, as well as austerity-induced blackouts.

Yanina Arias added, “Puerto Rico has seen a massive migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States, a product of the instability, poverty and destruction caused by the policies of the Yankees, and since 2017 as a result of the austerity policies imposed by the Fiscal Control Board.”

Kamala comes to campaign, Puerto Ricans still without right to vote

“The US Congress allows voting in Puerto Rico in the presidential primaries of that country but not in the general elections. For me, allowing voting in the presidential primaries is part of the mirage that we are part of the United States when what we really are is an appendage, a colony.” Dianne Viera, also with Jornada, told Peoples Dispatch, pointing out the incongruency of Kamala Harris coming to Puerto Rico to raise the profile of Biden’s reelection campaign among a population that does not have the right to vote in US presidential elections. 

Puerto Ricans living outside of the island, however, do have the right to vote. That is the population that Harris hoped to influence with her visit to the island. “The only thing Harris is interested in is the vote of that diaspora, that is why she came to create a media circus—to pretend that this administration and the Yankee empire are concerned about the situation of the people in the archipelago. Harris came to meet with millionaire tax evaders, to raise funds and to ensure that her lackeys support them. She also took photos and exploited the stories and pain of people affected by Hurricane María, and then turned it into campaign material,” said Yanina Arias.