This piece attempts to make a comparative analysis between two jurisdictionally similar and geographically disparate territories: Puerto Rico and Mauritius. Both islands have been occupied by imperial powers and are currently facing economic and cultural crises. Under this comparative lens, we perceive a striking urgency to address colonial implications embedded in laws and regulations that play an important role in the development of both islands. By comparing empirical data, we engage in a practice of solidarity between two places that, until now, have not been compared. In 2012, Puerto Rico enacted Acts 20/22 (presently Act 60). A program that incentivizes companies to export services to other jurisdictions and individuals to buy property so they can relocate to the island. Similarly, in 2015, Mauritius created the Smart Cities Scheme. A program aimed to provide a higher quality of life within new resilient urban developments with a work-life-leisure balance. Economically sound yet culturally disproportionate, these regulatory processes were established to develop the economy through the sale of land and property in exchange for promoting ownership rights and tax exemptions to foreign investors as a response to mitigating the current crisis. We question their impact on urbanization and the social welfare of the respective islands and whether these policies are tools of progress or tools that favor the privileged, contributing to the permanence of coloniality.
Through a comparative analysis, this essay explores how land-based policies impact the Urbanization and Social Welfare of two islands. With one in the Caribbean and the other in the Indian Ocean, both have tussled through centuries with similar conflicts since the era of colonialism. We set out to establish a network of solidarity by unpacking how regulations play out in a real-world situation on two different continents. By creating a bridge of information - or a strain of exposés, both islands could learn from the different - yet similar situations that are happening within one another. In this way, strengthen ties of resistance against measures and regulations that do not benefit their local communities.
In 2012, Puerto Rico enacted the tax laws known as Act 20/22 (now known as Act 60). The Export Services Act and the Individual Investors Act essentially shield new residents residing in Puerto Rico for at least half of the year from paying most federal income taxes. The U.S. Tax Code exempts Puerto Rico-sourced income from federal tax, and under this law, residents pay minimal or possibly no taxes on interests and dividends, as well as capital gains. Furthermore, Puerto Rican property taxes are significantly lower than property taxes in the mainland U.S. This makes Puerto Rico a mecca for exportation back to the mainland, resulting in no returns to the island.
Still grappling with the long-lasting effects of colonialism, Mauritius has yet to find its post-colonial identity - all due to the ever-reigning parallels of economic, cultural, and urban development to colonial-white-Mauritian supremacy. The Mauritian-adapted concept of Smart Cities (Smart Cities Scheme) can be argued to be destructive to lower-middle-class citizens, farmers, essential and factory workers, and island refugees in the immediate-to-long run. With deadlines for international developers and promoters to apply and submit land acquisition proposals fast approaching, the only hope is that the Government of Mauritius realizes the potential - and consequences of such a Scheme. Without adequate and uniform access to smart technology, the top is set to continue benefiting from this hierarchical and post-colonial system.
We posit Puerto Rico’s Act 20/22 (Act 60) as a possible tool of coloniality and argue that the Mauritian Smart Cities Scheme is not as exploitative of a tool but needs a social-welfare focus. In Mauritius, not everyone has the privilege of access to smart cities and their investments - the Smart Cities Scheme needs to affect citizens positively needless of economic background if it truly believes in a better economic Mauritian society; an approach that not only enables upper classes and foreign investments but all classes of the Mauritian diaspora. It seems that there is a lack of understanding of humanistic issues - or the public is faced with an abundance of insights on the economic and sustainable benefits of a smart city. Since there is not enough substantial research on the humanistic and social effects of smart cities, we are trying to warn against the effects of rapid development, social consequences of such a hike in foreign emergence, fiscal effects, and power. In the case of Puerto Rico, the lack of sovereignty opens opportunities like Act 60 for the privileged to take advantage of available land while it becomes less available for low-income locals. This calls for action in multiple disciplines: the burden of consequences of lawmakers’, politicians’, architects’, and planners’ actions should not fall onto the incoming generation. There must be social mobilizations and unifying networks to avoid the subsequent suppression of disenfranchised inhabitants and the foreseeable expropriation of natives through coercive methods. Based on the abovesaid and stated questions, our culturally intimate recommendations for both of our countries beg for a deeper social analysis of the Puerto Rican Act 20/22 (Act 60) and the Mauritian Smart Cities Scheme. Enacting or retracting policies that could promote a neo-colonial agenda that favors the privileged above the working-class people that have built up both islands is fundamental to addressing decolonial collective futures.
As designers and researchers who are interested in the politics of space, we are forced to understand land as something much more than just soil — it is property, a number, a zoning regulation, a use, a code, a boundary, a rule, and many other things that make land susceptible to neoliberal-capitalist forces. As locals to the respective islands ourselves, we found, through our individualized research, many commonalities within regulations that brought us to the following argument.
