Joe Biden, the Mafioso
A lot’s happened in the past few days, including a reunion with my abuelo Guillermo over the phone for the first time since we’d spoken about him contracting C-19. There was me being added to a new publication unexpectedly and being fortunate to have some of my less ratchet work featured there. There was that epic gaffe involving Joe Biden attempting to pander to Latin@s, and there’s the current reverberation in the year formerly called 2020: now it goes by the moniker “Gives-No-Fucks”; the recent acquisition of Bethesda by Microsoft is the latest monumental development (ADDENDUM: the indictment of an Officer in Breonna Taylor’s murder, but not for her death, is yet another event worth mentioning).
Ginsburg passing away has brought on frenzied conversations concerning which comic book Supervillain Diet Underwood will replace her with. Arguments about hypocrisy on both sides in conversations regarding SCOTUS nominee precedents are rampant. Overbearing gossip fills the political channels with rumors that House Dems are planning some bold, secret political foist, even a gambit at a new impeachment offensive to delay the confirmation until after the election. It’s the kind of intriguing but overindulgent detail that belongs on the filler-episode of a televised adaptation of your favorite anime, since that’s what this clownish presidency has felt like for quite some time. But these are all minutiae that have taken on a diminished presence in my life as something far greater overshadows and siphons them into one larger Narrative.
As noted, I got to speak to my abuelo Guillermo again before this development; one could say it cushioned me for all the negative press that ensued afterward. I asked what he thought of the candidates. He obviously hated Trump, duh, and didn’t express any hope or faith in Biden and Harris. He didn’t like Bernie or any of the other major frontrunners of the past who’d fallen either.
“They’re Mafiosos, man; can’t trust ‘em,” his tone as justifiably cynical as I’ve expected. He’d seen the Gag Law that imprisoned Puerto Ricans who openly-displayed our flag and spoke of freedom from Colonialism, after all. He remembers the sterilizations of our women and experiments upon them in the Enovid trials, the razing of Jayuya by fighter jets, massacres, and of course, the Navy’s bombardment of Vieques for decades, which it still hasn’t recovered from. He lives in Nueva York now, and has for quite some time, but his bond with his homeland and interest in the affairs taking place there has never wavered. We capped off our discussion with a few private things and he hoped I’d come up North to visit this Thanksgiving. Jaded and uncertain whether I’d be able to during the pandemic, I told him I’d try my best.
“Mafioso,” I thought of Guillermo’s words in that conversation as I watched Biden speak at Kissimmee a few days later.
One thing I’ve come to understand is that my paternal homeland has been in a perpetually lose-lose situation politically, even with most of our so-called Liberal allies. Some praised Obama uncritically for visiting and advocating for us. This, of course, was despite the Council that has essentially exacerbated the Colonialist relationship our island nation has had with the Union being established during his tenure, among other infamous elements of his political legacy.
Sure, some of us praised the decision re: PROMESA, but that was a nuanced position borne out of years of waiting for substantive change and freedom from entities who’ve sunk their claws into our gov’t. Yet, even when many hoped things were changing, the FCB had only given us more of the same. Continuing, Sra. Clinton won Borikén’s primary in 2016 and made grand promises to us also, despite being financed by hedge funds using political connections to privatize our public institutions while their reps lobbied against debt relief measures for us.
Even this year, the late Ginsburg, alongside fellow “Justice” Sotomayor, a fellow Boricua, upheld Imperialism by supporting the same board actively pillaging our island and dismantling our infrastructure to maintain private interests in the name of “debt restructuring”. Their solution can’t even be considered a band-aid on a shotgun wound, as the cliché goes; it’s done nothing but ensure the hedge funds they ruled in favor of will continue to profit immensely from the devastation on the island. No matter where I look, with extremely few exceptions, the people who’ve managed to gain influence politically have always remained inextricably connected to our oppression; willfully, in fact. Enter Joe Biden.
