Section 7

Hurricane Maria

About the deadly Category 5 storm of 2017, its aftermath on the island, and what the storm revealed.

The challenges faced due to the hurricane

are covered in subsection 1, “The Storm.” These challenges included the destruction of infrastructure and the lack of basic necessities like water, food, gasoline, and medication. FEMA’s ineffectiveness—it’s incapacity to widely supply food and basic necessities—is noted by many texts. The absence of supplies was combined with constant exposure to toxicity, such as mold and contaminated water. The lack of electricity is thoroughly discussed, since María decimated Puerto Rico’s electric power grid, leaving almost the entire Island without power. In addition, all the Island’s transmission lines were knocked down, leaving most completely uncommunicated.

In each subsection, there are authors who focus on particularly vulnerable communities, such as those in rural areas, the sick, the elderly, the poor, and women. This traumatic experience has left many Puerto Ricans with an inability to cope and has led many to leave the Island. “The Aftermath” points out the extremely slow and incompetent response from both the local and federal governments. This inefficiency provoked discussions about how the Island’s colonial status, the consideration of Puerto Ricans as second-class citizens, and laws such as the Jones Act, prevent the Island’s recuperation. Both governments were also reluctant to recognize the large and growing death toll provoked by Hurricane María.

While the Island’s citizens suffer, many see this disaster as an opportunity to exploit Puerto Ricans for their own economic benefit: this subsection elucidates the effects of disaster capitalism in post-María Puerto Rico and the threats to privatize different sectors. However, Puerto Ricans have forcedly filled the gaps left by inefficient governments and have turned to themselves: autogestión or mutual support refers to the various individual and grassroots initiatives that have significantly contributed to the improvement of people’s conditions after the Hurricane.

The third subsection, “What the Storm Revealed,” puts Hurricanes María’s effects into perspective: the disaster it provoked was, in fact, unnatural: way before María, the Island was suffering from increasing neglect, deterioration, and exploitation. Furthermore, the disaster brought up debates about debt forgiveness, but also, contrarily, attracted more vultures of finance to offer additional loans and provoked further deliberations of privatization. However, many texts suggest ways to start anew and to not only recover, but fully transform Puerto Rico’s infrastructural, economical, and political landscape.