Raising awareness of laws and regulations that promote unconscionable developments and urbanization patterns outlines the need for interconnectivity and solidarity between post-colonial and still-colonized islands. We believe this practice of solidarity to be an impetus to greater cross-continental and cross-oceanic support. As Puerto Rican and Mauritian respectively, we both start here: by raising awareness of the dangers of Act 60 and the Mauritian Smart Cities Scheme, then by advocating to redefine and amend regulations that are far from benefitting local communities on both islands.
Let us look at some contextualizing facts first. In 2012 pro-statehood Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño passed Act number 20 to offer the necessary elements to create a world-class service center by providing tax credits and tax exceptions to businesses engaged in eligible activities in Puerto Rico. He also passed Act 22 to promote the relocation of investors to Puerto Rico. All this to generate wealth and economic development for the island. As has been widely reported, Puerto Rico's Act 20 and Act 22 provide incentives for high-net-worth U.S. citizens to move to Puerto Rico and potentially reduce their 39.6% federal income tax (plus any applicable state tax) to a 0% – 4% Puerto Rico income tax rate. Interestingly, three years later, in June 2015, the acting, pro-commonwealth Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla held a press conference to declare that the island’s $72 billion debt was unpayable.
Figure 1: Counter Mapping of Vieques, Puerto Rico by Kenismael Santiago-Pagán
Then in 2016, the Federal government enacted PROMESA (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) under the Management and Economic Stability Act by President Obama, along with nominations by both Republicans and Democrats. PROMESA established a financial oversight board, a process for restructuring debt, and expedited procedures for approving critical infrastructure projects in order to combat the Puerto Rican government-debt crisis. Moreover, La Junta, as it is locally known, has seven unelected members, only two of whom are residents of Puerto Rico, and they are all from the economic sector. The Puerto Rican national debt is now approximately $74 billion, and it has never been audited before. Nevertheless, Act 20/22 is still in effect and is fundamental for PROMESA.
Act 20 is a program that incentivizes Puerto Rican companies to export services to other jurisdictions. However, Act 20 is not limited to foreign corporations. The tax benefits of Act 20 are plentiful and far-reaching, offering a guarantee on these rates for two decades and are renewable for another 10 years under certain conditions. These include a 4% corporate tax rate, a 100% tax exemption on dividends, a 60% exemption on municipal taxes, and no federal taxes on Puerto Rico source income. Moreover, some export service businesses are also eligible for a 100% exemption on property taxes for the first 5 years and a 90% exemption thereafter. "Act to Promote the Export of Services," Act No. 20 of January 17, 2012, as amended. Online.
"Act to Promote the Export of Services," Act No. 20 of January 17, 2012, as amended. Online.
Act 22 is a program that incentivizes individuals to relocate to Puerto Rico. With this Act, individual investors have much to gain by moving to Puerto Rico and becoming bona fide residents. After establishing residency, individuals qualify for a number of significant tax benefits like a 100% tax exemption on short-term and long-term capital gains, a 100% tax exemption on interest and dividends, and a possible freedom from the IRS. Although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, bona fide residents are not subject to the rules and regulations of the IRS. "Individual Investors Act" Act. No. 22 of January 2022 as amended. Online.
"Individual Investors Act" Act. No. 22 of January 2022 as amended. Online.
Although both Acts promote different economic activities and their impacts on the economy vary. They are usually used interchangeably. Both Act 20 businesses and Act 22 individuals pay multiple taxes in Puerto Rico. Like additional fiscal revenues in the form of property taxes, the Sales and Use Tax (SUT), and income taxes, among others.
On the one hand, Act 20 allows firms established in Puerto Rico, with local or non-local capital, to export services at a preferential tax rate, among other benefits. The New Incentives Code allows for the company’s operation, and service delivery is performed from and outside Puerto Rico. On the other hand, Act 22 provides an opportunity for individuals who live outside Puerto Rico to establish their residence within the Island and benefit from preferential tax treatment (limited to passive income). Those individual investors are not limited to U.S. nationals, it includes members of the Puerto Rican diaspora and foreign investors.
We end up having two programs that cannot be equated; however, the combination of both programs is what provides the greatest benefit to the economy. That is if an Act 22 individual establishes a business operation in Puerto Rico, and that business export services to other jurisdictions, then the combination of both acts is what drives economic growth. Specifically: who is the intended audience?
The long answer of the policy report outline says the target is individual investors that are not limited to U.S. nationals, which includes members of the Puerto Rican diaspora and foreign investors. The short answer is any investor who is not on the island. For instance, to be eligible for Act 22 tax incentives, one must demonstrate that they have close connections in Puerto Rico during the tax year so they can become a bona fide resident.
