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Hurricane Fiona reveals social inequalities in Puerto Rico

On September 16, two days before Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico, a video El Apagón—Aqui vive gente was released on YouTube, along with “Apagón” (Blackout), a song by Puerto Rican singer Bad Bunny about the island’s blackout crisis.

The video, with its powerful message denouncing growing inequalities on the island, exposes the electricity crisis that followed the privatization of the utility after Hurricane Maria and the restructuring of the bankrupt island. At the time, LUMA Energy promised reliable, better and cheaper service. The three assurances had long been exposed as lies when the video documentary was released.

People clear debris from a road after a landslide caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. [AP Photo/Stephanie Rojas]

“Apagón” depicts the popular anger that exists in Puerto Rico long before the hurricane that hit two days after its release. Five days after its release “Apagón” had been shared 6.4 million times.

“God has been good to us and kept us safe this time when things could have been so much worse,” Deputy Governor Anya Williams said, downplaying the disastrous flooding and mudslides and the totally inadequate response from authorities. federal and local authorities and the management of LUMA.

No disaster is a purely natural event; it also has a political and social content. The frequency and severity of hurricanes are linked to climate change and the refusal of capitalist governments to take serious measures to deal with it. Moreover, the catastrophic impact of hurricanes Katrina (New Orleans, 2005), Maria, Fiona and so many others is conditioned by the vast socio-economic inequality that defines Puerto Rico, the United States and the rest of the world.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi and electricity monopoly LUMA Energy had to go back on their promise that electricity would be restored within days. Predictably, San Juan’s affluent neighborhoods and beach condos were front and center.

This week, President Biden pledged “100% assistance” for Puerto Rico. What has in fact been offered is a pittance in “emergency aid”. Deanne Criswell, who heads Biden’s Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), told Gov. Pedro Pierluisi it was making available an insulting $700 per household aid. Criswell went out of his way to point out that was well above the $500 offered in 2017 after Hurricane Maria landed.

This is Biden’s version of President Trump’s infamous throwing of paper towel rolls at people five years ago. Despite all the reassurances in 2017, five years later less than a third of the promised reconstruction has taken place and the island’s power grid is in the hands of a private, for-profit company.

President Biden also appoints voting members to the Financial Control Board, which has rationed Puerto Rico’s economy since the 2017 bankruptcy.

A week after the hurricane, 62% of households are still without power and facing fuel shortages to power their generators, if they have any. Forty percent of households still lack running water. A thousand people are stuck in public shelters. The most affected live in popular urban and rural communes.

As with hurricanes Irma and Maria, the true human cost of this storm is obscured. Five years ago, between 3,000 and 5,000 people died from Hurricane Maria, which did not inundate the island like Fiona did. More than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of water fell in parts of the island. The report of just four casualties was met with skepticism.

As the floodwaters recede, the devastating impact of this storm becomes clearer. A preliminary estimate from the Puerto Rican Department of Agriculture is that wind and flood damage exceeds $100 million, including the loss of this year’s banana and coffee and green vegetable crops. Additionally, the storm all but wiped out the beekeeping industry. The Department of Agriculture has warned that when full data becomes available, the actual damage will surely exceed Friday’s account.

The collapse of roads and bridges due to flooding has left dozens of households isolated in six municipalities. Strapped for resources, local authorities say they have to rely on volunteers, church groups, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and individuals to deliver food and first aid while they wait for help from the government and FEMA to clear roads and repair bridges.

that of Mexico El Processo news magazine interviewed Manuel Veguilla in a mountainous area near Caguas, south of San Juan. “We are all incommunicado,” Veguilla said, adding that he was worried about the municipality’s elderly residents, including his brother, who lacked the strength to walk to the nearest community. Veguilla doubted city workers could reach the area, describing large boulders left behind by receding waters. Meanwhile, neighbors share water and food left by a group of volunteers. The community still lacks electricity and has to rely on spring water.

On September 1, two weeks before the hurricane hit, a massive protest by workers and students took place in San Juan to denounce the LUMA Energy debacle and social inequalities. In addition to demanding the cancellation of LUMA’s 15-year contract, protesters carried signs calling for the restoration of social services, including the reopening of hundreds of schools that had been closed over the past decade.

It was the latest in a series of protests, marches and rallies against the devastating social conditions on US soil. Eighteen days before Hurricane Fiona hit, one protester, José Rodriguez de Río Piedras, said he came to the rally during hurricane season because he feared a blackout could occur. . “As an individual I can survive,” Rodriguez said, “but I have to think about the over 30,000 people who are bedridden. I have to think about what happened after Hurricane Maria.