Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurrican

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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Thu Oct 12, 2017 9:58 am

Trump: We Cannot Help Puerto Rico ‘Forever!’

By NICOLE LAFOND Published OCTOBER 12, 2017 8:50 AM

President Donald Trump continued his relentless criticism of Puerto Rico Thursday morning, suggesting the U.S. couldn’t aid in recovery and relief efforts in the U.S. territory “forever!”

Quoting former CBS News reporter Sheryl Attkisson and Puerto Rico’s governor in a tweet, Trump said the territory’s “electric and infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes” and passed the buck to Congress to “decide how much to spend.”

He then went on to propose that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the military and first responders — who he said “have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances)” — cannot stay in the U.S. territory “forever!”

The tweets Thursday morning are just the latest attacks the President has launched on the U.S. territory, which was devastated by two hurricanes last month.

Trump has been complaining about Puerto Rico’s debt and infrastructure issues since the hurricanes made landfall and has claimed the mayor of San Juan has poor leadership skills. The President was likely irked by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for repeatedly appearing on cable news to ask for more help for Puerto Rico.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pushed back shortly after Trump tweeted, asking the President why he “continue(s) to treat Puerto Ricans differently than other Americans” and saying FEMA needs to stay in the U.S. territory “until the job is done.”

Donald Trump: Puerto Rico Wants 'Everything to Be Done for Them’

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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Oct 16, 2017 7:14 am

The sons of bitches are going to grind those poor bastards into dust, trigger a mass exodus of those who can afford to leave, and then swoop in and buy up the land at fire sale prices so they can build high priced condos to use as real estate for their next international money laundering scheme.

FEMA: 'Not Our Job to Deliver Water and Food' to Puerto Ricans
On the Rachel Maddow show, officials pass the blame to the San Juan mayor.
By Victor Klemperer Respawned / DailyKos October 12, 2017, 1:25 PM GMT

FEMA says it is not their responsibility to distribute food and water to Puerto Rican survivors of Maria and Irma, according to a recent report by Rachel Maddow. They can’t be serious?! Oh yes, they are.

That was the response Rachel got when FEMA was asked why it has been almost 3 weeks since the last hurricane hit Aibonito, a small town high in the mountains about an hour south of San Juan, and FEMA has yet to deliver a single bottle of water.

FEMA claims the roads aren’t passable, For the record, when I say “about an hour south” I mean Google Maps puts the drive — right now — at 1 hour and 5 minutes if I take the autopista (highway). BUT it also says there are portions of the road that are closed. Soooo you have to take route 173 and that takes 1 hour and 24 minutes. Maybe Google is wrong, right? It would be nice if someone on the ground could actually make the trip…. oh wait… what’s that? The MSNBC film crew already made the trip and it took them “about an hour and a half.”

As the MSNBC video shows, they got there no problem because the road was clear. No bridges out, no trees in the way, no mudslides, no raging rivers. Not even bad hombres. I realize the last menace would be Mexicans and there shouldn’t be any Mexicans clogging up the roads in Puerto Rico right now. But we all know to the Trump Klan, Puerto Ricans are just Island Mexicans, so they probably worry about that sort of thing.

Presented with the fact of Maddow’s team having video evidence directly contradicting their claims, FEMA then dropped this bombshell: Apparently, FEMA says it is the mayor’s job to distribute food and water. They are just there to help people fill out paperwork. Forget the fact that about half of the people in Puerto Rico have no access to clean water. Forget the fact that it is now confirmed that people are dying from waterborne diseases like leptospirosis because they lack potable water. Forget the fact mayors in small towns didn’t even have satellite phones until a couple days ago. Forget the fact mayors don’t have fleets of trucks at their disposal. They sure as hell don’t have gas for the trucks they do have. Oh… and when they do, look out the window because the situation can always change on you. That picture above was from Monday in downtown Santurce, on Fernández Juncos, looking towards Isla Grande airport in Miramar. Good thing FEMA doesn’t have to deal with that. We’d really be screwed.

Maybe it’s just too damn bad. A real tragedy. If only there was something we could do. If only FEMA could help. Yeah, I know. That’s hard to swallow. Especially when FOX News reported THIS about FEMA in Lakeland, FL responding to the crisis following a recent hurricane that hit there

LAKELAND (FOX 13) - People who are worn out from Hurricane Irma are getting help in Polk County.

On Friday, FEMA starting handing out free food and water at 11 different sites around the county, including Victory Church.

A long line of cars formed at 8 a.m., and continued throughout the day. Many of the people who came still don’t have electricity.

The difference? Unlike Aibonito, Lakeland is over 70% white, and that is the darkest part of Polk County. But I’m sure that has nothing to do with it. While we are pretending this isn’t the most racist federal government in 70 years, explain something to me Mike Pence, you shameless hypocrite.

When you stood in a House of God in Puerto Rico and declared from the pulpit after reading scripture:

“We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow.”

Were you being literal? Did you only mean you were with Puerto Ricans until October 8th? I ask because shortly after you went off to do your Sunday Football PR stunt, you guys let the Jones Act reactivate. Not only did you throw up a choke point on every domestic relief operation heading towards Puerto Rico, you also raised the prices on EVERYTHING coming in to Puerto Rico at a time when people are desperately trying to get stuff to family and friends stranded on an island. In the middle of water. Big water. Ocean water. You know this isn’t like Lakeland Florida where folks can drive to Georgia if they need to. Way to go, douchebag.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked by this. I mean, yeah you guys are a bunch of white supremacists and all, but this sure doesn’t sound like the Christian thing to do. Especially from a guy who has the balls to let his wife lead a church in prayer after reading a bible passage that says:

“Love one another with mutual affection.”

I’ll be honest. I’m not shocked. Not even a little bit. This confirms what I have been saying all along.

The game plan in Puerto Rico is clear.

The sons of bitches are going to grind those poor bastards into dust, trigger a mass exodus of those who can afford to leave, and then swoop in and buy up the land at fire sale prices so they can build high priced condos to use as real estate for their next international money laundering scheme.

What surprises me? There are still Puerto Ricans who think the most racist government in 70 years is going to help them. ... r-and-food
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Oct 16, 2017 7:20 pm

Desperate Puerto Ricans line up for water — at a hazardous waste site
A man draws water from a well in Puerto Rico that is part of a Superfund site. The area was not secured when federal officials arrived over the weekend to test the water quality of several wells there. (Arelis R. Hernandez/The Washington Post)
DORADO, Puerto Rico — Every 10 minutes or so, a truck or a van pulled up to the exposed spigot of an overgrown well, known as Maguayo #4, that sits not far from a bustling expressway and around the corner from a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop.

Fencing around the area had been torn open, and a red and white “Peligro” sign, warning of danger, lay hidden beneath debris and dense vegetation. One after another, people attached a hose to draw water for bathing, washing dishes and, in some cases, drinking. They filled buckets, jugs, soda bottles.

What many didn’t realize is that the well is one of nearly a dozen that are part of the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Superfund site — designated last year by the Environmental Protection Agency as among the nation’s most toxic sites.

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The science and policy of environmental issues.
Past testing here has shown the presence of tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, solvents commonly used in industrial processes, which can cause health problems including liver damage and increased risk of cancer. The EPA has yet to identify the cause of groundwater contamination in the wells, and local water systems no longer draw from them.

[Three weeks since Hurricane Maria, much of Puerto Rico still dark, thirsty and frustrated]

But the aftermath of Hurricane Maria has brought desperation in many forms. In this corner of the island, many residents still have no reliable source of water and search for access wherever they can.

Workers reattach the fallen “Peligro” sign, for danger, at the Maguayo well in Dorado, where locals who still lack water service after Hurricane Maria were filling containers with potentially contaminated water. (Arelis R. Hernandez/The Washington Post)
It’s difficult to know just how many people have sought water from the Superfund site in the weeks since the Category 4 hurricane walloped Puerto Rico and crippled its infrastructure. The central water authority continues to depend on generators and some limited electricity-grid power to keep pumps working at plants across the island. As of Sunday, the government announced it had restored service to nearly 70 percent of customers.

But for the families who live in Dorado, nothing is yet flowing in their homes. In a single hour on Saturday, more than four families arrived at the unsecured Maguayo well to draw water. None was aware of the potential dangers. Several assumed the well was part of the “Supertubo” that carries water to greater San Juan, roughly 20 miles to the east.

In the late morning, EPA officials arrived on the scene just as a man and two children were topping off a 50-gallon container on the back of his pickup. Andres, who declined to give his last name, said he had been using the water for bathing and had no idea it might be contaminated.

The dozen officials, armed with kits, gloves and other materials to conduct tests, hastily reassembled the broken chain-link fence near the spigot and restored the “Danger” sign.

Recent local testing showed that contamination levels were below legal thresholds, but EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez said the agency remains concerned about any residents drinking from wells that are part of the site. Officials said Sunday that data gathered in 2015 showed some wells were contaminated — exceeding standards for volatile organic chemicals — while others met drinking-water standards. The entire area was included in the Superfund site boundaries as a “precautionary measure” because groundwater contamination can move over time, the EPA said.

An agency statement said that the results of the bacteria portion of its testing should be available by midweek and that its chemical analysis should be completed by the end of next week.

Residents unwittingly drawing water from a Superfund site is merely one example of Puerto Rico’s dire lack of clean, reliable water. Government officials have said it could be months before power is fully restored across the island, which means that it could take nearly as long to get water flowing to all residents in need. National Guard troops and aid workers only recently began reaching the most far-flung communities with bottled water and water trucks.

The massive disruptions have forced residents to forgo the basics of modern plumbing and resort to any means available to fill containers. Along Highway 10, which cuts a jagged north-south route through the center of Puerto Rico, vehicles frequently line the road shoulders as drivers search for spring water flowing from craggy mountainsides.

In the mountainous municipality of Comerio, flooding from the hurricane left residents cut off from the central government and outside aid. So locals used plastic pipes to install a crude system to reroute spring water to a clearing where, one by one, people could shower. Elsewhere, residents have slogged regularly to creeks to fetch water and to bathe.

EPA officials prepare to test water from a well located on the Dorado Superfund site. Locals have been drawing water from a well there for weeks, not knowing it could be contaminated. (Arelis R. Hernandez/The Washington Post)
With the lack of reliable water has come increasing fear of disease.

Already, the island government has identified four suspected deaths as a result of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread by animal urine in the soil or groundwater. The deaths won’t be certified as “hurricane-related” unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms lab samples indicating the victims became infected by drinking or having contact with contaminated water.

The health risks posed by water from the Maguayo well probably depend on the person, Rodriguez said. Any hazards might be more risky for vulnerable populations, such as elderly people or pregnant women.

[‘If there is no water, disease will come’: Many in Puerto Rico still lack water service]

Another EPA spokesman, Rusty Harris-Bishop, said government officials only recently learned that people were trying to get water at Superfund sites. In one case, a local resident contacted the agency to request access to a well.

Harris-Bishop said the EPA began sending assessment teams late last week to evaluate hazardous waste sites in Dorado, Hormigas and San German. After surveying those locations and two others, the agency says it believes residents were able to access wells only at the Dorado site, although officials acknowledge they have no way of knowing how many people carted away water before the site was again secured Saturday.

The EPA is working with the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure water trucks are reaching nearby neighborhoods. “We are sensitive to the suffering and needs of these communities,” Harris-Bishop said.

Dennis reported from Washington. ... a3fc870884
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Oct 24, 2017 12:36 pm

$300M Puerto Rico Contract Awarded To Tiny Firm Owned By Big Trump Donors

By ALLEGRA KIRKLAND Published OCTOBER 24, 2017 10:42 AM
A tiny Montana utility company that received a $300 million contract to help restore power to Puerto Rico after its electrical grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria is financed by major Trump donors and run by a CEO friendly with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a series of recent reports has revealed.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s granting of the huge contract to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a two-year-old company that reportedly had two full-time employees when the hurricane first hit, was first reported by the Weather Channel last week.

The Washington Post and the Daily Beast on Tuesday offered more details on the company’s backers. The Post noted that the firm is based in Zinke’s hometown and that its CEO, Andy Techmanski, is friendly with the Interior secretary, while the Daily Beast reported that Whitefish’s general partner maxed out donations to the Trump primary and general election campaigns, as well as a Trump super PAC, in 2016.

That newly surfaced information has raised eyebrows about just why Whitefish was awarded a contract to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rico residents. The firm insists that everything is above board, with both Zinke’s office and Techmanski told the Post that the Interior secretary played no role in securing the contract.

But as multiple publications have noted, the type of work Whitefish will be doing is usually handled through “mutual aid” agreements with other utilities, rather than by for-profit companies, especially those of Whitefish’s exceptionally small size.

“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” Susan F. Tierney, a former senior official at the Energy Department told the Post. “I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”

In addition to Techmanski’s relationship with Zinke, Joe Colonnetta, partner at Whitefish and founder of HBC Investments, the private-equity firm that finances the energy company, is a significant power player in Republican politics, according to the Beast.

Colonetta donated a total of $74,000 towards Trump’s presidential victory and $30,700 to the Republican National Committee, the Beast reported. His wife, Kimberly, separately gave $33,400 to the RNC shortly after Trump’s win, and was photographed with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson during inauguration week, per the report. ... y-contract
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby Iamwhomiam » Tue Oct 24, 2017 1:44 pm

I think it was a day or two after the Mayor expressed the desperation of her people that a friend, Judith Enck, former EPA Director of Region 2, with responsibility over NY and Puerto Rico, was one of a panel of 4 guests and 2 of the staff, participating a morning local PBS affiliated radio station's Round Table, a show that discusses local, state, and national news.

Judith informed the audience that she would be leaving the next morning for Puerto Rico. The Governor of Puerto Rico had called her to ask her to help them evaluate their situation to assess and triage environmental priorities and coordinate remediative and other emergency services. He personally calls her rather than begging non-responsive FEMA for relief! A private citizen! Not a call to the President!

She's been down and back, having spent 2 weeks there during her first visit. Not sure if she's returned home yet, though.

Judith Enck is the sort of person we need in government today. Grass roots grown!
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby Nordic » Tue Oct 24, 2017 3:33 pm

Finally a natural disaster SLAD can blame on Trump! Whew, thank God!
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Tue Oct 24, 2017 3:58 pm

no fucking way is the hurricane trump's fault ...DID I SAY THAT I DON'T REMEMBER BLAMING THE HURRICANE ON is his fucking fault cashing in on it

and ignoring the American citizens who are suffering

someday maybe Nordic will stop being a **** and stop lying

maybe someday Nordic will care more about the American citizens than he cares about the reputation of his beloved treasonist trump

hey Nordic remember Clinton and nuclear war you always talked about?
seemslikeadream » Sun Oct 22, 2017 4:58 pm wrote:Why....because only 75% of the country is afraid of a nuclear war...

EXCLUSIVE: US Preparing to Put Nuclear Bombers Back on 24-Hour Alert
A 2014 photo of a B-52H Stratofortress based at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.


5:00 PM ET

If the order comes, the B-52s will return to a ready-to-fly posture not seen since the Cold War.

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. — The U.S. Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991.

That means the long-dormant concrete pads at the ends of this base’s 11,000-foot runway — dubbed the “Christmas tree” for their angular markings — could once again find several B-52s parked on them, laden with nuclear weapons and set to take off at a moment’s notice.

“This is yet one more step in ensuring that we’re prepared,” Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview during his six-day tour of Barksdale and other U.S. Air Force bases that support the nuclear mission. “I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we’re prepared going forward.”

Goldfein and other senior defense officials stressed that the alert order had not been given, but that preparations were under way in anticipation that it might come. That decision would be made by Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, or Gen. Lori Robinson, the head of U.S. Northern Command. STRATCOM is in charge of the military’s nuclear forces and NORTHCOM is in charge of defending North America.

Putting the B-52s back on alert is just one of many decisions facing the Air Force as the U.S. military responds to a changing geopolitical environment that includes North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear arsenal, President Trump’s confrontational approach to Pyongyang, and Russia’s increasingly potent and active armed forces.

Goldfein, who is the Air Force’s top officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is asking his force to think about new ways that nuclear weapons could be used for deterrence, or even combat.

“The world is a dangerous place and we’ve got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “It’s no longer a bipolar world where it’s just us and the Soviet Union. We’ve got other players out there who have nuclear capability. It’s never been more important to make sure that we get this mission right.”

During his trip across the country last week, Goldfein encouraged airmen to think beyond Cold War uses for ICBMs, bombers and nuclear cruise missiles.

“I’ve challenged…Air Force Global Strike Command to help lead the dialog, help with this discussion about ‘What does conventional conflict look like with a nuclear element?’ and ‘Do we respond as a global force if that were to occur?’ and ‘What are the options?’” he said. “How do we think about it — how do we think about deterrence in that environment?”

Asked if placing B-52s back on alert — as they were for decades — would help with deterrence, Goldfein said it’s hard to say.

“Really it depends on who, what kind of behavior are we talking about, and whether they’re paying attention to our readiness status,” he said.

Already, various improvements have been made to prepare Barksdale — home to the 2d Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the service’s nuclear forces — to return B-52s to an alert posture. Near the alert pads, an old concrete building — where B-52 crews during the Cold War would sleep, ready to run to their aircraft and take off at a moment’s notice — is being renovated.

Inside, beds are being installed for more than 100 crew members, more than enough room for the crews that would man bombers positioned on the nine alert pads outside. There’s a recreation room, with a pool table, TVs and a shuffleboard table. Large paintings of the patches for each squadron at Barksdale adorn the walls of a large stairway.

One painting — a symbol of the Cold War — depicts a silhouette of a B-52 with the words “Peace The Old Fashioned Way,” written underneath. At the bottom of the stairwell, there is a Strategic Air Command logo, yet another reminder of the Cold War days when American B-52s sat at the ready on the runway outside.

Those long-empty B-52 parking spaces will soon get visits by two nuclear command planes, the E-4B Nightwatch and E-6B Mercury, both which will occasionally sit alert there. During a nuclear war, the planes would become the flying command posts of the defense secretary and STRATCOM commander, respectively. If a strike order is given by the president, the planes would be used to transmit launch codes to bombers, ICBMs and submarines. At least one of the four nuclear-hardened E-4Bs — formally called the National Airborne Operations Center, but commonly known as the Doomsday Plane — is always on 24-hour alert.

Barksdale and other bases with nuclear bombers are preparing to build storage facilities for a new nuclear cruise missile that is under development. During his trip, Goldfein received updates on the preliminary work for a proposed replacement for the 400-plus Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the new long-range cruise missile.

“Our job is options,” Goldfein said. “We provide best military advice and options for the commander and chief and the secretary of defense. Should the STRATCOM commander require or the NORTHCOM commander require us to [be on] a higher state of readiness to defend the homeland, then we have to have a place to put those forces.” ... rt/141957/

Language of the Military Coup

John Kelly and the Language of the Military Coup

Masha Gessen

Consider this nightmare scenario: a military coup. You don’t have to strain your imagination—all you have to do is watch Thursday’s White House press briefing, in which the chief of staff, John Kelly, defended President Trump’s phone call to a military widow, Myeshia Johnson. The press briefing could serve as a preview of what a military coup in this country would look like, for it was in the logic of such a coup that Kelly advanced his four arguments.

Argument 1. Those who criticize the President don’t know what they’re talking about because they haven’t served in the military. To demonstrate how little lay people know, Kelly provided a long, detailed explanation of what happens when a soldier is killed in battle: the body is wrapped in whatever is handy, flown by helicopter, then packed in ice, then flown again, then repacked, then flown, then embalmed and dressed in uniform with medals, and then flown home. Kelly provided a similar amount of detail about how family members are notified of the death, when, and by whom. He even recommended a film that dramatized the process of transporting the body of a real-life marine, Private First Class Chance Phelps. This was a Trumpian moment, from the phrasing—“a very, very good movie”—to the message. Kelly stressed that Phelps “was killed under my command, right next to me”; in other words, Kelly’s real-life experience was recreated for television, and that, he seemed to think, bolstered his authority.

