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Natural Disasters in a Colonial Context: Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria

September 20, 2017

One thing I’m worried about—in addition to my family’s safety—regarding Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is how colonialism capitalizes on natural disaster. 

 

 

 

In the early 1900s, United States businesses were able to monopolize Puerto Rican farm land after Hurricane San Ciriaco (1899) devastated the island. Farmers, who were never able to rebuild after the hurricane, were forced to either give up their land or enter unjust agreements with US businesses. Within thirty years, US owned companies were able to monopolize ~60% of Puerto Rico’s farm land. Natural disaster, then, served as an opening for colonial entrenchment—whether under the facade of “benevolent aid” or otherwise. 

 

In recent years Puerto Rico’s infrastructure—roads, bridges, electric plants—have been failing due to the effects of the debt crisis (namely, monies have been prioritized for debt repayment and maintaining essential services, leaving infrastructure maintenance unaddressed). Before Hurricanes Irma or Maria even formed, US businesses talked about privatizing Puerto Rico’s infrastructure—facilitated through PROMESA (the most recent neocolonial act, signed into law by President Obama in 2016). Many on and off the island have critiqued these calls for privatizing public infrastructure, noting how they would further entrench the colonial and economic crisis in Puerto Rico, extracting profit while offering no long term solutions. But now, with Puerto Rico literally without power and falling apart due to Irma and Maria, I wonder (and worry about) how colonial business will swoop in to “help?”

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