To qualify as a bona fide resident, it is required that one be present in Puerto Rico for more than half of the tax year (at least 183 days), has a Puerto Rico voter's registration, not own a permanent home in the United States, opens a personal bank account in Puerto Rico, and purchase a property in Puerto Rico. In addition to these requirements, many other aspects of one’s personal ties come into play. These include the location of one’s belongings, ownership of cars, memberships with social and political organizations, the address listed on official documents, and other factors. Its reception has been mixed.
Let’s take a closer look into how these measures transit the different scales, from the highest federal jurisdiction to the urban scale all the way to the regional scale impacting communities. The findings outlined in the government report show that both programs are strongly intertwined in the sense that several Act 20 companies have brought in top executives from other jurisdictions to direct their export operations, and multiple Act 22 individuals have started to export services from Puerto Rico, using local resources. Such businesses are mainly concentrated within the services industry, which allows for easier and more agile forward and backward linkages. Most important is the multiplier effect of these synergies, which is what drives economic development in the medium and long term.
The report also indicates that the economic impact of both Acts goes beyond the direct effects of job creation and real estate investments. It claims that program participants are highly engaged in the local economy, directly impacting tangible and intangible benefits such as fiscal revenues, new jobs, real estate investments, participating in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem, collaborating with local businesses, and investing in new opportunities for local businesses seeking capital. The integration with the U.S. economy provides an opportunity for local companies to export services at a lower cost when compared to average salaries in the U.S.
Even though Act 20 companies can either be domestic or foreign, their operations are mostly performed from Puerto Rico; thus, from an economic point of view, they are “local”. That is, grantees will render their services from Puerto Rico and, thus, will use local human resources and other local goods and services to operate their companies. However, the use of the word local in the report is limited to companies in which most of the capital is owned by Puerto Rican residents. These could include companies that were formed in Puerto Rico prior to the decree and who also provided goods and services to the local economy. It also includes companies that recently formed but whose main operations, capital, and main contacts are all based in Puerto Rico. Interestingly, out of the total Act 20 grantees, only 35% are estimated to be locally owned businesses. Estudios Técnicos Inc. "Performance of Incentive Programs, Act 20-2012, Act 22-2012." Report prepared for the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, Government of Puerto Rico. 2019. Online.
Estudios Técnicos Inc. "Performance of Incentive Programs, Act 20-2012, Act 22-2012." Report prepared for the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, Government of Puerto Rico. 2019. Online.
On the other hand, the government claims that Act 22 is framed under a diaspora engagement and could be used as a measure to incentivize the relocation of Puerto Ricans from the mainland to Puerto Rico. i.e., retirees, physicians, and entrepreneurs, among others. Similar to Act 22, the U.S. has in place a program that has that same objective, known as the EB-5 Program. This program requires a minimum investment of $500K in order for the applicant to be granted a visa. The government also claims that Puerto Ricans in the U.S. with a net worth of over $ 1 million could consider the benefits of Act 22 as an incentive to relocate, retire or contribute to the local economy.
Act 22 has been praised by José Pérez Riera and Alberto Bacó Bauqé, both former Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce of Puerto Rico, and current Secretary Manuel A. Laboy Rivera, who see the act favorably and describe it as being a way for Puerto Rico to overcome its economic struggles and its years of long recession (Invest Puerto Rico, 2017). However, the Act has come under scrutiny by some detractors, such as Jeffrey Farrow, a former White House official from the Clinton administration, and John Buckley, a former tax counsel for the Democratic Party on the United States House Committee on Ways and Means, who has described the act as a way to make Puerto Rico a tax haven (La Roche, 2013). Furthermore, Toby Roth, a former Republican congressman, and lobbyist who has worked for decades on Puerto Rico issues, also said the Law 22 program is being questioned in Congress in terms of why they are bringing the hedge fund managers down there instead of trying to keep the young Puerto Ricans on the island. He also said that If Puerto Rico doesn't create jobs to keep its talented young people on the island, the hedge fund managers won't mean a thing (Marino, 2013). How does this play out, and what is the impact on urbanization?
Several sources have documented cases that serve as an example of how the Acts have played out in real life. The Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) has outlined many outcomes to demonstrate how the Act has failed to provide its main purpose (Valentín Ortiz, Cintrón Arbasetti, & Olmo López, 2021). For instance, developer Keith St. Clair announced more than $200 million in investments for the island. However, six years later, four hotel projects and a film district he promised are unfinished due to many lawsuits over money laundering, a financial dispute with the contractor of one of the hotels, and a complaint from the Department of Consumer Affairs. Why does this happen?
The article argues that “in almost 10 years, the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC) has never audited the 3,311 people that are covered by Law 22, even though it had an obligation to do so since 2015, according to the statute”. As far as we have researched, there is also no existence of an organized effort that documents all the properties that have been bought by beneficiaries of the Act. Why this has not been audited is a great mystery.