Fallen soldiers, Kelly said, join “the best one per cent this country produces.” Here, the chief of staff again reminded his audience of its ignorance: “Most of you, as Americans, don’t know them. Many of you don’t know anyone who knows any of them. But they are the very best this country produces.”

The one-per-cent figure is puzzling. The number of people currently serving in the military, both on active duty and in the reserves, is not even one per cent of all Americans. The number of veterans in the population is far higher: more than seven per cent. But, later in the speech, when Kelly described his own distress after hearing the criticism of Trump’s phone call, the general said that he had gone to “walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.” So, by “the best” Americans, Kelly had meant dead Americans—specifically, fallen soldiers.

The number of Americans killed in all the wars this nation has ever fought is indeed equal to roughly one per cent of all Americans alive today. This makes for questionable math and disturbing logic. It is in totalitarian societies, which demand complete mobilization, that dying for one’s country becomes the ultimate badge of honor. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I learned the names of ordinary soldiers who threw their bodies onto enemy tanks, becoming literal cannon fodder. All of us children had to aspire to the feat of martyrdom. No Soviet general would have dared utter the kind of statement that’s attributed to General George S. Patton: “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”

2. The President did the right thing because he did exactly what his general told him to do. Kelly went on a rambling explication of speaking to the President not once but twice about how to make the call to Myeshia Johnson. After Kelly’s son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, the chief of staff recalled, his own best friend had consoled him by saying that his son “was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that one per cent.” Trump apparently tried to replicate this message when he told Johnson that her husband, La David, had known what he was signing up for. The negative reaction to this comment, Kelly said, had “stunned” him.

A week earlier, Kelly had taken over the White House press briefing in an attempt to quash another scandal and ended up using the phrase “I was sent in,” twice, in reference to his job in the White House. Now he seemed to be saying that, since he was sent in to control the President and the President had, this time, more or less carried out his instructions, the President should not be criticized.

3. Communication between the President and a military widow is no one’s business but theirs. A day earlier, the Washington Post had quoted a White House official saying, “The president’s conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private.” The statement contained a classic Trumpian reversal: the President was claiming for himself the right to privacy that belonged to his interlocutor. But Myeshia Johnson had apparently voluntarily shared her conversation with her mother-in-law and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson by putting the President on speakerphone.

Now Kelly took it up a notch. Not only was he claiming that the President, communicating with a citizen in his official capacity, had a right to confidentiality—he was claiming that this right was “sacred.” Indeed, Kelly seemed to say, it was the last sacred thing in this country. He rattled off a litany of things that had lost their sanctity: women, life, religion, Gold Star families. The last of which had been profaned “in the convention over the summer,” said Kelly, although the debacle with a Gold Star family had been Trump’s doing. Now, Kelly seemed to say, we had descended into utter profanity, because the secrecy of the President’s phone call had been violated.

4. Citizens are ranked based on their proximity to dying for their country. Kelly’s last argument was his most striking. At the end of the briefing, he said that he would take questions only from those members of the press who had a personal connection to a fallen soldier, followed by those who knew a Gold Star family. Considering that, a few minutes earlier, Kelly had said most Americans didn’t even know anyone who knew anyone who belonged to the “one per cent,” he was now explicitly denying a majority of Americans—or the journalists representing them—the right to ask questions. This was a new twist on the Trump Administration’s technique of shunning and shaming unfriendly members of the news media, except this time, it was framed explicitly in terms of national loyalty. As if on cue, the first reporter allowed to speak inserted the phrase “Semper Fi”—a literal loyalty oath—into his question.

Before walking off the stage, Kelly told Americans who haven’t served in the military that he pities them. “We don’t look down upon those of you who haven’t served,” he said. “In fact, in a way we are a little bit sorry because you’ll have never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our servicemen and women do—not for any other reason than that they love this country.”
When Kelly replaced the ineffectual Reince Priebus as the chief of staff, a sigh of relief emerged: at least the general would impose some discipline on the Administration. Now we have a sense of what military discipline in the White House sounds like. ... itary-coup

‘We have to take away the football’: Ex-Bush ethics chief demands 25th Amendment before it’s ‘too late’ ... -too-late/


I do blame trump for being a dick to a dead soldiers wife

Darkness: life in Puerto Rico without electricity
Puerto Rico's misery won't end without power. The problem is that it isn't getting any. ... wage-trump


Why FEMA sent ‘junk food’ to Puerto Rican hurricane survivors ... 1fb24f1bfd


In Puerto Rico, Surgery by Flashlight Is Just the Beginning ... risis.html

Poll Finds Trump Loses Ground on Puerto Rico Response ... o-response

U.S. Hospitals Wrestle With Shortages of Drug Supplies Made in Puerto Rico ... rtage.html

Deaths from Hurricane Maria increase to 51 in Puerto Rico ... o-50684221
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Sat Oct 28, 2017 9:03 am

Medical examiner in Puerto Rico has authorized over NINE HUNDRED cremations of “natural deaths” since Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico's Government Just Admitted 911 People Died After The Hurricane — Of "Natural Causes"
The 911 bodies were never physically examined by a medical examiner to determine if they should be included in the official death toll.

Originally posted on October 27, 2017, at 5:33 p.m.
Updated on October 27, 2017, at 9:30 p.m.
Nidhi Prakash

Mourners and cemetery workers in Utuado, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 19.
The Puerto Rican government told BuzzFeed News Friday that it allowed 911 bodies to be cremated since Hurricane Maria made landfall, and that not one of them were physically examined by a government medical examiner to determine if it should be included in the official death toll.

Every one of the 911 died of "natural causes" not related to the devastating storm, said Karixia Ortiz Serrano, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety who is also speaking for the Institute of Forensic Sciences — which is in charge of confirming hurricane deaths. The "natural causes" designations were made by reviewing records, not actually examining the bodies, she said.

The government's revelation comes after BuzzFeed News reported earlier Friday that directors of funeral homes and crematoriums in two municipalities were permitted by the government to burn the bodies of many people the directors thought died as a result of the hurricane — without a government pathologist examining the corpses first to determine if they should be counted in the official death toll.

The current death toll stands at 51. Twenty of those official deaths were cremations.

The death toll has become a critically important indicator of how relief efforts are going — because President Trump made it one. It is also important for families of victims to claim federal relief aid.

“These reports are extremely troubling — they provide even more reason to be concerned about the accuracy of the information we’re receiving," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, told BuzzFeed News. "The Trump Administration needs to cooperate with Puerto Rican authorities and provide all the necessary resources to ensure the death toll is accurately counted.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, added, "I intend to take any and all available steps to get to the bottom of the increasing appearance of misinformation in Hurricane Maria recovery efforts."

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has said that the island's Institute of Forensic Sciences must examine and certify any hurricane-related deaths before they can be included in the death toll.

But the institute does not routinely — as in, in non-disaster situations — examine cases that were "natural deaths," and that process has not changed to account for potential hurricane victims, Ortiz told BuzzFeed News this week, adding, "the process has not changed because of the emergency."

From Sept. 20 — when the hurricane made landfall — to Oct. 18 "the medical examiner authorized 911 cremations of natural deaths. Keep in mind that not all the bodies of the persons who died in [Puerto Rico] goes to the [medical examiner]. But by law the [medical examiner] give the authorization for cremations," said Ortiz in a statement to BuzzFeed News Friday. The statement was first reported by CBS News.

And the government has no specific criteria on what counts and what doesn't count as a hurricane-related death, she told BuzzFeed News in an earlier interview, making it impossible to know whether those cases were in fact hurricane-related deaths.

"The [medical examiner] analyzes the death summary and the death certificate, if something is suspicious they assign the case to the pathologist and they can stop the process, they can claim the body and/or call the families for an interview," Ortiz said Friday.

Ortiz said that if the institute is not examining a potential hurricane victim, it's because the doctor, medic or district attorney who certified the death did not fill out paperwork to alert the institute that it could be a hurricane-related death. But again, the government does not have any clear criteria on what should be considered a hurricane related death and what should not.

In a brief press conference Friday night, Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rosselló was asked about the lack of review for 911 bodies that were cremated.

He said he was unaware of the number, and that he would be speaking with officials at the Institute of Forensic Sciences to address the issue.

"I didn't know the number, but certainly some of the deaths could have been for natural causes," he told reporters in Spanish. "Those would obviously not be counted with the deaths that were a direct or indirect product of the hurricane."

The funeral home and crematorium directors BuzzFeed News spoke to over the past two weeks all said they've received no official guidance instructing them to send hurricane victims to the institute — and the government said they've sent no guidance to them.

Without guidance, different funeral home and crematorium directors told BuzzFeed News they had vastly different ideas of what they considered hurricane-related deaths. Some said they counted heart attacks and people who died for lack of oxygen because there was no power, while others said they counted those as "natural deaths."

Disaster death toll experts told BuzzFeed News cases should definitely be counted, and that they were in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Other fatalities included on the government's official death toll include three heart attacks, one that's listed as "difficulty breathing" and several who died due to a lack of oxygen or electricity for their oxygen or dialysis machines.

Asked about the discrepancy — some "natural deaths" like heart attacks not being examined for inclusion while a few are included on the list — Ortiz said, "People have heart attacks every day," adding that unless the death certificate indicated that the death was hurricane-related it would not be examined.

"I know that a lot of people are saying that these are hurricane deaths, but understand that it could be a rumor. We’re not saying that it’s false or true," said Ortiz. "But if we don’t receive those claims, we can’t look into it." ... .hw1VRb7R0

if someone can read this article I'd be grateful if you would post it

Dallas money fuels Whitefish, a tiny Montana firm under scrutiny for $300M Puerto Rico contract
Whitefish is backed by Flat Creek Capital Management and HBC Investment, both based in Dallas. Peter Brodsky, a co-founder of HBC, and who bought the Southwest Center Mall.

FEMA has 'significant concerns' about Whitefish's contract to rebuild Puerto Rico's electric grid

FEMA says it has "significant concerns" about the Puerto Rican power authority's contract with a tiny energy company to rebuild the island's electric grid.
The $300 million contract awarded to a small, two-year-old firm called Whitefish Energy has attracted scrutiny and calls for investigations.
Whitefish is based out of Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's hometown in Montana.
Tom DiChristopher | @tdichristopher
Published 17 Hours Ago Updated 15 Hours Ago

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has "significant concerns" about a $300 million contract to rebuild parts of Puerto Rico's electric grid awarded to a tiny, two-year-old energy company with links to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

FEMA, the nation's disaster response agency, on Friday said it was reviewing the contract that Whitefish Energy signed with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. In a statement, FEMA said it was not involved in the decision, and warned that it might not reimburse the authority, known as PREPA, if the contract does not abide by federal requirements.

PREPA tapped Whitefish to restore electric infrastructure in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which knocked out 80 percent of the U.S. territory's transmission lines. Whitefish had just two employees when Maria struck the island.

"Based on initial review and information from PREPA, FEMA has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable," FEMA said in the statement.

"FEMA is presently engaged with PREPA and its legal counsel to obtain information about the contract and contracting process, including how the contract was procured and how PREPA determined the contract prices were reasonable," it said.

Whitefish and PREPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The announcement on Friday adds another layer of scrutiny to the contract, which has been under a microscope ever since Whitefish announced it last week.

News reports have revealed that Zinke's son worked a summer construction job for Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski. The company is based out of Whitefish, Montana, Zinke's hometown.

Though Zinke and Techmanski acknowledge knowing one another, the Interior Department and Techmanski both told the Washington Post the secretary played no role in Whitefish securing the contract.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested documents related to the contract from Whitefish. The ranking Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Finance committees on Wednesday asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the contract.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello has also asked the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general to look into the deal. ... tract.html

Lawmakers in Washington and in the commonwealth have questions about Whitefish Energy’s $300 million contract.

OCTOBER 26, 2017 3:16 PM
ricardo rosselló

Earlier this week, we learned that a two-year-old company that had two full-time employees the day Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico was awarded a $300 million contract to rebuild the island’s electrical grid. Whitefish Energy seemed like an odd choice, given that its biggest project to date was a $1.3 million deal to “replace and upgrade parts of a 4.8-mile transmission line in Arizona,” for which it was given 11 months to complete. (As a point of comparison, there are 2,400 miles of transmission lines spread across Puerto Rico.) In addition to its lack of experience, the amount of money Whitefish has convinced Puerto Rico—which is bankrupt—to fork over has raised eyebrows; only eight contracts for more than $20 million have been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corp of Engineers, with half of those going toward shipments of food and bottled water.

The fact that Whitefish happens to be based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who knows Whitefish owner Andy Techmanski, and whose son worked a summer job at one of Techmanski’s construction sites, has added yet another layer of intrigue to the situation. And now, just a day after Whitefish told people to quit their “carping,” several officials, both in Congress and in Puerto Rico, are asking questions about the unusual arrangement.

The Hill reports that Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office on Wednesday, requesting an audit into exactly how Whitefish won the $300 million contract. Rosselló described a three-hour conference call between FEMA and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) representatives during which FEMA attempted to ensure the contract was in accordance with emergency procurement rules and regulations. After the call, FEMA indicated it would follow up with additional questions. “I request that your office complete its review of the Whitefish Contract so that a final determination can be made . . . and address any other issues regarding the same by Monday, October 30, 2017,” Rosselló wrote.

In addition to Rosselló’s request, The Hill also reported Thursday that two House committees have opened an investigation into how Whitefish landed the contract. A bipartisan group of leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Techmanski requesting copies of the contract and other documents, as well as a briefing by November 9. Leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee, meanwhile, requested PREPA President Ricardo Ramos supply them with documents related to how the utility typically awards contracts.

In the upper chamber, two Democratic Senators have asked that the Government Accountability Office investigate the “use of public money to reimburse work completed by Whitefish Energy,” according to BuzzFeed News.

The letter urges the office to look into multiple concerns, including "the potentially inflated costs of time and material in the contract relative to comparable" agreements, "the opaque and limited nature of PREPA's [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority] bidding process that led to the contract" as well as "the contemporaneous communications between Whitefish and senior members of the federal executive branch, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke."

For its part, Whitefish responded to the barrage of investigations with an optimistic statement. "Whitefish Energy appreciates the efforts of the committees to gather information so that they have confidence in the overall process to support the people of Puerto Rico as well Whitefish Energy’s capabilities and commitment to deliver on the contract to help restore power and a sense of normalcy for the people of Puerto Rico," the company said—a far cry from its earlier tweets threatening to stop its work and send its linemen home. ... power-grid
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Oct 29, 2017 2:33 pm




How the U.S. Turned Its Back on Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico was wrecked by Hurricane Maria, then ignored by the mainland

By Karl Vick / San Juan September 28, 2017
Stillness is drenched in humidity and scorched by a sun blasting down from the clear skies that will eventually follow a hurricane. But on this island of 3.4 million people, the quiet after Hurricane Maria had a distinct feeling of absence, an inattention bordering on obliviousness.

The fifth strongest storm ever to strike the U.S. hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 with stronger winds than Irma brought to Florida and the kind of rain that Hurricane Harvey dumped on Houston. It made landfall on a Wednesday, and in the digital age, its effects were well documented by Friday: parts of San Juan, the capital of this U.S. territory, were underwater. The verdant island was stripped of its foliage. U.S. citizens lapped water from natural springs. But on the mainland, the topics of the day were a special election in Alabama, the latest GOP stab at repealing Obamacare and a fight President Donald Trump had picked with the NFL.

Belkis, 42, right, and her daughter remove damaged belongings from their flooded home in San Isidro, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 28, 2017.

“Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States, can turn into a humanitarian crisis,” its governor, Ricardo Rosselló, warned on Sept. 25. One day later, a poll showed that almost half of Americans did not know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. “When we speak of a catastrophe, everyone must be treated equally.”

After winning plaudits for their smooth, coordinated responses in Texas and Florida this past summer, the feds were not exactly caught flat-footed in the Caribbean. Two weeks before Maria hit Puerto Rico, which was preparing for Hurricane Irma to hit, FEMA had about 124 staff members deployed there and in the Virgin Islands. Water, meals, cots and blankets were pre-positioned in San Juan.

But the scale of the devastation–combined with the inattention of the White House–generated a tableau that critics described as evidence of neglect or worse. Pushed onto the defensive, the White House hastily arranged a presidential visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for Oct. 3. “No gasoline, no water, no nada,” says Reynaldo Valdez, 57, driving through a San Juan that looks as though it’s been raked.

Maria made landfall on the island’s southeastern corner, with sustained winds of 155 m.p.h. That’s more force than that of most tornadoes. This particular cyclone covered the entire island, which is 40 miles at its widest point. “Imagine if a hurricane started in Florida and ended up in Washington State,” NASA disaster official Miguel Román pointed out. “That’s what we’re dealing with here.”

As meteorologists watched the satellite imagery–radar had been knocked out–Maria stuttered across the island. The inland hills that rise more than 3,000 ft. above the heart of Puerto Rico were drawing moisture out of the storm, which loosed torrents of rain. Flash floods tore through valleys, and hillsides collapsed, pulling down houses already shorn of their roofs. Roadways were turned into tunnels as trees on both sides fell into one another. The entire electricity grid came down, taking with it the pumps that supply drinking water.

A week after the storm, 16 people were reported dead, and 44% of residents lacked potable water. A massive relief operation was under way–the military planned 240 flights to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in one 24-hour period–but in a territory nearly the size of Connecticut, the challenge was getting the help to remote areas.

A man who has lived in San Isidro, outside the Puerto Rico capital since he was nine years old, stands for a portrait in his neighborhood, torn apart by Hurricane Maria, on Sept. 28, 2017.

Officials warn that it may be months before power is restored across the island, not least because the grid had decayed as the territory’s government was engulfed by a metastasizing debt crisis over the past few years. But while Trump tweeted about the island’s debts to Wall Street, officials understood that Maria had also left behind the gift of leverage. More Puerto Ricans now live on the mainland than on the island. Migration, already up markedly in recent years, may surge to new heights if swaths of the territory remain unlivable.

“If we want to prevent, for example, a mass exodus, we have to take action,” Rosselló said. “Congress, take note: Take action. Permit Puerto Rico to have the necessary resources.”

Outside the shuttered hotel she manages in the capital’s beachside Condado district, Evel Torres reinforced the point. “Everything is closed in Puerto Rico,” she told me with a smile. “I’m going with you to the States!” ... erto-rico/

Whitefish is backed by a private equity, HBC Investments, which is headed by Joe Colonnetta, a major donor to the President Trump's election campaign, the Trump Victory PAC and other GOP candidates.


Puerto Rico's governor wants to end power contract with small Montana company
Alan Gomez, USA TODAY Published 11:37 a.m. ET Oct. 29, 2017 | Updated 1:04 p.m. ET Oct. 29, 2017

Puerto Rico's governor on Sunday called for terminating a $300 million contract awarded to a little-known Montana company hired to coordinate restoring electricity on the island following Hurricane Maria.

The contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings has come under increased scrutiny. It was formed two years ago, had two employees when the Category 4 storm hit on Sept. 20, and was awarded a contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) six days later.

Since then, Whitefish has struggled to get power crews to Puerto Rico to repair the ravaged electrical grid. As of Sunday, 70% of the island remained without power.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress have called for investigations, and last week, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló requested that the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security look into the contract.

On Sunday, Rosselló went a step further during a news conference, asking PREPA to cancel its contract with Whitefish and immediately begin coordinating with utility companies in Florida and New York.

"There can be no distraction that alters the commitment to lift the electrical system as quickly as possible," Rosselló said in a tweet.

Rosselló said he had discussions with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to have officials from those states take over the monumental task of rebuilding the island's electrical grid. Florida and New York are home to about 40% of the 5 million people of Puerto Rican descent living on the U.S. mainland.

Cuomo has made two visits to Puerto Rico since Maria struck and sent emergency crews to help with recovery efforts. Scott has also visited the island and declared a state of emergency in Florida to make it easier for local officials to help Puerto Ricans fleeing for the mainland.

Rosselló also announced that he will use his emergency powers to install a government official to work with PREPA'S contracting division.