I’ve waited for Biden to show he truly cares about Boricuas beyond words, and he hasn’t yet. Or at least, he hasn’t announced he has beyond plans that highlight potential moves toward progress for us while maintaining connections to the very people oppressing us, very much like the sharks who preceded him. At least the racists like Teddy Roosevelt, the first to reportedly visit our island, were honest in their bigotry(Teddy was notorious for his #FFFFFF Supremacist ideals).
Instead, Biden’s resorted to pandering in a naked bid to secure a foothold among Latin@s in Florida with the enabling of other influential Latin@s, because he knows he needs those votes to win there. Boricuas make up more than 1 in 4 of the Latin@s in the state according to some estimates, so I saw his attempt for what it was, although he’s definitely tried to cut into Trump’s firm support among Cuban@s. He’s recently expanded his ad-campaigns to address Latin@s writ-large more aggressively as well.
The spectacle he engaged in on that day in Kissimmee freed my voice from the prison it’d been trapped within, and I finally had the words to say what I truly meant to say.
Despacito, the smash Reggaeton hit that became an unofficial anthem of Borikén with even greater significance post-Maria, currently sits at nearly 7 billion views on Youtube. It’s no surprise then that Luis Fonsi, its lead-artist, was tapped to do PR — pun not intended — in an attempt to cater to Boricuas in Florida when Biden campaigned there recently, as well as other Latin@s in general(fellow Boricua Ricky Martin also made an appearance, as well as the “Texican” Eva Longoria). He spared no time remarking on the viral popularity of his hit song, stating that “Despacito proved to me that in this country we will never be defined by our differences,”.
Fonsi’s commentary extolled Despacito’s transcendent post-raciality with vapid snippets of campaign propaganda as he cast his bid for Biden, which he’s more than entitled to. The hit song was even played briefly when Biden finally came to deliver his speech. It was an elaborate, performative demonstration signifying a sense of cultural approval Biden’s been trying to cultivate for quite some time as the campaign winds down, and I imagine Biden must’ve been reveling in the response.
Re: Kissimmee, I imagine Biden’s tactics gently increased the gap between him and Diet Underwood approval-wise, though not without controversy. Yet, it was no different than the Mafiosos of the past exploiting their public connections for political approval, all while their hands were buried in the filthy corruption they often decried publicly. Yes, I’ll be speaking on it soon.
Predictably, claims of pandering arose from #DespacitoGate, with the chief defense that Fonsi had essentially been involved in the event, negating any potential claims of appropriation. Yet there are very important nuances being lost here: Fonsi’s class privilege for starters, as well as the message he sends by associating with a person being funded by organizations who are or have been intimately connected with Borikén’s oppression. Given all the activism Fonsi himself has been involved in and his personal connections to La Perla, the barrio where the smash hit’s music video was filmed, his obliviousness — which I hope is unintentional — perhaps is what made his appearance the most disappointing for me. It was a hella personal disappointment, at that.
La Perla is where my abuelo Guillermo is from, a place notorious for crime that became a poverty tourism hot spot as newfound interest in it helped bolster local reforms and progress. Yet, La Perla remains a place joked about by other Boricuas and stigmatized as the “worst place” in all of Borikén. The devastation wreaked by Maria didn’t help things either, especially given how desperate corporate interests are to privatize La Perla due to how “scenic” it is, ironically. The fact that the barrio literally only exists because Black and Brown Boricuas were banned from living in the city at one point adds a distinctively racial nuance to the oppression that permeates many of the places viewed as “undesirable” on our island.
In addition to the rest of my family in Borikén, I have family in La Perla I’ve never been able to meet yet, and if those robber baron fuckwads have their way, my parientes there might end up forced out before I even have a chance to, though they refuse to sell out. It thus comes without saying that no amount of co-signing by a celebrity that happens to share that ancestral History will ever convince me that this man can be trusted to “unite” us. We’ve been sold that lie for decades now.
