Washington Post: Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico. But colonialism got there first.

by Philip Kennicott

NEW YORK — In the opening pages of “A Small Place,” her trenchant essay on Antigua and colonialism, Jamaica Kincaid takes readers on a tour of the island’s beauty and suffering, while repeating the parenthetical phrase: “You are on your holiday; you are a tourist.” The cumulative effect is to underscore the vast difference between how outsiders experience a beautiful island and how those who live there perceive its troubles.


When Americans from the mainland visit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, they see a tropical land drenched in sun and surrounded by water. They see trees, forests, mountains and unbelievably lush gardens. And they see many things that might be deeply troubling if they lived there, like crumbling roads and infrastructure, dilapidated schools and hospitals, and shocking poverty. But best not to worry too much. “You are on your holiday; you are a tourist.”

Things are getting increasingly desperate in Puerto Rico. The island’s economy has been in recession since 2006, the poverty rate of 43 percent is more than double that of the next poorest U.S. state, the population is aging and declining, faith in government is in tatters, and income inequality is so off the charts it compares with the most unequal countries in the world.


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January 12, 2023