By Katy Dara
Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Latina activist, lawyer, and writer, spoke to the UAlbany community on Wednesday, Feb. 19. She presented “The Making of a Crisis: Disaster Capitalism, Climate Change and Colonialism in Puerto Rico,” a comprehensive look at the United States and its colonial relationship with Puerto Rico, particularly the failures to protect the territory after Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Bannan dove into the history of the United States’ relationship with Puerto Rico, and how, despite the common belief of Puerto Rico being a territory, it is really an example of modern American colonialism.
“People call Puerto Rico a commonwealth of the U.S. It’s not a commonwealth the way Massachusetts or Pennsylvania is a commonwealth. Calling it a free, associated state — none of those words are true. It’s not free, it’s not associated, and it’s not a state. We say that to kind of provide a cover,” Bannan explained.
It is well-known that Puerto Rico is experiencing a fiscal crisis, particularly after the natural disasters experienced in the past few years. But, Bannan said that there’s more to the problems than that.
“We’re unpacking what is the multi-issue crisis that is Puerto Rico. There are multiple crises in Puerto Rico,” she said, “and rarely do we talk about the political crisis. All of these crises at their root have the political crisis of colonialism.”
At the end of her presentation, Bannan turned the dismal outlook for Puerto Rico into a chance for the audience to think about being proactive.
“There’s so much space to ask, ‘What is our role in showing up in this particular political moment? What is our responsibility in calling out our government’s actions and what they do in our name? How can we support the people of Puerto Rico, who are not only mobilizing for their survival, but for their liberation?’”
Bannan has made a lifelong career of using her legal training in pursuit of social justice. She works as senior counsel for Latino Justice PRLDEF, where her work focuses on the economic exploitation and discrimination against Latina/o immigrant workers, as well as legal support in the wake of the economic and humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. She works both domestically and internationally before human rights entities concerning issues including state-sanctioned violence, failure to protect, immigrants’ rights, and gender justice self-determination and decolonization processes.
The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latino Studies and the Center for International Education and Global Strategy.