Whitefish is backed by a private equity, HBC Investments, which is headed by Joe Colonnetta, a major donor to the President Trump's election campaign, the Trump Victory PAC and other GOP candidates.

The small company with a short track record is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — Whitefish, Mont. — fueling questions about how the lucrative deal was clinched.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday questioned Whitefish's contract with Puerto Rico's utility company. FEMA issued a statement that it was not involved in awarding the contract and said it had not yet approved any reimbursement money for Whitefish.

"Based on initial review and information from PREPA, FEMA has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable," FEMA said. ... 811155001/

Things in Puerto Rico are worse than our government's admitting
| Opinion

By Jarvis DeBerry, columnist, | The Times-Picayune
Hau Yau, a registered nurse who recently went to Puerto Rico to provide aid to those harmed by Hurricane Maria, says in a report released by National Nurses United, "We couldn't believe this is a part of the United States." The people her group found suffering on the island, the nurse said, "have already had chronic diseases going on and now their environment is full of hazardous materials and sanitation is so poor."

To hear President Donald Trump tell it, everything's going well in Puerto Rico. When asked Oct. 18 to rate the federal government's recovery effort on a scale of one to 10, Trump said, "I give ourselves a 10." The only surprise is that he didn't give it a grade of 11.

When Trump gave his administration a perfect score for its Maria response, he was sitting in the Oval Office next to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello. He put Rossello on the spot. "Did the United States, did our government, when we came in, did we do a great job? Military, first responders, Fema, did we do a great job?"

Rossello said, "You responded immediately, sir," which didn't contradict Trump's claim that the government had done a great job, but didn't validate it either.

Trump met with Rossello in the Oval Office on Oct. 18. That happens to have been the same day that 50 members of National Nurses United, a nurses' union, returned to the states after two weeks of volunteering on Puerto Rico. Those nurses were greatly disturbed at what they saw, and on Thursday (Oct. 26) they delivered a report to Capitol Hill that accuses the federal government of letting Puerto Ricans suffer and die.

"It is unconscionable that the people of Puerto Rico are being left to die," NNU vice president, Cathy Kennedy, said on Capitol Hill. "Our nurses witnessed a humanitarian and healthcare crisis, and we know our government has the power to bring relief to those who are suffering."

When Trump arrived on the island on Oct. 3, he made it a point to emphasize that the official death toll - then at 16 - was lower than one might expect after a storm of Maria's strength. But even as Trump was complimenting Puerto Rico for managing to avoid becoming "a real catastrophe like Katrina," some who were seeing what was happening on the island were pushing back against Trump's sanguine view of things. They knew the death toll would rise.

It's not just a hurricane's wind or water that kills. When the power goes out, vulnerable populations suffer. When food and clean water are scarce, and people are cut off from doctors and life-saving medications, people suffer and die. And, yet, on a mostly dark island where food and clean water were hard to come by and many roads were impassable, Trump talked about the death toll as if it were fixed and wouldn't continue to rise.

"Anchoring bias" makes people overly reliant on the first bit of information they hear about an issue. Trump heard on Oct. 3 that only 16 had died, and now it seems that he can't be convinced of how bad things on the island are.

As of Thursday the death toll was 51, but many experts find even that number unbelievably low. The Huffington Post quotes Karixia Ortiz, press officer for Puerto Rico's Department of Public Safety, saying that to be counted as a Maria fatality, a death must be confirmed by the Institute of Forensic Science, which means somebody has to either take it to San Juan for an autopsy or that an examiner has to leave San Juan and go to where the body is.

John Mutter, a Columbia University disaster researcher who studied the death toll following Hurricane Katrina, told that such a verification process "is the way to go about it if you want to come up with the smallest number possible." For an Oct. 11 report, Mutter said, "When I first started hearing the deaths were only 16, and then 34, I thought there was something wrong. Maria was bigger than the two previous storms, Harvey and Irma. And there's no way to evacuate an island. All those people are still there. And then you look at damage and it's profound. And now they're saying only 45 people died, you're saying come on, it couldn't be."

The nurses want Congress to use its authority to push FEMA to act more expeditiously and to address Puerto Rico's Medicaid shortfall. They want the Defense Department to do a better job providing logistical support and technological assistance to the island as it struggles to recover. The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 19 that the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship with 800 medical and support personnel, arrived in Puerto Rico Oct. 3 and that despite an operating cost of $180,000/day only 150 people total had been treated. The nurses want more Puerto Ricans brought aboard the Comfort for treatment.

None of the demands seem unreasonable. The only question is why such demands even have to be made. ... dying.html

Puerto Rico's Dire Health-Care Crisis

Over a month after Hurricane Maria, citizens are still facing limited access to medical help and the increasing threat of illness.

Surgeons work on a patient at Dr. Isaac Gonzalez Martínez Oncological Hospital in San Juan.
A recent surgery at Dr. Isaac Gonzalez Martínez Oncological Hospital in San JuanCarlos Giusti / AP

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It’s been over a month since the last of Maria’s Category 4 hurricane-strength winds swept over Puerto Rico, but there is still damage yet to come.

The darkness is persistent. Power and clean water are still tenuous and reliant on generators and outside aid. Contamination threatens basic necessities for dozens of municipalities, and the death toll—already likely a serious undercount—is only rising as diseases and the attrition from devastated infrastructure take their toll. Even with the aid of the federal government and the military, a health-care system facing multiple threats might not be able to protect some of the island’s most vulnerable citizens.

Puerto Rico's Environmental Catastrophe

Many of those people are facing hard choices in Puerto Rico’s hospitals, which are at the front lines of disaster-relief efforts. While most hospitals have recovered from the storm’s early blows—which knocked most of them out of commission and left a few others dependant on generators—they have had to make do with shortages of power, water, and supplies; personnel crunches; and intensifying health-care needs from accidents and emergent diseases. Last week, a photograph posted by former Governor Alejandro García Padilla on Twitter showed doctors performing surgery by flashlight. From what physicians on the island tell me, such scenarios are common, as is physicians working double and triple shifts—circumstances made even more remarkable by the fact that the doctors themselves are victims of the storm.

Carolina Pichardo, a pediatrician working shifts at both the neonatal intensive-care unit at the University Pediatric Hospital in San Juan and at the pediatric emergency room at the HIMA San Pablo Hospital in nearby Caguas, is one of those doctors. Pichardo lives in a complex in San Juan where power is still tenuous, and she’s had to balance a survival routine with the extraordinary demands of her job.

During the night, when the generators run, she and her husband take cold showers; cook their canned food rations on a charcoal grill for dinner; and try to, by turns, avoid the heat and mosquitoes—keeping their door open to let in the breeze as they put their four-year-old daughter to bed, and closing it to hold off the insects. In the mornings, Pichardo sometimes braves standstill traffic in the capital’s newly congested transportation grid; sometimes it takes up to two hours just to get to Caguas, which is only 20 miles away.

At both hospitals, Pichardo has faced new challenges. At first, doctors and nurses dealt with a total collapse of power, which Pichardo said was the “scariest change” immediately after the storm. Hospitals couldn’t communicate with other hospitals; specialists often couldn’t be reached if they were needed; and patients were transferred to trauma centers or other facilities without any knowledge of whether those institutions could handle more patients.

While lines of communication have at least partially been restored, Pichardo said that problems still abound. “At this point, everything has become challenging,” she told me by email. “Many primary-care physicians are unable to provide services at their practice locations, so more and more people are using the emergency rooms for everyday medical problems. This places a larger burden on the emergency rooms and increases wait time among patients. Children have fallen behind on their immunization schedules, because either their pediatricians are not currently practicing or they have lost their refrigerated vaccines due to power outage.”

The collapse of primary-care structures on the island was a common theme of my conversations with medical professionals there. Primary care was already a bottleneck point for the Puerto Rican health-care system before this season’s hurricanes—with a mass exodus of doctors to the mainland and an increasing concentration of children, pregnant women, and elderly people back on the island. But now, with many doctor’s offices and smaller facilities closed, people with chronic health needs often have to go without care or seek it in emergency rooms, which can mean sitting in triage for hours. The shortage exacerbates the burden of both chronic and acute conditions as patients compete for space and resources.

Carmen Zorrilla, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Puerto Rico, and one of the island’s expert voices on managing the health-care needs of women with HIV, echoed those concerns. “The whole health-care system for the past 35 days has switched from primary care, prevention, and provision of basic services to emergency and acute care,” Zorrilla told me. Her clinic, one of the only facilities on the island dedicated to women and mothers with HIV, has seen its volume of patients drop and health problems intensify. The clinic serves high-risk pregnant women who have other potential childbirth complications in addition to HIV. They have to follow closely managed health plans in order to survive childbirth and avoid HIV transmission to their infants.

Maria has disrupted those plans. “During the week after the hurricane, I had one of my patients who had HIV, she had a planned C-section delivery,” Zorrilla said, referring to the recommended delivery practice for preventing mother-to-child transmission. That patient was not able to make it to the hospital for the procedure after Maria, because roads from the interior of the island had been washed out. Instead, the woman was forced to deliver at home, and while the virus has not been detected in the infant, the delivery was essentially a gamble.

Some of Zorrilla’s other patients, who hail from all over Puerto Rico, have also been forced to alter their birth plans, delivering children in hazardous conditions and in facilities that might not be familiar with HIV management. And even for mothers without HIV, labor and delivery are increasingly fraught scenarios without consistent power and water available on the island.

The storm’s threat to patients with chronic illness could alone constitute a public-health emergency.
Other patients with chronic diseases are facing crises as well. The risks to elderly people from any disaster are well known, and according to experts, any disaster region can expect up to 10 percent of all nursing-home patients to die in the aftermath. Puerto Rico so far has been no different. Many elderly patients, as well as nursing-home residents of all ages, initially faced critical shortages of electricity for medical devices. Some had to be airlifted to hospitals for continuous care.

A Los Angeles Times story published earlier this month illustrated some of the challenges facing nursing homes after Maria—especially those in places that aren’t particularly close to San Juan or to major federal-relief assets. While the official death toll on the island remains a subject of contention, that report noted that older Puerto Ricans are now dying much faster than normal:

About 100 people died in the three days after the storm in the Lajas region, twice the typical rate, according to a local funeral director. Eight elderly people have died in Lajas since the storm, at least one directly related to a shortage of medical supplies.
One common post-disaster failure is the scarcity of dialysis for people with diabetes, end-stage renal disease, and other kidney disorders. Dialysis requires regular visits from patients, fully staffed facilities, electricity, and a constant source of clean water, all of which have been lacking after Maria.

Mike Spigler, the vice president of the American Kidney Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps support dialysis patients and centers across the country, said that Puerto Rico has presented a one-of-a-kind challenge. “In all three [recent] instances of hurricanes, I will say that dialysis companies have done a good job at dealing with these problems,” Spigler told me. “But especially in Puerto Rico, you see stories of staff working triple and quadruple shifts at a time just to keep the clinics open. So you see people making really heroic efforts.” Even so, many centers have lost track of patients, and many patients have seen their conditions worsen.

Access to dialysis itself is only half the battle for some of them. “The No. 1 cause of kidney failure is diabetes, so about 41 percent of dialysis patients will have special diabetic diets,” Spigler said. Special diets, daily water-intake requirements, and other pieces of regular health maintenance are all but impossible for those patients, especially those who now live in shelters and depend on shipments of whatever food and water rations are available.

The storm’s threat to patients with chronic illness could alone constitute a public-health emergency. But they aren’t the only ones at risk. State epidemiologists recently announced spiking rates of leptospirosis, a fever disease spread by water contaminated with animal waste. While leptospirosis is rare on the mainland, it is a relatively common disease in tropical regions like Puerto Rico. While the island usually only sees 60 cases a year, according to CNN, there have been over 70 confirmed cases so far this month, at least two of them fatal. The deaths are a clear sign of the disarray of the health-care system, as leptospirosis is usually mild and manageable with early detection and care.

Puerto Rico’s other endemic calling card is the threat of mosquito-borne diseases, but so far the island has been spared. While the sheer destruction of the storm likely devastated existing mosquito populations, some experts and physicians fear that over the long term, standing water; lack of air conditioning; and increasing clustering of the population will create the conditions for outbreaks. “It’s a matter of time to know whether there’s going to be an epidemic of Zika, dengue, or chikungunya,” Zorrilla told me.

It’s unclear how effective federal intervention has been in averting or turning back these health issues. A spokeswoman for the United States Army North, the command currently in control of military relief operations in Puerto Rico, told me that “three military units are assisting the Puerto Rico Department of Health with mosquito-borne vector surveillance and control.” She continued: “Other activities to support the mission assignment include assessing the privately owned water supply system in mountain areas, assessing medical laboratory capabilities, and testing purified water produced from [reverse osmosis water purification units].” Despite those efforts, reports of citizens in mountainous areas drinking contaminated water are still numerous, and visitors to the Combat Support Hospital in Humacao have also reported extraordinarily long waits.

The Navy’s famed, state-of-the-art floating hospital, the USNS Comfort, has largely been a non-factor, with only 30 or so of its 250 beds filled as of last week, despite multiple hospital failures and hundreds of patients in need. Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, blamed the lack of transfers on “the disconnect or the apparent disconnect” in communication between hospitals and the island’s Department of Health. While that’s reportedly been remedied, the number of patient transfers still hasn’t increased; according to a CBS reporter, on Tuesday just 34 beds were occupied.

The health department has not responded to multiple requests for comment, nor has it provided press updates over the past week. But its coordination efforts will be just as necessary in the coming months as they’ve been since Maria. The entire health-care system has shifted to emergency-response mode without the capacity to manage all of those emergencies. And some of the most pressing concerns—like the potential return of mosquito-borne diseases and the predictable burden of post-disaster mental-health problems—are still largely theoretical.

It’s too soon to say what the future holds, but the current picture in Puerto Rico is dire enough. Health is built through years of personal choice and ability to access care. It’s often destroyed not in swift blows, but through attrition. Millions of Americans lacking basic services are facing that attrition now ... ng/544210/
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Oct 30, 2017 1:09 pm

FBI Is Probing Puerto Rico Power Contract

Deal for $300 million to fix electrical grid after Hurricane Maria was made by the island’s public-power monopoly known as Prepa

By Andrew Scurria
Updated Oct. 30, 2017 12:53 p.m. ET

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating a $300 million contract awarded by Puerto Rico’s government power company to a tiny Montana energy to rebuild electrical infrastructure damaged in Hurricane Maria, according to people familiar with the matter.

Agents from the FBI’s San Juan field office are looking into circumstances surrounding the deal the public-power monopoly known as Prepa signed with Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló canceled the contract Sunday, saying it had become a distraction from the U.S. territory’s efforts to restore the devastated grid. Only 30% of power customers on the island have had electricity restored.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, multiple congressional committees and local auditors also have raised concerns and begun requesting documents about the deal.

A Whitefish spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. A spokesman for the FBI field office couldn’t be reached.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rosselló said he “welcomes any investigation by the federal authorities and he has been clear: there should be an investigation on this matter, and if there is any wrongdoing, the persons responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of Prepa, had defended the selection of Whitefish and said the contracting process was done according to the utility’s regulations for handling emergency situations.

Whitefish, a startup firm based in the remote hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, had more than 350 workers and 2,500 tons of heavy equipment on the ground for restoring electrical lines destroyed in the Category-4 hurricane. But the firm’s small size and limited track record, as well as the terms of the contract, ignited concerns around Puerto Rico’s management of the flow of federal disaster-relief dollars to the island.

Mr. Zinke, an acquaintance of Whitefish Chief Executive Andy Techmanski, issued a statement last week denying he had any involvement in the company securing the deal.

On Friday, FEMA said it had questions about how Whitefish’s prices were negotiated and was working with Prepa and its legal advisers to determine how the contract was procured as well as how the utility determined the prices were reasonable.

The Whitefish controversy now threatens to cost Puerto Rico’s governor control of the power utility, which this summer entered a court-supervised bankruptcy proceeding. He is vying for control of Prepa with the federal oversight board installed by Congress to supervise Puerto Rico’s economic planning. The oversight board last week took steps last week to install a retired Air Force colonel as a “chief transformation officer” to take over Prepa’s operations.

The governor said he would oppose the change and that management of public corporations such as Prepa should rest exclusively with local officials appointed under Puerto Rican law. The judge overseeing the bankruptcy process is expected to decide who should be in charge.

The Whitefish contract had terms that precluded government agencies from auditing certain profit and cost elements and provided compensation for linemen that critics on the island said were in excess of typical rates, even considering the rugged working conditions in remote regions of Puerto Rico.

Whitefish has defended its work and said that without its quick arrival to the island, utility crews would only now be getting there to begin restoration work.

Mr. Rosselló said Sunday he would reactivate mutual aid agreements with utilities from Florida and New York that Prepa initially chose not to tap after the storm in favor of private contractors.

A Whitefish spokesman said Sunday it was “very disappointed” by the governor’s decision to shred the contract, arguing that bringing in replacement brigades would only delay restoring power to the majority of Prepa customers who still lack service.

FEMA said Friday it hadn’t confirmed whether it considered Whitefish’s prices to be reasonable and hadn’t yet provided any reimbursement for the contract. FEMA said it hadn’t authorized Whitefish’s payment terms, despite language in the contract stating the terms had been approved for reimbursement by the agency.

Mr. Ramos told The Wall Street Journal the language should have been removed from the contract but was left in by mistake.

“That’s civil fraud without any doubt,” said John Mudd, a Puerto Rico-based attorney who represents government contractors in court proceedings. “If the contract is canceled and these people are not paid,” he said. “They can claim that they were defrauded.”

Prepa based its decision on the contract rates, the time it would take for crews to mobilize and the fact that Whitefish didn’t require a large upfront payment, Mr. Ramos said. He said that to his knowledge there was no outside influence on his procurement department and that Prepa structured the deal so money would be released in tranches of between $1 million and $3 million as work was completed.

But Mr. Ramos also acknowledged that the contracting process was rushed due to the emergency circumstances and that Prepa didn’t receive certain protections, including a performance bond.

If FEMA determines the contract to be non-reimbursable for failing to comply with agency requirements, Prepa could be stuck with the bill for a month’s worth of work by Whitefish, Mr. Mudd said.

Whitefish signed a deal framework on Sept. 26, less than a week after Maria made landfall. It was amended on Oct. 17, according to documents reviewed by the Journal.

In an Oct. 21 letter seeking assistance from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Mr. Rossello said that “restoring electricity to our citizens has become a daunting task, mainly because of the lack of liquidity of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.”

Mr. Scott, a Republican, said Monday he will lead a delegation of the state’s utility providers to the island Friday. ... 4?mod=e2tw
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:35 pm

San Juan Mayor Says Hurricane Death Toll in Puerto Rico Could Be 10 Times Higher Than Reported

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said Friday the death toll from hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico is actually hundreds higher than official government counts.
Carmen Cintron Torres takes a break from cleaning debris in front of her home more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island, on Oct. 7, 2017, in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)
“It appears that for whatever reason the death toll is much higher than what has been reported,” Yulín Cruz said during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.”

The official death toll stands at 55, according to a statement released to CNN by the government of Puerto Rico, but the number of dead may be almost as high as 500, Yulín Cruz said when asked specifically about the death count.

Many hurricane victims haven’t been included in that number due to their causes of death not being properly recorded or “being cataloged as dying of natural deaths,” Yulín Cruz said.

“When they were, for example, hooked to a respirator, there’s no power, the small generator that they had that gives up, and of course, they die of natural causes, but they are related to a lack of electricity,” she said.

According to a statement released October 28 by the government of Puerto Rico, 911 bodies cremated in the weeks after Hurricane Maria were the result of natural causes. But the average number of cremations in Puerto Rico in the same time frame is about half that, Yulín Cruz said.

In a statement to CNN, Department of Public Safety of Puerto Rico Héctor M. Pesquera slammed Cruz’s remarks.

“The Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, stated she ‘thinks’ that the actual death count from Hurricane María is closer to 500,” said Pesquera. “In order to support her statement she needs to present the evidence. If she is not willing to do such, it is an irresponsible comment. The Government of Puerto Rico certifies the death count based on factual information in concert with all components involved in the process.”

