Nov 5, 2017
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20th of this year. Now, six weeks later, almost 80 percent of the island is still without electricity and as a result, large areas are without running water.
Reports of illness and death caused by contaminated water are on the rise. Each day the numbers mount, with over 74 suspected cases of illness and at least two deaths attributed to leptospirosis, a bacterial disease. With no access to clean running water, residents of the island are turning to natural streams for drinking, bathing and cooking water. This water is often contaminated from dead animals and debris. The bacteria causes acute illness with a high percentage of fatalities.
And so, obviously, it is a life and death matter to get clean water to the population as quickly as possible.
Most experts agree that it is critical at this point to restore the current power grid on the island. The lack of electricity is interfering with the relief effort, and preventing the infrastructure from being restored. Internet and cell phone communication cannot be restored without electricity.
Equipment to treat sewage and for drinking water doesn’t work without power. Power for lights, power for cooling, for cooking, for refrigeration of food – all essential to human life.
Restoring power will require heroic efforts in the best of circumstances. The island’s grid is old, and hasn’t been upgraded in years. Power outages were a daily occurrence before the storm.
Now, power lines that must traverse the center of the island, which was the area hardest hit, have to be replaced. Debris has to be cleared and three of the four lines delivering power across the island are out of commission.
So what are the authorities doing?
Puerto Rico is U.S. territory, and its population are U.S. citizens. There are just over three million people in Puerto Rico, with another five million living on the mainland U.S.
While the focus has been on President Trump’s shortcomings in relief delivery and his outrageous comments about the population being “unable to fix their own problems,” the bigger villains remain behind the scenes.
Wall Street, the bankers and hedge fund billionaires, who have forced Puerto Rico into punishing debt and bankruptcy, already are busy scheming to impose more debt on the island before the lights are even turned on.
Before the storm, residents were already paying double the rates that residents in the mainland U.S. pay. Now, they will pay the cost of repairs and replacement of the electrical grid while Wall Street profits from it in the future.
A federally appointed control board has just announced that it will put the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), the only power source on the island, under the direction of an emergency manager. He will be assigned with turning the electric authority over to private companies.
Having already impoverished the people of Puerto Rico – by years of exploitation; by massive tax breaks to corporations; by allowing huge speculation by hedge funds on Puerto Rican bonds, which led to 72 billion dollars of debt – Wall Street is looking to do what? Gouge the population even further. Use a continuing disaster to make even more profits in the future, through debt and privatization. And while they continue to make plans, Puerto Ricans continue to suffer and die.
And while people in Puerto Rico are suffering the worst, those in parts of Texas and Florida continue to be living in an impossible situation. Because of hurricanes yes, but above all, because infrastructure, emergency services, social services and public services have been left to decay.
What clearer example could there be of the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, a system that profits on the misery of the population and should be thrown out with the garbage!