Puerto Rico, Trapped Between Colonialism and Hurricanes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Puerto Rico, Trapped Between Colonialism and Hurricanes

Puerto Rican Graffiti. Photo by Flickr user Juan Cristóbal Zulueta. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Puerto Rican Graffiti. Photo by Flickr user Juan Cristóbal Zulueta. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

You came to Puerto Rico for the golden sand and sun—gold, you will recall, was also the basis of our first colonizers’ initial attraction. For the endless piña coladas and rum-spiked mysteries. For the colonial charm and quaint, humble lifestyle. Poverty looks so alluring in the Caribbean, what with the bright colors, crystal-clear waters and the backdrop of lush greens—besides, it’s only for a week. Your friends say it’s the hottest Spring Break spot; the newspapers say it’s a debt-ridden disaster; your parents say it’s dangerous and that the water is undrinkable; and the brochures say it’s a (tax) haven, an absolute paradise. So here you are, in your bathing suit and sarong, mojito in hand, ready to focus on your one task for the week: getting a tan.

But it turns out that the sun isn’t nailed onto the sky, and it doesn’t run on one-million 100-watt light bulbs that never fail. The tides rise and the swells are ferocious. Coconuts, palm trees and branches are potential projectiles. And a hurricane is heading straight for your worry-free fantasy.

So you try to catch a flight out of this paradise-turned-inferno, because a hurricane was not on your must-see itinerary. Instead, JetBlue takes you to a hurricane shelter in San Juan, a hot and humid coliseum, where your beach chair is replaced by a cot; your piña colada by a Walgreens water bottle; your dream, by our reality.

The power was out in my house as I imagined the scenario above, which had taken place the day before, right before Irma’s arrival. After Irma’s passing the next morning there were more than a million households without power. The Electric Power Authority (AEE) was predicting the outages would last two to four months, and almost 80,000 households had lost water service as well. Over 6,200 people were in shelters on the northeastern side of the island, and Puerto Rico’s agricultural industry had suffered $30.4 million in losses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Governor Ricardo Rosselló were still evaluating infrastructural and residential damages. And now a powerful new storm was heading our way: María.

Puerto Rico is no stranger to crisis. Before Irma’s rampage through the archipelago, Puerto Rico was already in the midst of one of the most devastating financial and socio-political crises in its recent history, with an unaudited $74 billion debt under its belt, $49 billion in pension obligations, and several decades’ worth of illegal bond issuances and trading related to its status as an overly-advertised tax haven. Neoliberal policies such as draconian budget cuts and extreme austerity measures had already rendered life in Puerto Rico quite precarious. And the whole thing was being overseen and managed simultaneously by Governor Rosselló, an unelected and antidemocratic Fiscal Control Board, and judge Laura Taylor Swain, all of whom were going back and forth on the country’s fiscal management and debt restructuring processes.

But even as Hurricane Irma headed straight towards it, for many outside of the country, Puerto Rico is a mere blip on CNN’s news ticker, an enchanting US-owned island on a tourist brochure, that exotic place where the music video for “Despacito” was filmed (and made all the better by Justin Bieber), a pebble sinking between an ocean and a sea that have seen too much.

But Irma’s passing and aftermath have once again brought to light Puerto Rico’s primordial conundrum: colonialism.

Puerto Rico has been a US colony (the US prefers the euphemistic designations of “commonwealth”, “unincorporated territory” and “free associated state”) for 199 years, a relationship that has led to the country’s being trapped in a steep downward spiral. The current fiscal and socio-political crisis is only one of the side effects of this relationship.

Hurricane Irma’s passing underscored the damage done by the neoliberal austerity measures imposed by the Fiscal Control Board and the crimes committed by corporations taking advantage of Puerto Rico’s colonial status. For starters, as a result of the massive closure of public schools, only 329 schools across the island were available as hurricane shelters compared with the 372 available during Hurricane Bertha’s passing in 2014.

Puerto Rico’s infrastructure also finds itself in an advanced state of deterioration, including roads, bridges, the University of Puerto Rico and public service buildings all of whom were critically endangered during Irma’s passing. A good part of the country’s “essential infrastructure” is on the coast, making it vulnerable to flooding, high tides and storm surges, especially during hurricanes of Irma’s or Maria’s intensity.