The article further makes remarks on a random sample study of 304 beneficiaries of this incentive, only of which 10% out of the overall 3,040 decrees granted since it began in 2012 until June 2020, reflects that most beneficiaries barely create jobs and they represent a minimal impact on the local economy. Moreover, the investigation of the CPI reveals that the tendency of companies that are usually registered varies from small companies of financial advice, investment management, or real estate of houses, apartments, and land property. It is interesting to see that their findings also show how, of all the 400 companies identified in the sample, 27% were canceled shortly after they were created. And there are 115 beneficiaries, or 37%, who don't have any businesses registered under their name with the State Department.
We had the opportunity of talking to a few close architects in training that work for local firms in Puerto Rico. (They decided to keep their names private to avoid collateral damage to their careers.) We questioned “20/22 investors” (or Los de la 20/22 as they are locally known), and their corporations operate as clients specifically in the Old San Juan and Ocean Park region. Their answer was, “well, very simple because Act 20/22 makes it very simple for them”. The first thing they do is move to Puerto Rico as beneficiaries of Act 22 and end up creating a company through Act 20 that offers developing services. Sometimes they already have the corporation in other states of the mainland U.S., and all they have to do is to relocate the address to Puerto Rico. Their strategy is buying abandoned properties in the region or economically forcing owners to sell them their properties. After they become owners, they start a full process of remodeling the property by the standards and building codes of the municipality, which also gives tax benefits since they are zonas especiales (special zones) within the ruling zoning code. Soon after, the property is put on sale, and most of the time in the Airbnb market, and because the rent becomes cost prohibited for many locals, it ends up being mostly used by tourists creating a gentrifying condition.
Right now, we do not have an exact account of how many properties have been transformed by this phenomenon, but according to the architects we spoke to, some companies have more than 200 projects of this nature on record and are looking forward to continuing developing on more properties. In parallel, the reaction from one of the residents that live in Old San Juan is mixed. On the one hand, this phenomenon activates a city that was practically dead due to the crisis, but on the other hand, it thinks about the cost of that activation and the practices of the ephemeral passengers who do not feel any attachment to the city. San Juan has always been a party city, but in recent years, the issue of Airbnb has been getting out of control. The resident mentioned a concern that, at this very moment, there are more interactions with gringos than with Puerto Ricans and fears the city is being taken over by foreigners.
Figure 2: “W” Hotel Entrance in Vieques, Puerto Rico by Kenismael Santiago-Pagán
This phenomenon is not exclusive to Old San Juan; in the island municipality of Vieques, the land is marketed towards developing resorts and hotels and finding “your piece of paradise” in Puerto Rico. 30-year veteran Bob Gevinski a real estate broker who owns Paraíso Realty and a long-time Vieques resident has invested in the sales and marketing arena with the benefits of Act 20/22. In a 2020 article, he outlined how the setbacks of the pandemic would have a very low impact on the real estate market and would even benefit its progress of it. He wrote, “There are positive signs for the Puerto Rico real estate market despite this pause. Interest rates are at historic lows, making home purchases more affordable.
After the difficulties of acquiring medicine during this COVID-19 outbreak in the States, there is a new push to return pharmaceutical production to Puerto Rico. This initiative should reopen factories and create new job opportunities, which in turn will increase demand for home purchases. Act 20/22 and Opportunity Zone incentives remain in place and will continue to drive investment into Puerto Rico”(Givenski, 2020). His remarks are a great summary of how the system operates, giving a sense of the scalability of the issue. We can summarize this relationship between Act 60 beneficiaries and the government as if one had a school project, but instead, the teacher and the school does everything for you.
Figure 3: Hacienda Tamarindo in Vieques, Puerto Rico by Kenismael Santiago-Pagán
We can also see how Vieques is slowly transforming from an island that was a Navy bombing practicing site to a hotspot for a vacation destination. In late January of 2022, Bitcoin billionaire Brock Pierce bought a 150-room oceanfront hotel in Vieques, previously known as “W Vieques,” a famously local Hacienda called “Tamarindo” and has a development project for Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba. Pierce, known to have a passion for luxury yachts, became noticeable in Puerto Rico after a New York Times article about how he wanted to create a crypto utopia in Puerto Rico (Bowels, 2018). Pierce will have a lot of support from regulatory technicalities because he is an Act 22 (now Act 60) who’s benefiting from the tax breaks who are inviting wealthy people to buy properties like the W hotel in Puerto Rico, making the region more palatable for foreigners and less accessible for locals. On the one hand, Vieques is getting a lot of development activities, but on the other, the question of who gets to participate and who is actually benefiting from the market regulations remains foggy. This is a case in which regulations distort the land market behavior, and urbanization is dictated by the free market. One can wonder what tools can be used to reverse processes like these or even suggest amendments that are less detrimental to land sovereignty. Again, the question here takes us back to thinking whether these programs are a tool of progress or tools that incentivize the permanence of coloniality on the island forever.
