[News] Puerto Ricans resist austerity measures and corporate corruption

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Wed Oct 27 16:03:23 EDT 2021


peoplesdispatch.org
<https://peoplesdispatch.org/2021/10/20/puerto-ricans-resist-austerity-measures-and-corporate-corruption/>
Puerto
Ricans resist austerity measures and corporate corruption
October 20, 2021
<https://peoplesdispatch.org/2021/10/20/puerto-ricans-resist-austerity-measures-and-corporate-corruption/>
by Monica Cruz <https://peoplesdispatch.org/author/monica-cruz/>
------------------------------
[image: image.png]

Protestors shut down Puerto Rico Highway 18 in San Juan on October 15,
2021. Photo: Twitter / @devilette

On October 15, protestors shut down Puerto Rico’s Highway 18 in the capital
San Juan chanting “Fuera Luma!”, our “Out Luma”, demanding an end to the
government contract with the private energy company, Luma Energy. Their
cries were echoed at protests on the same day in New York City, Miami and
Philadelphia. Three days later, protestors also rallied at the Capitol in
San Juan to call for the stoppage of cuts to the public university, social
services and public pensions.

Puerto Rico take to the streets in what looks like 90% of the country they
are protesting against Joe Biden and the American government taking full
control of their power grid. at CherokeeOwl
<https://twitter.com/CherokeeOwl?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw> Telegram
pic.twitter.com/5AS7zuSodh <https://t.co/5AS7zuSodh>

— 𝓛𝓪𝓭𝔂 𝓟𝓲𝓮 (@LadyPie4U) October 17, 2021
<https://twitter.com/LadyPie4U/status/1449840320317906945?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw>

A worsening economic crisis, compounded by brutal neoliberal policies
<https://peoplesdispatch.org/2020/02/04/puerto-rico-between-neoliberalism-and-natural-disasters/>,
has ushered in a new wave of resistance in Puerto Rico. Nearly half of the
population lives below the poverty line. More and more Puerto Ricans are
leaving* la patria *(the homeland), in hopes of a better life in the United
States. The archipelago has faced an onslaught of natural disasters,
including the catastrophic Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a series of
earthquakes throughout 2020.

On paper, Puerto Rico is a “commonwealth” of the United States, a term that
implies a kind of shared prosperity between the two places. In practice,
Puerto Rico is a nation struggling to breathe under centuries of
colonialism. It’s economy is dictated by an unelected Fiscal Control Board
composed of hedge fund managers and vulture capitalists, known as *la
junta,* which saw its power enshrined into law with PROMESA in 2016.

“After four years of the passage of Hurricane María, the crisis that the
country has experienced is one that has been very difficult to overcome,”
Jocelyn Velazquez Rodriguez, an organizer with *Jornada Se Acabaron Las
Promesas *said about the deterioration of conditions in Puerto Rico. “And
once the hurricane passed, a country that had all these difficulties to
recover from encountered two other calamities: the earthquakes of early
2020 and then the pandemic that has hit the whole world … the housing
crisis continues, the infrastructure crisis continues, school shortages,
schools destroyed and devastated by earthquakes, homes that lost their
roofs and never recovered them.”
*The electric grid disaster*

Puerto Rico’s electric grid, a key element of the most recent protests, has
undergone minimal repairs since Hurricane Maria caused boundless
destruction. 80% of utility poles and transmission lines
<https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/8/15/17692414/puerto-rico-power-electricity-restored-hurricane-maria>
throughout the islands were destroyed. This damage was exacerbated by the
series of earthquakes which battered the main island all throughout 2020
and early this year.

Since June, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have taken to the streets
calling for the cancellation of the government’s $1.3 billion contract with
the US-Canadian consortium Luma Energy. The 15-year contract was negotiated
behind closed doors and wasn’t announced to the public until after it was
signed last year. Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives voted unanimously
against the contract, but that vote was overruled by la junta.

The publicly-run Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) retains
ownership of its assets and continues to run power generation for the 3.3
million people that live in Puerto Rico. Luma Energy took over the
distribution of energy across the archipelago from PREPA in June. In the
days following, over a million Puerto Ricans
<https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/19/us/puerto-rico-electricity-protest.html?referringSource=articleShare>
lost power in rolling blackouts. On June 10th, an explosion at a main
electrical substation <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57437347>
in the San Juan suburb of Monacillo left an additional 800,000 people
without power.