It is notable that much of that infrastructure was built to benefit the tourist industry and mercantile trade with the US, and the US alone. Money invested in infrastructure tends to go towards revitalizing these “essentials”, not to repairing the potholed roads in our communities, remediating asbestos-filled buildings or replacing crumbling light poles at the mercy of hurricane winds. All of this is further proof of our colonial market dependency and the essentially colonial nature of the tourist industry, which caters particularly to PR’s relationship with the US.

Even the disaster declaration signed by the US President authorizing FEMA assistance for Puerto Rico second-rate, allowing only for search and rescue, public health and safety, and debris removal. It didn’t include rebuilding or even restoration of power, and with the current fiscal crisis and the Fiscal Control Board’s silence since Irma’s passing, rebuilding and restructuring will be a tough feat for Puerto Rico given the lack of available resources.

Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico’s Carla Minet said:

The budget cuts, in an already weak economy, will probably make the storm’s social impact worse.

Minet added that a pre-Irma forecast by the Center for a New Economy’s policy director, Sergio M. Marxuach, predicts that the recently approved the Fiscal Plan would result in another lost decade, continued population loss due to migration and lower birth rates, lower employment, less access to public education, pension cuts, worsening health outcomes, higher mortality and lower life expectancy, and, ultimately, higher rates of poverty and inequality. “Now add in the cataclysm of a monster hurricane that the plan never accounted for,” said Minet.

The Fiscal Control Board is likely to use Irma as an excuse to aggressively push the many policies it has in line, such as the privatization of PR’s Electric Power Authority (AEE). Nor would it be surprising if Gov. Rosselló and the Fiscal Control Board used the occasion to dismantle and privatize the University of Puerto Rico, the only public higher education institution in the country, as well as a number of other public institutions that are defenseless against the colonial rule of the Fiscal Control Board and its blatant neoliberal attacks.

Now, barely two weeks after Irma’s passing, we’ve just been hit by another category 5 hurricane, María. This just as some household have just got back their electricity supply, and while others are still living in the dark; while the ground is still strewn with fallen trees and light posts waiting to take on second lives as projectiles; while many, both locals and refugees from neighboring Caribbean islands, are still recovering from the loss of their homes, their entire reality; and while crisis and colonialism continue to hold hands, as they do every day.

And so, you’re sitting in your cot with your straw hat on, hundreds of locals scrambling around you with what’s left of their lives stuffed into a bag or a suitcase, wondering why JetBlue dropped you off here and high-tailed it; why the shelter is so understaffed; why the power went even though it hasn’t yet started raining and not a gusts of wind has blown; why CNN wasn’t covering Irma’s passing over Puerto Rico. “I’m here, send over an Embassy representative for me!” you yell in your mind as you stare at the screen of your almost-dead smartphone. Why, you wonder, has life had been so unfair to you, ruining your longed-for vacation in the Island of enchantment.

Then your thoughts are interrupted as you spot a window and you walk gloomily towards it and look through pigeon-christened glass, and watch as the storm clouds gather and gusts of wind batter a US flag—oh, and a Puerto Rican one too.

The tiny islands ravaged by Irma are in trouble as Hurricane Jose looms

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

The tiny islands ravaged by Irma are in trouble as Hurricane Jose looms

 September 7 at 4:25 PM
 Play Video 1:00
Island of Barbuda ‘barely habitable’ after Irma

As Hurricane Irma departed Antigua and Barbuda’s usually pristine reef-ringed beaches with the pink and white sand, islanders struggled to grasp the destruction to Barbuda’s schools, churches and the homes that many had used their life savings to build.

Irma somehow spared Antigua, which was open for business by Thursday morning. But on Barbuda, the smaller of the two islands, the ferocious and historic Category 5 hurricane had turned the typically gentle Caribbean winds into violent gusts that decimated Codrington, the sole town on the 62-square-mile island.

“Barbuda right now is literally a rubble,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

Browne said nearly all of the government and personal property on Barbuda was damaged — including the hospital and the airport, which he said had its roof completely blown away. At least one person, a young child, was killed on the island — one of numerous deaths reported across the Caribbean in Irma’s horrific aftermath.

Now, these victims face yet another threat — a second hurricane, Jose, which appears to be coming for the same islands that are trying to dig out from Irma’s devastation.

The National Hurricane Center released an ominous bulletin Thursday about the new menace looming in the Atlantic: “JOSE EXPECTED TO BECOME A MAJOR HURRICANE BY FRIDAY … WATCHES ISSUED FOR THE NORTHERN LEEWARD ISLANDS.” By early afternoon, Jose had gained Category 2 status, and Antigua and Barbuda issued a new hurricane watch.

