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Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico

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A crucial, clear-eyed accounting of Puerto Rico's 122 years as a colony of the US. Since its acquisition by the US in 1898, Puerto Rico has served as a testing ground for the most aggressive and exploitative US economic, political, and social policies. The devastation that ensued finally grew impossible to ignore in 2017, in the wake of Hurricane María, as the physical dest A crucial, clear-eyed accounting of Puerto Rico's 122 years as a colony of the US. Since its acquisition by the US in 1898, Puerto Rico has served as a testing ground for the most aggressive and exploitative US economic, political, and social policies. The devastation that ensued finally grew impossible to ignore in 2017, in the wake of Hurricane María, as the physical destruction compounded the infrastructure collapse and trauma inflicted by the debt crisis. In Fantasy Island, Ed Morales traces how, over the years, Puerto Rico has served as a colonial satellite, a Cold War Caribbean showcase, a dumping ground for US manufactured goods, and a corporate tax shelter. He also shows how it has become a blank canvas for mercenary experiments in disaster capitalism on the frontlines of climate change, hamstrung by internal political corruption and the US federal government's prioritization of outside financial interests. Taking readers from San Juan to New York City and back to his family's home in the Luquillo Mountains, Morales shows us the machinations of financial and political interests in both the US and Puerto Rico, and the resistance efforts of Puerto Rican artists and activists. Through it all, he emphasizes that the only way to stop Puerto Rico from being bled is to let Puerto Ricans take control of their own destiny, going beyond the statehood-commonwealth-independence debate to complete decolonization.


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A crucial, clear-eyed accounting of Puerto Rico's 122 years as a colony of the US. Since its acquisition by the US in 1898, Puerto Rico has served as a testing ground for the most aggressive and exploitative US economic, political, and social policies. The devastation that ensued finally grew impossible to ignore in 2017, in the wake of Hurricane María, as the physical dest A crucial, clear-eyed accounting of Puerto Rico's 122 years as a colony of the US. Since its acquisition by the US in 1898, Puerto Rico has served as a testing ground for the most aggressive and exploitative US economic, political, and social policies. The devastation that ensued finally grew impossible to ignore in 2017, in the wake of Hurricane María, as the physical destruction compounded the infrastructure collapse and trauma inflicted by the debt crisis. In Fantasy Island, Ed Morales traces how, over the years, Puerto Rico has served as a colonial satellite, a Cold War Caribbean showcase, a dumping ground for US manufactured goods, and a corporate tax shelter. He also shows how it has become a blank canvas for mercenary experiments in disaster capitalism on the frontlines of climate change, hamstrung by internal political corruption and the US federal government's prioritization of outside financial interests. Taking readers from San Juan to New York City and back to his family's home in the Luquillo Mountains, Morales shows us the machinations of financial and political interests in both the US and Puerto Rico, and the resistance efforts of Puerto Rican artists and activists. Through it all, he emphasizes that the only way to stop Puerto Rico from being bled is to let Puerto Ricans take control of their own destiny, going beyond the statehood-commonwealth-independence debate to complete decolonization.

30 review for Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico

  1. 4 out of 5

    Claudia Cecilia

    Please listen to Puerto Rican voices on reviews, rather than annoyed white men. As a Puerto Rican, this book is a MUST read. It goes in depths of political and economic corruption that has lead to the current colonial status of Puerto Rico. A lot of Puerto Rican voices were amplified in this book, which is important in any talk about the future status of what Puerto Ricans wants. Topics talked about: -historical background -massive debt through US bondholders -housing crisis in PR -political and econo Please listen to Puerto Rican voices on reviews, rather than annoyed white men. As a Puerto Rican, this book is a MUST read. It goes in depths of political and economic corruption that has lead to the current colonial status of Puerto Rico. A lot of Puerto Rican voices were amplified in this book, which is important in any talk about the future status of what Puerto Ricans wants. Topics talked about: -historical background -massive debt through US bondholders -housing crisis in PR -political and economic corruption for capital greed -status conversation of what Puerto Ricans want and need -Congress neglect of talking about Puerto Rico. -The islands struggle before Hurricane Maria and after Hurricane Maria -The imposed Fiscal Oversight and Management Board -Bitcoin rise in PR Please read to understand more about Puerto Rico, but remember - if you are not Puerto Rican and have an opinion on the status - do not impose them on our people! Puerto Ricans decide the future of Puerto Ricans, not self-interested outsiders that want to act as colonizers and like the land is theirs. Be an ally, not a modern day colonizer with your thoughts.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    This isn't a book about Puerto Rico's economic situation, with facts presented and then conclusions drawn from those facts. It's a rant by a Marxist who lives in NYC and is somehow part of the establishment, with family from Puerto Rico, who uses a few examples from the past ~40 years of Puerto Rico's history to try to advance his agenda. Particularly hilarious when he talks about how horrible irs 936 was (which brought a lot of manufacturing to the island, including some very high value pharma This isn't a book about Puerto Rico's economic situation, with facts presented and then conclusions drawn from those facts. It's a rant by a Marxist who lives in NYC and is somehow part of the establishment, with family from Puerto Rico, who uses a few examples from the past ~40 years of Puerto Rico's history to try to advance his agenda. Particularly hilarious when he talks about how horrible irs 936 was (which brought a lot of manufacturing to the island, including some very high value pharma with great jobs), and then how bad it was that 936 was ended, and then how bad other current incentive programs are. The "everyone is secretly in favor of independence but afraid to admit it" angle is also pretty lulzy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jose Zapata