Mauritius is a multicultural and post-colonial African island nation located in the Indian Ocean. Having gained independence from the British in 1968, the Mauritian economy thrived under sugarcane plantations (agriculture), industrial, and, most recently, financial, ICT, and tourist sectors. Similar to the analysis of the Puerto Rican Act 20/20, we make a critical assessment of the Smart Cities Scheme in relation to Mauritius’ existing communities, namely underprivileged Mauritians that may be inversely affected by the growth of Smart Cities. In this chapter, we aim to raise awareness, with cultural intimacy, about the sociological and unforeseen effects of implementing the Smart City concept in a recently post-colonial island in the Global South.
With implications of colonization and post-colonization, we cannot dismiss the effects on racialization, urban/suburban development, or lifestyle access with respect to location. We have to take into consideration the actors of the Smart Cities Scheme and, with an understanding of the complexion of Mauritius, attempt to identify the true benefactors of this Scheme and make comparisons with the Puerto Rican Act 20/22.
As the island’s demographics are growing more diverse, they are putting elites on edge (Salverda, 2016). The elites of Mauritius are known as Franco-Mauritians, descendants of French colonial rulers, land claimers, and ex-enslaved owners. Along with some British colonial descendants who stayed after Mauritian independence, wealth is disproportionately distributed between white Mauritians and the rest of the Mauritian population. A lot of this disproportionate wealth is due to land ownership (or rather, colonial land claim) that has been passed down through generations (Deerpaul, 2022) – before Mauritius’ independence, the Mauritian white population was already politically and socially dominant (Salverda, 2016, p.126). And since gaining independence, Mauritius has been dubbed a paradise and tax haven for the other rich: immigrant/expatriates — white South Africans, and Europeans. This continental and international success, however, tends to overshadow the island’s rather young post-colonial situation, or what we name the lingering presence of colonial margins. As the island went through rapid urban development, those came at the cost of the degradation of the natural ecosystem and the built environment uncounted for in the planning processes. It can be assumed that smart cities are an attempt to make up for the years of environmental degradation.
Smart City Concept
The Smart City Concept originates from IBM’s initial plans for a vision of “smarter cities,” which was part of their Smarter Planet initiative in 2008 (The Hindu, 2014). From IBM, a smart city is an “interconnected, instrumented and intelligent” city (IBM, 2011). And although there are multiple interpretations of a smart city, the concept aims to develop a city as a financial hub with live-in access to technology, with a goal also to generate jobs, increase citizen satisfaction presumably from a “high quality of life,” (EDB Mauritius, 2020). Even as we look for more definitions of a smart city, we come across the keyword “social,” with one source citing the smart city to improve policies, social and economic quality, and maximize social inclusion (Gorini, 2019).
In context: Smart City Scheme
In 2014, the then-Prime Minister of Mauritius, Navinchandra Ramgoolam, conceded electoral defeat (Reuters, 2015) (https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN0LB0RM20150207) to the Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM) under the leadership of Sir Aneerood Jugnauth. Subsequently, in February 2015, Ramgoolam was arrested under “suspicion of conspiracy and money laundering,” leading to a high-profile international political scandal. The Smart Cities Scheme was announced late in the same year and was promoted as an economic miracle (https://www.lalitmauritius.org/en/newsarticle/1799/all-the-dangers-lurking-behind-the-ldquosmart-citiesrdquo-strategy/) bringing us to Naomi Klein’s concept of Disaster Capitalism Complex (Klein, 2008) where the reconstruction after a tragedy, warfare, or political disaster is capitalized and privatized for profit. The Smart City Scheme can, as such, be inferred as a miracle: strategically steering the headlines from the Ramgoolam scandal to urban innovation.
The Mauritian Smart Cities Scheme was implemented in 2015, which according to the Economic Development Board (EDB) of Mauritius (2020), “is an ambitious economic development programme aimed at consolidating the Mauritian International Business and Financial Hub by creating ideal conditions for working, living and spurring investment through the development of smart cities across the island. These smart cities will leverage the latest advances in urban planning and digitalised technologies.” As of August 2021, twelve (12) smart cities had been approved by the EDB (Lexpress, 2021).
Figure 4 above: depicting all twelve approved smart cities and an additional proposal, totaling to thirteen
· Foreign citizenship: after a minimum of 2 years of residency and an investment in a Smart City (minimum investment: USD $5 million.)
· Land ownership within the boundaries of the smart city
· Tax exemption: 15% income tax “holiday” within the first 8 years of residence
· VAT (Value Added Tax) “In accordance with regulation 22(4)(b) of the Economic Development Board (Smart City Scheme) Regulations 2015, the developer shall be deemed to be VAT registered and shall recover VAT paid on building and capital goods.”
· Investor freedom: “The master developer may sell serviced land to another company to develop a component of a smart city project.”
