The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Blackout Protests in Puerto Rico

Oct 25, 2021

Puerto Rico has suffered rolling blackouts throughout August and September. Fed up, hundreds, then thousands of protestors took to the streets in the capital of San Juan, taking the issue directly to the house of the governor.

Power was completely knocked out by Hurricane Maria in the Fall of 2017—it took more than nine months to restore power across the island, then. In its wake, management of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was handed to a private venture called Luma. The Luma takeover this June brought immediate problems—mass outages, with long wait times to fix them. Luma was supposed to make things better, but the opposite happened. “We don’t have any hurricane, and it’s worse now,” said one shopowner.

Luma forced all the existing power line workers to re-apply for their jobs. Only about 200 of the 800 workers took the offer. So there are many fewer line workers active on the island—with many of the most experienced workers leaving the job. Luma, wanting to make profits, will have every reason to skimp on staffing and service.

“The system is the worst. It’s like they hold it together with bubble gum,” says Antonia Cortes of Ponce, 58 years old and diabetic. In fact, many power lines in Puerto Rico hang on trees, rather than poles—jerry-rigging done in Maria’s wake remains. An earthquake in 2020 knocked out the largest power plant—it remains offline almost two years later.

Puerto Ricans already pay much more for power than most in the United States, with a typical bill coming in at $250 a month. Most of the power on the island is produced by burning oil, brought in by boat. That makes electricity production subject to the price gouging of the big oil companies—which saddled the power company with debt. This debt was then used as an excuse to privatize.

Puerto Rico is part of the United States, among the richest and most technologically advanced countries on earth. And yet its 2.8 million residents muddle through with electricity that goes out, or that is so inconsistent that it fries the wiring of refrigerators and other appliances. Power is a life and death question—diabetics need to refrigerate insulin; many recovering from COVID need power for oxygen treatment.

This is what capitalism can offer. In the wake of a destructive hurricane, the politicians shovel money to parasitic vultures like Luma, who talk about rebuilding but actually just line their pockets. Of course working people in Puerto Rico drove out one Governor, angry with his lack of action after Maria. They have every reason to mobilize, to make this current fight as powerful as possible.