    Rabia, furia, fuego y guillotina

  4. 5 out of 5

    Philip J Cardella

    I was expecting a bit more of a balanced, objective (as much as anything can be objective) look at Puerto Rico's history. This book is not that at all, and that's fine. What the book really is is an examination of the crippling, exploitive debt that cripples Puerto Rico and is used by rich people to extract wealth, likely illegally, from Puerto Ricans. Based on that examination in the end Morales comes down hard on the side of Puerto Rican independence with reparations from the United States. I I was expecting a bit more of a balanced, objective (as much as anything can be objective) look at Puerto Rico's history. This book is not that at all, and that's fine. What the book really is is an examination of the crippling, exploitive debt that cripples Puerto Rico and is used by rich people to extract wealth, likely illegally, from Puerto Ricans. Based on that examination in the end Morales comes down hard on the side of Puerto Rican independence with reparations from the United States. I think it's a must read for anyone wanting Puerto Rican Statehood. I'm not sure I'm convinced by the argument, but it's an important one that must be heard by any advocate Puerto Rican Statehood.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    This book focused specifically on US colonialism. The majority of the book details the US programs of Operation Bootstrap and the more recent Promesa. The author is very passionate about the struggle of the island as he has roots on the island. He covers first hand his families experience during Hurricane Maria and does not shy away from the macabre results of the "Territory that America forgot". This book was published in September 2019 and I would love to see the Author do an update on the ins This book focused specifically on US colonialism. The majority of the book details the US programs of Operation Bootstrap and the more recent Promesa. The author is very passionate about the struggle of the island as he has roots on the island. He covers first hand his families experience during Hurricane Maria and does not shy away from the macabre results of the "Territory that America forgot". This book was published in September 2019 and I would love to see the Author do an update on the inspiring protests and removal of the corrupt Governor Ricardo Rossello in July 2019. The plight of Puerto Rico and their struggle to autonomy is a story that is being rewritten every day post Maria.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Z

    This book is such a good overview of how US settler coloniality has shaped life on the island of Puerto Rico. The information is thorough and compelling. However, the reason I rated this book lower is because I did not think the storytelling was great. That is, the writing at times was dense, and felt like moving through quick-drying cement. Because of this, I think Morales missed opportunities to tell certain stories through a better narrative arc. I also found some chapters to have a more repo This book is such a good overview of how US settler coloniality has shaped life on the island of Puerto Rico. The information is thorough and compelling. However, the reason I rated this book lower is because I did not think the storytelling was great. That is, the writing at times was dense, and felt like moving through quick-drying cement. Because of this, I think Morales missed opportunities to tell certain stories through a better narrative arc. I also found some chapters to have a more reporter tone (here is what happened, and here is what happened next, and then next), which shares facts, but doesn’t stitch them together to tell a story. In other words, the broader tapestry of what has always been happening since the US settled Puerto Rico was left to the reader to piece together. That said, Morales’ critiques were spot-on, and I feel his commentary on the radical nature of University of Puerto Rico students, faculty, and staff was fantastically interesting (I wish he would have done more there, to be honest).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Bardenwerper