· For “Non-citizens, including retirees, looking to relocate and live in an urban, secure and sustainable environment”
· Tax incentives to the Mauritian diaspora (comparable to Puerto Rico’s Act 22)
Source: Economic Development Board Mauritius (2020)
· Economic activity: spike
· Foreign currency investments
· Increase in job opportunities for locals
· Expertise import: sea-level rise mitigation, shoreline protection and control, endemic fauna and flora preservation
· Setting sustainable building precedence for future construction projects outside of Smart Cities.
· Eventual access for foreigners to purchase land by the shores with Mauritian citizenship
Figure 5 above: Mon Trésor Smart City Master Plan by Architects Studio Ltd. Source: Défi Media (defimedia.info)
Now, in what ways is the Smart Cities Scheme consequential? What is envisioned social consequences of implementing a scheme that, as abovementioned, entices even ourselves as part of the Mauritian diaspora? Taking from EDB Mauritius’ guidelines: to “have at least 25 percent of the residential properties sold to citizens of Mauritius or members of the Mauritian Diaspora,” doesn’t that also uplift the power structures that are in place for privileged foreign investors to settle, to begin with? The EDB even has a website catered for privileged ones: residency.mu/privilege-club, furthering an agenda that seems to provide for elites above the working class. Looking at the following to try to understand and foresee possible scenarios of the effects of mass Western settlements, the Dependency Theory (although a Marxist approach to development), having a structure in place (Smart Cities Scheme) for the rich to get richer, and for the rich to exploit the working class (in this case, Mauritians) could make place for dependency. We do not need to agree with the Dependency Theory here, nor do we need to venture into thinking of a socialist Mauritius, but we should consider points within the context of smart cities. Mauritius being a developing country means it could depend on external sources of investment to generate wealth, but it could also break away from the Western and colonial powers and not depend on its previous colonizers. Or it could reconfigure its scheme in order to avoid the scenario that Dependency theorists warn of. Or, to be overly critical in this scenario, Mauritius’ Smart Cities Scheme is a way for investors to legally colonize parts of the island, where a more powerful and rich entity expands into a less developed territory. Re-living through the plantation system for some - coloniality of re-dominance of foreign elites establishing themselves in Mauritian Smart Cities reinforces the power structures that post-colonial Mauritius should normally be outgrowing. From this overly critical and certainly provocative perspective here, smart cities around the island could be viewed as small yet self-sufficient colonies that are lawfully exerting their influence and hoping to extract culture from the classes (end of scenario). But even then, some sort of neo-colonization is inevitable due to globalization and postcolonialism, especially on institutionalized and globalized takes on land grabs from Zoomers (2010, pp. 430-437).
On coloniality and migration: Le Petitcorps and Desille (2020) state in their article the lingering presence of coloniality, especially in power and racial dichotomies in ex-colonies. They stress the duality of migration and how it can renew and reinforce racial dichotomies with an ex-colony in context. And when put in the context of the Mauritian fabric, as Salverda (2011) studies, race is complex and still ingrained in society, especially for the elites: Franco-Mauritians. Even with Schinkel (2018) speaking on immigration to the West, “complexities also pertain to the historical ways in which capital and race are globally intertwined to produce excess populations, cheap labor, and human expulsions,” can also give insight into the opposite, when the West immigrates to the Global South. So when the latter happens, it can only be with an understanding of the contexts, and historicity, through a social science lens that we can debate over the coloniality of such.
In the long run: the social welfare of?
Although one cannot dismiss the multiple benefits of designing Smart Cities, its recontextualization in Mauritius hits differently. And as fuzzy as forecasts can be since it is too early to predict a precise outcome of a smart city for Mauritian residents, we can, with enough argument, warn of side effects through sociological and anthropological takes. There are two different kinds of risks involved in the development of Smart Cities; risks associated with building sustainable, technologically-advanced urbanized systems of living, data breaches, and national security risks especially involving minors. The multiplicities of benefits of implementing a smart city within an urban/suburban fabric cannot be ignored, but one should investigate the effects of such an implementation on the existing fabric and population. The kinds of risks investigated and taken into account here are sociological and contextual risks and effects that mimic coloniality. Even as Porter, L., and Yiftachel, O., (2019) refer to coloniality, we can recontextualize those arguments to Mauritius:
The settler city is often portrayed as a symbol of a ‘new world’, a space of liberalism and democracy, a hub of globalization, a magnet for international migration, or a center of investment and corporate power – all dominant discourses that conceal their ongoing colonial nature. Such cities are symbols of the profound displacement, erasure and often destruction of Indigenous histories and geographies and are at the same time precisely the form that keeps that displacement hidden.
