It has been 1,000 days since Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and thousands of lives were lost. It has been 1,000 days and many of the living are still waiting for aid from the federal government to whom they pay taxes. During those 1,000 days, Puerto Rico received another gut punch: massive earthquakes that rocked the southern portion of the island, and the tremors continue. Add in the triple whammy of COVID-19, pressuring an underfunded health care system that was already inadequate to meet people”;s needs.
The liar-in-chief in the White House and his stonewalling clansmen in the Senate, headed by Mitch McConnell, don”;t give a damn about the 3.2 million U.S citizens living in Puerto Rico. Trump has told lie after lie about disaster funds sent to the island, and though Congress has approved funds–;the bulk is still sitting in Washington, D.C.
Earlier this month, Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, a founding member of the National Puerto Rican Agenda, wrote this op-ed for The Hill, detailing the funding chicanery.
In its veto threat, the Trump administration argued that Puerto Rico “;is already projected to receive $90 billion in disaster funds.”; Not true. Federal agencies have only allocated $45 billion in disaster funds for Hurricane Maria, even though the damage it caused is estimated at close to $100 billion.
Worse, of the $45 billion allocated for Hurricane Maria, less than half –; $16 billion –; has been disbursed. Most of this money has been spent by FEMA to provide for the immediate needs of the disaster victims (e.g. water, food, shelter, medical care, etc.), support local government emergency response and mitigate hazards in future disasters.
The other large piece of the $45 billion pot is $20 billion in HUD”;s Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for long-term recovery and reconstruction, including housing, infrastructure and economic revitalization. Of the $20 billion allocated, only $3 billion has been released by the Federal government, in part because the government of Puerto Rico is required to comply with multiple conditions to allay Trump”;s concerns over corruption.
These conditions are being imposed even though a HUD financial monitor has already been assigned to oversee the CDBG funds. To add insult to injury, the only government officials associated with the hurricane recovery who have been arrested to date worked for FEMA.
The ruling elected officials on the island are so busy kissing Trump”;s behind that they are damn near useless. This is Puerto Rico”;s non-voting representative in Congress, Jenniffer González Colón, a Republican Trump supporter.
Happy birthday to our admirable @VP! Thank you, @Mike_Pence for your leadership and commitment to our country, and for being a great friend to me and the people of Ã°Â�Â�ÂµÃ°Â�Â�Â·. May God bless you and grant you many more years to come! pic.twitter.com/RdiCRGSQZ3
Ã¢Â�Â� Jenniffer GonzÃ�Â¡lez (@Jenniffer2012) June 7, 2020
She just posted a series of tweets showing her touring the severely damaged Costa Sur Power Plant with a White House and FEMA delegation, painting a rosy, cozy, energy picture that completely ignores the reality of what is happening on the ground, and with stalled funding from D.C.
Ã¢Â�Â� Jenniffer GonzÃ�Â¡lez (@RepJenniffer) June 17, 2020
After the January earthquakes, the island’s electrical system suffered damages that compromised operations at the Costa Sur power plant. The prompt recovery of CostaSurÃ¢Â�Â�s capacity is critical for the #PuertoRico grid to have adequate base load and reserves. pic.twitter.com/sxXbci5FQx
Ã¢Â�Â� Jenniffer GonzÃ�Â¡lez (@RepJenniffer) June 16, 2020
Right-wing Trump supporting appointed Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced got into the act, posing for a great photo op. She”;s running for election in November.
Una extraordinaria reuniÃ�Â³n donde puntualizamos los planes en conjunto de @DeptVivienda, @NMEADpr, @Cor3pr, @AEEONLINE y @femaregion2. Agradezco al @RADMBrown45, @Jenniffer2012 y todo el equipo de @fema por su compromiso. pic.twitter.com/UhvOiKZL7t
Ã¢Â�Â� Wanda VÃ�Â¡zquez Garced (@wandavazquezg) June 15, 2020
In contrast to this happy horseshit, suggest you read this scathing critique of what is really going on with PR. It speaks some very important truths.
Ã¢Â�Â� Denise Oliver-Velez (@Deoliver47) June 16, 2020
The author, Pedro Cabán, was the vice provost for Diversity and Educational Equity at the State University of New York, and is professor of Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. Latino Studies at the University at Albany.
In “;Solidarity and the Absent State in Puerto Rico,”; Cabán details what he sees as wrong from our end–;from both Republicans and Democrats, and with corrupt elected officials on the island.
Trump”;s fixation on Puerto Rico is inseparable from racially tinged broadsides and allusions to the archipelago as a foreign entity. But his tweets not only denounced racialized colonial subjects who failed to show him the proper veneration; they also pointed to a deepening divide between a skeptical populace and a dysfunctional colonial government. In the process, he established the context for the federal government to reassert its powers over the colony and its people.