As of October 18, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is set to
fund
<https://truthout.org/articles/puerto-ricans-fight-privatization-of-energy-and-demand-democratic-ownership/>
almost $10 billion toward Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure. The cost of
power in Puerto Rico is higher
<https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/19/us/puerto-rico-electricity-protest.html?referringSource=articleShare>
than that in any of the 50 states.

At a recent US House Committee on Natural Resources hearing, Luma Energy
CEO Wayne Stensby refused to answer questions about how many company
executives earn over $200,000 and over $500,000 salaries.

This is how you expose a fraud. @RepRashida
<https://twitter.com/RepRashida?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw> THANK YOU.
pic.twitter.com/rWZq9d4LQV <https://t.co/rWZq9d4LQV>

— Félix, la aceituna (@Una__Aceituna) October 7, 2021
<https://twitter.com/Una__Aceituna/status/1446158997636009984?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw>

A member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives and head of the energy
commission Luis Raúl Torres Cruz sued Luma Energy over the summer in an
effort to get this info. Luma appealed it in court.

The privatization of public services, rising costs for basic necessities,
and less than transparent deals worth millions in public funds has become
the norm in Puerto Rico. The damage wrought by Hurricane Maria created the
perfect excuse for the islands’ Wall Street overlords to privatize what
they could and shut down anything they couldn’t, or didn’t deem profitable
enough. The electric grid is not the only essential service to be targeted
by privatization, the housing, education, and healthcare to the water
system and communication networks have all been under the threat of, or
all-out attack, of privatization and debilitating austerity measures.
*The disaster created by Wall Street*

In 2016, President Obama signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and
Economic Stability Act or PROMESA into law, creating a legal framework to
restructure the commonwealth’s $74 billion debt. It established the
unelected Financial Oversight and Management Board known as *la junta* and
gave it total control over Puerto Rico’s economy.

The Board has consistently made cuts to funding for the University of
Puerto Rico as well as for Medicaid and Medicare. Hundreds of public
schools and hospitals across the islands have closed. Puerto Rico’s
historically public beaches are now under historic threat
<https://www.huffpost.com/entry/puerto-rico-beaches-privatization_n_6160a321e4b0cc44c50c93e3>
.

The wreckage of Hurricane Maria allowed foreign investors to buy up land
for cheap and take advantage of the laws giving them generous tax breaks.
Rising property costs in cities like San Juan and Ponce are fueling
gentrification and locals are getting pushed out.

The median household income in Puerto Rico is $20,500 and the 9%
unemployment rate continues to rise.

Jocelyn Velazquez Rodriguez described the impact PROMESA has had on the
political consciousness of the Puerto Rican people: “PROMESA has been a
mechanism that has revealed the true face of US imperialism. It is a law
created for a colony, to serve of the imperial interests of the United
States, and many Puerto Ricans who refused to accept that between Puerto
Rico and the United States there has never been a contract, nor an
agreement, nor a convention on this.”

She continued, “Now they have had to accept that we are a simple and mere
colony, that we are at the disposal of the whim and the needs of the United
States Senate and that our voices do not have any kind of value. PROMESA
has definitely served to make people see in a more cruel, more bloody, and
crude way, the serious problem of colonialism in which we live.”
*Pa’lante siempre pa’lante**, forward always forward*

The people of Puerto Rico demonstrated their power back in 2019, when a
popular movement to oust then-Governor Ricardo Rosselló was successful.
Rosselló, the son of a former Puerto Rican governor, perfectly exemplified
the corruption and greed of the archipelago’s misleadership. Two years
after his resignation
<https://peoplesdispatch.org/2019/07/25/puerto-rican-governor-ricardo-rossello-resigns-after-a-week-of-massive-protests/>,
a victory won by and for the people
<https://peoplesdispatch.org/2019/07/17/massive-protests-in-puerto-rico-seek-governors-resignation-and-an-end-to-colonization/>,
Puerto Ricans are rising up once again to continue the work of dismantling
neoliberalism and neocolonialism on the islands.

Velazquez Rodriguez emphasized, “These demonstrations, both during the
[last year’s gubernatorial] elections and in the summer of 2019, with the
ousting of Ricardo Rosselló, as well as the popular demonstrations that
have consistently taken place in the country, are a sample of an awakening
of a people that are tired of imperialism, the colonialism, the persecution
and the suffering that it has caused us for so many years.”

*Monica Cruz **is a reporter with US-based media outlet Breakthrough News.*
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