Puerto Rico: Gutted by Imperialism; Slammed by Maria; Abandoned by Trump
A Major Humanitarian Crisis in the Making

September 28, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Thursday, September 28, 2017: The U.S. Territory (that is, colony) of Puerto Rico and its 3.4 million inhabitants are still staggering from the blows of Hurricane Maria that hit eight days ago, on the heels of Irma two weeks before, and on top of a ten-year-long major recession and massive debt crisis caused by U.S. imperialist domination of the Island.

For millions the situation is quite bluntly, desperate, with potential to get much worse. There is almost no electrical power on the Island, other than what can be gotten from emergency generators, which are few and far between to begin with, and for which fuel is almost impossible to find. Even in the capital of San Juan, a children’s hospital reported that children on ventilators were in imminent danger of dying because fuel was running out, and things are worse in smaller cities and rural areas.  As of Tuesday, only 11 of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals had any power. The electrical system is not expected to be restored to the Island for months.

Likewise, communication and transportation systems are shattered, isolating different parts of the Island from each other, and the Island as a whole from the outside world. Almost all telephone landlines and cell phone towers are down, and countless roads have either been destroyed by flooding and mudslides, or are blocked by downed trees or limbs. Even more than a week after the storm hit, there are many parts of the Island that have not been reached or heard from, much less helped.

For the poor (43 percent of Puerto Ricans lives in poverty, and real unemployment may be as high as 40 percent), living in flimsy homes with few reserves, the situation was urgent as soon as the storm struck last Wednesday. A woman who was making $138 a week doing cleaning jobs before the storm, and doesn’t expect to find work now at all, told a reporter, “The poor people are hungry. Workers need direct help.” (LA Times, September 20, “After Hurricane Maria, ‘Puerto Rico isn’t going to be the same’“).

And as days went by, things got worse. On Saturday, September 23, the mayor of Vega Alta (population 39,000) on the north coast said that a major neighborhood was unreachable, and it included a nursing home where the loss of power was life-threatening. The mayor of Manati (population 44,000) broke down in tears, reporting that the town had run out of food and water. “Hysteria is starting to spread. The hospital is about to collapse. It’s at capacity. We need someone to help us immediately.” (The Guardian, September 23: “Crisis grows in Puerto Rico as towns without water, power and phone service.”) An 80-year-old dam holding back a major reservoir cracked, threatening as many as 70,000 people with flooding.

Even as of Tuesday, September 26, at least 44 percent of Puerto Ricans—1.5 million people—still had no drinkable water. The water system depends on electrical power for both purification and distribution, so no power, no water. And without electric power many are unable to purify unsafe water by boiling, raising the likely spread of diarrheal diseases that endanger children, the elderly and the frail, or even major epidemics like cholera, spreading through contaminated water. The Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitos, is also likely to surge as the insects breed in standing water. And the healthcare system, already overwhelmed, is in no position to handle anything like that.

And where is the aid? Squeezed by its lenders (both large banks, hedge funds and the U.S. government), the Puerto Rican government is effectively bankrupt, with no reserves to launch major aid and reconstruction efforts. PREPA, the government-owned power company is likewise without reserves. PREPA stopped doing even routine maintenance on its ancient system several years ago, and projects it could take them six months to get power fully restored.

The masses of people, as is almost always the case in disasters, have come together to do what they can—clearing roads by hand, carrying sick people to the hospitals, sharing what little food they have. And Puerto Ricans in the diaspora (over four million live in the U.S. alone, due to the economic devastation wreaked on their homeland by the U.S.) have spearheaded emergency fundraising efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere to raise funds, collect food, water and clothes and ship them there.

But a disaster of this scale is obviously far beyond the magnitude of what can be done by these kinds of grass roots efforts. What is needed is massive, urgent, and sustained aid from the U.S. government.

Puerto Rico (like the U.S. Virgin Islands, also decimated by recent storms) is a colony of the United States, which has ruled and enriched itself there for almost 120 years. It is largely responsible for Puerto Rico’s (and the Virgin Islands’) extreme vulnerability to these storms, and it must be held responsible to provide meaningful aid in this emergency.