With “settler city” comparable to a smart city, the keywords “globalization, international migration, investment, etc.,” lead all too well to a stark comparison of Indigenous stories to historically disenfranchised Mauritian communities, Mauritian working class, or Mauritian farmers whose lands become smart plots to sell. As Deepaul stated in the Truth and Justice Commission report of 2011 (Truth and Justice Commission, 2011), it is the Creole population which consists of predominantly descendants of enslaved mainland Africans that suffer the consequences of rapid urbanization (Deerpaul, 2022). While the Smart Cities Scheme claims to be building better living conditions and more sustainable urban developments, the nature of the people such cities are made for has to be investigated. Are the main or supposed main stakeholders consulted before or throughout the planning stages, or are decisions being made based on assumptions and a neo-colonial manner of planning a city? Or is the Smart Cities Scheme a veil to social control or for historically dominant Western peoples to exert dominance over Mauritian locals? As previously stated, there are 12 smart cities planned and already approved by the Mauritian government to be built, and most are slated to be built from the ground up. By building from scratch, smart cities could become signs of utopia for some or culturally inept for others.
Figure 6 above: Moka Smart City Master Plan. Source: Moka Smart City (www.moka.mu)
From Figure 6, we can already see the eventual effects of rapid urbanization (note the Moka Smart City plan outlined in white). What will be the effects on the existing communities adjacent to Moka Smart City? What can we foresee of the sugar cane plots of land below the outlines?
Like San Juan’s developments and points of attraction to investors, Tamarin in the southwest of Mauritius is as much historical as it is developing over historical landmarks. Again here, one should have investigated the critical pieces of Mauritian history being erased (Les Salines salt pans) for commercial profit and land ownership. Tamarin, wedged between the shore and Rempart Mountain, is home to a Franco-Mauritian community-turned-white South-African expatriate community as well. In the last decade, the city has gone through major urban developments, especially Cap Tamarin: Smart City (refer to Figure 4). In this scheme, the iconic Salt Pans of Tamarin, which employed local Creole Mauritians, are planned to be eradicated for large mixed-use developments catering the Cap Tamarin. Local protests to the Chief Council of the district of Black River failed to preserve the salt pans — also a representative legacy of colonial rule and the history of Mauritian slavery. Cap Tamarin, and presently Tamarin, bring parallels to Levittown, PA, United States, in the economic and racial homogeneity of the city’s demographics. From multiple site visits, Tamarin has become a city where only English or French language is to be used at the high-end boutiques and fresh seafood supermarkets — Mauritian native tongue is Mauritian Creole. As such, not only is Tamarin a living example of Levittown, but just like Old San Juan, it is also perpetuating a culture of non-ethical dominance in destroying cultural heritage and a white-centric cultural hub.
Cities can become or be built to be technologically smart, but at what costs? And who is eventually bound to pay for those costs? The advantages of Smart Cities, as mentioned above, are enticing and, relative to a foreign investor with foreign currency, are rather good incentives to benefit from Mauritian citizenship and land ownership. But in regard to Mauritians, do those benefits outweigh the costs? To answer, or attempt to answer this, we need to consider the class of Mauritians who will be affected more than the other, which, as mentioned prior, also correlate with colonial legacies. Once a foreign national is naturalized, they are able to buy any property and land in Mauritius, including sea-front properties. With this in consideration, a modest $5 million, and the timeline of just 2 years to become a naturalized Mauritian citizen (EDB Mauritius, 2020, p. 11), it would not be surprising to see the composition of Mauritius slowly mimicking that of Madagascar’s mostly foreign-owned cultivated land (Brooks et al., 2017). Although there are slim studies of foreign investing impacts on post-colonial countries, Mauritian researchers, partnered with Brooks et al. (2017), make viable arguments for the detrimental effects of such. In their Mauritius-based study, they point out the eventual “pricing out,” and “pushing out” of locals from prime land in their study of IRS and RES schemes (foreign investment and luxury urbanization schemes prior to the Smart Cities Scheme).
Even as we delve into investors of Smart Cities, i.e., who are the people being incentivized to invest in Mauritius, we find from Macek, Jerman, & Horvat (2020, pp. 18-25) that “The research found that not all focus group participants attach much importance to smart solutions. They do not consider smart solutions in their investments, but at the same time, the most important thing for all investment participants is the return and not the impact of the investment on society and the environment,” which drives us to question: what about the fabric of the Mauritian society? How are Mauritians benefitting from an investor who does not consider their investment’s impact on the society they are supposedly integrating? What are the long-term effects of a scheme implemented by a government that gives citizenship to investors of a certain class? And although immigration to Mauritius is continentally diverse, most expatriates come from France and South Africa, according to the last population census in Mauritius (Statistics Mauritius, 2011). The Smart Cities Scheme needs to be rethought with the multi-ethnic context of Mauritius and take a Mauritian-centric approach that is considerate of the non-white population. Although the recontextualization and rethinking of the scheme may not take place for the upcoming 12 smart cities, this chapter hopes to somehow shape the policies that, for now, seem to be centered on economic profit over its non-elite citizens. The dominant power structures ingrained over the decades of colonization have to realize the dark potential of the misinvestment in smart cities; to avoid doing more harm than good means to decenter the colonial paradigms and acknowledge the existing structures that some cannot benefit from.