In a separate statement in October, Pesquera said the cremations were authorized at the request of family members of the deceased. The cremations followed a review of documents including death certificates and medical records showing the cause of death, he said.

The statement did not say whether bodies were examined prior to cremation, but noted that none of the 911 cremation authorizations raised suspicion “that would stop the requested process.”

As for Puerto Ricans who survived the storm, living conditions are still dire, Yulín Cruz said, noting that some people on the island are still without power weeks after the storms hit. ... -reported/
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Sat Dec 09, 2017 1:45 am

Official Toll in Puerto Rico: 62.
Actual Deaths May Be 1,052.


Homes were flattened. Power was knocked out. And all across Puerto Rico, bodies began showing up at morgues.

Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico with great fury but the government there has reported an official death toll far lower than the devastation suggests.

1,052 deaths
Hurricane Maria
makes landfall.
By Trump’s visit, 556
more people had died
than in years past.
Additional Deaths in 2017 Compared With Previous Years
Cumulative in Puerto Rico, from when the storm made landfall
Official death toll
Sept. 20
Oct. 3
Oct. 17
Oct. 31
Note: Chart shows the cumulative number of deaths in 2017 compared with an average of the number of deaths in 2015 and 2016. A decrease in deaths occurs on some dates because the number in 2017 was fewer than in previous years.
The New York Times | Source: Demographic Registry of Puerto Rico (deaths in September and October as of Dec. 5)
A review by The New York Times of daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau indicates a significantly higher death toll after the hurricane than the government there has acknowledged.

The Times’s analysis found that in the 42 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm, 1,052 more people than usual died across the island. The analysis compared the number of deaths for each day in 2017 with the average of the number of deaths for the same days in 2015 and 2016.

Officially, just 62 people died as a result of the storm that ravaged the island with nearly 150-mile-an-hour winds, cutting off power to 3.4 million Puerto Ricans. The last four fatalities were added to the death toll on Dec. 2.

“Before the hurricane, I had an average of 82 deaths daily. That changes from Sept. 20 to 30th. Now I have an average of 118 deaths daily,” Wanda Llovet, the director of the Demographic Registry in Puerto Rico, said in a mid-November interview. Since then, she said on Thursday, both figures have increased by one.

Data for October are not yet complete, and the number of deaths recorded in that month is expected to rise. Record-keeping has been delayed because Puerto Rico’s power grid is operating at less than 70 percent of its capacity and swaths of the island still do not have power.

Average Daily Deaths in September and October

Hurricane Maria
makes landfall.
per day
Sept. 7
Sept. 20
Oct. 3
Oct. 17
Oct. 31
Note: Chart shows a five-day moving average.
The New York Times | Source: Demographic Registry of Puerto Rico (deaths in September and October as of Dec. 5)
The deadliest day was Sept. 25, the day the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo A. Rosselló, warned that a looming humanitarian crisis could prompt a mass exodus from the island.

President Trump responded that night by taking to Twitter to say the island had to deal with its massive debt: “Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA.”

It was over 90 degrees, and power was out on most of the island, even in most hospitals. Bedridden people were having trouble getting medical treatment, and dialysis clinics were operating with generators and limiting treatment hours. People on respirators lacked electricity to power the machines.
After Hurricane Maria destroyed the town’s bridge in San Lorenzo, Morovis, P.R., family members were trying to get Rosa Maria Torres, 95, airlifted out of the town. “If they don't move her out of here, she’s going to die,” said Carmen Santos, Ms. Torres’s granddaughter.
Alvin Baez/Reuters
On that day, 135 people died in Puerto Rico. By comparison, 75 people died on that day in 2016 and 60 died in 2015.

One local mayor went to the Federal Emergency Management Agency command post that day and shouted for help. Statistics show his city, Manatí, had among the highest mortality rates in September.
Places where there were more deaths in Sept. 2017 than in Sept. 2015

Maria’s path
1 death per
10,000 people
The New York Times | Source: Demographic Registry of Puerto Rico, U.S. Census (deaths by municipality as of Nov. 9)
With communications down throughout the island and bodies piling up in hospital morgues, the government was still clinging to its early death count estimate of 16.

On Sept. 29, Héctor M. Pesquera, Puerto Rico’s public safety secretary, said in an interview that the death count would not swell by much.

“Will it go up? I am pretty sure it will go up,” he said. “It won’t double or triple. It’s not like an earthquake where you have a building and you don’t know whether there were 20 in the building or 300 in the building until you get all the rubble out.”

The day he said that, 127 people died, 57 more than the year before.

On Oct. 3, nearly two weeks after the storm, Mr. Trump visited the island and praised the low official death toll. He referred to the 1,833 deaths in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina as a “real catastrophe.”

President Trump visited Puerto Rico about two weeks after Hurricane Maria and congratulated the island’s residents for having a low death toll.
Doug Mills/The New York Times
“Sixteen people certified,” Mr. Trump said. “Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together.”

By that visit, an additional 556 people had died in Puerto Rico compared with the same period over the two prior years.

The Times estimates that in the three weeks after the storm, the toll was 739 deaths. If all those additional deaths were to be counted as related to the hurricane, it would make Maria the sixth deadliest hurricane since 1851.

The method used to count official storm deaths varies by state and locality. In some parts of the United States, medical examiners include only direct deaths, such as those caused by drowning in floodwaters. In Puerto Rico, however, Mr. Pesquera said, the medical examiner includes deaths caused indirectly by storms, such as suicides. That is why the gap between the official death toll and the hundreds of additional deaths is so striking.

A study, which has not been peer-reviewed, by a Pennsylvania State University professor and an independent researcher estimated that the death toll could be 10 times higher than the government’s official count.

The Center for Investigative Journalism published its own estimate on Thursday, finding that nearly 1,000 more people than usual died in the months of September and October.

Records from Puerto Rico’s government show that some of the leading causes of death in September were diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, although the causes of death are still pending for 313 of the September deaths. The number of diabetes deaths was 24 percent higher than it was last year — and 39 percent higher than it was in 2015.

But the highest surge was in deaths from sepsis — a complication of severe infection — which jumped 50 percent over last year. That change is notable and could be explained by delayed medical treatment or poor conditions in homes and hospitals.

Pneumonia and emphysema deaths also saw spikes.

Causes of death
Sept. 2015
Sept. 2016
Sept. 2017
Pct. change
Emphysema and other breathing disorders
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
The New York Times | Source: Demographic Registry of Puerto Rico, Health Department of Puerto Rico (causes of death as of Dec. 4) | Note: Percentage change is the number of deaths in Sept. 2017 compared with the average of the number of deaths in Sept. 2015 and Sept. 2016.
For weeks, Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety insisted that the surge was coincidental: Government officials believed hundreds of additional people had died of natural causes. But the news media continued to investigate — CNN surveyed half the island’s funeral homes to come up with an additional 499 deaths the funeral directors believed were related to the storm.

Under pressure, the government called for morticians and family members to come forward with more information, and it says its forensic science office is reviewing cases.

As more instances have come to light of deaths because of power failures at local hospitals, or oxygen tanks that ran out, the government has said that it is willing to revise the death count upward.

“What we said is, ‘Give us the information,’ ” the governor, Mr. Rosselló, told The Times.

Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch of the National Center for Health Statistics, said Puerto Rico’s spike in deaths is statistically significant and unlikely to be the result of an unlucky fluke. Not even a bad flu season would make the mortality rate increase that much, he said.

“I think there’s fairly compelling evidence that that increase is probably due to the hurricane,” Mr. Anderson said. “That’s a lot.”

He said getting the number right was important.

“From the standpoint of prevention and preparedness, I think understanding the circumstances behind the deaths that occur is extremely important,” Mr. Anderson said. “If we have a lack of information, we can’t adequately prepare for the next disaster. We can’t put measures in place to prevent deaths occurring in the future.” ... -toll.html
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby Cordelia » Thu Jan 18, 2018 5:11 pm

:shock: but not surprising......

Puerto Rico fears post-Maria murder surge: 11 days, 32 slain

By DANICA COTO Associated Press | Friday, January 12, 2018, 10:05 am

CAROLINA, Puerto Rico — Before the sun rose on the first day of 2018, someone called 911 to report the charred, bullet-riddled body of a man with a snake-like tattoo on his left hand, lying beside a road in the Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja.

The next day, two men were found dead with their feet and hands bound in Bayamon, a working-class city southwest of the capital. Another man was shot to death before dawn in nearby Vega Baja while trying to stop thieves from stealing his generator.

Thirty-two people have been slain in Puerto Rico in the first 11 days of the year, double the number killed over the same period in 2017. If the surge proves to be more than just a temporary blip, January could be the most homicidal month on the island in at least two years, adding a dangerous new element to the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, its worst disaster in decades.

While the number of homicides did not immediately spike in the weeks after the hurricane struck on Sept. 20, police and independent experts say many killings appear at least partly related to its aftereffects.

The storm has plunged much of the island into darkness, increased economic hardship and contributed to a sickout by police, all fueling lawlessness. What’s more, officials say a turf war has broken out among drug gangs looking to grab territory after the storm’s disruption.

“Hurricanes affect everyone, including criminals,” said criminologist Jose Raul Cepeda.

Already bankrupt, the island’s overwhelmed government has fallen behind with millions of dollars in overtime payments owed to police officers, who have begun calling in sick in big numbers to protest. The sickout has taken about 2,000 police off the street each day in a territory that has 13,600 officers. It has forced more than a dozen police stations to close for several hours to a couple of days during the holiday period because of a lack of officers. No arrests have been made in the 32 killings this year.

Maria, which hit as a Category 4 storm, destroyed much of the island’s electrical grid. For those police on duty, the streets are darker and more dangerous because power has been restored to only 60 percent of customers in the U.S. territory. Drug gangs are fighting to re-establish territory they lost in the disruption from Maria, which pushed thousands from their homes and left entire neighborhoods uninhabitable for weeks.

Police Chief Michelle Hernandez resigned Monday after only a year on the job, and local and federal authorities are rushing from meeting to meeting to debate how to best protect 3.3 million Puerto Ricans, especially those still living in the dark.

“This has been devastating,” said Ramon Santiago, a retiree who lives less than a block from where three bodies were discovered Sunday near a basketball court.

“You can’t sleep peacefully in so much darkness.”

Puerto Rico’s homicide rate is roughly 20 killings per 100,000 residents, compared with 3.7 per 100,000 residents on the U.S. mainland. In the last two years, Puerto Rico has seen an average of 56 homicides a month, a rate that held through December. Then after New Year’s, the killings started accelerating.

A man was shot Jan. 3 by a security guard while trying to rob a bakery. Two double homicides were reported Jan. 8 — two men found shot to death in a car near an upscale resort on the north coast and two other men discovered sprawled on the street near a public housing complex on the west coast.

Five killings alone were reported Monday, in addition to three people wounded by gunfire during a shootout that night in the parking lot of a strip mall in Bayamon.

This week, police say, the son of a former judge was killed after trying to write down the license plate number of a car whose occupants were firing a gun.

“The lack of police is increasing Puerto Rico’s safety issues,” said legislator Denis Marquez, who was mugged at gunpoint last month.

“Everybody is feeling that insecurity.”

Besides policing and getting the lights back on, he said, the government needs to address long-standing issues such as social inequality on an island with a 10 percent unemployment rate, where nearly 45 percent of its inhabitants lived in poverty before the hurricane. ... -32-slain/
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Mon Feb 19, 2018 4:49 pm

San Juan Mayor Calls for End to Puerto Rico’s Colonial Status Amid Slow Hurricane Maria Recovery
FEBRUARY 19, 2018
Watch iconWatch Full Show

Carmen Yulín Cruz
mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Five months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, swaths of the island still have no electricity, while food and water supplies have been slow to arrive. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, has been hit by a series of scandals, after it was revealed that only a fraction of the 30 million meals slated to be sent to the island after Hurricane Maria was actually delivered. FEMA approved a $156 million contract for a one-woman company to deliver the 30 million meals. But in the end, FEMA canceled the contract after she delivered only 50,000 meals, in what FEMA called a logistical nightmare. This came after FEMA gave more than $30 million in contracts to a newly created Florida company which failed to deliver a single tarp to Puerto Rico. For more, we speak with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As Puerto Rico marks five months since Hurricane Maria battered the island, we continue with our interview with the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz. Democracy Now!'s Juan González and I spoke to her on Friday. I asked her if she's opposed to the privatization of PREPA, the Puerto Rican power authority, the largest power authority in the United States.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Yes, yes. And I’ve been opposed ever since I was a member of the House of Representatives nine years ago now. And I’ll tell you why. Electricity isn’t only about getting the lights in your house turned on. Electricity is about providing people access to equal services. So, a private company, which is moved by profits, as it should be, may decide that in this very remote urban area of Puerto Rico, it is not worthwhile for them to put money into the system, it is not worthwhile for them to replace the light poles. So, all of a sudden, some Puerto Ricans will be looked at with a different lens than other Puerto Ricans. I am against privatization of public schools for the exact same thing. There is a reason why essential services are handled by the government in an island nation that’s a hundred miles long by 35 miles wide.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mayor, I wanted to ask you, on another issue, the issue of the role of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States. There are about more than 5 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rican descent living in the mainland United States. Their role, since this crisis has started, in being able to provide support and assistance to their fellow Puerto Ricans on the island?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Yes. And, in fact, I think we are now the diaspora. There are 5 million Puerto Ricans in the United States. There’s about 3 million Puerto Ricans in the island nation of Puerto Rico. But the diaspora has been the echo of our voices. So many times, they have, in the past, been at the forefront of very big fights—when we, you know, did what we had to do in order to get the Navy out of bombing the island of Vieques, the municipal island of Vieques, when we joined together in all different forces to get the release of Oscar López Rivera a year ago. So, the diaspora has been essential in ensuring that our voices are heard and magnified.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, as you speak to us from San Juan, you just recently returned from Washington, where you were the guest of New York Senator Gillibrand at the State of the Union address of Trump. You certainly had run-ins with President Trump after Hurricane Maria. When he finally went down to the island and tossed rolls of paper towels at hurricane survivors, he also attacked you and Puerto Ricans. He said, “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.” You responded by talking about his utter statement of hypocrisy. Have you changed your views of President Trump? What is your assessment of how he responded to the crisis, the hurricane in Puerto Rico?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Well, you know, this has never been about President Trump or myself. This was always about saving lives and ensuring that the people of Puerto Rico got what they needed and still continue to get what we need in order to move forward.
Now, you know, when you sit there in Congress with all that power right there, it is—the activity itself has a magical ring to it. But then, when you start hearing the president talk about and using language that is divisive, using language that disrupts the ability of the American people to join forces together, then sort of the magic starts fading away somehow.
I was very honored that Senator Gillibrand took it upon herself to invite me. It gave us, again, another opportunity to use various platforms to ensure that the American people and the powers to be know that this is not “mission accomplished,” as it was said the Tuesday before, the day before the State of the Union. FEMA said, “Mission accomplished. We’re stopping all the deliveries of water and food to Puerto Rico now.” It allowed me and the senator and many others the opportunity to use different platforms to call FEMA out on that. And, lo and behold, they decided not to do that.
So, what I really want the American people to continue to understand is that, look, I would want nothing more than to stand on Democracy Now! and say, “Thank God, things are happening, and federal agencies are stepping up.” But yesterday, the Department of Labor of the Puerto Rican government—and, of course, you know, the secretary was appointed by Governor Rosselló—was saying, “No, we haven’t been able to pay, because we haven’t gotten the money from FEMA.” And most of the American people probably think that out of that $4.9 billion that was approved between November and December, that we’ve gotten some of that money. We’ve gotten zero. Just because you throw millions of dollars at something, it doesn’t mean that you’re fixing the problem. It doesn’t mean that you’re fixing what is wrong.
And again, I think that what happened in Puerto Rico—and some people, you know, say, “Well, if Puerto Rico was a state, this wouldn’t happen.” Well, I have one word for you: Katrina. You know, when people don’t put their heart and soul into what they are doing, things go wrong. When they don’t see the magnitude of the suffering of the people and just look at it from 10,000 feet above or a thousand feet above in a helicopter, things go wrong.
So, I think Puerto Rico should be studied from the standpoint of the federal agencies to ensure that what happened in Katrina and what happened in Puerto Rico does not happen again. I had a short conversation with the mayor of Houston, and we were both saying we don’t understand why the money that comes to the municipalities from FEMA has to go first to the state—through the federal level, then to the state level, then it’s provided to the municipalities. And, you know, here’s the mayor of Houston, and here’s the mayor of San Juan, thinking exactly the same. So, it isn’t a political issue. And I think that’s what many people in the Trump administration fail to understand. It is a human issue. It is a humanitarian crisis. It wasn’t handled properly. And that mishandling of it has led to many other things.
Now, did we have problems before that? Yes. Have the problems increased after Irma and Maria? Indeed they have. And people say, “Well, you know, we have a credibility issue.” Yes, we do. The Whitefish situation gave the central government of Puerto Rico a credibility issue. The situation about a program called Tu Hogar Renace, which, again, it was giving a very small company, that didn’t meet all the requirements, a multimillion-dollar contract, which was just taken back a few days ago—all of that provides a credibility issue.
But the governor of Puerto Rico went to Congress and asked for $94 million. So he thought we needed $94 million. And a few days ago, they were celebrating $16 billion—$94 billion and $16 billion. Will that be enough? If you ask for 94, now you can’t be celebrating 16. Are they important? Of course they are. Are they needed? Of course they are. Will that be enough? Well, from the account of the central government, it will not nearly be enough.
And I think this is also the time now to look at the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States and ensure that Puerto Rico stop being a colony of the United States once and for all.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Yulín Cruz, the FEMA issue, this—you mentioned the Whitefish contract, which was canceled. Then you had the $156 million contract for a one-woman company to deliver 30 million meals. She delivers 50,000. FEMA approves a $30 million contract for tarps. Not one is delivered. Should there be criminal prosecutions here? And how are you dealing with these issues now? Are you somehow recouping the money?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Well, number one, there should be investigations. And if they result in the fact that people have not done what they’re supposed to do and they committed criminal acts, they should be prosecuted, because we cannot allow disasters to be the breeding ground of what Naomi Klein, of course, has called “disaster capitalism.”
So, what we are seeing is that the acts of central government and some acts of FEMA have made this a breeding ground for inappropriate behavior and, in fact, have made this a breeding ground for people to suffer. And what does that open the path for? Privatization. Fifty percent of our schools, as of two weeks ago, were not energized. Let say it’s 60 percent now. The majority of our students with special ed are not back at school yet. The majority of the schools are still going on a part-time basis. So, what does that mean? Well, of course, the governor finds a breeding ground, because people are dissatisfied, to privatize the school system. But the school system is about so much more than just what you learn in books.
And let me pause here for a second and say that the hearts of the people of San Juan go out to the people of Parkland school in Florida, and really, this cannot continue to happen in the United States. Lives cannot continue to be lost because of gun violence. And that’s an issue that has to be dealt with in a swift and appropriate manner and in balancing all of the criteria that you can balance. But as mayor of San Juan, I want to extend our condolences and our wishes that this finally sets a fire on the hearts of people in Congress and on the Trump administration to ensure that something gets done to finish them.
Going back to education in Puerto Rico, what has happened is that then the governor has introduced basically a privatization bill, where he says, and part of the piece of legislation says, that only those companies or programs or groups that are approved by the central government are going to be able to bid. So what the central government is doing is using the desperation of people, which, in some sense, has been brought upon by the botched effort, to ensure that public services that are there to ensure that everyone gets treated the same are privatized. And in the short run and in the long run, that is a recipe for disaster, for discrimination and for inequality.
AMY GOODMAN: Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, speaking to us on this fifth-[month] anniversary of Hurricane Maria hitting the island. We’ll continue to cover the crisis in Puerto Rico and the push to privatize PREPA, the largest publicly owned power utility in the United States. ... ls_for_end
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Re: Postcards from an island of ruin: Puerto Rico after Hurr

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Mar 25, 2018 9:06 pm

“The Battle for Paradise”: Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism & the Fight for Puerto Rico’s
MARCH 21, 2018

Naomi Klein
author, journalist and senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her new piece is headlined “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich 'Puertopians' Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.” Her most recent book is titled No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. She is also author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

"The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich 'Puertopians' Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Isla
Six months since Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico, the island is the site of a pitched battle between wealthy investors—particularly from the technology industry—and everyday Puerto Ricans fighting for a place in their island’s future. The Puerto Rican government has pushed for a series of privatization schemes, including privatizing PREPA, one of the largest public power providers in the United States, and increasing the number of privately run charter schools and private school vouchers. For more, we speak with best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Her latest piece for The Intercept, where she is a senior correspondent, is “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich 'Puertopians' Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It has been six months since Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico. It was the most catastrophic storm to hit the island in over a century. As many as 200,000 people remain without power in what’s considered the longest blackout in U.S. history. Energy officials say some areas won’t have power restored until May.

