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Colonial Debts: The Case of Puerto Rico

by Rocío Zambrana

Duke University Press, 2021


eISBN: 978-1-4780-1319-8

OA eISBN: 978-1-4780-9171-4

Paper: 978-1-4780-1183-5

Cloth: 978-1-4780-1072-2

About the Book
With the largest municipal debt in US history and a major hurricane that destroyed much of the archipelago's infrastructure, Puerto Rico has emerged as a key site for the exploration of neoliberalism and disaster capitalism. In Colonial Debts Rocío Zambrana develops the concept of neoliberal coloniality in light of Puerto Rico's debt crisis. Drawing on decolonial thought and praxis, Zambrana shows how debt functions as an apparatus of predation that transforms how neoliberalism operates. Debt functions as a form of coloniality, intensifying race, gender, and class hierarchies in ways that strengthen the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Zambrana also examines the transformation of protest in Puerto Rico. From La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción's actions, long-standing land rescue/occupation in the territory, to the July 2019 protests that ousted former governor Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló, protests pursue variations of decolonial praxis that subvert the positions of power that debt installs. As Zambrana demonstrates, debt reinstalls the colonial condition and adapts the racial/gender order essential to it, thereby emerging as a key site for political-economic subversion and social rearticulation.
About the Author
Rocío Zambrana is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Emory University and author of Hegel's Theory of Intelligibility.
“At a time when many are turning to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane María, there is a dire need for sophisticated texts like this that can help unsettle much of the commonsense thinking about Puerto Rico's debt and its colonial relationship to the United States. It is rare to see a book of this theoretical heft so well grounded in contemporary politics. Colonial Debts makes a unique and urgent contribution.”

-- Yarimar Bonilla, coeditor of Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm

“There are few better sites than Puerto Rico to take as a case study for the exploration of the entanglement between neoliberalism, colonialism, and coloniality. Rocío Zambrana offers a creative theoretical account that expands the horizon of examination from financial debts to historical debts and from juridico-political colonialism to coloniality. Colonial Debts provides an indispensable philosophical analysis to understand our current time. It is essential reading in critical and political theory, as well as in Puerto Rican and Caribbean Studies.”

-- Nelson Maldonado-Torres, author of Against War: Views from the Underside of Modernity

"Offering an account that weaves together philosophies of debt, American exceptionalism, and a description of attempts by various coalitions of leftists, students, women, and workers to resist, Zambrana not only details the experience of economic exploitation in Puerto Rico but confronts its particular effects on an array of marginalized groups, thereby showing that debt knows no divisions between identity and class and that the inequalities it imposes or creates must be met by an equally undivided left."

-- Ed Morales The Nation

"Colonial Debts is a brilliant book, one that 'thinks' Puerto Rico with/from Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican global diaspora. . . . I highly recommend Zambrana’s Colonial Debts to economic, political, Caribbean, and Latin American geographers working closely with financial geographies and geographies of debt. Decolonial geographers will also find the book’s theoretical contributions provocative, particularly as it relates to the geographies of knowledge production."

-- Joaquín Villanueva Journal of Latin American Geography

"Colonial Debts makes an important and timely contribution to Puerto Rican studies, to philosophies of coloniality and decoloniality, and theories of political economy. It opens windows to worlds that for many only show up on the fringes of history, as an afterthought. . . . Our understandings of debt, reparations, coloniality, and its resistances must, at minimum, include Puerto Rico. To this effect, Colonial Debts succeeds in demonstrating how debt operates in the colony that is still a very present reality, revealing a past that continues to violently permeate the present and thus demands critical attention."

-- Stephanie Rivera Berruz H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews

"It seems to me that Zambrana has gifted us one of the most thorough philosophical meditations on the material conditions of contemporary Puerto Rico. . . . There is no doubt in my mind that Zambrana’s text will become a classic of Puerto Rican studies, decolonial theory, and the broad corpus of Caribbean anticolonial thought."

-- Pedro Lebrón Ortiz Candela Review

Colonial Debts is a must-read critique of Puerto Rico’s ongoing political and economic crisis. . . . This outstanding text is deeply engaged in theory and its practical implications. Essential.”

-- B. A. Lucero Choice

"Zambrana has made an outstanding theoretical contribution for analyzing coloniality in Puerto Rico and broader topics associated with neoliberalism, debt, austerity and coloniality. This book will be very useful for academics in Caribbean Studies, Political Theory, Political Economy, and Decolonial Studies."

-- Miguel A. Rivera-Quiñones New West Indian Guide

"Magnificent... Colonial Debts challenges the reader to rethink what they know about the logic of coloniality in its relation to our neoliberal moment; it is in fact a remarkable exemplification of how decolonial theories can function to critically engage the logic sustaining finance capitalism."

-- Jason Cortés Dialogues in Human Geography

"Colonial Debts is an in-depth philosophical reflection on how debt has been theorized by other scholars while engaging thoughtfully in conceptual work that offers important insights into how debt can be resisted and transformed. Reader-activists would want to read this book, especially anti-debt activists. Scholars of and on Puerto Rico would also be interested in having a different look at the colonial relation at play here through historical debt."

-- Valérie Vézina Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

"With this book, Rocío Zambrana generously shares with us a multilevel compass for the understanding and the overturning of the neoliberal and colonial predicaments that are profoundly violent."

-- Rosa M. O’Connor Acevedo Centro Journal

Radical Américas, 1952-, Fiscal policy, Debts Public, Budget deficits, Economic policy, Caribbean & West Indies, Colonialism & Post-Colonialism, Economic aspects, Economic conditions, Political Science, United States, History
Open Access Information

License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0