Mafiosos, Guillermo called them.
“We must own past shortcomings and embrace a future of strength for Puerto Rico, with fair and equitable ties to Washington,” Biden once wrote in an op-ed criticizing Diet Underwood’s handling of our island. “I will engage Puerto Ricans — including representatives of every status option — in a process of self-determination, listening and developing federal legislation that outlines a fair path forward. Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans throughout our nation make the United States strong.”
The language Biden uses in his address to Boricuas in Florida is filled with the allure of promises that are hollowed, nearly weightless, so that they aren’t exactly lies, yet still lack the same gravitas that would accompany statements with tangible consequences. You could say they’re full of fluff, a kind of cotton candy served to us in the colors of our flag to stimulate the pleasure receptors of those of us who actually can vote in the election, because millions aren’t able to. I’ve grown to hate the taste; others still like it. I don’t blame them. Others pretend they do and enact policies that damage us to maintain that façade. I do blame them partially.
Those dismissive of my skepticism would probably highlight the pitch Biden laid out recently as proof that his words bore some substance, and to the average person, they’d be right. Biden even fit a well-timed jab at the fuckwad of a president we currently have while he was at it: “ I’m not going to suggest that we sell or trade, as was mentioned earlier, Puerto Rico. I’m not going to throw paper towels at people whose lives have just been devastated by a hurricane.” I chuckle a few times at the line, I’ll admit.
Thus, Biden’s policy proposals for addressing the crisis in Borikén are attractive. Reversing austerity, debt restructuring (though hedge funds have still directly profited off of this), disaster aid forgiveness, and expansions of vital sectors, especially health care, hit the standard Progressive notes. But for every harmonious key in the ever-prescient song of Liberalism being paraded by mainland and even some “allies” on the island, there are myriad others that sour it with an unending barrage of atonality. His blistering critiques of Diet Underwood’s handling of Irma and Maria defuse before they’ve even reached their mark.
For example, activists have called out Biden’s financial ties to the hedge funds oppressing our people for a while now; his links to them through their campaign donations were even unveiled in a report earlier this year that also outed other candidates who were campaigning during the primaries. Only two candidates who’d ever received donations — though notably smaller in some cases — from these hedge funds refunded them according to reports: Sanders and Warren. Biden’s talk of having our priorities in mind and not being interested in “stealing” from us mean little when the people donating to him currently are or have, at the very least.
Take Frank Bosens of Taconic Capital Advisors, which (as of Feb. 25th) owned nearly 200 million dollars worth of COFINA bonds and even tried to entrap Borikén further into debt with harmful loans barely a month after the devastation caused by Maria, though they were far from the only ones. Together with another hedge fund known as Monarch Alternative, they secured what’s considered the largest gathering of privatized assets in our island’s history, all under the guise of revenue development with the formation of PRISM (Puerto Rico Industrial Solutions and Management), and all in San Juan. But that’s not all.
Clinton Biondo of Fir Tree Partners is another donor to Biden’s campaign. Fir Tree Partners is notorious not only for their dealings with Borikén in their exploitation of its debt, but also the Union’s own mainland citizens and other countries during economic crises. In fact, since the housing crisis in 2008, Fir Tree Partners has pocketed an estimated 2.6 billion, with at least half coming directly from homeowners paying underwater mortgages. Underwater mortgages refer to loans homeowners are paying on properties that are worth less than them.
Fir Tree Partners’ attitude toward helping our island has been laughably villainous, sharply contrasting with the promises of commitment to ethics Biden has made re: his approach to our island’s affairs, especially financial ones. Alongside a group of other hedge funds for example, they released a report suggesting that Borikén, a nation with hundreds of now-defunct schools, often by intention as an investigation revealed, should prioritize closing more of them and cutting educational funding. Never mind that only one of the “economists” involved ever disclosed the amount they were paid for participating in the study.