On Tuesday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz tweeted, “Six months after Maria things are not what they should be. Thousands still w/o electricity due to neglect and bureaucracy. Our lives matter!”

The devastating storm has reshaped Puerto Rico in countless ways. The official death toll remains at just 64, but independent counts put the total number of fatalities at over a thousand. According to a recent study by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York, more than 135,000 Puerto Ricans have fled to the U.S. mainland since the storm. Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló is moving to privatize PREPA, one of the largest public power utilities in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: The governor is also pushing for privately run charter schools and private school vouchers. On Monday, teachers across Puerto Rico held a one-day strike to protest the privatization plan. Meanwhile, displaced Puerto Ricans protested Tuesday in Washington, D.C., outside the headquarters of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Well, today we spend the hour looking at the future of Puerto Rico, which was already facing a massive economic crisis before the storm hit six months ago. We’re joined by two guests. From Toronto, best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, author of many books, including The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.She has just published a major piece for The Intercept on the future of Puerto Rico; it’s titled “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich 'Puertopians' Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.” And here in New York, Puerto Rican anthropologist Yarimar Bonilla, who teaches at Rutgers University. She is founder of the Puerto Rico Syllabus.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Naomi. You’ve just returned. You’ve just written this epic piece. Explain what you found and what you mean by your title, “The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich 'Puertopians' Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.”

NAOMI KLEIN: Good morning, Amy and Juan and Yarimar. It’s great to be with you.

So, what I’m referring to is that in this moment, when so much attention is focused on the failures of FEMA, the failures of the entire relief and reconstruction project—as it rightly should be, because this is an ongoing humanitarian emergency—we’re seeing the strategy that we’ve seen in many other disaster zones, that we’ve spoken about many times, which is exploiting that state of shock and distraction and emergency to push through a radical corporate agenda. You referred earlier to the plans to privatize PREPA, to open up Puerto Rico’s school system to charter schools and vouchers, at the same time as radically downsizing and closing 300 schools, on the back of already having closed more than 340 schools by exploiting the economic crisis in the past decade. All in all, we’d be talking about the closing of half of Puerto Rico’s public schools. So, a radical downsizing, deregulation and privatization of the state.

But that isn’t the only thing that’s going on in Puerto Rico. There is also a powerful resistance movement, that was really gaining ground before Maria hit, that was resisting this illegitimate debt, this previous shock doctrine strategy of exploiting the economic crisis to push these very same policies. But they aren’t just saying no. They are also proposing a people’s recovery process that would rebuild Puerto Rico in the interest of Puerto Ricans, a very, very different vision that’s grounded in food sovereignty, in growing much more of the food Puerto Ricans eat in Puerto Rico, by small farmers using agroecological methods; not privatizing Puerto Rico’s electricity system, but shifting to a decentralized, community-controlled model that is based on renewable energy—all kinds of other deeply democratic changes. And so, there’s this pitched struggle and a kind of race against time over whose vision for the island is going to triumph in this window.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Naomi, you begin your piece talking about the town of Adjuntas up in the mountains of Puerto Rico and also about one of these grassroots organizations that even before the storm had already been pioneering at least electricity generation for their own center. Could you talk about that some?

NAOMI KLEIN: Sure, Juan. I mean, one of the things that I found most striking when I was reporting in Puerto Rico was, you know, we heard so much about what didn’t work. And almost everything didn’t work. The food system collapsed. The energy system completely collapsed and is still in a state of collapse.

But there were a few things that did work. And one of the things that worked in the community that you’re referring to was solar power. And there was—there is this community center in Adjuntas which is called Casa Pueblo. It’s been around for decades. It’s been at the center of a lot of major fights in Puerto Rico, against open-pit mining, against logging, against gas pipelines. But they’ve also been building their alternatives. And they’ve had solar panels on their roof for more than 20 years. And after Maria wiped out the electricity grid, it turned out that Casa Pueblo’s solar panels, rooftop solar panels, survived, survived the hurricane-force winds, survived the falling debris.

And so you had this beacon. Arturo Massol, who is the director of the board of directors of Casa Pueblo, described it as an energy oasis. So, in the midst of this sea of darkness, you have this community center that has light, the day after Maria, because their solar panels survived. And so, people came there. It becomes this hub of people-to-people recovery. They start handing out solar lanterns. And it becomes this kind of field hospital, where people plug in their medical devices. So this is, you know, very intensely practical. And we saw some similar things happening on farms, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Naomi, this was a town that was—not only had no electricity and no water, but was completely cut off from the rest of the island for quite a while because of the roads washed out, right?

NAOMI KLEIN: As so many communities were, you know, outside of San Juan, particularly in the mountains, where roads were either obstructed by fallen trees and branches or by mudslides. So, yeah, completely cut off. It’s weeks before they receive any substantial aid.

AMY GOODMAN: Its founder got the Goldman Prize, is that right? The environmental prize in San Francisco. Him, his son and the community building this place that became this sunny satellite, just shocking, given what was around, the darkness around them.

NAOMI KLEIN: And it’s not the only example of this that I saw. I also saw an amazing example of this in the community of Mariana, in Humacao, where, you know, as—where an amazing mutual aid center was constructed, in the failure of FEMA, in the failure of the state to respond to this disaster. So people linked in with the Puerto Rican diaspora, got their own solar panels installed, and then this become—you know, while I was there, I witnessed an elderly man come in, plug in his oxygen machine, because this was still—and at this point, it was five months after Hurricane Maria—the only source of electricity in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about who the—what you call the Puertopians are.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, Yarimar, I think, can talk about this, as well. The Puertopians, as some of them call themselves, are part of this influx of what the Puerto Rican government refers to as high-net-worth individuals, who they’ve been trying to attract as a way, a sort of backwards way, out of the ongoing economic emergency in Puerto Rico. So, in 2012, a couple of laws were passed to attract very wealthy people to Puerto Rico by giving them essentially the most favorable tax system in the world. And it’s particularly favorable if you happen to be Americans, because Americans who move to Puerto Rico are exempted from paying federal taxes.

But in addition to that, these twin laws, Act 20 and Act 22, mean that if you relocate to Puerto Rico for just half the year—so you can basically just skip winter, which I’m sure, to New Yorkers, sounds very appealing just about now—so you spend 183 days in Puerto Rico, and, in return, you don’t pay federal taxes. You don’t pay taxes on dividends. You don’t pay taxes—capital gains taxes on interest. And if you change the address of your financial services company or your cryptocurrency company, then you’d pay a 4 percent corporate tax rate. So, if you think about what’s just happened to U.S. tax law, where Trump has offered this huge tax reduction which brings the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, Puerto Rico is besting that with a 4 percent corporate tax rate. So they’re doing absolutely everything they can to lure high-net-worth individuals and these very mobile industries, that basically can do what they do from wherever they have access to data. And so, now there’s a big push to attract the cryptocurrency market to Puerto Rico.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we don’t want to get into cryptocurrency, but if you could just briefly explain—since you write about cryptocurrency—Bitcoin and blockchain, just to give people a sense of what you mean?

NAOMI KLEIN: So, just last week there was a major conference in San Juan in one of the luxury hotels, the Vanderbilt Hotel, which is actually owned by one of these high-net-worth individuals who moved to Puerto Rico because of these favorable tax rates. And so they had this conference, which originally was called “Puerto Crypto,” and then, because of concerns about crypto-colonialism, they renamed themselves “Blockchain Unbound.” Essentially, what it was is a trade show for people who see the future of finance in currencies like Bitcoin.

And they are attracted to Puerto Rico because it holds out the promise that they can convert their cryptocurrencies into harder currencies while paying no taxes whatsoever. And so, that’s—so it was a combination of a trade show for cryptocurrencies and a kind of an advertisement for Puerto Rico put on by the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, pitching the island as this never-ending vacation where you can have this incredible tax holiday.

And part of the irony of this is that cryptocurrencies are one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. It is an incredibly wasteful way to create money. It’s the sort of gamification of money. So, right now, Bitcoin uses as much energy in the creation of this currency as the state of Israel uses to—consumes energy. So this is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. And here you have Puerto Rico, battered by climate change and also unable to provide power to its own people, being—pitching itself as a hub for the cryptocurrency market.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Naomi Klein, senior correspondent for The Intercept. Her piece for The Intercept—she’s just back from Puerto Rico—”The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich 'Puertopians' Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle over How to Remake the Island.” When we come back, she’ll be joined by Yarimar Bonilla, associate professor of anthropology and Caribbean studies at Rutgers University. Stay with us. ... aomi_klein

Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich “Puertopians” Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle Over How to Remake the Island

Like everywhere else in Puerto Rico, the small mountain city of Adjuntas was plunged into total darkness by Hurricane Maria. When residents left their homes to take stock of the damage, they found themselves not only without power and water, but also totally cut off from the rest of the island. Every single road was blocked, either by mounds of mud washed down from the surrounding peaks, or by fallen trees and branches. Yet amid this devastation, there was one bright spot.

A Solar Oasis

Just off the main square, a large, pink colonial-style house had light shining through every window. It glowed like a beacon in the terrifying darkness.

The pink house was Casa Pueblo, a community and ecology center with deep roots in this part of the island. Twenty years ago, its founders, a family of scientists and engineers, installed solar panels on the center’s roof, a move that seemed rather hippy-dippy at the time. Somehow, those panels (upgraded over the years) managed to survive Maria’s hurricane-force winds and falling debris. Which meant that in a sea of post-storm darkness, Casa Pueblo had the only sustained power for miles around.

And like moths to a flame, people from all over the hills of Adjuntas made their way to the warm and welcoming light.

Already a community hub before the storm, the pink house rapidly transformed into a nerve center for self-organized relief efforts. It would be weeks before the Federal Emergency Management Agency or any other agency would arrive with significant aid, so people flocked to Casa Pueblo to collect food, water, tarps, and chainsaws — and draw on its priceless power supply to charge up their electronics. Most critically, Casa Pueblo became a kind of makeshift field hospital, its airy rooms crowded with elderly people who needed to plug in oxygen machines.

Casa Pueblo.

Thanks also to those solar panels, Casa Pueblo’s radio station was able to continue broadcasting, making it the community’s sole source of information when downed power lines and cell towers had knocked out everything else. Twenty years after those panels were first installed, rooftop solar power didn’t look frivolous at all — in fact, it looked like the best hope for survival in a future sure to bring more Maria-sized weather shocks.

Visiting Casa Pueblo on a recent trip to the island was something of a vertiginous experience — a bit like stepping through a portal into another world, a parallel Puerto Rico where everything worked and the mood brimmed with optimism.

It was particularly jarring because I had spent much of the day on the heavily industrialized southern coast, talking with people suffering some of the cruellest impacts of Hurricane Maria. Not only had their low-lying neighborhoods been inundated, but they also feared the storm had stirred up toxic materials from nearby fossil fuel-burning power plants and agricultural testing sites they could not hope to assess. Compounding these risks — and despite living adjacent to two of the island’s largest electricity plants — many still were living in the dark.

The situation had felt unremittingly bleak, made worse by the stifling heat. But after driving up into the mountains and arriving at Casa Pueblo, the mood shifted instantly. Wide open doors welcomed us, as well as freshly brewed organic coffee from the center’s own community-managed plantation. Overhead, an air-clearing downpour drummed down on those precious solar panels.

Arturo Massol-Deyá.

Still: Cristian Carretero

Arturo Massol-Deyá, a bearded biologist and president of Casa Pueblo’s board of directors, took me on a brief tour of the facility: the radio station, a solar-powered cinema opened since the storm, a butterfly garden, a store selling local crafts and their wildly popular brand of coffee. He also guided me through the framed pictures on the wall — massive crowds of people protesting open-pit mining (a pitched battle Casa Pueblo helped win); images from their forest school where they do outdoor education; scenes from a protest in Washington, D.C., against a proposed gas pipeline through these mountains (another win). The community center was a strange hybrid of ecotourism lodge and revolutionary cell.
Settling into a wooden rocking chair, Massol-Deyá said that Maria had changed his sense of what’s possible on the island. For years, he explained, he had pushed for the archipelago to get far more of its power from renewables. He had long warned of the risks associated with Puerto Rico’s overwhelming dependence on imported fossil fuels and centralized power generation: One big storm, he had cautioned, could knock out the whole grid — especially after decades of laying off skilled electrical workers and letting maintenance lapse.

Now everyone whose homes went dark understood those risks, just as the people in Adjuntas could all look to a brightly lit Casa Pueblo and immediately grasp the advantages of solar energy, produced right where it is consumed. As Massol-Deyá put it: “Our quality of life was good before, because we were running with solar power. And after the hurricane, our quality of life is good as well. … This was an energy oasis for the community.”
Truckers wait to fill gas and diesel trucks for transport to gas stations in the island, September 27, 2017 in Yabucoa, eastern Puerto Rico, on September 27, 2017, one week after the passage of Hurricane Maria. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Truckers in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, wait to fill gas and diesel trucks for transport to gas stations on the island on Sept. 27, 2017, one week after Hurricane Maria.

Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine an energy system more vulnerable to climate change-amplified shocks than Puerto Rico’s. The island gets an astonishing 98 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels. But since it has no domestic supply of oil, gas, or coal, all of these fuels are imported by ship. They are then transported to a handful of hulking power plants by truck and pipeline. Next, the electricity those plants generate is transmitted across huge distances through above-ground wires and an underwater cable that connects the island of Vieques to the main island. The whole behemoth is monstrously expensive, resulting in electricity prices that are nearly twice the U.S. average.

And just as environmentalists like Massol-Deyá had warned, Maria caused devastating ruptures within every tentacle of Puerto Rico’s energy system: The Port of San Juan, which receives so much of the imported fuel, was thrown into crisis, and some 10,000 shipping containers full of much-needed supplies piled up on the docks, waiting to be delivered. Many truck drivers couldn’t make it to the port, either because of obstructed roads, or because they were struggling to get their own families out of danger. With diesel in short supply across the island, some just couldn’t find the fuel to drive. The lines at gas stations stretched out by the mile. Half of the island’s stations were out of commission altogether. The mountain of supplies stuck at the port grew ever larger.

Meanwhile, the cable connecting Vieques was so damaged it has yet to be repaired six months later. And the power lines carrying electricity from the plants were down all over the archipelago. Literally nothing about the system worked.

This broad collapse, Massol-Deyá explained, was now helping him make the case for a sweeping and rapid shift to renewable energy. Because in a future that is sure to include more weather shocks, getting energy from sources that don’t require sprawling transportation networks is just common sense. And Puerto Rico, though poor in fossil fuels, is drenched in sun, lashed by wind, and surrounded by waves.

Solar panels near Salinas, Puerto Rico.

Still: Cristian Carretero

Renewable energy is by no means immune to storm damage. At some Puerto Rican wind farms, turbine blades snapped off in Maria’s high winds (seemingly because they were improperly positioned), just as some poorly secured solar panels took flight. This vulnerability is partly why Casa Pueblo and many others emphasize the micro-grid model for renewables. Rather than relying on a few huge solar and wind farms, with power then carried over long and vulnerable transmission lines, smaller, community-based systems would generate power where it is consumed. If the larger grid sustains damage, these communities can simply disconnect from it and keep drawing from their micro-grids.

This decentralized model doesn’t eliminate risk, but it would make the kind of total power outage that Puerto Ricans suffered for months — and which hundreds of thousands are suffering still — a thing of the past. Whoever’s solar panels survive the next storm would, like Casa Pueblo, be up and running the next day. And “solar panels are easy to replace,” Massol-Deyá pointed out — unlike power lines and pipelines.

In part to spread the gospel of renewables, in the weeks after the storm, Casa Pueblo handed out 14,000 solar lanterns — little square boxes that recharge when left outside during the day, providing a much-needed pool of light by night. More recently, the community center has managed to distribute a large shipment of full-sized solar-powered refrigerators, a game-changer for households in the interior that still don’t have power.

Casa Pueblo has also kicked off #50ConSol, a campaign calling for 50 percent of Puerto Rico’s power to come from the sun. They have been installing solar panels on dozens of homes and businesses in Adjuntas, including, most recently, a barbershop. “Now we have houses asking us for support,” Massol-Deyá said — a marked shift from those days not so long ago when Casa Pueblo’s solar panels looked like eco-luxury items. “We’re going to do whatever is at reach to change that landscape and to tell the people of Puerto Rico that a different future is possible.”

Several Puerto Ricans I spoke with casually referred to Maria as “our teacher.” Because amid the storm’s convulsions, people didn’t just discover what didn’t work (pretty much everything). They also learned very quickly about a few things that worked surprisingly well. Up in Adjuntas, it was solar power. Elsewhere, it was small organic farms that used traditional farming methods that were better able to stand up to the floods and wind. And in every case, deep community relationships, as well as strong ties to the Puerto Rican diaspora, successfully delivered lifesaving aid when the government failed and failed again.

Casa Pueblo was founded 38 years ago by Arturo’s father, Alexis Massol-González, who was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize for environmental leadership in 2002. Massol-González shares his son’s belief that Maria has opened up a window of possibility, one that could yield a fundamental shift to a healthier and more democratic economy — not just for electricity, but also for food, water, and other necessities of life. “We are looking to transform the energy system. Our goal is to adopt a solar energy system and leave behind oil, natural gas, and carbon,” he said, “which are highly polluting.”

His message particularly resonates 45 miles to the southeast, in the coastal community of Jobos Bay, near Salinas. This is one of the areas coping with a slew of environmental toxins, much of it stemming from antiquated fossil fuel-burning power plants. As in Adjuntas, residents here have seized on the post-Maria electricity failures to advance solar power, through a project called Coquí Solar. Working with local academics, they have developed a plan that would not only produce enough energy to meet their needs, but would also keep the profits and jobs in the community as well. Nelson Santos Torres, one of Coquí Solar’s organizers, told me they are insisting on solar skills training “so that community youth can participate in the installation,” giving them a reason to stay on the island.

Mónica Flores.

Still: Cristian Carretero

When I visited the area, Mónica Flores, a graduate student in environmental sciences at the University of Puerto Rico who has been working with communities on renewable energy projects, told me that truly democratic resource management is the island’s best hope. People need to have a sense, she said, that “this is our energy. This is our water, and this is how we manage it because we believe in this process, and we respect our culture, our nature, everything that is supporting us.”

Six months into the rolling disaster set off by Maria, dozens of grassroots organizations are coming together to advance precisely this vision: a reimagined Puerto Rico run by its people in their interests. Like Casa Pueblo, in the myriad dysfunctions and injustices the storm so vividly exposed, they see an opportunity to tackle the root causes that turned a weather disaster into a human catastrophe. Among them: the island’s extreme dependence on imported fuel and food; the unpayable and possibly illegal debt that has been used to impose wave after wave of austerity that gravely weakened the island’s defenses; and the 130-year-old colonial relationship with a U.S. government that has always discounted the lives of Puerto Rico’s black and brown people.

If Maria is a teacher, this emerging movement argues, the storm’s overarching lesson is that now is not the moment for reconstruction of what was, but rather for transformation into what could be. “Everything we consume comes from abroad and our profits are exported,” said Massol-González, his hair now white after decades of struggle. It’s a system that leaves debt and austerity behind, both of which made Puerto Rico exponentially more vulnerable to Maria’s blows.

