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Puerto Rico’s Power Union Denounces Governor’s Decision to “Sell the Assets” of the Public Power Utility (PREPA)

By Angel Figueroa Jaramillo - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 23, 2018

UTIER DENOUNCES GOVERNOR’S ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE PRIVATIZATION OF THE PUBLIC POWER UTILITY (AEE, OR PREPA)*

San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 23rd, 2018

The Union of Workers of the Electric and Irrigation Industry (UTIER) denounces Governor Ricardo Rossellá’s announcement to privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). The announcement demonstrates the insensitivity of this government and leaves clear that the welfare of the people is not among the interests of the current Governor.

UTIER has been consistent in denouncing the privatization plans of various government administrations and also the recent intentional slowness in the process of restoring the electrical system.

The Governor is taking advantage of the pain of thousands of people who are currently without electric power. Given the insensitivity of Governor Ricardo Rosellá of announcing the privatization of PREPA in the midst of the suffering of almost half a million Puerto Ricans who still do not have electricity, UTIER once again raises its voice in favor of the people. We have tried through our brigades to restore electric power as soon as possible, despite all the obstacles that the government, the Engineers brigade, the Board of Fiscal Control, and the upper management of PREPA have erected to try to prevent us achieving that goal.

For decades we have warned how various administrations have undermined workers and intentionally damaged the infrastructure of PREPA. This was intended to provoke the people’s discontent with the service in order to privatize our first industry, “the jewel in the crown”, to strip us—the people—of what is ours. “Because PREPA is a public good that belongs to the people and not to the politicians,” said the president of the UTIER, Angel Figueroa Jaramillo.

Figueroa Jaramillo explained how, since the 1970s, governments of the two main parties have tried to privatize PREPA. In each of these attempts, UTIER has reacted immediately, warning the people what this would mean for the country.

“We asked, how come it was possible that, facing so much devastation left by the hurricanes, that we would prioritize hiring a company such as Whitefish, which did not have the staff or experience to handle an emergency like the one we had gone through? Then we met the endless irregularities in the awarding of the contract that was signed with Whitefish and the powerful political links it has with the current US administration. Everything we said was proven to be correct and has been so in every complaint we have made over decades”, said Figueroa Jaramillo.

The President of UTIER insisted, “The position of UTIER is that electricity is a human right and not a commodity. That is what our people have realized after the ravages of hurricanes Irma and Maria, after having run out of electricity and suffering so many hardships and the loss of family members, either because they have died or had to leave the country. That is why we strongly oppose privatization in any of its expressions, whether through the transfer of assets or the transfer of management to private companies. We ask the people the following question so that they think clearly about it: If PREPA was not profitable and able to generate profits, would there be a company that wanted to acquire it?”

The president of the UTIER urged people to also remember the declarations of the Board of Fiscal Control (JCF) a year ago in which it presented the privatization of PREPA as one of its goals. “We cannot leave the heritage that belongs to us–-the people—in private hands. And one of them is PREPA. Because if at some point we face another atmospheric phenomenon such as the ones to which we are exposed every year during hurricane season, we already know how the private generators AES and Ecoelectrica will react: turning off their machinery in order not to lose their investment. That’s what they did on this occasion. They are not worried about the suffering of the people. That situation cannot be repeated and if PREPA is privatized, that is what’s in store for us. Furthermore, we must not be deceived: privatization increases the electric bill and makes us more vulnerable as the people. Let’s not allow the main industry for the development of our country to be stolen from us. Let’s not wait for it to happen”, added Figueroa Jaramillo.

Confronting the Carbon Capitalists

By Seattle IWW - It's Going Down, November 14, 2018

Last summer brought another record wildfire season to the Pacific Northwest. Smoky air from fires in the region caused hellish air quality around the entire Northern Hemisphere. The causes of the forest fires and the destruction of our forest ecosystem generally are incontrovertible. Over one hundred years of fossil-fueled capitalist development and hundreds of years of violent colonial oppression–of people and the biological world–have driven the Earth to the brink.

Northwest forests, once some of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, have been clear-cut and laden with biocides. Complex interrelationships have been smashed with saws and machinery to make way for monoculture “working forests” devoid of biodiversity. Decades of fire suppression by the Forest Service on behalf of timber companies have left trees to grow on each other like matchsticks waiting to be lit.

In the face of all of this, liberals, true to form, have resorted to self-flagellation and hand-wringing. The New York Times Magazine’s recent piece, “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” by Nathaniel Rich, places the blame of climate change and ecocide squarely at the foot of an undefined human nature. The author mostly chronicles failed climate negotiations between nation-states at the United Nations.

In his telling, we were so close to breakthroughs, but then greedy human nature stopped everything. Our collective desire for more stuff led to the failure of negotiations being made in good faith between nations. There is no other possible direction for history to have unfolded. Or so the story goes.