    Morales provides a powerful and well-researched analysis of the many challenges facing contemporary Puerto Rico, specifically the "fantasy" of being a "free associated state," the debt crisis and the PROMESA response, and Hurricane Maria. The discussion of Puerto Rico's colonial status is thorough but not particularly ground-breaking. Morales, like many Puerto Ricans, yearns for independence with his heart but recognizes with his head that this is unlikely to ever happen, as the vast majority of Morales provides a powerful and well-researched analysis of the many challenges facing contemporary Puerto Rico, specifically the "fantasy" of being a "free associated state," the debt crisis and the PROMESA response, and Hurricane Maria. The discussion of Puerto Rico's colonial status is thorough but not particularly ground-breaking. Morales, like many Puerto Ricans, yearns for independence with his heart but recognizes with his head that this is unlikely to ever happen, as the vast majority of Puerto Ricans are unwilling to jettison their US citizenship. Morales is also realistic about Puerto Rico's slim chances at achieving statehood (assuming that a majority of the island's population demanded it). That leaves Morales hoping for some kind of new and improved commonwealth status where Puerto Ricans more fully share in the protections and privileges of being American citizens while maintaining their distinctive cultural identity and distancing themselves from an overbearing and interfering Uncle Sam. One great point that Morales does make regarding Puerto Rican politics is that the never-ending obsession over "status" - which is the driving force behind the island's political parties and elections - merely retards the development of sound policy and hard answers to hard political questions. (One reason I believe that the Puerto Rican political dynamic is so convoluted is that Puerto Rico is not like any of those historic colonies that traditionally come to mind. Take the British colonies that eventually gained independence in the 20th century. The local populations desperately wanted independence and the British government desperately wanted to retain control. This dynamic does not apply to Puerto Rico where most Puerto Ricans don't want true independence [because they would lose US citizenship] and the US government doesn't desperately want to hold onto the island [because the government sees it as an economic drain that serves little strategic purpose]. In other words, if Puerto Rico demanded independence tomorrow, the federal government would likely grant it in a heartbeat. With this in mind, Puerto Ricans unfortunately have almost no leverage in demanding an improvement to the status quo.) Morales's discussion of the debt and the various financial practices and predations that led to it is quite insightful and terrifically researched. Morales does not portray the blame as zero-sum, but rather articulates why vulture capitalists from Wall Street, a callous Congress, and a corrupt and inefficient territorial government all share responsibility in what has sadly transpired. If I had one bone to pick with Morales, it is that he tends to take a dim view of any Puerto Rico-related players that do not share his particular political and cultural values. Yes, Donald Trump is an obvious villain when it comes to Puerto Rico, and to a much lesser extent so are former Governors Luis Fortuno and Ricky Rossello (although the "Ricky Renuncia" saga didn't occur until after this book went to press). Where Morales loses me is where he spends almost an entire chapter complaining about Lin-Manuel Miranda's post-Maria "Hamilton" production in San Juan. While I agree with Morales that Miranda was tone-deaf in thinking that colonized islanders who were still recovering from a cataclysmic hurricane were waiting with bated breath to see a performance about the colonizer's struggle for independence, I disagree that Miranda is some kind of bad actor (no pun intended). For better or worse, Puerto Rico needs to be relevant to the mainland government and population for its situation to improve, and Miranda is one of the few people with a mainland platform who even deigns to discuss Puerto Rico. Long story short, I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Puerto Rico (or the Caribbean and Latin America more generally). Although this story is still waiting for its happy ending, it is one that needs to be told.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris Brown

    The history of Puerto Rico since its acquisition by the United States after the war with Spain in 1898. It's evolution from a property to territory to commonwealth and not really knowing what it's status is to the United States. Mostly history from 1950 to present particularly since 2010. A look at the ever evolving culture of Puerto Rico on the island in New York, Philadelphia, Florida. A deeper dive into what it means for countries to be in perpetual debt in the global economy. For the wealthy The history of Puerto Rico since its acquisition by the United States after the war with Spain in 1898. It's evolution from a property to territory to commonwealth and not really knowing what it's status is to the United States. Mostly history from 1950 to present particularly since 2010. A look at the ever evolving culture of Puerto Rico on the island in New York, Philadelphia, Florida. A deeper dive into what it means for countries to be in perpetual debt in the global economy. For the wealthy outsider Americans real estate capitalists to buy up the most valuable property and native residents forced out. A journey into the complex relationship of Puerto Rico to America. Its not as simple as statehood or independence or status quo. After hurricane Maria and the lack of aid by the Trump administration the veil was torn away to show the truth about this American colony. US citizens but not with the same rights as mainland Americans. It is a tax haven for the rich and corporations, a feeding ground for criminal wall street vulture debt buyers. Puerto Rico has been enslaved by debt much the same as Greece and much of the dependent 3rd world. The political unrest protests of labor and students because of layoffs forced time off austerity measures loss of pensions and pervasive corruption and police oppression by Governor Fortuna 2010 with the disintegration of its infrastructure preceding hurricane Maria.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Why-why

