The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Puerto Rico:
Why So Many People Died in Last Year’s Hurricane

Sep 17, 2018

September 20 marks one year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. President Trump referred back to that storm, and the death count on the island, when he was warning people in North and South Carolina to flee Hurricane Florence.

He said that the death count in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria – reported in recent studies to be over 3,000 people – was fake.

Trump defiantly excluded any number larger than the handful originally reported, including all the people who died after the storm as a result of the failure of the U.S. government, backed by Wall Street, to provide the massive federal emergency aid required to stop the death toll from rising.

Puerto Rico is an island about the size of Connecticut with a population of about 3 million people. It is a territory of the U.S., acquired through U.S. military occupation. While citizens of the U.S., Puerto Ricans have no representatives in Congress. Since the U.S. invasion, the island has been used by U.S. corporations as a source of cheap labor.

Working class people have a far lower standard of living there than in any state in the U.S. The poverty imposed on the Puerto Rican population by U.S. imperialism means that in general they have few resources to survive a disastrous storm like Maria. So the poverty imposed on much of the population by U.S. corporations and banks contributed to the high death count on the island.

Even more deadly was the poor condition of the infrastructure: bad roads, water, and sewer lines, deteriorated power grid, power plants and other infrastructure. Deeply indebted to U.S. banks and other financial companies for decades, Puerto Rican government officials tried to renegotiate a crushing debt load in 2016. But U.S. banks, hedge fund managers and speculators imposed the Financial Oversight and Management Board, whose members the banks chose, to run the island’s finances. The board simply continued to drain the economy by cutting infrastructure spending in order to guarantee loan repayment.

When FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) delivered life-saving emergency water, shelter materials, and other supplies to the island after the storm, most of it couldn’t be taken inland because heavy equipment wasn’t available to clear the roads, build emergency bridges, or get downed power lines out of the way. No telecommunications were available to coordinate things. There was even a shortage of truck drivers, because many had either been injured, couldn’t get to their jobs, or were completely pre-occupied with trying to find food, water and shelter for their families.

Thousands died and many more suffered permanent disability from the effects of a lack of electricity: no refrigeration for food and medicines, no protection from the heat, no clean water. It was almost a full year before electricity was restored to the entire island. And the electrical system is still decrepit and frequently fails.

Today, the banks and financial companies continue to use the hurricane destruction as an excuse to impose even more cuts in social services and school funding on the island, and the privatization of as many previously public functions as possible.

For Trump to claim that the Puerto Rican death count is fake is outrageous and disgusting – and a coverup of the continued devastation of the island and its people by the banks, hedge funds and other debt investors who leach off of the misery imposed on the Puerto Rican population.