Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, gradually devastating more municipalities and cities and completely destroying the power grid. Winds of 200 km / h left more than three million inhabitants of the archipelago without electricity and cellular network coverage, and about half without running water. After more than half a year without electricity, half of Puerto Ricans were still alive, here and there Electricity was recovered only a year after the hurricane had passed.
Donald Trump, who then flew to San Juan, immediately stated that it was not so bad. Hurricane Katrina was tragic in 2005, and that’s nothing. In fact, Maria caused less damage than Katrina and Harvey in 2017 (both around $ 125 billion), but on the list of the US’s most costly hurricanes, she is just below them with an estimated $ 90 billion in damage.
Local authorities initially mentioned dozens of fatalities, but the media did not believe this. After the lawsuits, incl. from CNN, the Puerto Rico government has released information about nearly 1,500 casualties, and a data search was made prior to the first anniversary, revealing that the hurricane eventually resulted in 2,975 deaths. This is more than twice as many as in 2005. These figures were obviously questioned by Donald Trump.
Years later, Elaine Duke, the US Secretary of National Security, revealed that after the hurricane, the then president asked if Puerto Rico could be sold. Another Department manager asked if they could be replaced with Greenland because “it’s dirty and the people are poor.”
Blue tarpaulins symbol of tragedy
On the second anniversary of the hurricane, National Public Radio reported that blue tarpaulins have not disappeared from the archipelago’s landscape and cover some 30,000 houses that have been blown off by winds. The tarpaulins, a symbol of Maria’s nightmare, were distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In line with FEMA rules, benefits were not granted to the poorest – slum dwellers and makeshift residents. But also to those who lived in the floodplain, that is about 250,000 people.
It was precisely because Puerto Ricans had not yet had time to rebuild all the losses from Hurricane Maria that caused Hurricane Fiona to cause such enormous damage. Though Fiona was a first-class hurricane when it reached the coast of Puerto Rico, many times weaker than Maria.
A week after Fiona’s transition, about half of Puerto Rico’s population was restored to electricity. This is faster than seven years ago, but the situation varies greatly depending on the region – in Cabo Rojo, with its 50,000 inhabitants, only a few percent of homes have electricity. Electricity was mainly restored in the northeast of the main island, where the hurricane did less damage.
20 percent Puerto Ricans still don’t have running water. As reported by NBC News, community leaders in Cabo Rojo deliver drinking water, ice and food in the heat. The local hospital is powered by a powerful generator while energy company workers replace damaged poles along flooded roads. In Cabo Rojo, as in many other places in Puerto Rico, there are queues of people with canisters at gas stations – gas supplies power to numerous power generators.
Local authorities say they have 60 days of fuel and oil in stock, and the problem is distribution, not shortage of supplies. In practice, however, apart from thousands of homes, essential services, such as grocery stores or pharmacies, remain without electricity and water.
NBC also notes that authorities in some regions, not wanting to wait any longer for help from central authorities and energy distribution companies, employ private repair crews to repair poles and lines.
But the hurricane not only wiped out the energy infrastructure, it also suffered crops, houses and mud-flooded belongings, from which only the most important things were saved. However, many places are not accessible through landslides of mud, stones and waste.
Puerto Rico after a hurricane AP / AP
However, the issue of energy is loudest, for good reason. Luma Energy, an American-Canadian consortium with a 15-year contract to distribute power in Puerto Rico, was to modernize the grid with giant subsidies government federal.
New York Attorney General Letitia James called on the federal authorities to initiate an investigation on the energy situation in Puerto Rico and Luma Energy itself. “Five years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria have devastated Puerto Rico and billions of dollars from the federal government have been spent on modernizing and strengthening the island’s power grid, people are still faced with interruptions and high prices. The situation is exacerbated by the hurricane. Fiona led to the blackout of the island “- we read in the prosecutor’s statement.
