Photo by Xiomara Caro

Versión en español aquí

This syllabus provides a list of resources for teaching and learning about the current economic crisis in Puerto Rico. Our goal is to contribute to the ongoing public dialogue and rising social activism regarding the debt crisis by providing historical and sociological tools with which to assess its roots and its repercussions. The materials gathered help place the current moment within the larger political, social, and economic history of this U.S. territory and illuminate how both the crisis and its proposed solutions are impacting the daily lives of millions of Puerto Ricans both within the territory and across its growing diaspora.

Each topic has a few key texts along with some primary documents and multimedia and at times suggestions for further reading. We have included texts in both English and Spanish in order to make this syllabus as accessible as possible to different audiences and are working towards a fully bilingual version. We realize that the topic of debt is intimidating for many, so we we have sought to provide a carefully curated portal with various points of entry, along with a longer extended bibliography that will continue to grow with your suggestions. We hope these materials can help make sense of a context that is still unfolding and which is yet to be fully historicized and analyzed. As events continue to unfold, we expect this syllabus to continue evolving and welcome suggestions emailed to us at PRSyllabus@gmail.com or by using the hashtag #PRSyllabus on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

This project emerges from synergies between the Unpayable Debt working group at Columbia University convened by Frances Negrón-Muntaner and Sarah Muir, and syllabus project leaders Yarimar Bonilla, Marisol Lebrón and Sarah Molinari. The goal of the working group is to raise critical questions about the role of debt in contemporary capitalism; the relationship between debt, migration, and violence; and the emergence of new political and cultural identities. #PRSyllabus is the first in a series of three syllabi on the theme of debt that Unpayable Debt will release between 2017 to 2018 in response to the crippling effect on debt on various regions of the world, including Detroit, the Caribbean, Argentina, and Greece.

This project draws inspiration from and is in dialogue with other collective projects of intellectual community building such as the #CharlestonSyllabus, #StandingRockSyllabus, #ImmigrationSyllabus, #TrumpSyllabus2.0 and #IslamophobiaIsRacismSyllabus. (Greater discussion about the concept of hashtag syllabi can be found here,  here, and here.) Like those projects, we hope that this resource  can serve as a springboard for discussion and analysis of how the debt crisis is affecting the lives and futures of millions of Puerto Ricans across the territory  and in the diaspora. As educators committed to social justice, we hope that this syllabus project not only educates a greater public about what is occurring in Puerto Rico, but also serves as a call to action against the imposition of even greater neoliberal austerity measures, which will only increase harm and insecurity in the lives of more and more Puerto Ricans.

Goals of Syllabus

  • To understand how the contemporary Puerto Rican debt crisis has its roots in the colonial and capitalist relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States
  • To show how the debt crisis is affecting the lives of millions of Puerto Ricans in the territory and the diaspora.
  • To provide examples of Puerto Rican groups organizing against the austerity measures being imposed upon them by Washington and Wall Street.


Yarimar Bonilla is a Professor in the Department of Africana, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Hunter College and the Ph.D. Program in Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author of Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment (2015), and co-editor of Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm.  She is also a Section Editor of Public Anthropologies for the journal American Anthropologist. Yarimar has written broadly about social movements, historical imaginaries, and questions of sovereignty, citizenship, and race across the Americas. In addition, she has a strong interest in the role of digital technologies within social movements and academic practice. She has theorized hashtag usage within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and developed critical digital cartographies for Caribbean history. Her current research—for which she was named a 2018-2020 Carnegie Fellow —examines the politics of recovery in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and the forms of political and social trauma that the storm revealed.  Follow her on Twitter @yarimarbonilla.

Marisol LeBrón is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. An interdisciplinary scholar, her research and teaching focus on social inequality, policing, violence, and protest. She is the author of Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence, and Resistance in Puerto Rico (2019), which examines the growth of punitive governance in contemporary Puerto Rico. Along with Yarimar Bonilla, she is the co-editor of Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm (2019). Her next project, Shared Geographies of Resistance: Puerto Ricans and the Uses of Solidarity, documents how Puerto Ricans in the archipelago and in the diaspora have connected their struggles against U.S. rule with other struggles against colonialism, racism, and military violence around the globe. Marisol is also one of the digital editors at The Abusable Past, which features unique and original content related to the praxis of radical history in this social and political moment. Follow her on Twitter @marisollebron.

Sarah Molinari is a PhD Candidate in the Graduate Program of Anthropology and a dissertation writing fellow at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research focuses on the politics of debt and disaster in Puerto Rico, specifically struggles around the debt audit movement and community-based hurricane recovery. Her most recent publication is a chapter about the politics of colonial disaster management and contested recoveries in Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm (2019). Sarah also serves on the Executive Council of the Latin American Studies Association’s Puerto Rico Section. Follow her on Twitter @sarahmolinari.

Isabel Guzzardo Tamargo was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She completed a Master’s degree in the English Department at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Program of Literatures in English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her dissertation explores the category fugitive/femme and its erotic and maroon strategies within the Caribbean archipelago. Her most recent publications include “Resignifying Shame and Abjection: A Queer Cultural Sovereignty in Manuel Ramos Otero’s Short Stories,” which appeared in Confluencia: Revista Hispánica de Cultura y Literatura, and “Neo Maroon Narratives and Legacies of (Non)Sovereignty,” published in The University of the West Indies’ Social and Economic Studies.

The contributors would like to thank Ed Morales, Patricia Silver, Vladimir Pérez, Shakti Castro, and Amanda Haziz-Ginsberg for their feedback and contributions. We are also grateful to Xiomara Caro and Mario Ruben Carrion for sharing their photographs with us.

Traducción al españolJavier Arbona-Homar, Universidad de California – Davis. Follow him on Twitter: @AlJavieera