    Not very well written.  Very biased and one-sided. Arguments are poorly laid out and thus, not very well substantiated.  Even on points that are likely quite true, the author does a poor job of substantiating his claims.  The book is heavily laced with economic language but with little economic analysis to back it.  And then it's so one-sided that it loses credibility and at times becomes laughable.  Ryan's one-star review was not wrong to call out 936.  Being so one-sided, the author only bemoan Not very well written.  Very biased and one-sided. Arguments are poorly laid out and thus, not very well substantiated.  Even on points that are likely quite true, the author does a poor job of substantiating his claims.  The book is heavily laced with economic language but with little economic analysis to back it.  And then it's so one-sided that it loses credibility and at times becomes laughable.  Ryan's one-star review was not wrong to call out 936.  Being so one-sided, the author only bemoans the negative aspects, leaving readers to wonder why Puerto Ricans would protest something ending that was so terrible to begin with. And how many times do you need to name-drop Lin-Manuel Miranda?? This quote from p.274 should give you an idea of Fantasy Island: "This trip for me is really rediscovering Puerto Rico," Lin-Manuel says, smiling earnestly.  "Rediscovering what makes it great."  The plane-landing footage reminds me of the pattern suggested by Gallisa Muriente's critique of the intersection between tourist and military videos.      The idea of Miranda's "return" to the island -- a kind of reverse Great Migration scenario from the 1950s -- as a "rediscovery" is an unapologetic reminder of how the word discovery whitewashes the violent and at times genocidal process begun by Columbus when he arrived in the Caribbean in 1492.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jonilee

    I’d hoped this book would be more engaged in storytelling than it was. Toward the middle of the book, the reading became quite dense with economic specifics that I personally don’t have a good understanding of. I enjoyed the introduction and the end as storytelling was invoked in these areas far more; however the economic talk about vulture and hedge funds, bonds, and the like made the book feel closer to a textbook specifically on the economic relationship between Boriken and the United States. I’d hoped this book would be more engaged in storytelling than it was. Toward the middle of the book, the reading became quite dense with economic specifics that I personally don’t have a good understanding of. I enjoyed the introduction and the end as storytelling was invoked in these areas far more; however the economic talk about vulture and hedge funds, bonds, and the like made the book feel closer to a textbook specifically on the economic relationship between Boriken and the United States. The middle felt inaccessible to me (despite my college education), as though the author spouted names and economic facts with the expectation of the reader doing the work to connect them all. Still, I believe there are important messages within the text.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stevie Ada Klaark

    "Fantasy Island" is an important overview on some key players that have allowed for the Puerto Rico that we are witness to today. The outlining of colonial influences, the roots and reasons for (continued) economic instability, and the emphasis on the drawbacks and terrors of debt economy are all found in this text. What is also surprisingly highlighted (even if just for a second at the end of the book) is the way that the arts are tied to economic indicators of cultural preservation and social "Fantasy Island" is an important overview on some key players that have allowed for the Puerto Rico that we are witness to today. The outlining of colonial influences, the roots and reasons for (continued) economic instability, and the emphasis on the drawbacks and terrors of debt economy are all found in this text. What is also surprisingly highlighted (even if just for a second at the end of the book) is the way that the arts are tied to economic indicators of cultural preservation and social commentary. Modern art has always been aligned with economy (most importantly the ruling class) and Ed Morales indicates how art is used as a subversive social move towards resistance and community in Puerto Rico. This is though, again, a small addition, and not the crux of the publication.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cara Wood

    Despite visiting the island twice, I didn't know much about Puerto Rico's history beyond what's written on the plaques in 'El Morro' in San Juan before reading this book. Now I feel like I've gotten an education through the specific lens of a Nuyorican academic. Ed Morales combines his own experience with a detailed history of Puerto Rico with insights into US racial politics over the last two hundred years to build a case for America as a duplicitous colonial power that let down a territory of m Despite visiting the island twice, I didn't know much about Puerto Rico's history beyond what's written on the plaques in 'El Morro' in San Juan before reading this book. Now I feel like I've gotten an education through the specific lens of a Nuyorican academic. Ed Morales combines his own experience with a detailed history of Puerto Rico with insights into US racial politics over the last two hundred years to build a case for America as a duplicitous colonial power that let down a territory of more than 3 million. He builds a narrative for economic dependency and racial serration that led to a unnecessarily high death toll during Hurricane Maria.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