I think of the other fights we are dealing with when other private interests(unrelated to Biden) and their equally deleterious “solutions” are considered, like the corruption Julia Keleher once oversaw to further disrupt public schooling, the assault on the welfare of our students and teachers, even our fight to deconstruct Imperialist Narratives brainwashing them, and what education means to our people, especially as a liberatory, fundamental civil right. I think of Biden’s enabling of Fir Tree Partners and imagine Rafael and Celestina are turning in their graves.
Continuing, BlueMountain Capital, a minor Biden donor, once sued the island for attempting to restructure its debt independently. Even Baupost Group donated; they once held nearly 1 billion in COFINA bonds until they reportedly “shed” their stake due to civil protests and calls for Ivy League universities to sever their ties… but not before Baupost Group still reportedly made more than half a billion from the debt restructuring, according to influential member Seth Klarman, who also — as the Center for Responsive Politics determined— has donated half a million to the Unite the Country Super PAC fundraising for Biden.
There’s Mark Gallogly of Centerbridge Partners who lent his support to Biden as well. Centerbridge epitomizes the ethical conflicts the former vice-president spoke of fighting against in that they’ve consistently under-played their role in our oppression through shell companies like SV Credit while cannibalizing public worker pensions. Klarman of Baupost Group has done the same with respect to his influence, and was even a major lobbyist prior to the establishment of PROMESA, although this post isn’t interested in debating whether his undeniable influence was causative or not.
I could go into detail about the Biden donor representing Oaktree Capital and their hedge fund’s business ventures in profiteering, like the hundreds of millions made in the Luis Muñoz Marin Airport investment, or Goldman Sachs’ storied history in Borikén’s affairs, including the sale of a stake in one of our toll roads. Yet, I won’t, because this information wasn’t written for Biden, let alone any other candidates’ consumption or attention. Don’t think of this as a “hit piece” or even a “thinkpiece”; it’s more like an accountability piece, and yet, it’s more personal than that.
I wrote this for those I love who I will never name and/or cannot name. They are lost to the same silence that once shuttered the forests so that the Coquí could not be heard at night. Sometimes I cry out to that pit during a nightmare, hoping my voice will reach them, but it always is devoured by the mercurial wails of Guabancex.
“Unite for a better future,” is splayed across the main page of Biden’s campaign website, along with the assertion that he’s spent his entire life devoted to public service, and he certainly has, although who he’s served is debatable. Meticulously-curated footage of Biden, sometimes alongside Harris during his campaign can be played throughout his site; one I viewed showed him either shaking the hands of a citizen, surveying an area, or speaking impassionedly at a rally while attendees gaze upon him in awe. His ads, especially those featuring interviews, give the casual viewer the impression that he’s an everyman that reaches beyond boundaries of class and race in his approach to politics. Stoic images of him saturate most of his pages and reinforce this.
However, there’s another photo of Biden with a dark nasobuco on his face, posing alongside Harris and others in his campaign also found on his central page, that says more. A curve that refused to flatten despite Summer predictions and hundreds of thousands of estimated mainland deaths, not including other casualties, has led the nasobuco to become a kind of unspoken symbol of empathy during this pandemic: one of communal vigilance, fact-checking, and even compassion for the betterment of a fellow citizen. Social media has even made the nasobuco a kind of moralistic parable, capitalizing on the unsurprising deaths of people who questioned their effectiveness as well as disregarded the seriousness of the pandemic(although Herman Cain, who has to be tweeting from the Djalia, might have gotten the last laugh).
Many of Biden’s ads now feature stills of him wearing a nasobuco while he outlines Diet Underwood’s unethical mishandling of the pandemic response. He almost seems like the agent those of us who’ve long warned about the anti-scientific bent sweeping the country have hoped for. He even has outlined a policy platform for his plan to “beat it”. Yet, BlackRock is another donor who epitomizes the conflicting Narrative Biden has sold us when the Histories of his donors are taken into account.