But, he said with a mischievous smile, “we look at crisis as an opportunity to change.”

Massol-González and his allies know well that they are not alone in seeing opportunity in the post-Maria moment. There is also another, very different version of how Puerto Rico should be radically remade after the storm, and it is being aggressively advanced by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in meetings with bankers, real estate developers, cryptocurrency traders, and, of course, the Financial Oversight and Management Board, an unelected seven-member body that exerts ultimate control over Puerto Rico’s economy.

For this powerful group, the lesson that Maria carried was not about the perils of economic dependency or austerity in times of climate disruption. The real problem, they argue, was the public ownership of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, which lacked the proper free-market incentives. Rather than transforming that infrastructure so that it truly serves the public interest, they argue for selling it off at fire-sale prices to private players.

This is just one part of a sweeping vision that sees Puerto Rico transforming itself into a “visitor economy,” one with a radically downsized state and many fewer Puerto Ricans living on the island. In their place would be tens of thousands of “high-net-worth individuals” from Europe, Asia, and the U.S. mainland, lured to permanently relocate by a cornucopia of tax breaks and the promise of living a five-star resort lifestyle inside fully privatized enclaves, year-round.

In a sense, both are utopian projects — the vision of Puerto Rico in which the wealth of the island is carefully and democratically managed by its people, and the libertarian project some are calling “Puertopia” that is being conjured up in the ballrooms of luxury hotels in San Juan and New York City. One dream is grounded in a desire for people to exercise collective sovereignty over their land, energy, food, and water; the other in a desire for a small elite to secede from the reach of government altogether, liberated to accumulate unlimited private profit.

As I traveled throughout Puerto Rico, from sustainable farms and schools in the central mountain region, to the former U.S. Navy base on Vieques, to a legendary mutual aid center on the east coast, to former sugar plantations-turned-solar farms in the south, I found these very different visions of the future sprinting to advance their respective projects before the window of opportunity opened up by the storm begins to close.

At the core of this battle is a very simple question: Who is Puerto Rico for? Is it for Puerto Ricans, or is it for outsiders? And after a collective trauma like Hurricane Maria, who has a right to decide?

Manuel Laboy Rivera, secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce.

Photo: Tony Zayas/GDA/AP

Invasion of the Puertopians

Earlier this month, in San Juan’s ornate Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, the dream of Puerto Rico as a for-profit utopia was on full display. From March 14 to 16, the hotel played host to Puerto Crypto, a three-day “immersive” pitch for blockchain and cryptocurrencies with a special focus on why Puerto Rico will “be the epicenter of this multitrillion-dollar market.”

Among the speakers was Yaron Brook, chair of the Ayn Rand Institute, who presented on “How Deregulation and Blockchain Can Make Puerto Rico the Hong Kong of the Caribbean.” Last year, Brook announced that he had personally relocated from California to Puerto Rico, where he claims he went from paying 55 percent of his income in taxes to less than 4 percent.

Elsewhere on the island, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans were still living by flashlight, many were still dependent on FEMA for food aid, and the island’s main mental health hotline was still overwhelmed with callers. But inside the sold-out Vanderbilt conference, there was little space for that kind of downer news. Instead, the 800 attendees — fresh from a choice between “sunrise yoga and meditation” and “morning surf” — heard from top officials like Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Laboy Rivera about all the things Puerto Rico is doing to turn itself into the ultimate playground for newly minted cryptocurrency millionaires and billionaires.

It’s a pitch the Puerto Rican government has been making to the private jet set for a few years now, though until recently it was geared mainly to the financial sector, Silicon Valley, and others capable of working wherever they can access data. The pitch goes like this: You don’t have to relinquish your U.S. citizenship or even technically leave the United States to escape its tax laws, regulations, or the cold Wall Street winters. You just have to move your company’s address to Puerto Rico and enjoy a stunningly low 4 percent corporate tax rate — a fraction of what corporations pay even after Donald Trump’s recent tax cut. Any dividends paid by a Puerto Rico-based company to Puerto Rican residents are also tax-free, thanks to a law passed in 2012 called Act 20.

Conference attendees also learned that if they move their own residency to Puerto Rico, they will not only be able to surf every single morning, but also win vast personal tax advantages. Thanks to a clause in the federal tax code, U.S. citizens who move to Puerto Rico can avoid paying federal income tax on any income earned in Puerto Rico. And thanks to another local law, Act 22, they can also cash in on a slew of tax breaks and total tax waivers that includes paying zero capital gains tax and zero tax on interest and dividends sourced to Puerto Rico. And much more — all part of a desperate bid to attract capital to an island that is functionally bankrupt.

To quote billionaire hedge fund magnate John Paulson, owner of the hotel in which Puerto Crypto took place, “You can essentially minimize your taxes in a way that you can’t do anywhere else in the world.” (Or, as the tax dodger’s website Premier Offshore put it: “All the other tax havens might as well just close down. … Puerto Rico just hit it out of the park … did the best set ever and dropped the mic.”)

With just a 3 1/2-hour commute from New York City to San Juan (or less, depending on the private jet), all it takes to get in on this scheme is agreeing to spend 183 days of the year in Puerto Rico — in other words, winter. Puerto Rican residents, it’s worth noting, are not only excluded from these programs, but they also pay very high local taxes.

Manuel Laboy used the conference to announce the creation of a new advisory council to attract blockchain businesses to the island. And he extolled the lifestyle bonuses that awaited attendees if they followed the self-described “Puertopians” who have already taken the plunge. As Laboy told The Intercept, for the 500 to 1,000 high-net-worth individuals who relocated since the tax holidays were introduced five years ago — many of them opting for gated communities with their own private schools — it’s all about “living in a tropical island, with great people, with great weather, with great piña coladas.” And why not? “You’re gonna be, like, in this endless vacation in a tropical place, where you’re actually working. That combination, I think, is very powerful.”

The official slogan of this new Puerto Rico? “Paradise Performs.” To underscore the point, conference attendees were invited to a “Cryptocurrency Honey Party,” with pollen-themed drinks and snacks, and a chance to hang out with Ingrid Suarez, Miss Teen Panama 2013 and upcoming contestant on “Caribbean’s Next Top Model.”

Mining cryptocurrencies is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, with the industry’s energy consumption rising by the week. Bitcoin alone currently consumes roughly the same amount of energy per year as Israel, according to the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index. The city of Plattsburgh, New York, recently adopted a temporary ban on cryptocurrency mining after local electricity rates suddenly soared. Many of the crypto companies currently relocating to Puerto Rico would presumably do their currency mining elsewhere. Still, the idea of turning an island that cannot keep the lights on for its own people into “the epicenter of this multitrillion-dollar market” rooted in the most wasteful possible use of energy is a bizarre one and is raising mounting concerns of “crypto-colonialism.”

In part to allay these fears, Puerto Crypto made a last-minute name change to the less imperial “Blockchain Unbound,” though it didn’t stick. Moreover, for some in the crypto crowd, the appeal of relocating to Puerto Rico goes well beyond Laboy’s version of paradise. Post-Maria, with land selling for even cheaper, public assets being auctioned at fire-sale prices, and billions in federal disaster funds flowing to contractors, some distinctly more grandiose dreams for the island have begun to surface. Now rather than simply shopping for mansions in resort communities, the Puertopians are looking to buy a piece of land large enough to start their very own city — complete with airport, yacht port, and passports, all run on virtual currencies.
Crypto-entrepreneur Brock Pierce at the Puerto Rico investment summit.

Photo: Photo: Juan Martinez/GDA/AP

Some call it “Sol,” others call it “Crypto Land,” and it even seems to have its own religion: an unruly hodgepodge of Ayn Randian wealth supremacy, philanthrocapitalist noblesse oblige, Burning Man pseudo-spirituality, and half-remembered scenes from watching “Avatar” while high. Brock Pierce, the child actor turned crypto-entrepreneur who serves as the movement’s de facto guru, is known for dropping New Age aphorisms like, “A billionaire is someone who has positively impacted the lives of a billion people.” Out on a real estate expedition scouting locations for Crypto Land, he reportedly crawled into the “bosom” of a Ceiba tree, a magnificent species sacred in many indigenous cultures, and “kissed an old man’s feet.”

But make no mistake — the true religion here is tax avoidance. As one young crypto-trader recently told his YouTube audience, before moving to Puerto Rico in time to make the tax-filing deadline, “I had to actually look it up on the map.” (He subsequently admitted to some “culture shock” upon learning that Puerto Ricans spoke Spanish, but instructed viewers thinking of following his lead to put a “Google translator app on your phone and you’re good to go.”)

The conviction that taxation is a form of theft is not a novel one among men who imagine themselves to be self-made. Still, there is something about rapidly becoming rich from money that you literally created — or “mined” — yourself that lends an especially large dose of self-righteousness to the decision to give nothing back. As Reeve Collins, a 42-year-old Puertopian, told the New York Times, “This is the first time in human history anyone other than kings or governments or gods can create their own money.” So who is the government to take any of it from them?

As a breed, the Puertopians, in their flip-flops and surfer shorts, are a sort of slacker cousin to the Seasteaders, a movement of wealthy libertarians who have been plotting for years to escape the government’s grip by starting their own city-states on artificial islands. Anybody who doesn’t like being taxed or regulated will simply be able to, as the Seasteading manifesto states, “vote with your boat.”

For those harboring these Randian secessionist fantasies, Puerto Rico is a much lighter lift. When it comes to taxing and regulating the wealthy, its current government has surrendered with unmatched enthusiasm. And there’s no need to go to the trouble of building your own islands on elaborate floating platforms — as one Puerto Crypto session put it, Puerto Rico is poised to be transformed into a “crypto-island.”

Sure, unlike the empty city-states Seasteaders fantasize about, real-world Puerto Rico is densely habited with living, breathing Puerto Ricans. But FEMA and the governor’s office have been doing their best to take care of that too. Though there has been no reliable effort to track migration flows since Hurricane Maria, some 200,000 people have reportedly left the island, many of them with federal help.

This exodus was first presented as a temporary emergency measure, but it has since become apparent that the depopulation is intended to be permanent. The Puerto Rican governor’s office predicts that over the next five years, the island’s population will experience a “cumulative decline” of nearly 20 percent.

The Puertopians know all this has been hard on locals, but they insist that their presence will be a blessing for the devastated island. Brock Pierce argues (without offering any specifics), that crypto-money is going to help finance Puerto Rican reconstruction and entrepreneurship, including in local agriculture and energy. The enormous brain drain currently flowing out of Puerto Rico, he says, is now being offset with a “brain gain,” thanks to him and his tax-dodging friends. At a Puerto Rico investment conference, Pierce observed philosophically that “it’s in these moments where we experience our greatest loss that we have our biggest opportunity to sort of restart and upgrade.”

Gov. Rosselló himself seems to agree. In February, he told a business audience in New York that Maria had created a “blank canvas” on which investors could paint their very own dream world.
VIEQUES PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 25: The island of Vieques, in the east side of the island, got affected by strong winds produced by Hurricane Maria. More than a week after the event, recovery is slow. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Wind damage on the east side of Vieques in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Photo: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for the Washington Post/Getty Images

An Island Weary of Outside Experiments

The dream of the blank canvas, a safe place to test one’s boldest ideas, has a long and bitter history in Puerto Rico. Throughout its long colonial history, the archipelago has continuously served as a living laboratory for prototypes that would later be exported around the globe. There were the notorious experiments in population control that, by the mid-1960s, resulted in the coercive sterilization of more than one-third of Puerto Rican women. Many dangerous drugs have been tested in Puerto Rico over the years, including a high-risk version of the birth control pill containing a dosage of hormones four times greater than the version that ultimately entered the U.S. market.

Vieques — more than two-thirds of which used to be a U.S. Navy facility where Marines practiced ground warfare and completed their gun training — was a testing ground for everything from Agent Orange to depleted uranium to napalm. To this day, agribusiness giants like Monsanto and Syngenta use the southern coast of Puerto Rico as a sprawling testing ground for thousands of trials of genetically modified seeds, mostly corn and soy.

Many Puerto Rican economists also make a compelling case that the island invented the whole model of the special economic zone. In the ’50s and ’60s, well before the free-trade era swept the globe, U.S. manufacturers took advantage of Puerto Rico’s low-wage workforce and special tax exemptions to relocate light manufacturing to the island, effectively road testing the model of offshored labor and maquiladora-style factories while still technically staying within U.S. borders.

The list could go on and on. The appeal of Puerto Rico for these experiments was a combination of the geographical control offered by an island and straight-up racism. Juan E. Rosario, a longtime community organizer and environmentalist who told me that his own mother was a Thalidomide test subject, put it like this: “It’s an island, isolated, with a lot of nonvaluable people. Expendable people. For many years, we have been used as guinea pigs for U.S. experiments.”

Juan E. Rosario.

Still: Cristian Carretero

These experiments have left indelible scars on Puerto Rico’s land and people. They are visible in the shells of factories that were abandoned when U.S. manufacturers got access to even cheaper wages and laxer regulations in Mexico and then China after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed and the World Trade Organization was created. The scars are etched too in the explosive materials, uncleared munitions, and diverse cocktail of military pollutants that will take decades to flush from Vieques’s ecosystem, as well as in the small island’s ongoing health crisis. And they are there in the swaths of land all over the archipelago that are so contaminated that the Environmental Protection Agency has classified 18 of them as Superfund sites, with all the local health impacts that shadow such toxicity.

The deepest scars may be even harder to see. Colonialism itself is a social experiment, a multilayered system of explicit and implicit controls designed to strip colonized peoples of their culture, confidence, and power. With tools ranging from the brute military and police aggression used to put down strikes and rebellions, to a law that once banned the Puerto Rican flag, to the dictates handed down today by the unelected fiscal control board, residents of these islands have been living under that web of controls for centuries.

On my first day on the island, at a meeting of trade union leaders at the University of Puerto Rico, Rosario spoke passionately about the psychological impact of this unending experiment. He said that at such a high-stakes moment — when so many outsiders are descending wielding their own plans and their own big dreams — “we need to know where are we heading. We need to know where is our ultimate goal. We need to know what paradise looks like.” And not the kind of paradise that “performs” for currency traders with a surfing hobby, but that actually works for the majority of Puerto Ricans.

The problem, he went on, is that “people in Puerto Rico are very fearful of thinking about the Big Thing. We are not supposed to be dreaming; we are not supposed to be thinking about even governing ourselves. We don’t have that tradition of looking at the big picture.” This, he said, is colonialism’s most bitter legacy.

The belittling message at the core of the colonial experiment has been reinforced in countless ways by the official responses (and nonresponses) to Hurricane Maria. Time after humiliating time, Puerto Ricans have been sent that familiar message about their relative worth and ultimate disposability. And nothing has done more to confirm this status than the fact that no level of government has seen fit to count the dead in any kind of credible way, as if lost Puerto Rican lives are of so little consequence that there is no need to document their mass extinguishment. As of this writing, the official count of how many people died as a result of Hurricane Maria remains at 64, though a thorough investigation by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism and the New York Times put the real number at well over 1,000. Puerto Rico’s governor has announced that an independent probe will re-examine the official numbers.

But there is a flipside to these painful revelations. Puerto Ricans now know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that there is no government that has their interests at heart, not in the governor’s mansion, not on the unelected fiscal control board (which many Puerto Ricans welcomed at first, convinced it would root out corruption), and certainly not in Washington, where the current president’s idea of aid and comfort was to hurl paper towels into a crowd. That means that if there is to be a grand new experiment in Puerto Rico, one genuinely in the interest of its people, then Puerto Ricans themselves will have to be the ones to dream it up and fight for it — “from the bottom to the top,” as Casa Pueblo founder Alexis Massol-González told me.

He is convinced that his people are up to the task. And ironically, this is in part thanks to Maria. Precisely because the official response to the hurricane has been so lacking, Puerto Ricans on the island and in the diaspora have been forced to organize themselves on a stunning scale. Casa Pueblo is just one example among many. With next to no resources, communities have set up massive communal kitchens, raised large sums of money, coordinated and distributed supplies, cleared streets, and rebuilt schools. In some communities, they have even gotten the electricity reconnected with the help of retired electrical workers.

They shouldn’t have had to do all this. Puerto Ricans pay taxes — the IRS collects some $3.5 billion from the island annually — to help fund FEMA and the military, which are supposed to protect U.S. citizens during states of emergency. But one result of being forced to save themselves is that many communities have discovered a depth of strength and capacity they did not know they possessed.

Now this confidence is rapidly spilling over into the political arena and with it, an appetite among a growing number of Puerto Rican groups and individuals to do precisely what Juan E. Rosario said has been so difficult in the past: come up with their own big ideas, their own dreams of an island paradise that performs for them.

Students, community members, and farmers replant crops at the Segunda Unidad Botijas 1 farm school in Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

Photo: José D. Figueroa

“Welcome to Magic Land”

Those were the words that greeted me at a bustling public school and organic farm carved into the hillside in Puerto Rico’s spectacular central mountain region, a place known for its towering waterfalls, crystal natural pools, and electric green peaks.

After driving for an hour and a half through communities still badly battered by the hurricane, the scene did feel strangely enchanted. There were smiling children harvesting a crop of beans and wandering through stands of sunflowers. There were young men and women sawing lumber and busily erecting several new structures, stopping periodically to share ideas about how to get the farm working to maximum potential. And in a region where many are still relying on inadequate government food aid, there were older women preparing mountains of vegetables and fish for a sumptuous communal meal.

The mood was so upbeat and the efficiency so undeniable that I had a feeling similar to the one I had at Casa Pueblo — as if I had stepped through a portal to that parallel Puerto Rico, a place where both the ecological and economic lessons of Hurricane Maria were being powerfully heeded.

Dalma Cartagena, right, and Brítany Berríos Torres, left.

Still: Cristian Carretero

“We do agro-ecological farming,” Dalma Cartagena told me, pointing to the rows of spinach, kale, cilantro, and much more. “Kids from third grade to eighth grade do this work, this beautiful work.”

Cartagena — a trained agronomist with braided gray curls and a yogic smile — is most passionate about how farming has helped her students overcome the trauma of a storm that was so ferocious, it felt as if the natural world had turned against them. Running her fingers through a stand of medicinal flowers, she said, “After Maria, we encourage the students to touch the plants and let the plants touch them because that’s a way of healing the pain and anger.”

When students watch plants grow that they planted from seeds, it’s a reminder that despite all of the damage inflicted by the storm, “You are part of something that is always protecting you.” The apparent rupture between themselves and the land begins to heal.

Eighteen years ago, Cartagena took charge of this farm in the municipality of Orocovis as part of the Puerto Rico Education Department’s embattled “agriculture education program.” Connected by a short pathway to a large local middle school, Escuela Segunda Unidad Botijas I, students spend part of each day on the farm, listening to Cartagena explain everything from the nitrogen cycle to composting. Dressed in neat school uniforms complemented with mud-caked rubber boots, they also learn the practical skills of “agro-ecology,” a term referring to a combination of traditional farming methods that promotes resilience and protects biodiversity, a rejection of pesticides and other toxins, and a commitment to rebuilding social relationships between farmers and local communities.

Each grade tends to their own crops from seed to harvest. Some of what they grow is served in the school cafeteria, some is sold at market, and most goes home with the students.

Concentrating through heavy, black-framed glasses as she shelled a pile of beans, 13-year-old Brítany Berríos Torres explained, “My mom can make them, or she can give them to my grandmother so she can stop worrying about ‘What am I going to cook my daughters?’” With so much need on the island, doing this work, Torres said, “I feel as if we are throwing a rope to humanity.”

All of this makes this public school’s farm a relative anomaly in Puerto Rico. As a legacy of the slave plantation economy first established under Spanish rule, much of the island’s agriculture is industrial scale, with many crops grown for export or testing purposes. Roughly 85 percent of the food Puerto Ricans actually eat is imported.