“We are very worried about Hurricane Jose,” Browne said Thursday in a phone interview with The Washington Post, adding that Irma left about 60 percent of Barbuda’s nearly 2,000 residents homeless and destroyed or damaged 95 percent of its property.

Browne will make a determination by Thursday night about whether to order a mandatory evacuation ahead of Jose’s potential landfall, but added that those who want to leave Barbuda now are being ferried to nearby Antigua.

As Irma continues its merciless churn toward the U.S. mainland, the first islanders left in its wake are only beginning to decipher the scope of the storm’s ravages.

Deaths have been reported throughout the Leeward Islands, a vulnerable, isolated chain arcing southeast from Puerto Rico, which reported at least three deaths of its own.

Officials throughout the Caribbean expect the body count to rise.

After first making landfall in Barbuda, then strafing several other Leeward Islands, Irma raked the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, leaving nearly 1 million people without any electricity. The Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands are next in its path. Closer to Florida’s southern tip, the Bahamas remain in danger, and mass evacuations are underway.

The United Nations has said that Irma could affect as many as 37 million people. The majority are on the U.S. mainland, but the residents of tiny islands in the Eastern Caribbean were hit first — and hardest.

Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told local media that Barbuda was left “barely habitable.”

Aerial footage showed homes with walls blown out and roofs ripped away.

“It was emotionally painful,” he told The Post. “It was sad to see such beautiful country being destroyed over a couple of hours.”

It is, he told The Post, “one of the most significant disasters anywhere in the world” on a per capita basis: Browne said it would take an estimated $100 million to rebuild — a “monumental challenge” for a small island government.

Ghastly images from St. Martin and St. Barthelemy (also known as St. Barts) showed cars and trucks almost completely submerged in the storm surge, and several buildings in ruin.

Witnesses on other islands described horrific destruction and a breakdown in public order: no running water, no emergency services, no police to stop looters — and a never ending tide of newly homeless people wandering the streets amid the devastation.

“It’s like someone with a lawn mower from the sky has gone over the island,” Marilou Rohan, a Dutch vacationer in Sint Maarten, which is part of the Kingdom of Netherlands, told the Dutch NOS news service. “Houses are destroyed. Some are razed to the ground. I am lucky that I was in a sturdy house, but we had to bolster the door, the wind was so hard.”

There was little sense that authorities had the situation under control, she said.

Supermarkets were being looted and no police were visible in the streets. Occasionally, soldiers have passed by, but they were doing little to impose order, she said.

“People feel powerless. They do not know what to do. You see the fear in their eyes,” she said.

Paul de Windt, the editor of the Daily Herald of Sint Maarten, told the Paradise FM radio station in Curaçao that “Many people are wandering the streets. They no longer have homes, they don’t know what to do.”


An image released Wednesday shows severe flooding in St. Martin. (AFP)

In Anguilla, part of the British West Indies, the local government is “overwhelmed” and desperate for help, Anguilla Attorney General John McKendrick told The Post late Wednesday. Officials were barely able to communicate among one another and with emergency response teams, he said. With most phone lines down, they were dependent on instant messaging.

It appears that at least one person died in Anguilla, he said.

“Roads blocked, hospital damaged. Power down. Communications badly impaired. Help needed,” McKendrick wrote in one message. In another, he said, “More people might die without further help, especially as another hurricane threatens us so soon.”

The Dutch government said that it was sending two military ships carrying smaller emergency boats, ambulances and emergency equipment to Sint Maarten.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 100,000 rations — or about four days’ worth of food — are en route to the victims to St. Barts and St. Martin.

“It’s a tragedy, we’ll need to rebuild both islands,” Collomb told reporters Thursday, according to the Associated Press. “Most of the schools have been destroyed.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the government is allocating more than $41 million (U.S. dollars) for hurricane relief efforts.

Britain’s international development secretary, Priti Patel, announced Wednesday that the British navy, along with several Royal Marines and a contingent of military engineers, had been dispatched to the Caribbean with makeshift shelters and water purification systems. While some in England criticized the response, McKendrick told The Post that he’s worried that they, too, will quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of work that must be done to restore a sense of normalcy.

