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Protesta Y Propuesta: Lessons from Puerto Rico

#Reports#Defense of Territory#Ecological Justice#Food Sovereignty#Grassroots Feminisms
February 2020

This 2020 report from Grassroots International and Movement Generation urges U.S. philanthropy to invest in Puerto Rico’s social movements as the best solution to the archipelago’s climate and humanitarian crisis. Protesta Y Propuesta centers the stories of over a dozen Puerto Rican social movements that have taken the lead in meeting the needs of the archipelago’s people and natural resources following Hurricane Maria. Grassroots International works in solidarity with these groups and provides some of them with financial support as local partners.

Executive Summary

“De la Protesta a la Propuesta” (“From protest to proposal”). That’s the slogan that watershed protectors used when they successfully stopped open pit mining in the heart of Puerto Rico’s mountains then brought those same lands under community control. For those of us looking to build just transformation in place, we have much to learn from Puerto Rico’s social movements which are at once both visionary and oppositional, centering sovereignty and self-governance.

Origins of this Report

This spring, Grassroots International led a delegation of donors and social movement activists to Puerto Rico to learn from how just recovery and just transformation are playing out on the ground, at scale, in real time on the archipelago. The group met with Puerto Rican organizers who shared what is working, what’s not, and how they’re navigating the contradictions. Afterwards, Grassroots International and Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project co-authored this report so that it may serve as a resource for foundations, philanthropists, and investors who are serious about addressing the climate and humanitarian crisis, whether in Puerto Rico or other parts of the world. We also hope that it will serve as inspiration to Indigenous communities, farmers, and community activists on the front lines of the global climate crisis.

Key Takeaways

Social movements and frontline communities are rebuilding Puerto Rico centering the wellbeing and self-determination of the people. They are confronting the powerful forces of disaster capitalism—an agenda that is being imposed upon them and which is centered in the interests of capital and corporations that are polluting and intensifying the impacts of climate change and social inequality, even as they seek to profit from the shocks that result from these injustices.

Based on our conversations with the archipelago’s people as well as our own observations, we have distilled several key takeaways for funders, policymakers, social movements, and anyone wishing to learn from their experiences:

⦁ We must address the underlying political and economic realities that exacerbate climate and humanitarian crises around the world — in Puerto Rico’s case, this means ending the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability (PROMESA) Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2016; cancellation of the approximately $74 billion of illegitimate national debt; and an end to the Financial Oversight and Management Board (“la junta”), which implements austerity measures and privatization, without the consent of the people, in order to repay the illegitimate debt.

  • Grassroots social movements and frontline communities should have the authority to distribute resources during times of crisis. They are the ones who know how to prioritize the distribution of resources in order to mitigate the impact of disasters and allow for the most effective recovery. For example, when it comes to distributing solar power, FEMA does not know which home or business provides food for the community, or where the highest concentration of elderly or sick residents may be.
  • We must invest in social movements year-round — not just when a hurricane or other climate disaster strikes. This is the best way to facilitate just transformation and just recovery so that frontline communities can build a visionary economy for life.
  • Trans-local organizing is an important way to strengthen the power and resiliency of frontline communities globally. Through learning exchanges where farmers and organizers build trusting relationships with other Global South social movements, we can create and nurture networks that ultimately benefit the planet and all living organisms.
Moving Forward

In the pages that follow, you can read the stories of over a dozen Puerto Rican social movements that have taken the lead in meeting the needs of the archipelago’s people and natural resources following Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in September 2017. These are all organizations that Grassroots International partners with, or will soon partner with, as part of our work to address the root causes of injustice and oppression, and build alternatives that nurture human rights, ecological justice, and liberation. By sharing these stories, we hope to plant seeds that can help build a visionary economy for life in Puerto Rico and around the world.

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