Decolonization Models for America's Last Colony: Puerto Rico.
By Angel Collado-Schwarz
Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2012
256 pages; $29.95 [paper]
This book is much more than just a translation to English of the original work in Spanish, Soberanias Exitosas (Successful Sovereignties). Angel Collado Schwarz, a successful advertising agent for many years, is now a prestigious University Professor and historian who recently obtained a doctorate in History from Complutense University at Madrid, Spain. He currently teaches Puerto Rican History to doctoral candidates at San Juan's Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe (Center of Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean). Collado also is a noted communicator. From various editions of his weekly radio program La Voz del Centro, broadcasted by Univision Puerto Rico, and some newspaper columns authored by himself or by the two distinguished economists Francisco Catala Oliveras and Juan Lara, Collado constructed the first edition in Spanish. It basically consisted of transcriptions of radio interviews in which Collado and Catala, or Collado and Juan Lara, discussed the current crisis and free fall of the Puerto Rican economy and contrasted such an unfortunate and distressful situation to the experiences of other small countries and their peoples, who did manage to construct growing, successful economies after ending colonial relations--or minority group subordinate status--and establishing their own sovereign states: Israel, Slovenia, Singapore, Estonia, New Zealand, and Ireland.
This English enlarged and updated edition of the original work is aimed at the American public, and mainly, at Washington legislators and policymakers. The book is presided by quite impressive praise and laudatory comments by James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank 1995-2005; Thomas E. Hughes, former US Assistant Secretary of State and former President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Ambassador Peter R. Rosenblatt, President Carter's personal representative in negotiations toward terminating the US Trusteeship of the Pacific and for establishing sovereign free association for Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau; and Moises Naim, fomer editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.) and columnist of El Pais newspaper of Madrid.
The basic main and reiterated argument of this volume is that, under the new globalized capitalist economy, small countries are much better off when they possess the powers and competences of full sovereignty and, at the same time, enjoy interesting, constructive, and interdependent relations with their respective former metropolis, as well as with other key advanced countries. In order for this to happen, of course, the powers of sovereignty must be effectively and efficiently managed by the power elites in those small countries. This meant that such elites had to be really committed at aiming to attain sustained development, more beneficial economic interrelations with advanced countries, and improved income and social benefits distribution--such as education and health--for the benefit of all population sectors of their countries and not just for a privileged egotistic elite--as currently is the case in colonial Puerto Rico. In other words, sovereignty is not by itself a panacea for all economic and social problems of formerly colonial societies, but rather a set of tools to be correctly managed by political elites that were not egotistic or committed only to seeking benefits for their own privileged class. This is why, Collado, Catala and Lara did not focus in small independent countries in Latin America and the Caribbean but rather in countries located in Europe, the Middle East, Asia or Oceania. For example, by 2012, both Trinidad-Tobago and Panama already have rapidly growing economies, while the Puerto Rican economy still is stagnated. However, Collado would never think about including such experiences as "models" for a sovereign Puerto Rico because such countries continue to be affected by high levels of social inequality, high crime rates and social violence, problems also present in territorial Puerto Rico under the sovereignty of the United States. The same thing happens with larger Latin American nations such as Mexico, Colombia, or Brazil where secular social inequalities, other social ills and political violence have not yet been eliminated or drastically reduced.
Therefore, the book emphasizes the fact that, in all countries reviewed as successful economic models, their power elites not only had a real commitment to the development of their countries as a whole but also to improving the quality of life of all inhabitants. Besides, they were intelligent and flexible enough as to maintain significant economic interdependence with important economic powers: for example, Israel with both, Great Britain and the United States. New Zealand and Singapore, as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations maintained important economic and political ties with the United Kingdom and with other Commonwealth nations as well. In a similar fashion, Ireland, Estonia and Slovenia had developed important linkages with European advanced economies through the European Union.
A second important argument advanced by Collado's book is that sovereignty is available for Puerto Rico in two main non-colonial, non-territorial political status formulations accepted by the United Nations and international law: sovereign free association and outright independence. However, as is easily inferred from the different chapters on selected countries, even under independence the author envisions that Puerto Rico would have to develop new significant interrelations not only with the US economy, but also with growing economies in the European Union and in countries such as Japan, China, and India. Statehood as the 51st state of the American Union is discarded. On the one hand, because such a status would not concede Puerto Rico the international sovereign powers that may be obtained either through free association or independence. On the other hand, because it would clash with the interests of mainstream white Americans of north-European descent in maintaining political and cultural hegemony in US society in spite of the menace of a growing Latino population. Collado insists very clearly that the history of US-Puerto Rico relations shows that statehood may be individually attained by Puerto Ricans as American citizens if they decide to move to any of the 50 states of the union, but it has never been considered as desirable for Puerto Rico as a country, as a Hispanic Caribbean nation.
Finally, a third paramount argument of the book is that there are six (6) main sovereign powers that Puerto Rico's government is unable to fully exercise under territorial, subordinate Commonwealth status. Such powers have been precisely those that have been key elements in explaining why small sovereign countries such as the ones covered by the chapters of the book have attained successful economies. These powers are: (1) Power over the financial sector of the economy; (2) Over imports and exports (trade); (3) Over the taxation system; (4) Over natural resources; (5) Over transportation and communications and (6) the Power to enter into international treaties.
It was mentioned earlier that the book is not a mere translation of the original Spanish publication. This is so because Collado and the two collaborating economists include in the English version direct references and statistics regarding exactly how the 2008-2010 world economic crisis did affect each of the sixth small countries studied. In this aspect, an argument is advanced in the sense that all these countries slowed their growth rates--or even began to have negative economic growth for a few years--but their political elites have been able in most cases to regain at least modest economic growth by making adjustments that become possible only by exercising the powers of sovereignty. Collado contends that, for example in Ireland, the elites committed several errors that help explain its economic slump. Decreasing growth rates and other problems, claims the author, were not the result of sovereign powers but were rather caused by wrongful decisions made by Ireland's governmental elite. However, when political leadership became aware of the causes of recession, they initiated adjustments and changed policies in such a way that Ireland soon became the fastest European country in attaining economic recuperation. At any rate, all these countries, though affected by the worldwide crisis, are much better off than Puerto Rico, which remains dependent on US federal subsidies in order to return to growth because our government lacks the powers that still reside in Washington.
Besides, the book includes three new elements not included originally: Part 3, Comparative Tables, includes 2010 data from all the countries studied as compared to data on Puerto Rico; Part 4, is a selection of newspaper articles and columns published in El Nuevo Dia by Collado himself from November 2007 to September 2011. These cover different topics related to Puerto Rico's economy and political status problem, to US-Puerto Rico relations, or to successful evolutions in the countries included as models for a sovereign Puerto Rico. Finally, at the very end, a list of suggested readings published in English was added.
The importance of this updated English version has to do with the author's purpose. If Successful Sovereignties was aimed at Puerto Rican readers, Decolonization Models for America's Last Colony: Puerto Rico has been aimed, as mentioned earlier, to the American public and to American policymakers. Moreover, much in the same fashion as the author followed-up its original Spanish publication in Puerto Rico by a series of public presentations entitled "Soberanias en PowerPoint," attended by hundreds of citizens of all ages and walks of life, Angel Collado Schwarz has also conducted a personal follow-up of this English language publication with presentations in several prestigious US universities and think tanks, besides, of course, sending personal copies to each member of the US Congress. Only time will demonstrate its real impact among US readers.
Reviewer: ANGEL ISRAEL RIVERA, UNIVERSIDAD DE PUERTO RICO--RIO PIEDRAS
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|Author:||Rivera, Angel Israel|
|Publication:||CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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