Is Puerto Rico Independence Possible? Yes, with repairs
Puerto Rico is an organized non-incorporated territory of the United States with “community” status. This means that its residents are US citizens but do not have the right to vote in US elections. And this automatically means that politicians from Washington they treat Puerto Rico neglectfully.
Another tragedy affecting the archipelago opens up a debate about its status. “We should be moving towards independence, not state status,” writes Jaquira Diaz. Puerto Rican writer in essay puts on the pages of The Atlantic the matter is straightforward – Puerto Rico is an American colony.
A 2018 survey showed that only about 10 percent. the inhabitants of the archipelago would like complete independence. But just two years later, in local elections, two parties in favor of greater and complete independence won over a quarter of the votes. Diaz estimates that the cause is Hurricane Maria, which was not only a natural disaster but also a political event that contributed to a historic shift in Puerto Rican views. “Maria, the worst catastrophe in modern history, has shown ordinary people that self-sufficiency and self-management are all they can rely on,” she writes.
The writer emphasizes that although Puerto Ricans are US citizens, they are second-class citizens. An example is even factthat people with disabilities are not entitled to benefits and that the smaller islands of the archipelago – Vieques and Culebra – have been used by the US Navy for bomb tests, but the federal government is in no rush to clean up contaminated groundwater.
The writer also recalls many tragedies and repressions that were used in Puerto Ricans. Starting with the almost mass sterilization of Puerto Rican women in 1937-1960 (41% of married women were sterilized) and testing experimental contraception on unknowingly poor women, to the destruction of the coffee industry in which most of the working class of the archipelago worked and putting it in the hands of large American producers sugar, to imprisonment and torture of independence activists, and the ban on hanging flags, singing the national anthem and organizing.
In the last referendum, since 1952, there were a total of six, 52 percent. Puerto Ricans voted to be given state status, and 47 percent. against. There was no choice for independence at all. “Even though America has failed Puerto Rico many times, joining the US formally appears to be the best option for many. Proponents of joining the United States argue that it will provide tools and powers to solve financial problems, introduce disability benefits, social benefits as a state, Puerto Rico could finally be represented in Congress and citizens would have the right to vote in the presidential election, “explains Diaz.
But, he warns, if the Hawaiian road is repeated, becoming the 51st state of the United States means “putting” Americans into positions in Puerto Rico and not so much the enlargement of the Puerto Rican nation as the expansion of the US borders.
Diaz believes that following the footsteps of other Caribbean nations and decolonizing completely is the way, although more difficult, is better. An independent government would work in favor of Puerto Ricans, not outside interests, which would mean, inter alia, Get rid of low-tax corporations and cryptocurrency producers whose sheer volume makes life too expensive for locals. The writer emphasizes, however, that Puerto Rico’s independence and security would have to be secured by reparations from the United States for the above-mentioned faults. But will any authorities be willing to do this? This is very unlikely, especially considering that, despite numerous referenda, Washington is reluctant to make any moves to change the status quo.
Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion – let it sink back in the ocean
Puerto Rico means “rich port” in Spanish and it’s hard to find a name that is far from the truth. The 2015 census shows that over 40 percent population lives below border poverty. In addition, the huge problem of the archipelago is not only the power grid. – Also sewage, streets, highways, bridges, schools. Almost every zone of government infrastructure needs repair, he says in conversation with Axios prof. Jose Caraballo-Cueto, economist at the University of Puerto Rico. In his opinion, a change in relations with the United States is necessary for Puerto Rico to enter the path of economic growth.
The financial crisis is also related to emigration. In just six months after Hurricane Maria, more than 130,000 people left Puerto Rico. people, when the entire population of the archipelago is about 3 million people.
Emigration in search of a better life is a process that has been going on for decades. In 1961, perhaps the most famous musical about Puerto Rican people – “West Side Story” – proclaimed in the mouth of one of the protagonists that everyone from Puerto Rico would move to the States, to – this is a different character – live in a room of 12 people and work as waiters and shoe boots . In the same song, the genius Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno also sang: “Beloved to my heart Puerto Rico – let him sink into the ocean”.