Elsewhere on Anguilla, some informal reports were less bleak. The Facebook page for Roy’s Bayside Grill, for instance, remained active as Irma passed.

Around 7:30 a.m., the page broadcast a brief live video of the storm captured from inside an unidentified building. With rain pelting the windows and wind whipping the treetops, a narrator calmly described the scene outside. “Can’t see very far at all,” he said. “We’ve got whitecaps on the pool. Water is spilling out. And it’s quite a ride. But thought I’d check in and let everyone know we’re still good.”

Phone lines to the restaurant appeared to be down by the afternoon, and messages left with the Facebook page’s administrator were not immediately returned.

About 1 p.m. Wednesday, the restaurant posted a panoramic photo on Facebook that appeared to show several buildings. The decking on one appeared to be ripped apart, and debris was scattered about the beach. One industrial building had a hole in its roof, but by and large everything was still standing.

“We made it through,” the caption read, “but there is a lot of work to be done.”


Destruction in a street in Gustavia on the French island of St. Barthelemy after Hurricane Irma. (Kevin Barrallon/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Birnbaum and Annabell Van den Berghe contributed to this story from Brussels. Cleve Wootson and J. Freedom du Lac contributed from Washington. This post has been updated.

Read more:

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Magnitude 7 offshore quake shakes Central America, no damage seen

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Magnitude 7 offshore quake shakes Central America, no damage seen

By Nelson Renteria | SAN SALVADOR

A strong earthquake off the Pacific Coast of Central America shook the region on Thursday just as a hurricane barreled into the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but there were no immediate reports of any quake damage.

Emergency services in El Salvador said on Twitter it had received no reports of damage at a national level, but urged those living along the country’s Pacific coast to withdraw up to 1 kilometer (0.62 mile) away from the shore.

The 7.0 magnitude quake, initially reported as a magnitude 7.2, was very shallow at 10.3 kilometers (6.4 miles) below the seabed, which would have amplified its effect.

Its epicenter was located some 149 km (93 miles) south-southwest of Puerto Triunfo in El Salvador, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warned that tsunami waves of up to 1 meter (3 feet) could hit the Pacific coasts of Nicaragua and El Salvador after the quake, but later said that available data showed the threat had passed.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega declared a state of emergency due to the quake and Hurricane Otto, which landed on the country’s southeastern coast earlier on Thursday, his spokeswoman said.

“We were serving lunch to the lawmakers and the earthquake started and we felt that it was very strong,” said Jacqueline Najarro, a 38-year-old food seller at the Congress in San Salvador. “We were scared.”

(Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala, Gustavo Palencia in Honduras and Ivan Castro in Nicaragua; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Sandra Maler and Simon Gardner)

Rare hurricane bearing down on Nicaragua, Costa Rica

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Rare hurricane bearing down on Nicaragua, Costa Rica

How to prepare for a hurricane 01:00

Story highlights

  • Otto is the latest-in-season Atlantic hurricane since 2005
  • Storm is expected to make landfall Thursday near the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border

Atlanta (CNN)The Atlantic hurricane season may be coming to an end, but not before one last storm brings some rare and significant impacts.

Hurricane season officially ends on November 30, and while the month of November can have named storms, the season is generally winding down. Impactful storms are infrequent occurrences, especially this late in November.

Peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic

Otto formed in the southern Caribbean early this week as the National Hurricane Center closely monitored the area. The storm has steadily strengthened and on Tuesday afternoon became the 7th hurricane of the season in the Atlantic basin. Otto is developing later in the season than any Atlantic basin hurricane since Hurricane Epsilon in 2005.
Additional strengthening is expected, and Otto could become a category 2 storm before making landfall near the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border on Thursday. While the Caribbean is one of the few areas with warm enough water to support a hurricane this late in the season, a storm making landfall this far south is extremely rare.

2016 Named storms of the Atlantic season

Otto is expected to be the southernmost hurricane landfall since Irene hit Nicaragua in 1971. If it makes landfall in Nicaragua it will be the first hurricane to do so since Ida in 2009.
And most impressively, if Otto makes landfall in Costa Rica, it will be that country’s first hurricane landfall in recorded history (since 1851).
Join the conversation

Track the latest weather story and share your comments with CNN Weather on Facebook and Twitter.

This portion of Central America is unaccustomed to hurricane landfalls. It also has steep terrain, which makes the area prone to flooding and landslides from a slow-moving storm.
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