With her unique school, which the government has tried to shut down several times, Cartagena is determined to prove that this dependency on outsiders is not only unnecessary, but a kind of folly. By using farming techniques and carefully preserved seed varieties adapted to the region, she is convinced that Puerto Ricans can feed themselves with healthy food grown in their own fertile soil — as long as there is sufficient land available for a new and existing generation of farmers with the knowledge to do the work.
A hill sits bare after Hurricane Maria destroyed coffee bean, payaya, and banana trees in Jayuya, Puerto Rico on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. President Donald Trump, under rising criticism for the federal response to hurricane-wrecked Puerto Rico, lashed out at San Juan's mayor Saturday for her "poor leadership ability" and said some residents of the U.S. commonwealth "want everything to be done for them." Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A bare hillside in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 1, 2017, after Hurricane Maria destroyed coffee bean, papaya, and banana crops.

Photo: John Taggart/Bloomberg/Getty Images

This lesson of self-sufficiency took on very practical urgency after Hurricane Maria. Just as the upheaval revealed the perils of Puerto Rico’s import-addicted and highly centralized energy system, it also unmasked the extraordinary vulnerability of its food supply. All over the island, industrial-scale farms growing mono-crops of banana, plantains, papaya, coffee, and corn looked like they had been flattened with a scythe. According to Puerto Rico’s Department of Agriculture, more than 80 percent of the island’s crops were completely wiped out in the storm, a $2 billion blow to the economy.

“A lot of conventional farmers right now are starving, even though they have [an] amazing amount of land,” Katia Avilés, an environmental geographer and agro-ecological farming advocate, told me. “They didn’t have anything to harvest because they had followed the Department of Agriculture’s instructions” and literally bet the farm on a single, vulnerable cash crop.

Food imports, meanwhile, were in no better shape. The Port of San Juan was in chaos, with shipping containers filled with desperately needed food and fuel sitting unopened. For weeks, the shelves at many supermarkets were virtually empty. Remote areas like Orocovis fared the worst: stranded because of blocked roads and insufficient fuel, it took over a week or more for food aid to arrive. And when it came, it was often shockingly inadequate: military-style rations and FEMA’s now notorious boxes filled with Skittles, processed meats, and Cheez-It crackers.

On Cartagena’s small farm, however, there was nutritious food to share. The storm had knocked down the greenhouse and her outdoor classroom, and the wind had claimed the bananas. But many of the crops the students had planted were fine: the tomatillos, the root vegetables — pretty much everything that grows low to the earth or underneath it.

“We never closed the farm. We stayed here working,” Cartagena said, “cleaning up and doing the compost, the way we could.” Within days, students began crossing the mountains by foot to help out, carrying food home to their families. They planted flowers to try to lure back the bees.

There was other help too. On the day I visited, the land was crowded with about 30 farmers who had traveled from across the United States, Central America, Canada, and Puerto Rico to help Cartagena and her students rebuild and replant. The visitors were part of a wave of international “brigades” that had been going from farm to farm rebuilding chicken coops, greenhouses, and other outdoor structures, as well as replanting crops, an ambitious effort organized by Puerto Rico’s Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica, the U.S.-based Climate Justice Alliance, and the global network of peasants and small farmers, Via Campesina.

Jesús Vázquez.

Still: Eduardo Mariota

Jesús Vázquez, an environmental justice advocate, food sovereignty activist and local coordinator of the brigades, told me that Cartagena’s experience was not unique. In the days after Maria, farmers and community members helped one another across the island. And those rare estates that still used traditional methods— including planting a diversity of crops and using trees and grasses with long roots to prevent landslides and erosion — had some of the only fresh food on the island.

Yucca, taro, sweet potato, yam, and several other root vegetables are nutrient-rich staples of the Puerto Rican diet, and because they grow underground, where the high winds couldn’t touch them, most were almost entirely protected from storm damage. “Some farmers were harvesting food a day after the hurricane,” Vázquez recalled. Within a few weeks, they had hundreds of pounds of food to sell or distribute in their communities.

Avilés, Vázquez, and Cartagena all work with Organización Boricuá, a network of farmers who use these traditional Puerto Rican methods, passing them down through the generations, “campesino to campesino,” as Avilés put it. But after decades of U.S. government policy that equated campesino life with underdevelopment and set Puerto Rico up as a captive market for U.S. imports, all that remains, Avilés said, are “islands” of these agro-ecological farms scattered through the archipelago’s three inhabited islands.

Participants in an Organización Boricuá brigade rebuild a plant nursery at the Segunda Unidad Botijas 1 farm school in Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

Photo: Jesús Vázquez

For 28 years, Organización Boricuá has been connecting those farming islands to one another, advocating for their interests and publicly making the case that agro-ecology should form the basis for Puerto Rico’s food system, capable of providing “adequate, affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food” for the entire population, Vázquez explained. The group has also been warning about the dangers of chokepoints in Puerto Rico’s highly centralized system, with almost all of its food imports shipping out of a single port in Jacksonville, Florida (which itself was slammed by Hurricane Irma last September), and roughly 90 percent of the food arriving at one entry point: the Port of San Juan. “We’ve always been saying within our movement that that’s a problem because of climate change,” Vázquez told me. After all, if something happens to the port, “then we’ll be doomed.”

Given the strength of the corporate agricultural lobbies they were up against, getting these kinds of messages through to the public has been an uphill battle. Their opponents painted them as backward relics, while imports and fast food were modernization incarnate. But Maria, which was powerful enough to rearrange local geology, has changed the political topography as well.

Overnight, everyone could see just how dangerous it was for this fertile island to have lost control over its agricultural system, along with so much else. “We didn’t have food, we didn’t have water, we didn’t have electricity, we didn’t have anything,” Avilés recalled. But in communities that still had local farms, people could also see that agro-ecology was not some quaint relic of the past, but a crucial tool for surviving a rocky future.

Now Organización Boricuá is joining with many others who have been constructing their own “islands” of self-sufficiency — not just farms, but also solar powered oases like Casa Pueblo, as well as mutual aid centers and groups of educators and economists with plans for how Puerto Ricans can confront international capital and remake their economy and public institutions. Together, this network of grassroots Puerto Rican movements is laying out a plan for a new Puerto Rico, one in which residents play a greater role in shaping their own destinies than they have at any time since the island was colonized by Spain in 1493. “It’s just one fight,” Katia Alverés said, “which is, how do we make sure that we have a just recovery and that for the future, we’re not going to fall as hard as we did this time?”

And there will be a next time. I spoke with Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization, who was also in Puerto Rico as part of the climate justice brigades. She was preoccupied with the knowledge that hurricane season would begin again in just a few months. “It’s impossible to talk about what happened in Puerto Rico without talking about climate change,” which, by causing oceans to warm and sea levels to rise, is sure to bring more record-breaking storms. “It would be foolish for us to think that this is the last storm, that there aren’t going to be other recurring extreme weather events.”

She also said that Puerto Ricans — by drawing on long-protected indigenous knowledge about what seeds and tree species can survive extreme events, as well as the kind of energy and sturdy social structures that can withstand these shocks — are creating a model not just for the island, but for the world. A way to “start really thinking about how you prepare for the fact that climate change is here.”

But if Puerto Rico’s people’s movements are going to have a chance to provide this kind of global leadership, they will need to move fast. Because they aren’t the only ones with radical plans about how the island should transform after Maria.
Noviembre 08, 2017 - El gobernador Ricardo Rosselló Nevares visita comunidad escolar junto a la secretaria de Educación Federal, Betsy DeVos y la secretaria de Educación, Julia Keleher. de izq. a der. la secretaria de Educación Federal, Betsy DeVos, Julia Keleher secretaria de educacion de Puerto Rico y Ricardo Rossello.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, right, visits a school with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, left, and Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher, center, on Nov. 8, 2017.

The day before I walked through that portal in Orocovis, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló delivered a televised address from behind his desk, flanked by the flags of the United States and Puerto Rico. “While overcoming adversity, we also find great opportunities to build a new Puerto Rico,” he announced. The first step was to be the immediate privatization of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, one of the largest public power providers in the United States and, despite its billions of dollars in debt, the one that brings in the most revenue.

“We will sell PREPA’s assets to the companies that will transform the power generation system into a modern, efficient, and less costly system for our people,” Rosselló said.

It turned out to be the first shot in a machine-gun loaded with such announcements. Two days later, the slick, TV-friendly young governor unveiled his long-awaited “fiscal plan,” which included closing more than 300 schools and shutting down more than two-thirds of the island government’s executive-branch entities, going from a total of 115 to just 35. As Kate Aronoff reported for The Intercept, this “amounts to a deconstruction of the island’s administrative state” (so it’s no surprise that Rosselló has many admirers in Trump’s Washington).

A week after that, the governor went on television again and unveiled a plan to crack open the education system to privately run charter schools and private school vouchers — moves Puerto Rico’s teachers and parents have successfully resisted several times before.

This is a phenomenon I have called the “shock doctrine,” and it is playing out in Puerto Rico in the most naked form seen since New Orleans’s public school system and much of its low-income housing were dismantled in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while the city was still largely empty of its residents. And Puerto Rico’s education secretary, the former management consultant Julia Keleher, makes no secret of where she is drawing inspiration from. One month after Maria, she tweeted that New Orleans should be a “point of reference,” and “we should not underestimate the damage or the opportunity to create new, better schools.”

Central to a shock doctrine strategy is speed — pushing a flurry of radical changes through so quickly it’s virtually impossible to keep up. So, for instance, while most of the meager media attention has focused on Rosselló’s privatization plans, an equally significant attack on regulations and independent oversight — laid out in his fiscal plan — has gone largely under the radar.

And the process is far from complete. There is a great deal of talk about more privatizations to come: highways, bridges, ports, ferries, water systems, national parks, and other conservation areas. Manuel Laboy, Puerto Rico’s secretary of economic development and commerce, told The Intercept that electricity is just the beginning. “We do expect that similar things will happen in other infrastructure sectors. It could be full privatization; it could be a true P3 [public-private partnerships] model.”

Despite the radical nature of these plans, the response from Puerto Rican society has been somewhat muted. No large-scale protests greeted the first wave of Rosselló’s rapid-fire announcements. No strikes in response to his plans to radically contract the state and roll back pensions. No uprisings against the Puertopians flooding into the island to build their libertarian dream state.

Yet Puerto Rico has a deep history of popular resistance and some very radical trade unions. So what is going on? The first thing to understand is that Puerto Ricans are not experiencing one extreme dose of the shock doctrine, but two or even three of them, all layered on top of one another — a new and terrifying hybridization of the strategy that makes it particularly challenging to resist.

Many Puerto Ricans told me that the latest chapter in this story really begins in 2006, when the tax breaks that had been used to attract U.S. manufacturers to the island were allowed to expire, prompting a devastating wave of capital flight (and demonstrating just how precarious it is to build a development policy based on tax giveaways). This was such a deep shock to the island’s economy that in May 2006, much of the government, including all the public schools, was temporarily shut down. That was the first punch. The second came when the global financial system melted down less than two years later, dramatically deepening a crisis already well underway.

Broke and desperate, the Puerto Rican government turned to borrowing, in part by using its special tax status to issue municipal bonds that were exempt from city, state, and federal taxes. It also purchased high-risk capital appreciation bonds, which will eventually rack up interest rates ranging from 785 to 1,000 percent. Thanks in large part to these kinds of predatory financial instruments, borrowed under conditions that many experts argue were illegal under the Puerto Rican Constitution, the island’s debt exploded. According to data compiled by lawyer Armando Pintado, debt-service payments, including interest and other profits paid to the banking industry, increased fivefold between 2001 and 2014, with a particularly marked spike in 2008. Yet another shock to the island’s economy.
A demonstrator wearing a T-shirt with the message in Spanish "People's national strike" gestures after police blocked a protest against Gov. Luis Fortuno near the hotel where Fortuno meets with foreign investors in Fajardo, eastern Puerto Rico, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2009. Demonstrators continue to protest the layoffs of more than 20,000 public employees, a measure the government says is necessary to close a deficit and pull the economy out of a three-year recession. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
A demonstrator wearing a “People’s National Strike” T-shirt gestures after police block a protest against then-Gov. Luis Fortuno near the hotel where Fortuno met with foreign investors in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Oct. 22, 2009.

And so, in an all-too-familiar story, an atmosphere of crisis was exploited to force severe austerity on a desperate people. In 2009, Puerto Rico’s governor passed a law declaring an economic “state of emergency” and used it to lay off more than 17,000 public sector workers and strip negotiated benefits and raises from many more — this at a time when unemployment was already 15 percent. As has been the case everywhere — these policies have been imposed in recent years from the U.K. to Greece — it didn’t bring the island back to growth and health. It pushed it deeper into joblessness, recession, and bankruptcy.

It was in this context that in 2016, Congress took the drastic measure of passing the PROMESA law that put Puerto Rico’s finances under the control of a newly created Financial Oversight and Management Board, a seven-person body appointed by the U.S. president, six of whom appear not to live on the island. The board, which is essentially charged with overseeing the liquidation of Puerto Rico’s assets to maximize debt repayments and approving all major economic decisions, is known in Puerto Rico as “La Junta.” For many, the name is a commentary on the fact that the board represents a kind of financial coup d’état: Puerto Ricans — unable to vote for president or Congress but forced to live under U.S. laws — already lacked basic democratic rights. By giving the fiscal board the power to reject decisions made by Puerto Rico’s elected territorial representatives, they were now losing the weak rights they had won, marking a return to unmasked colonial rule.

Unsurprisingly, the fiscal control board promptly placed Puerto Rico on an even more wrenching austerity diet. It demanded deep cuts to pensions and public services, including health care, as well as a laundry list of privatizations. The school system was particularly hard-hit in this period. Between 2010 and 2017, roughly 340 public schools were shut down; arts and physical education programs were virtually eliminated in many elementary schools; and the board announced plans to slash the University of Puerto Rico’s budget in half.

Yarimar Bonilla.

Still: Eduardo Mariota

Yarimar Bonilla, a Rutgers University associate professor who had been conducting a major research project on Puerto Rico’s debt crisis before Maria hit, told me there is no way to understand the post-Maria shock doctrine strategy without recognizing that Puerto Ricans “were already in a state of shock and severe economic policies were already being applied here. The government had already been whittled down and people’s expectations for the government had already been very much whittled down.” By early 2017, she pointed out, parts of San Juan looked very much like they had been hit by a hurricane — windows were broken, buildings were boarded up. But it wasn’t high winds that did it; it was debt and austerity.

Perhaps the most relevant part of this story, however, is that by 2017, Puerto Ricans were resisting this shock doctrine strategy with organization and militancy. There had been resistance at earlier stages, including a general strike in 2009. But in the months before Maria struck, Puerto Rico saw some of the strongest and most unified opposition in the island’s history.

A popular movement calling for an independent audit of the debt was quickly gaining ground, spurred by the conviction that if its causes were closely examined, as much as 60 percent of the more than $70 billion Puerto Rico supposedly owes would be found to have been accumulated in violation of the island’s constitution and is therefore illegal. And if a large part of the debt is illegal, not only would it need to be erased, the fiscal control board would need to be dismantled, and debt could no longer be used as a cudgel with which to impose austerity and further weaken democracy. According to Eva Prados, spokesperson for the Citizens Front for the Audit of the Debt, in the year before Hurricane Maria, 150,000 Puerto Ricans added their names to a call to audit the debt, and thousands participated in vigils calling for “light and truth.”
Protesters march against austerity measures in San Juan, Puerto on August 30, 2017.Unable to repay its creditors, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy in early May. The bankruptcy -- the largest ever by a local US government -- caused barely a ripple in the United States, but in Puerto Rico, it has fuelled joblessness and protests. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters march against austerity measures in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 30, 2017.

And then there was the mounting revolt against austerity. Last spring, students at the University of Puerto Rico’s 11 campuses staged a historic strike that lasted more than two months, protesting plans to raise tuition while their school’s budget was being slashed, as well as the broader austerity agenda. A faculty group launched a major lawsuit against the fiscal control board alleging that the deep cuts to the university were an illegal attack on an essential service. Then, on May 1, 2017, many of Puerto Rico’s labor and social movements converged into one angry cry, when roughly 100,000 people took to the streets to demand an end to austerity and an audit of the debt — by some estimates, the second-largest protest in Puerto Rico’s history.

It was clear that this movement had authorities worried. After several banks were vandalized, the state launched an intense crackdown against the key organizations involved in the May 1 anti-austerity mobilization, threatening them with costly lawsuits and jailing several activists.

In this atmosphere of heated resistance, with many calling for Rosselló’s resignation, several of the more draconian plans seemed to stall. The cuts to the university were in question, as were some of the bigger-ticket privatizations. The secretary of education, meanwhile, had been forced to scale back the number of planned public school closures. Not every battle was won, but it was clear that there would be no all-out shock doctrine-style makeover of Puerto Rico without a fight.

Then came Maria, and all those same rejected policies came roaring back with Category 5 ferocity.
COROZAL, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 27: Ramon Torres stands in what is left of his sister-in-law's home that was destroyed when Hurricane Maria passed through on September 27, 2017 in Corozal, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread, severe damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grids as well as agricultural destruction after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Ramon Torres stands in the wreckage of his sister-in-law’s home on Sept. 27, 2017, in Corozal, Puerto Rico.

Desperation, Distraction, Despair, and Disappearance

The jury is still out as to whether this latest attempt at the shock-after-shock doctrine approach will actually work. If it does, it will not be because Puerto Ricans suddenly overwhelmingly approve of these policies. It will be because the tremendous impact of the storm has disassembled life for millions of people, making the reconstitution of the pre-storm, anti-austerity coalition a herculean challenge.

It’s helpful to break the extreme state of shock that is being exploited into four categories: desperation, distraction, despair, and disappearance.

Desperation because the relief and reconstruction efforts have been so sluggish, so inept, and so apparently corrupt that they have understandably instilled a sense in many that nothing could be worse than the status quo. This is particularly true for electricity. Even among those that have had their power restored, many are experiencing regular blackouts. They are also hearing daily threats from their governor that the whole island could wind up back in the dark again at any point because PREPA is so broke that it can’t pay the bills; in some parts of the island, water is being rationed for similar reasons. It’s circumstances like these that make the prospect of privatization more palatable. With the status quo so untenable, anything at all can seem like an improvement.

Related to this is distraction: Daily life in Puerto Rico remains an immense struggle. There are repairs to be done to damaged homes, and byzantine, time-devouring bureaucracies to navigate to help pay for them. For those who still don’t have electricity or water, there are the interminable lineups required to receive aid. Many workplaces still remain closed, making paying the bills yet another huge logistical hurdle, if it’s possible at all. Add all this together and for many Puerto Ricans, the mechanics of survival can take up every waking hour — a state of distraction not very conducive to political engagement.

For many, the burdens of survival have been so onerous, and future prospects seemingly so bleak, that a deep despair has set in — indeed it is reaching epidemic proportions. Callers making credible threats to take their own lives overwhelmed the island’s 24-hour mental health hotline in the months after the hurricane. According to a government report, more than 3,000 people who called the line between November 2017 and January 2018 reported having already attempted suicide — a 246 percent increase over the previous year.

For Yarimar Bonilla, these figures represent not just the impacts of Maria, devastating as they have been, but rather the cumulative effects of many compounding blows. “Puerto Ricans had already undergone a huge amount of trauma due to the colonial relationship to the United States,” most recently during the debt crisis. Then came the storm, which literally ripped the lid off the agony that so many households had been quietly enduring. With cameras poking into homes that had their roofs torn apart, Puerto Ricans found themselves looking into one another’s lives, and they saw not just storm damage, but also punishing poverty, untreated illness, and social isolation. As Bonilla put it, “There’s a real sorrow here in a place that used to be known for its joy.”

Today, she says, there may not be rioting in the streets, but that should not be confused with consent. The apparent passivity is at least partly the result of so much pain being directed inward.

The same desperate circumstances have forced hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans to make the wrenching decision to simply disappear from the island. They vanish daily onto planes headed for Florida and New York and elsewhere in the mainland United States. Many of them have had the direct help of FEMA, which built what the agency called
an “air bridge,” airlifting people off the island and boarding others onto cruise ships. Once on the mainland, they were provided with funds to stay in hotels (supports set to expire on March 20).