We have interacted and even worked with many architects and contractors who have never turned down an Act 20/22 proposal or a Mauritian Smart City Scheme project. Financially benefiting from these measures without critically questioning their social impact or whether to take or decline the project brings into question the ethics of the practitioner. This also raises a question as to who, other than a few scholars and uncensored designers, are criticizing such urbanization projects. We have learned that a cross-disciplinary call to action is most pertinent and easier to achieve when there is a network of solidarity in effect. Critical practice in the discipline of design, architecture, urban planning, and law shaped the current built environment and land distribution - whilst disregarding power players and consequential socio-political tensions over land. For this reason, this call to action must involve changes to policies, schemes, and acts that have long prolonged an ongoing colonial system like the ones we discussed. It should be a practice that, instead of building things, would be focused on designing an interplay of procedures. We must also examine on every level the nature of the public/private binary over land - and who benefits from it.
To what extent is the Smart Cities Scheme really incentivizing foreign investments for smart solutions or depending on foreign investment to better its Mauritian population? How are both of our islands, with drastically different colonial pasts, presently victim to dominant Act/Scheme strategies that, as argued, have a future of demise for the working-class locals? As we acknowledged the benefits of the Puerto Rican Act 20/22 (Act 60) and the Mauritian Smart Cities Scheme, we attempted to discuss the foreseeable disadvantages, which, as presented, are colonial in nature. As Puerto Rican and Mauritian, we see the positive potential in our islands and only approached the Act/Scheme from a culturally intimate perspective that we hope challenges policymakers and investors to rethink the Acts and Scheme with locals like us at heart.
In collecting both our research and in mending both relationships, we theorize that, at the core, this could be a problem of sovereignty. Our interest in this paper is to expand on the conflict within the use of land that arises from fragmented sovereignties as a result of colonial control. Sociologist Diane Davis places these issues between scales of global, national, regional, and, finally, urban sovereignty. When applied to urban spaces, the concept of sovereignty invites a focus on territorial locations that may be controlled or dominated by forces other than nation-states, including cities or other spaces within them (Davis, 2020). Moreover, she poses the challenge of thinking critically about whether strategies to reduce risk by enforcing resilience at one of these scales might negatively affect another. For Puerto Rico and Mauritius, imposing the discussion on the issue of sovereignty is vital: it exposes relationships at all scales whilst correlating with other Caribbean and Indian Ocean nations that operate under similar restrictions. Adopting this framework allows stakeholders to focus and expand on the intangible external forces that bring pressure to bear on urbanization processes like the Puerto Rican Act 20/22 (Act 60) and the Mauritian Smart Cities Scheme. Although we cannot conclude what can specifically remedy or prevent the fatal consequences discussed, we are certain that a few amendments need to be made in order to achieve transitional justice for more equitable and fiscally healthy cities that can rely on their urban sovereignty.
Since there is not enough substantial research on the humanistic and social effects of smart cities, we are trying to warn against the effects of rapid development and social consequences of such a hike in foreign emergence, fiscal influx, and power. In the case of Puerto Rico, the lack of sovereignty opens opportunities for the privileged to take advantage of the available land. There must be social mobilizations to avoid the subsequent suppression of disenfranchised inhabitants and the foreseeable expropriation of natives through coercive methods.
Comparing Puerto Rico and Mauritius alike reminds us that neo-liberal capitalist forces have acquired a globalized force upon less advantaged nations. It is no coincidence that we mended both our research: the neo-colonial evidence we respectively found and the similarities in the consequences of unconscionable development called upon us to expose and warn the public. In attempting to outline our homes’ endangered developments, we also resulted in a cross-oceanic network of solidarity from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean, and one that we hope builds agency for other scholars and activists. Based on the abovesaid and stated questions, our culturally intimate recommendations for both of our countries call to action for a more social analysis of the Puerto Rican Act 20/22 (Act 60) and the Mauritian Smart Cities Scheme, all before it is too late to enact or retract policies that could further a neo-colonial agenda that favors the privileged above the working-class citizens that have built up both islands.
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Kenismael Santiago-Pagán is a first-generation graduate student, researcher, designer, and educator form Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Trained in Architecture, he also holds a Master in Design Studies with a concentration in Risk and Resilience from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. His research interest lies in the intersection between the politics of urbanization and state produced risk in the “post-colonial” Caribbean. His current thesis is focused on spatializing the socio-political relationship of Puerto Rico-United States and competing sovereignties over contested land.
Shane Ah-Siong is a design researcher from Mauritius, a master’s graduate and teaching fellow of Harvard University. Trained in architecture, his academic and activist enquiries lie at the intersection of spatial politics and the built form. His current research aims to spatialize colonial memory and decenter dominant racial historiographies in Mauritius and the Chagos Archipelago.