BlackRock has made considerable investments in Borikén’s vulnerable economy — alongside myriad other hedge funds — by capitalizing off of the latest pandemic’s effect on our gov’t, according to the Public Accountability Initiative’s research. In BlackRock’s case, more than 85 million, amounting to a 22% increase in their initial investment a few months earlier.
The fact that Biden’s donors are actively profiting or hoping to profit off of C-19 through their investments, and by extension our deaths, transforms the imagery Biden’s employed into something quite elitist and sinister. His righteous stings at Diet Underwood’s self-admitted fumbling of the pandemic response feel like unconvincing, if not hypocritical sleights of hand.
By accepting the funding of these hedge funds, Biden’s securing them a seat in political interests that will ensure those of us without the capital will remain oppressed and segregated. Biden looks coolly at those on the island who are dying, sick, or still carry the scars of these [man-made] political catastrophes, and he sighs. He wears the nasobuco to protect himself from them while they remain unprotected from the very pandemic he’s weaponized as a key theme in his campaign. They’re not his audience. They won’t nudge those approval ratings further. Neither will those whose bodies were disappeared by rivers and seas. Despacito plays for ten seconds and the only numbers that matter are dollar signs when the clip ends.
I often wonder if any of the politicians who accepted money from these hedge funds but refused to return it have actually been trying for a while, yet unable to. Note that I won’t insult vultures by comparing them like others have because vultures are actually essential to their environment. Nonetheless, the invisible blood soaking every banknote; the stains from runoff that filled our roads and poisoned the water locals drank while millions of bottles sat abandoned; the soil clumping onto each bill like a haphazardly-applied adhesive must’ve made any attempt for these politicians to disassociate themselves incredibly difficult. Or as edgelords would say, “complicated”.
I can even imagine these faux-Progressives and so-called Regressive-“radicals” condescendingly parroting “Do you want Trump?”, or suggesting, as another did that I’m somehow a Nazi for not accepting the lie that my life and that of my parientes will somehow be made better by their unseasoned brand of Liberalism, Mawuga be damned. Yes, they were, by the way. Their blanket dismissiveness of my needs also says a lot about how they view those who take issue with him for other reasons, sexual harassment and the controversy surrounding his history with Reade included.
Some have posed false dilemmas with binary thinking by suggesting that the only person I could possibly support is Trump as a result of this. But Diet Underwood has never truly been a friend to us nor have I ever considered him one. No amount of convenient political maneuvering for Boricua votes will amend the History of oppression he fomented either; the bodies overflowing in morgues he claimed did not exist are sealed inside my very Memory.
I once wrote about the Union’s tendency to accept our nation as a justifiable sacrifice in the political scene when it comes to how radicalism is characterized. Now there’s talk about a SCOTUS seat needing to be acquired (even with rumors of expanding the SCOTUS further) and this is most certainly true; the ramifications of the next person elected to the SCOTUS are as concrete as they can get. Yet this need is positioned as an answer to my concerns that just so happens to ignore our nation’s status as a colony. They don’t care that their Liberal vanguards — as I noted earlier — unanimously ruled in favor of maintaining the exploitation of our lands, and that they will always rule in favor of them.
Liberals ignore that Biden, who they uphold as someone infinitesimally better than Diet Underwood for Boricuas, has remained consistently mum on S.1312 (otherwise known as the United States Territorial Relief Act), and that’s predictable given whose interests he has decided to preserve, even though his running mate Kamala Harris has co-sponsored it, interestingly enough. His claims about austerity relief and social expansions through his policies thus sound like a Latinized chimera of Neoliberal Economics. They’re the pomp disguising the same hidden machinations embedded in policies that ultimately bolster gentrification, exploiting the same hopes and desires of mainland skinfolk. Biden, like countless other politicians of the past and contemporaneously, promises us wealth, self-determination, and recovery, so we invest in those promises, sometimes with a knowing instinct that we’re trading harms in a tenuous gambit. We only get diminishing returns each time while those in office sell us poison and further disenfranchisement.