    Oi, this book took me a bit to get through. This book is great for someone in public policy or economics, since it goes into the nitty-gritty of the economic policies that are affecting Puerto Ricans. However, it would take effort for me to get through those parts. I did enjoy the portions about the early history of Puerto Rico, and the work of activists. I also liked how the author profiled Lin-Manuel Miranda, and explored the drawbacks of his involvement. I am grateful to learn more about the Oi, this book took me a bit to get through. This book is great for someone in public policy or economics, since it goes into the nitty-gritty of the economic policies that are affecting Puerto Ricans. However, it would take effort for me to get through those parts. I did enjoy the portions about the early history of Puerto Rico, and the work of activists. I also liked how the author profiled Lin-Manuel Miranda, and explored the drawbacks of his involvement. I am grateful to learn more about the economic history of my island. However, I was hoping this book focused more on the socio-cultural changes and people's experiences.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dvdurante

    Great book with so much information. It actually took me some time to read the book because so much of it documented how badly the US has treated Puerto Rico - it was hard to comprehend. At any rate a good read especially for the times we find ourselves in.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul Healy

    Not particularly well written or clearly reasoned. The author has a clear political agenda (which is fine, I'm all for leftist critiques of neoliberalism!) but doesn't engage thoughtfully with obvious counterarguments to his views. Comes off as a bit rant-y. Not particularly well written or clearly reasoned. The author has a clear political agenda (which is fine, I'm all for leftist critiques of neoliberalism!) but doesn't engage thoughtfully with obvious counterarguments to his views. Comes off as a bit rant-y.

  16. 5 out of 5

    DJ Meunier

    I really enjoyed this book. This is something I want and need to read up more on.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Fitzpatrick

    come for the history, stay for the independence (and the very necessary reading of LMM).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    Got through disc 6 and realized I was retaining very little information. I suspect this is an informative & good book - I will return to it in print form at a later date.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    devastating condemnation of America's history as a steward of PR. devastating condemnation of America's history as a steward of PR.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Judy Roman

    This book is a little harder to get into but once you get into it you learn a lot. I feel like I have much more of a better understanding of my island.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    I picked this up before our trip to PR in hopes of understanding more of the US/PR relationship and history. While there was a lot I picked up, I ended up skimming probably 2/3 of it because it was just so dense. The author has a very liberal/progressive slant which I generally agree with but it was distracting here. He even references himself in the appendix which is a little strange. All in all I'm glad I read the first 40 pages or so but it was a slog and it seems like this has been written f I picked this up before our trip to PR in hopes of understanding more of the US/PR relationship and history. While there was a lot I picked up, I ended up skimming probably 2/3 of it because it was just so dense. The author has a very liberal/progressive slant which I generally agree with but it was distracting here. He even references himself in the appendix which is a little strange. All in all I'm glad I read the first 40 pages or so but it was a slog and it seems like this has been written for a VERY specific audience. Not sure who I would recommend it to.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul Mena

    An exhaustive and exhausting history of the systematic fleecing of a tropical paradise and its people, seduced by an ideal of pseudo-autonomy and ensnared by the audacious greed of vulture capitalism.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael Knolla

    Whenever we vacation somewhere I make an effort to read books about, taking place in, or by authors from where we are going. As the lengths of our hikes on vacation have increased though, unsurprisingly my ability to get to sleep at night has also improved and thus my reading time on vacation has gone down. This year I smartly got some of my reading done ahead of the trip. This book provided a fascinating new angle on an issue, the Global Financial Crisis, that I am very familiar with profession Whenever we vacation somewhere I make an effort to read books about, taking place in, or by authors from where we are going. As the lengths of our hikes on vacation have increased though, unsurprisingly my ability to get to sleep at night has also improved and thus my reading time on vacation has gone down. This year I smartly got some of my reading done ahead of the trip. This book provided a fascinating new angle on an issue, the Global Financial Crisis, that I am very familiar with professionally. While not exclusively about the GFC it’s focus on how the GFC interacted with Puerto Rico’s unique history lended itself to both specific and general revelations.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maria Paula

    I was not in love with this book, but it was interesting and worth picking up.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Neida Rodriguez

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ruben Estremera

  27. 5 out of 5

    Albert

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lizzie Bowe

  29. 5 out of 5

    Wilfredo Mendez

  30. 4 out of 5

    Orlando

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