More ominously, for almost two and a half years the Trump administration held on to $18 billion Congress had appropriated in 2017 for relief and reconstruction after Hurricane María, all while making cuts to the island”;s Medicaid budget. In January Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that Trump stop the “;unlawful withholding of funds.”; Congressperson Nydia Velazquez proposed that “;the real motivation for withholding these dollars is Donald Trump”;s disdain for the people of Puerto Rico and heartless disregard for their suffering.”; Finally, on January 15, Trump relented, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) imposed stringent conditions. It decreed that the Puerto Rican government needed to obtain approval from the despised Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, which was established by Congress in 2016, before HUD would release the money. The Trump administration imposed another layer of bureaucratic oversight when it created the office of Special Representative for Puerto Rico”;s Disaster Recovery, led by Rear Admiral Peter Brown, who previously served as the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor. He supported the heavy-handed oversight, since “;Fiscal controls to prevent corruption are an element of the interest and compassion of this administration to make sure that the money turns into action for the people of Puerto Rico.”;
Trump has effectively ended decades of bipartisan U.S. colonial policy in Puerto Rico. The island is now a political football used by Republicans and Democrats to gain domestic political advantage. The Republicans treat Puerto Ricans as colonial subjects with questionable claims to U.S. citizenship, dependent on the United States. Democrats are quick to call Puerto Ricans first-class Americans who have sacrificed for the nation, but they choose to overlook the systemic corruption in Puerto Rico that has driven so many thousands to the streets.
Cabán raised the issue of the Costa Sur Power Plant, shown in the González tweets, which is the largest on the island and was severely damaged during the earthquake.
You may remember this January report:
Curious, I wanted to see if there had been any updated mainstream reportage here, other than the tweets from González Colón. Nada. Costa Sur is still down, and due to COVID-19, the repairs which were already slow, will be even slower. There were quite a few stories in the island”;s major papers, none in English. The New Republic, however had this piece:
Is Puerto Rico About to Give Another Terrible Energy Contract to an American Company? Is Puerto Rico About to Give Another Terrible Energy Contract to an American Company? https://t.co/iCVRsabcaf
Ã¢Â�Â� Denise Oliver-Velez (@Deoliver47) June 5, 2020
It wouldn”;t be a great deal for building a more resilient Puerto Rican energy grid. “;They just want to flood Puerto Rico and the Caribbean with fracked gas,”; said Ruth Santiago, an attorney with the Environmental Dialogue Committee supporting Queremos Sol (“;We Want Sun”;), a platform for clean energy development and climate justice backed by a number of environmental and community groups and unions across the island. The coalition has opposed the most recent contractor bidding process, as well as ongoing fossil fuel development on the island.
“;These FEMA funds will likely go for that in one way or another, because one of the main aspects of the projects that they”;re doing is creating new natural gas-;burning power plants. The usual list of bad actors,”; Santiago says of NFE and the other power companies bidding on the contract, “;stand to make a huge profit from something that is not really necessary.”;
Queremos Sol argues that these new investments in fossil fuel generation run counter to energy experts”; recommendation that Puerto Rico invest in rooftop and community solar and distributed microgrids, technologies that have fared better in both earthquakes and hurricanes than centralized fossil-generated power. Most electrical power on the island currently flows from central-station fossil fuel plants in the south to consumers in the north, where 70 percent of the island”;s power is used. Installing localized renewable energy sources could reduce both the risk of power line disruption and the island”;s reliance on costly fossil fuel imports.
Cabán has nothing but admiration for how ordinary Puerto Ricans, without government help and often facing callous and venal actions from elected officials on the island, are helping each other.
He lists community groups like Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (CAM) (Mutual Aid Centers) in Caguas, PR.
Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (CAM) (Mutual Aid Centers) is one of the emerging movement of radical self-management that has gained strength after the passage of the hurricane Maria. Faced with the unprepared and collapsed government, along with the outrageous response by FEMA, CAM”;S ground organization focuses on and depends on local communities. The Centros de Apoyo Mutuo banks on the capacity and potential of communities to identify their own needs, organize their own rebuilding and construct long-term collective resilience.
There are approx. 20 CAM’s around the island that have different objectives depending on its specific community”;s needs. These objectives include: occupying and reclaiming abandoned public buildings and land to organize and develop, sheltering people and producing healthy food crops, implementing long-term climate justice solutions such solar energy and clean water, providing disaster rescues, multiplication and distribution of seeds, managing trauma and healing, as well as providing spaces to organize against oppression and colonial domination.
Grassroots International is supporting Rural CAMS working to build up their systems for a just recovery and a resilient supply of local agro ecological food and electrical power. As well as strengthening their community response and unity for both immediate needs and for future disasters. A key goal is building long-term, community-led solutions. Since climate change, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and other extreme weather conditions are very likely to only intensify, it is crucial that the communities build up their resilience to assure their access to food, water, electrical power, disaster response systems, community self-reliance and self-management especially in the event of catastrophe.
I know with all that is going on in your lives that Puerto Rico may not even be on your radar. Please take a few minutes to push the news sources you read or watch to do more coverage. Puerto Ricans have been relegated to second-class citizens, and with that status, get second-class attention from mainstream media.
We can do better.
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