Just like a Mafioso.
“Rebuilding also means confronting some hard truths about Washington’s legacy on the island. We must own past shortcomings and embrace a future of strength for Puerto Rico, with fair and equitable ties to Washington,” I remember Biden writing in that same piece way back when.
I know it’s a paradox: all a lie, but not quite a lie. More like generic fast-food sold to us with little actual nutritional value and disclaimers written in subscript with invisible ink so that there are no obligations worth noting. They’re takeout meals with nice little Boricua dulces as a bonus, maybe a toy to distract us as we gift them to our youth, instill a sense of hope in them for their generation, because some of us know implicitly that Biden will never honor his promise. Others grasp onto that same optimism and hope that he will as well, and I don’t blame them. Others exploit that optimism to enable our oppression further, and I do blame them partially.
Still though, Biden honoring his promise would require him to relinquish tens of thousands — or in one case, disavow hundreds of thousands — in funding that he’s spared no time boasting about. It would require him to actually recognize us as human beings worth more than the banknotes hedge funds have attached to us. It would require him to actually take legislation that has been proposed already seriously and commit to it. It would require him to betray his private interests. I’ve accepted that will probably never happen. I’d love to see him prove me wrong tangibly, though.
But for now I dwell on the nightmares I still have. There’s one in which the entire island sinks below the water as our people fight in vain to resist Imperialism. The sea bubbles and froths, the water gradually enclosing its mouth around the island while those who remain make their final, ultimately futile stand against private interests backed by the Union’s military. La Perla is gone; Aguadilla, where my tía and tío currently live, is gone; Vieques, Bayamón, Mayagüez, Caguas, Utuado, San Juan, Manatí, Jayuya, Loíza, El Yunque… every place has been disappeared by them. Mosquito Bay no longer glows at night. No one ever survives.
I think of the doubts and uncertainties concerning my Boricua fam I’m divorced from in this pandemic. I promised Guillermo I’d show him what my backyard looks like; a relatively simple yard with a dilapidated and grimy white shed that must be hiding the handiwork of an unknown serial killer inside, as we’ve never opened it. There’s a larger, cream-colored shed recently built not far from it. It’s also filled with things, in this case assorted junk and hardware that were hoarded by my madre’s husband and will probably never be used.
There’s a group of pine trees I like to visit whenever I perform tsifodi (Ewe, for “libations”) just to recall those I know and/or knew of my familia, including my tío abuelo Wilbur recently. I divined the name of one of my trees: its name is Yaya. I spend a lot of time there, sometimes to help with the small crops we’ve decided to start growing near it. Periodically, I treat the area with nutrients so Yaya and the others will thrive. I want Guillermo — and by extension, the rest of my parientes — to at least feel like he’s present here, even if he isn’t physically, so I describe the place and take a few pictures. As soon as he figures out his cellphone, I’ll text them to him. But I come to Yaya for other reasons.
I often whisper the names of those who’ve been recently lost to the multiplicities in which Anti-Blackness and other systems of oppression, often intersecting, claim them, including those like me who are also Disabled and/or Neurodiverse. I recall the names of those who have yet to experience justice or recognition. I bring new names every time I visit.
Before I wrote this, I whispered the number of those lost again, which will never be precisely known. What we do know, is that it’s higher than what that trash Rosselló and even mainstream publications settled on. I whisper the names of those who’ve died in the fight combatting these forms of oppression. Guabancex is disappeared from the void that once teemed with her violent presence for now.
I gaze into that void and ask it for guidance, for a voice that can help me say what I truly mean to say. I listen as my words, now a muddled, disembodied echo, drift down a miles-long cavern in my thoughts. They only return, accompanied by a horde of singular affirmations, all in Guillermo’s voice.