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Puerto Rico is Still a Disaster Area

A Puerto Rico National Guard Soldier assists a couple in San Juan.
Photo Credit: The National Guard / Flickr Creative Commons

Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico in September-October 2017. The impact of these storms was great, but larger still are the convulsions on the island prolonged after the storms had upheld over. Puerto Rico’s infrastructure stays in tatters, with the energy grid still mostly dysfunctional and simple institutions such as schools and hospitals on life support. Not surprisingly, vast numbers of Puerto Ricans—who are adults of the United States—have changed to the mainland. The Centre for Puerto Rican Studies (Hunter College, New York) estimates that of a race of 3.5 million, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans will make this journey. Already, 130,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived in Florida given October.

Towns and States in the mainland U.S. that are already home to Puerto Ricans have welcomed thousands some-more given the storms of this year. In Holyoke, Massachusetts, for instance, hundreds of Puerto Ricans have already arrived to join their families. There is little denote that these people will return to the island. Betty Medina Lichtenstein of Enlace de Familias says that it is the aged who are likely to return, while the younger families seem to wish to stay on.

The attainment of thousands of families into a State such as Massachusetts has meant that a thousand additional students have already been enrolled in Massachusetts’ open schools. School officials contend that they are sensitive to the predicament of these refugees who have fled a ravaged island with its educational infrastructure in a shambles.


Schools nonetheless to reopen

Of Puerto Rico’s 1,113 schools, only 119 have reopened. The teachers’ union, Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, has suggested that the supervision has slowed down rebuilding of schools in sequence to pull for their privatisation. They contend that the plans for the rebuilding of Puerto Rico are identical to what was finished in New Orleans after the extinction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when schools fired teachers and combined a network of private licence schools. The Federación worries that much the same will occur in Puerto Rico. The disaster to free schools is one sign of such a plan.

In early November, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary Julia Keleher in San Juan. Members of the Federación marched outward the Department of Education to direct a chair at the table. It was not offering to them. Betsy DeVos and Julia Keleher did not speak to the teachers. Julia Keleher had already been pulling a devise to privatise the island’s schools, and the storms gave her and Betsy DeVos the event to do so with minimal resistance. The storm, pronounced Julia Keleher, gave the island a “real event to press the reset button”. Privatisation, she suggested to a internal paper, “makes sense”. About the teachers’ unions, she pronounced that “they can go out and criticism in the streets, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can’t go back to life being the same as it was before the hurricane”.

Puerto Rico and Cuba

Two U.S. Congressmen, Kevin McCarthy and Steny Hoyer, visited Puerto Rico in Nov to consider the situation. They found Puerto Rico “in a state of demoniac recovery”, but with people cut off by broken roads and depressed electric lines, with little food and little medicine and “hope for a quick liberation even scarcer”. They affianced to fight for some-more resources for the island to safeguard not only that it can be rebuilt but also that it can withstand the next storm.

Meanwhile, a United Nations group went to Cuba at around the same time to consider the repairs and liberation there. It found that the extinction was allied to that gifted by Puerto Rico, but that the liberation had been swift. Voluntary teams rushed in to reconstruct the collapsed infrastructure and the state supposing insurance to agriculturalists and homeowners who had suffered damage. A decade ago, Cuba had rebuilt its energy complement into a series of 1,800 decentralised diesel and fuel-oil fired electric plants. The microgrid was fast easy to full energy a week after the hurricane. It is a complement that has been against by private corner energy companies.

Power grid collapse

In the second week of November, when the energy grid should have been functional, it went down completely. The trance was denote adequate that matters could get worse for the residents. Reports from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) suggested that 40 per cent of the grid had been repaired. But after this blackout, the grid collapsed to 18 per cent, after recuperating to 47 per cent in a few days. For scarcely 7 weeks, the residents of Puerto Rico have been vital on generators and solar panels. This includes the few schools that are open. The Puerto Rican supervision had selected a tiny organisation from Montana that had close connectors to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. This swain agreement warranted Whitefish, the Montana firm, $300 million to scold the collapsed grid. It incited out that Whitefish had no knowledge in such matters. It charged Puerto Rico $319 per hour for the work of a lineman but paid the workers only $63 per hour, the rest going to the coffers of Whitefish. When news pennyless of such malfeasance, the supervision had to mangle its agreement with Whitefish.

Death toll

Meanwhile, debate continues over the death fee from the storm. The supervision says that the sum death fee is 55. However, Puerto Rican officials now contend that the series is likely to be 472. But even this is a deflated figure, given there is now justification that the supervision speedy the cremation of bodies of people who died during the storm. The reason given was that but power, the bodies could not be refrigerated. But they were not all tallied towards the charge and post-storm death. High temperatures, miss of purify water and swelling germ have taken hundreds of lives that have not been purebred as partial of the death fee for the charge and its aftermath. Funeral home managers indicate out that the numbers given by the supervision are not correct. Given their own challenges, hospitals have few resources to yield accurate counts.

Doctors are worried about the quite exposed race of the aged and the newborn. With low water around the island and with widespread energy failure, there are worries about the Zika pathogen widespread by mosquitoes as good as leptospirosis that would have a dangerous impact on profound women and baby children. Generators from the U.S. supervision and solar arrays from Tesla have been means to help the hospitals in certain areas, but health clinics and hospitals in the farming interior sojourn in distress.

Decline in population

Puerto Rico’s race has been disappearing over the past two decades. From 2005 to 2015, a towering 10 per cent of the population—446,000 people—moved to the U.S. mainland. There is an expectancy that an equal series will leave the island over the next few months. The same thing happened to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The city has given been remoulded as a stadium for tourists and the rich. The U.S. government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has combined a programme to ride Puerto Ricans to the mainland. The island, cynics say, is being prepared to be converted into a traveller resort, with “excess” inhabitants relocated.


Vijay Prashad is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books (leftword.com) and the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is the author of 20 books, the many new being The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution(University of California Press, 2016). His columns seem at AlterNet every Wednesday.

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