Blackness, Gender Violence, and Colonialism in Puerto Rico’s Feminicidios

After Hurricane María, the number of femicides in Puerto Rico started increasing at an alarming rate. Disappearances and femicides of women are ongoing issues in Puerto Rico, which has one of the highest femicide rates in the Western Hemisphere. But it was not until two years later, in 2019, that this was brought to public attention (in the continental United States). Gender-based violence calls to attention the consequences and history that colonialism, transphobia, racism, and sexism have on the island. Currently, women and feminists’ group like La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción have repeated their demand for a declaration of a State of Emergency against gender violence on the island but the Puerto Rican government has only recently acted on these demands, yet these efforts have not been sufficient; killings and disappearances of women on the island keep increasing and becoming common.

History is important and can be an act of resistance, but it is also about power; how it upholds the victories of the colonizer, not the colonized. Within the social contexts of Puerto Rico, heteronormativity is colonized by religious principles and gender-based perceptions that in recent years have caused an escalation of violence against transgender women and reports of anti-transgender violence, especially femicides. Along with the temporal displacement of Blackness and Black bodies that is closely connected to State modernizing agendas, Puerto Rico’s police has a history of marginalizing Black people without any consequences within the law, especially when it comes to racial profiling and recent police killings of Black (including LGBTQ+) Boricuas.

The history of colonization in Puerto Rico is not as buried as some are led to believe. By being aware of the history and current ways in which colonization is incorporated, there is resistance and a foundation for radical freedom on the island. Conversations about race and gender, however, need more work. Ethnicity and nationality are focal point in conversations about race, therefore causing erasure. Consequently, as a way to not talk about race, Latin America pushes its citizens to think of themselves in terms of their ethnicity and nationality. Puerto Rican’s acknowledge their history of Blackness; however, it is along admitting their Spaniard and Indigenous roots first, and Blackness last. Awareness about the danger trans women faced during the femicides is there, but no discussion as to why or how transphobia plays a part in it. Instead, trans women are placed into a generalized “all women in Puerto Rico are in danger” category, equating their fear and likelihood to femicide to cis women, which is highly problematic. 

And the government needs to be held accountable. As of January of 2021, the Puerto Rican government has issued a State of Emergency due to gender violence, yet these efforts have not been sufficient; killings and disappearances of women on the island keep increasing and becoming common. In order to take accountability, the government should provide more resources (including legal protection, housing, and financial support) to survivors of femicide, domestic violence, and any form of gender violence. A relationship and conversation between the State, survivors, community organizers, and the people of Puerto Rico must be formed in order to hold the Puerto Rican government accountable and responsible.


(By Glorimar Mariño)

(Image Credit: Michelle Dersdepanian / TodasPR)

The experiment continues, and we are all still canaries in the coal mine

When Greek public debt exploded in 2010 some started asking, “Why Greece why now?”

The documentary “Les canaries dans la mine” (the Canaries in the Coal Mine), initially released in French in 2013, incorporates many voices from unionists, community health center managers, students, to journalists and politicians and more. They all conclude that what happened to Greece is an experiment to dismantle public services and democratic ideals. As Zoe says in the documentary: “Greece is a laboratory for those who think that human rights, human existence can be subjected to experiments.”

I recently talked with Sophia Tzitzikou on the occasion of the release of the documentary in English (with English subtitles). She runs a health community center in Athens and was interviewed in the documentary. I asked how the situation has evolved since the filming of the documentary: “It is worse.” As a result of the inhuman austerity measures that have destroyed public services and employment, poverty in on the rise. “There are no policies in favor of the poor, and public hospitals continue to be shut down.” The situation is especially dire for psychiatric hospitals: “Three of them were recently closed in Athens. The patients were simply sent to the streets.”

As a member of Greece’s UNICEF delegation, Sophia emphasized, “36% off Greek children now live in poverty, with 340 000 of them in conditions of social exclusion.” Her tone expressed her anger, as she added that the abortion rate has never been so high. Sophia explained, “Women simply don’t want to bring life into this misery.” Not to forget that in Greece giving birth used to be covered within a decent public health care system that has been taken apart by austerity measures imposed by The Troika, the financiers of Europe.

Even these numbers hardly describe the new reality. As Sophia said, “We have the feeling that our lives don’t belong to us anymore. Human rights are violated everyday, rights to work, rights to health, rights to have children, rights to live. We are now removed from all of that.”

The experiment continues. Puerto Rico is one of the last casualties of this neoliberal attack on the public and its services. This time, the order to enforce austerity measures on the US territory came directly from Wall Street with no shame. The credit-rating agencies like Standard & Poor set the tone as they “downgraded” the territory. Then, using the same tools as the Troika did in Greece, the remedy was made self-evident: cut public budgets, close public schools and reduce public services. The US financial markets have their grip on the island. Again, unions have been equally targeted. We see the same tools being used to discard public services over and over.

Watch the Canaries in the Coal Mine, it will inform you about these neoliberal attacks on workers, women and the public at large…us. We are all still canaries in the coal mine.


(Video Credit: YouTube/Yannick Bovy)