Bonilla says this approach was a political choice — much as it was a choice to fly and bus the residents of New Orleans to distant states after Hurricane Katrina, often offering no way to return, a process that permanently changed the demographics of the city. “Instead of helping people here, providing shelters here, bringing more generator power to the places that need them, getting the electric system up and running, they’re encouraging people to leave instead.”

There are several reasons why evacuation may have been heavily favored by Washington and the governor’s office. The disappearance of so many people in such a short time, Bonilla explained, “operates as a political escape valve, so right now you don’t have people protesting in the streets because a lot of the people who are really desperate for medical care or who had real needs where they couldn’t live without electricity have just left.”

The exodus also conveniently helps create the “blank canvas” that the governor has bragged about to would-be investors. Elizabeth Yeampierre helped welcome and support many of her fellow Puerto Ricans when they arrived in the United States. But when I spoke with her on the island, she said that her “biggest fear” is that the evacuation will be a prelude to a massive land grab. “What they want is our land, and they just don’t want our people in it.”

Many Puerto Ricans I spoke with are similarly convinced that there is more than incompetence behind the various ways they are being pushed to the limits of endurance.
A worker from Montana-based Whitefish Energy Holdings works to restore the island's power grid, damaged during Hurricane Maria in Manati, Puerto Rico October 31, 2017.<br /><br /><br /> Whitefish Energy had won a $300-million contract to help turn the lights back on in Puerto Rico, where some 80 percent of customers still lack power more than a month after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island. But Puerto Rico is scrapping the deal with the tiny American firm that fell under intense scrutiny the head of its power authority said on October 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A Whitefish Energy worker in Manati, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 31, 2017.

Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

As has been extensively reported since the storm hit, the relief and reconstruction efforts have been a nonstop procession of almost impossibly disastrous decisions. A key contract to supply 30 million meals went to an Atlanta company with a record of failure and a staff of one (only 50,000 meals were delivered before the contract was canceled). Desperately needed relief supplies sat for weeks in storage, both in San Juan and Florida, where some became rat-infested. Materials key to rebuilding the electrical grid also sat in warehouses for unknown reasons. Whitefish Energy, a Montana-based firm with ties to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, had just two full-time staff when it landed a $300 million contract to help rebuild the electricity grid (the contract has since been canceled).

Then there were the common-sense measures that were simply ignored. As many pointed out, the Trump administration could have swiftly sent in the USNS Comfort, a massive floating hospital, to ease the strain on failing health care facilities. Instead, the ship was sent in late, sat nearly empty for weeks, and then was ordered withdrawn in November, with power still out on half of the island. Similarly, instead of relying on two-bit contractors like Whitefish, or notorious profiteers like Fluor, which has cashed in on disasters from post-invasion Iraq to post-Katrina New Orleans, PREPA could have requested that other state electrical utilities send workers to Puerto Rico and help with the rebuilding — its right as a member of the American Public Power Association. But it waited more than a month before putting in the request.

Each one of these decisions, even when they were ultimately reversed, set recovery efforts back further. Is this all a masterful conspiracy to make sure Puerto Ricans are too desperate, distracted, and despairing to resist Wall Street’s bitter economic medicine? I don’t believe it’s anything that coordinated. Much of this is simply what happens when you bleed the public sphere for decades, laying off competent workers and neglecting basic maintenance. Run-of-the-mill corruption and cronyism are no doubt at work as well.

But it’s also true that many governments have deployed a starve-then-sell strategy when it comes to public services: cut health care/transit/education to the bone until people are so disillusioned and desperate that they are willing to try anything, including selling off those services altogether. And if Rosselló and the Trump administration have seemed remarkably unconcerned about the nonstop relief and reconstruction screw-ups, the attitude may be at least partly informed by an understanding that the worse things get, the stronger the case for privatization becomes.

Mónica Flores, the University of Puerto Rico graduate student researching renewable energy, said the whole experience has been like watching a car wreck in slow motion. Like so many others, Flores said it felt impossible to take on these systemic issues when you have lost your home, when you are living out of your car, when you are going to friends’ houses to shower. “You’re trying not to fall apart … and people are immobilized because they’re scared, because they’re lost, because they’re just trying to survive.”

Many Puerto Ricans point out that the promises of lower prices and greater efficiency that would flow from privatizing basic services are contradicted by their own experiences. Private telephone companies have provided poor service in many parts of the archipelago, and a water and sewage system sale in the ’90s proved so economically and environmentally disastrous, it had to be reversed less than a decade later. Many fear this experience will be repeated — that if PREPA is privatized, the Puerto Rican government will lose an important source of revenue, while getting stiffed with the utility’s multibillion-dollar debt. They also fear that electricity rates will stay high, and that poor and remote regions where people are less able to pay could well lose access to the grid altogether.

Even so, the governor’s pitch has proved persuasive for some because privatization is not presented as one possible solution to a dire humanitarian crisis, but as the only one. As Casa Pueblo and Coquí Solar are attempting to show, this is far from the truth. There are other models — implemented successfully in countries like Denmark and Germany — that would greatly improve Puerto Rico’s broken and dirty state-run utility, while keeping power and wealth in the hands of Puerto Ricans. But advancing such democratic models requires the political participation of a population that has a lot of other things on its plate right now.

There is reason to hope, however, that a post-Maria shock-resistance may be starting to take root. Mercedes Martínez, the indomitable head of the Federation of Puerto Rican Teachers, has spent the months since the storm crisscrossing the island, warning parents and educators that the plan to radically downsize and privatize the school system relies upon their fatigue and trauma.

Mercedes Martínez.

Still: Cristian Carretero

Closed school in Humacao.

Still: Cristian Carretero

While visiting a still-closed school in Humacao, in the eastern region, she told a local teacher that the government “knows we’re made of flesh and bones — they know that human beings get worn out and discouraged.” But, she insisted, if people understand that it is a strategy, they can defeat it.

“Our job is to motivate people to know that it’s possible to resist things as long as we believe in ourselves.” This was more than a pep talk: In the few months after Maria, the secretary of education attempted to keep dozens of schools from reopening, claiming they were unsafe. The teachers feared it was a prelude to closing the schools for good.

Again and again, parents and teachers — who had, in many cases, repaired the buildings themselves — successfully fought to protect their local schools. “They occupied the schools, reopened them without permission; parents blocked the streets,” Martínez recalled. As a result, more than 25 schools were reopened that the government had tried to close for good after the storm.

That’s why Martínez is convinced that no matter what is written in the governor’s fiscal plan and no matter what privatization laws have been introduced, it is still possible for Puerto Ricans to successful resist the shock doctrine. Especially if the pre-storm coalitions rebuild and expand.

On March 19, teachers across Puerto Rico held a one-day walkout to protest the plans to shrink and privatize the island’s school system, the first major political demonstration since Maria. And talk of a full-blown strike is growing louder.

I asked Martínez if her members feared taking action that would disrupt the lives of families that have already been through so much. She was unequivocal. “Absolutely not. Our feeling is, how can the government add more pain to children’s lives by shutting down their schools, taking away their teachers, and setting up a privatized system that favors those who already have the most?”

Barrio Mariana, Humacao
Entrevista con líderes del Proyecto Ayuda Mutua, un grupo comunitario que se estableció en el barrio Mariana de Humacao. El grupo comenzó a raíz del paso del huracán María en la zona. Consiguieron un área para establecerse y donativos para un sistema de wifi.Además, mantienen un comedor comunal y fomentan programas de ayuda mutua. En la foto, vistas desde la loma hacia el barrio Mariana
Views of the Mariana neighborhood from a hilltop on Feb. 22, 2018.

The Islands of Sovereignty Converge

On my last day in Puerto Rico, we climbed another mountain and stepped through yet another portal. I was traveling with Sofía Gallisá Muriente, a Puerto Rican artist I had first met in the Rockaways in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, where she had been part of the grassroots relief effort known as Occupy Sandy.

We’d been scaling treacherously narrow roads on the east coast of the island, taking various wrong turns because many signs were still down, looking for the community center in the village of Mariana. Finally, we asked a man on the side of the road for directions. “You mean the breadfruit festival? It’s right up there.”

We found ourselves in a clearing with hundreds of people from across the archipelago, gathered on folding chairs under a large, white tent. From up here, looking down the valley to the sea, we could see precisely where Maria first made landfall.

As the roadside confusion suggested, this was indeed the site of an annual festival that celebrates a large, starchy, and nutritious fruit, one that attracts hundreds of people for food and music to this village in the municipality of Humacao every year. But after the area was left without food aid for 10 days, only to get boxes filled with Skittles, the festival’s kitchen facilities were harnessed for a different use: Women who usually do the cooking for the festival came together, pooled whatever food they could find, and made hot, healthy meals for about 400 people a day. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. They are doing it still.

Renamed the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana (the Mutual Aid Project of Mariana), the center has become a symbol of the miracles Puerto Ricans have been quietly pulling off while their governments fail them. In addition to the communal kitchen, which brought the neighborhood together around meals, the project started organizing brigades to go out and clear debris. Next, they set up programing for kids, since the schools were still closed.

Christine Nieves.

Still: Cristian Carretero

Christine Nieves, a dynamic thinker who left a post at Florida State University’s business school to move back to the island a year before the storm, is one of the forces behind this project. She and her partner, musician Luis Rodríguez Sánchez, used their contacts off-island to turn the community center into a functioning hub, with solar panels and backup batteries, a Wi-Fi network, water filters, and rainwater cisterns.

Since Mariana still doesn’t have power or water, the mutual aid center at the top of the mountain has become yet another energy oasis, the only place to plug in electronics and medical equipment. The next stage for the project, Nieves told me, is to extend solar power to other buildings in the community in a micro-grid.

The biggest challenge, she said, has been helping people to see that they don’t need to wait for others to solve problems — everyone has something they can contribute now. They might not have food or water, she went on, but people know how to do things. “You know electricity? Actually, we have a problem that you can help us with. You know plumbing?” That’s a skill they can put to use, too.

This process of discovering the latent potential in the community has been like “opening your eyes and all of a sudden seeing ‘Oh wait, we’re humans and there’s other ways of relating to each other [now that] the system has stopped,’” Nieves said.

I came here to see this remarkable project, but also because on this day, Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana was hosting several hundred organizers and intellectuals from across Puerto Rico, as well as a couple dozen visitors from the United States and Central America. Convened by PAReS, a collective of University of Puerto Rico faculty members involved in the anti-austerity struggle, the meeting had been billed as a gathering of organizations and movements “against disaster capitalism and for other worlds.”

It was the first time movements had gathered across such a broad spectrum since Maria changed everything. And many observed that it was the first chance they had had in months to step back, take stock, and strategize. “We organized the gathering in this post-Maria moment to be able to look at each other, talk, and see if we could come together at this crossroads to create a different future,” Mariolga Reyes-Cruz, a PAReS collective member and a contingent faculty at the Río Piedras campus, told me.

People gathered here from all the parallel worlds I visited during my time in Puerto Rico, all the islands hidden away in these islands. I saw farmers from Organización Boricuá, determined to show that given the right supports, they can feed their own people without relying on imports; solar warriors from Casa Pueblo and Coquí Solar, who have seized the moment to push a rapid transition to locally controlled renewables; teachers who have organized their communities to keep their schools open. And tired and muddy members of the solidarity brigades that had come to help rebuild.

Women preparing food in the kitchen of Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana.

Still: Cristian Carretero

Key leaders from last year’s surge of anti-austerity activism were here too — organizers from the student strike, the lawyers and economists calling for an audit of Puerto Rico’s debt, trade union leaders and academics who had been researching alternatives for Puerto Rico’s economy for a long time.

After a brief welcome, the organizers assigned discussion themes before breaking everyone up into smaller groups spread out in clusters on the mountaintop. Snippets of conversations floated up from these working groups: “We need reinvention not reconstruction” … “We can’t just defend the public as if it’s inherently good” … “We need a moratorium on any attempt to fast-track private schools” … “A just recovery means not just responding to the disaster, but to the underlying causes of the disaster.”

Surveying the scene, Christine Nieves told me that that it felt like “a dream come true that we didn’t know we had.” She added, “I think we’re going to look back to this moment” — when such a wide diversity of groups, most of whom did not know each other before the storm, all came together “in this beautiful, open space, wondering how do we create an alternative and building toward an alternative” — and realize that this was the moment when things shifted from despair to possibility.

As the groups reconvened to share their findings, it was possible to detect an emerging synthesis — or at least, a better understanding of how the various fronts on which Puerto Ricans are fighting fit into a larger whole. The debt must be audited because by calling its legality into question, the case to abolish the anti-democratic fiscal control board, and all of its endless demands for “structural reforms,” grows stronger. And that’s crucial because Puerto Ricans can’t exercise their sovereignty if they are subject to the whims of a body they had no hand in electing.

For generations, the struggle for national sovereignty has defined politics in Puerto Rico: Who favors independence from Washington? Who wants to become the 51st state, with full democratic rights? Who defends the status quo? So it seems significant that as discussions unfolded in Mariana, a broader definition of freedom emerged. I heard talk of “multiple sovereignties” — food sovereignty, liberated from dependence on imports and agribusiness giants; energy sovereignty, liberated from fossil fuels and controlled by communities. And perhaps housing, water, and education sovereignty as well.

What also seemed to be growing was an understanding that this decentralized model is even more important in the context of climate change, where islands like this one will be buffeted by many more extreme events capable of severing centralized systems of all kinds, from communication networks to electricity grids to agricultural supply chains.

The day ended with shared food cooked in the community kitchen: rice and beans, mashed taro, stewed cod, home-brewed rum flavored with every fruit in the island’s rainbow. Next came live trovador music and dancing until long after dark. As volunteers helped clean up the kitchen, an elderly neighbor arrived to quietly plug in his oxygen machine and have a chat with friends.

Watching this mass meeting segue seamlessly into a party, I was reminded of Yarimar Bonilla’s observation that amid Puerto Rico’s epidemic of despair, “the people who seem to be doing the best are those who are helping others, those who are involved in community efforts.” That was certainly true here. And it was true, too, of the young people I met in Orocovis, bursting with pride about how they were able to bring food home to their families.

It makes sense that helping would have this healing effect. To live through a profound trauma like Maria is to know the most extreme form of helplessness. For what felt like an eternity, families were unable to reach one another to find out if their loved ones were alive or dead; parents were unable to protect their children from harm. It stands to reason that the best cure for helplessness is … helping, being a participant, rather than a spectator, in the recovery of your home, community, and land.

This is why the shock doctrine, as a political strategy, is more than just cynical and opportunist — “it’s cruel,” as Mónica Flores said to me through tears. By forcing people to watch as their shared resources are sold out from under them, unable to stop it because they are too busy trying to survive, the disaster capitalists who have descended on Puerto Rico are reinforcing the most traumatizing part of the disaster they are there to exploit: the sense of helplessness.

San Juan , Enero 22 , 2018 - NEGOCIOS - FOTOS para ilustrar una historia sobre el inversionista Keith St. Clair , dueno del ESJ Tower , acerca de sus nuevos proyectos , con una inversion que sobre pasa los 200 millones . EN LA FOTO una vista de la remodelacion de los espacios del ESJ Tower en Isla Verde .FOTO POR: tonito.zayas@gfrmedia.comRamon " Tonito " Zayas / GFR Media
Investor Keith St. Clair on Jan. 22, 2018.

Photo: Ramon Tonito Zayas/GFR Media/AP

Race Against Time

Earlier in the day in Mariana, one speaker had described the challenge they faced as a kind of race between “the speed of movements and the speed of capital.”

Capital is fast. Unencumbered by democratic norms, the governor and the fiscal control board can whip up their plan to radically downsize and auction off the territory in a matter of weeks — even faster, in fact, because their plans were fully developed during the debt crisis. All they had to do was dust them off and repackage them as hurricane relief, then release their fiats. Hedge fund managers and crypto-traders can similarly decide to relocate and build their “Puertopia” on a whim, with no one to consult but their accountants and lawyers.

Which is why the “Paradise Performs” version of Puerto Rico is moving along at such a rapid clip. For instance, I interviewed Keith St. Clair, a fast-talking Brit who moved to the island to take advantage of the tax breaks and began investing in hotels. He told me that he had met with the governor shortly after Maria. “And I said, ‘I’m gonna double down, I’m gonna triple down, I’m gonna quadruple down, because I believe in Puerto Rico.’” Looking out at the virtually empty Isla Verde Beach in front of one of his San Juan hotels (“a 90 percent tax-exempt property”), he predicted, “This could be Miami, South Beach. … That’s what we are trying to create.”

The grassroots groups here in Mariana are entirely unconvinced that becoming a fly-in bedroom community for tax-dodging plutocrats represents any kind of serious economic development strategy. And they fear that if this post-disaster gold rush is allowed to continue unchecked, it will foreclose the very different versions of paradise they are daring to imagine for their island.

Land is scarce in Puerto Rico, especially prime farmland. If it all gets snapped up for more office towers, malls, hotels, golf courses, and mansions, there will only be scraps left for sustainable farms and renewable energy projects. And if infrastructure spending is poured into toll-road highways, high-priced ferries, and airports, there similarly won’t be anything left for public transit and a local food system. Moreover, if energy privatization goes ahead, it could become prohibitively costly for local communities to pursue the solar and wind micro-grid model. After all, private utility companies from Nevada to Florida have successfully pressured their state governments to put up roadblocks to renewables, since a market in which your customers are also your competitors (able to generate their own power and sell it back to the grid) is distinctly less profitable. Rosselló’s fiscal plan already floats the idea of a new tax that would penalize communities that set up their own renewable micro-grids.

All of these are fateful choices. Manuel Laboy, Puerto Rico’s secretary of economic development, said that the decisions made in this window “are going to basically set the principles and the conditions for the next 50 years.”

The trouble is that movements, unlike capital, tend to move slowly. This is particularly true of movements that exist to deepen democracy and allow ordinary people to define their goals and grab the reins of history.

It’s a very good thing, then, that Puerto Ricans are not beginning to build this movement for self-determination from scratch. Indeed, they have been preparing for this moment for generations, from the height of the independence struggle to the successful battle to kick the U.S. Navy out of Vieques, to the anti-austerity and anti-debt coalition that peaked in the months before Maria.

And Puerto Ricans have also been building their future world in miniature, on those islands of sovereignty hidden throughout the territory. Now, in Mariana, those islands have found each other, forming their own parallel political archipelago.

Mariana summit.

Still: Cristian Carretero

Elizabeth Yeampierre.

Still: Cristian Carretero

Elizabeth Yeampierre, who attended the Mariana summit, believes that despite all the devastation being visited on Puerto Rico, her people have the fortitude for the battles ahead. “I see a level of resistance and support that I didn’t imagine was going to be possible,” she said. “And it reminds me that these are the descendants of colonization and slavery, and they are strong.”

In the weeks after I left the island, the 60 groups represented in Mariana solidified into a political bloc that they named JunteGente (the People Together) and have had meetings all over the archipelago. Inspired by different models around the world, they have begun drafting a people’s platform, one that will unite their various causes into a common vision for a radically transformed Puerto Rico. It is grounded in an unabashed insistence that despite centuries of attacks on their sovereignty, the Puerto Rican people are the only ones who have the right to dream up their collective future.

And so, six months after Maria revealed so much that didn’t work and a few important things that did, Puerto Rico finds itself locked in a battle of utopias. The Puertopians dream of a radical withdrawal from society into their privatized enclaves. The groups that gathered in Mariana dream of a society with far deeper commitments and engagement — with each other, within communities, and with the natural systems whose health is a prerequisite for any kind of safe future. In a very real sense, it’s a battle between sovereignty for the many versus secession for the few.

For now, these diametrically opposed versions of utopia are advancing in their own parallel worlds, at their own speeds — one on the back of shocks, the other in spite of them. But both are gaining power fast, and in the high-stakes months and years to come, collision is inevitable.

Top photo: Electrical workers next to La Plata River in Comerío, Puerto Rico, on March 1, 2017. ... -recovery/
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