For days the U.S. media inferred that this was actually happening, regularly and smugly referring to 2,000 FEMA employees who were on the ground before Maria hit (a number which has now reportedly risen to 10,000) as if things were well in hand. This is a pittance of what is needed for a mountainous country of almost 3,500 square miles which has been completely shattered.

Trump and others also bragged about a few shiploads of food and water that were delivered—about enough for one quart of water for everyone without water … that’s if it was actually distributed, which by all reliable accounts it has not been. In fact, reporters have filmed huge cargo containers, much of it containing aid sent by volunteers, sitting on the tarmac at San Juan airport for days, unopened!

And indeed, six days after the disaster, journalist Julio Ricardo Varela, writing in the Washington Post, quoted a reporter in Puerto Rico that, “I’ve yet to see a National Guard, FEMA, Red Cross or federal vehicle anywhere on this island.” Eyewitnesses in Ponce, the second largest city, likewise report that people are overwhelmingly on their own, trying to help each other with no outside aid or communications. CBS News asked FEMA for the location of water distribution efforts so they could film them—and FEMA refused to provide that!

The U.S. is the richest country in the world, with vast fleets of ships, both military and private; with thousands of helicopters; with a strategic petroleum reserve of nearly 700 million barrels; with millions of employees. As an oppressive and reactionary system, it is incapable of doing what even a much poorer socialist society could do, which would be to immediately mobilize, organize and lead the broadest numbers of people, including professionals, scientists, and ordinary working people, on the Island and the mainland, as well as all available material resources, to meet the most urgent survival needs and to initiate reconstruction, and to do so in a way that actually overcomes existing inequalities between different sections of society, and between (formerly) imperialist and (formerly) colonial countries.

But the U.S. certainly can, and has an absolute responsibility to, immediately deploy the necessary resources to getting emergency aid to everyone on the Island, and providing support for reconstruction of the basic infrastructure, including electricity, water purification and distribution, communications, transportation, food distribution, healthcare and housing, in order to prevent vastly more unnecessary suffering and death than has already happened.

Yet so far, not only has the U.S. completely failed to act on anything like the needed scale—it had refused repeated requests from Puerto Rican leaders to suspend the Jones Act, which requires that only U.S. shipping companies be used to bring cargo to and from Puerto Rico—a major impediment to aid shipments. (The Jones Act was immediately suspended for both Texas and Florida after Harvey and Irma; the refusal to do so for Puerto Rico is another cruel marker of colonial oppression and racist disregard for the lives of the people there.) With growing exposure and outrage around this, Trump finally temporarily waived the Jones Act for Puerto Rico on September 28—for ten days only!

And there are now many reports that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has taken control of the airport in San Juan and—for reasons that are yet unclear—is blocking dozens of flights of aid being sent by private citizens and groups, as well as obstructing people from leaving the Island. (MSNBC, The Lead with Jake Tapper, September 26, 2017).

Then on top of all this, after being silent about the Puerto Rican crisis for five days (while he poisoned the internet with his fascist attacks on NFL athletes), on September 25, racist-in-chief Donald Trump finally issued a Tweet that amounted to a full-out “Fuck you” to the Puerto Rican people.

Expressing zero sympathy for the suffering of the people, Trump actually blamed Puerto Rico for the disaster. Declaring that “Texas & Florida are doing great” [Note: BULLSHIT!], Trump went on to contrast them with “Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, [and so] is in deep trouble.” In another Tweet he said that, “Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities—and doing well.”

Here Trump is not only lying about the disastrous shortages of “food, water and medical,” he is also implying that the indebtedness of Puerto Rico (which again, resulted from U.S. bloodsucking to begin with) makes Puerto Rico a hopeless basket case that can’t be helped. And he goes even further by indicating that repaying “billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks” is a priority over saving the lives of the Puerto Rican people.

Hurricane Maria dealt a terrible blow to a nation of people already impoverished and made vulnerable by over a century of U.S. domination, and now the fascist Trump/Pence regime excuses its lack of help by pointing to the poverty of Puerto Rico.  What a (self-) indictment of a heartless, inhuman and destructive system that needs to be swept away as soon as possible in order for humanity to flourish!



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