The U.S. empire has been able to secure its dominance over the region through the importation of its ideologies, policies, various technologies, and rhetoric, which have acted as chains for Puerto Ricans in the course of the last century. Scholarly accounts of Puerto Rico have examined how these technologies have been adopted, negotiated, and even resisted in a multitude of ways by the native populace (Hernández-Acosta 2015; Colón-Warren 2003).
U.S. rhetoric has often been accompanied with symbolic legal action.
A pertinent example of this is the ratification of the 1952 Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico which granted the right amount of local autonomy to Puerto Rico for the United Nations to designate it as a self-governing country in 1953. However, its status as an unincorporated territory of the U.S. never changed with its greater autonomy. The protections offered under the U.S. constitution have since only partially applied to Puerto Rico, yet sovereign control still lies with the U.
S. congress. Thus, the territory of Puerto Rico is a land ‘owned’ by the U.
S. government, and yet, it is not a part of it (Mercado-Vázquez and Democracy at Work). Pantojas-García (2005) refer to this as the “Puerto Rican paradox”, or as Dávila (1997, pp.33-8) argues, Puerto Rico is a “postcolonial colony” which the logic of U.S. imperialism renders it to be “foreign in a domestic sense” (Burnett & Marshall 2001). Davies (2016) points out how Puerto Ricans have been regarded as unfit to make their own economic decisions by the U.S. While Congress has failed to acknowledge its own significant contributions to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis it has, nonetheless, established its firm fiscal oversight of the territory’s finances by appointing a Management Board. Instead, Puerto Ricans have been forced to adopt “punitive neoliberalism” that has justified austerity measures as a corrective action and implemented under the auspices of non-elected and undemocratic bodies (Bernabe 2017).
Monolithic ideas of technological progress have been weaponised as an imperialist tactic by the U.S. to transform the material, social, and cultural environment of Puerto Rico. Such technological shifts are, of course, also ideological, and as such, technologies are always laden with particular values that incorporate a specific worldview. Through significant political-economic transformations, Puerto Rico has grown more dependent on U.S. capital investment across all sectors (Fusté 2017; Berman Santana 2000). The technological transformation of Puerto Rico over the last decade has seen the rise of information technologies in the country that has been particularly attractive for tech companies, venture capitalists, and specifically, the more recent cryptocurrency and blockchain entrepreneurs. However, a prerequisite for new businesses establishing themselves into Puerto Rico, is that the services they provide ought to be exported outside of the country (Sotheby 2013-18). The underlying idea is to ostensibly engage with global markets in order to avoid local competition with already established U.S. service providers. Thus, for example, proponents of blockchain-technologies are simultaneously incentivised to establish their own businesses on Puerto Rican soil, while also actively being incentivised in encouraging other proponents of crypto-technologies to settle in Puerto Rico (Porto Capital 2014). This techno-economic paradigmatic shift means that digital services have the advantage of being able to be exported without the physical entry of the country of export and the associated shipping costs. In the context of cross-border exchanges, blockchain and cryptocurrency are explicitly pertinent.
Blockchain has long been touted as a “disruptive” technology, however, looked at forensically, its design, socio-technical configurations, and politics tend to align with the ideological underpinnings of neoliberalism. Harvey describes neoliberalism as the “theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (2005, p.2). Moreover, Harvey’s description of neoliberalism underpins the core tenets of right-libertarianism. The creation of Bitcoin, for example, is rooted in a more extreme form of right-libertarian and cyberlibertarian ideology; central banks and third-party middlemen are innately distrusted, and as such, all forms of regulation must be avoided (Golumbia 2016). Meanwhile, blockchain technology has instituted a particular narrative of “decentralisation” that has also attracted the political left, with some people hoping that this novel technology could break up the monopolistic tech giants in the industry. However, the underlying message that is being insinuated amidst these contradictory political aims is the idea that blockchain technology is a harbinger of innovation and progress.
In this worldview, the economic incentives offered to individual entrepreneurs by the freedom of the market are expected to generate the much sought after innovation. Jessup (1993) has described this process as the “Schumpeterian Workfare State” where he argues that Schumpeter’s theories on innovation are fundamental to capitalist production modes and economic development, in which case the State functions as a means to promote competitive economic polies that would promote innovation. The “innovation economy” has enabled emerging digital technologies to amass greater agency in design and governance. Kitchin and Dodge (2011) argue that coding is linked to a growing production of space, which in turn facilitates more efficient supply chains, logistical networks, and ultimately, urban planning (Mattern 2015; Posner 2018). These new strategies of urban governance are intricately enmeshed with software and databases that in themselves provide new ways of reconceptualising the world of logistics, and the capitalist processes of extraction and financialisation (Mezzadra & Neilson 2019).
Blockchain technology plays a crucial part in this as it proposed a new way – a reconceptualisation of how these systems can function, metamorphosing every transaction into blocks of data that are recorded, stored, and effectively financialised. The techno-capitalist nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology have become whole industries. On the one hand, cryptocurrency enables quicker, more fluid exchange of capital that is less regulated. On the other, blockchain technology has enabled the ultimate financialisation of date by making capital accumulation more efficient.