International diplomacy’s climate failures are a failure of all humans in the eyes of the liberal elite like Rich. That a nation-state would act counter to the will of its subjects is unthinkable to the privileged classes.

The victims of colonialism and capitalism have always known otherwise. At the same time “human nature” was failing to protect the earth in UN meeting halls, working-class people were mobilizing against extractive industry in Northern California and being targeted for assassination. Indigenous peoples around the world were suffering from state violence for fighting against the very oil drilling that state officials said they were trying to curb. Everywhere the triplet monsters–capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy–tread, organized resistance by the oppressed fought back. Contrary to the pearl-clutching lament that “human nature led to this,” water protectors, land defenders, and workers have laid their bodies in front of the machinery of extractive capitalism countless times. And this is nothing new.

We Are Seeing the Shock Doctrine in Effect After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Naomi Klein interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, September 18, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Increasing climate chaos has driven a number of celebrities to warn of the dangers of global warming. Tuesday night’s "Hand in Hand" hurricane relief telethon kicked off with a message from Stevie Wonder, who called out climate deniers ahead of a rendition of the classic song "Stand By Me."

STEVIE WONDER: As we should begin to love and value our planet, and anyone who believes that there is no such thing as global warming must be blind or unintelligent.

AMY GOODMAN: The music legend Beyoncé also called out the effects of climate change during the "Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief" telethon.

BEYONCÉ: The effects of climate change are playing out around the world every day. Just this past week, we’ve seen devastation from the monsoon in India, an 8.1 earthquake in Mexico and multiple catastrophic hurricanes. Irma alone has left a trail of death and destruction from the Caribbean to Florida to Southern United States. We have to be prepared for what comes next. So, tonight, we come together in a collective effort to raise our voices, to help our communities, to lift our spirits and heal.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Beyoncé. And we’re spending the hour with Naomi Klein, author of the new book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. The book just became a finalist for a National Book Award, or Naomi did. So you have Beyoncé, Naomi. You’ve got Stevie Wonder weighing in. But you have the networks, not—I’m not even talking about Fox—MSNBC and CNN hardly mentioning the word "climate change" when it comes to these horrific events, when they are spending 24 hours a day on these—this climate chaos. One of your latest pieces, "Season of Smoke: In a Summer of Wildfires and Hurricanes, My Son Asks 'Why Is Everything Going Wrong?'" well, CNN and and MSNBC aren’t letting him know. But what about not only what President Trump is saying, but this lack of coverage of this issue, and also the lack of coverage of the connections between this terrible—these hurricanes, past and the coming ones, with the fires, the storms, the droughts, and what’s happening in the rest of the world, which make the number of deaths in this country pale by comparison—1,300 in South Asia now from floods?

NAOMI KLEIN: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, and Nigeria. And I think this really is the moment to explain the connections between these events, because what climate scientists have been warning us about for decades is that a warmer world is an extreme world. It’s a world of extremes that is sort of ricocheting between too much and not enough, right? Too much precipitation, these extreme precipitation events, not just rain, but also snow—you know, if you remember these bizarre storms in Boston, where you’ll have these winters with very little snow, but then you’ll have these massive snow dumps—and then not enough, not enough water, and those conditions creating the perfect conditions for wildfires to burn out of control, right? But fire is a normal part of the forest cycle, but what we are seeing is above and beyond that, which is why we’re seeing record-breaking fires, largest fire ever recorded within the limits of the city of Los Angeles, for instance, a plume of smoke that a couple of weeks ago reached from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the entire continent covered in this plume of smoke, which didn’t receive that much coverage, because it happened as Irma was bearing down on Florida.

So, this is the extreme world—we’re catching a glimpse of it—that we’ve been warned about. And we hear this phrase, "the new normal." And it’s a little bit misleading, because I don’t think there is a normal. You know, it’s precisely the unpredictability that we have to understand. And I think what a warmer world means is that there are, you know, fewer and fewer breaks between the extreme events.

Looking for answers to capitalism's disasters

Naomi Klein interviewed by Alan Maass - Socialist Worker, September 29, 2017

SO READING the newspaper for you these days must be like seeing the subjects of your books running through the headlines: disaster capitalism, the shock doctrine, climate change, corporate brands...

I WAS actually just looking at the crawl on CNN, and there was something about Trump's UN speech where he plugged one of his buildings. I think his first sentence when he spoke at the UN was about one of the Trump Towers.

UNBELIEVABLE. BUT let me ask you about that--can you talk about the connecting threads of what you've been writing about over these years?

I THINK that the strongest connecting thread is really the rise of corporate power and the increasing role of corporations in every aspect of life.

That's really the story of the rise of branded people that Trump embodies--these lifestyle brands and companies that are building identity around a corporation, as opposed to selling a product and marketing it.

Another one of the things I look at is clear from how Trump has already used shocks and crisis to further advance an extreme pro-corporate agenda that is about eliminating the last vestiges of the public sphere. We're seeing some examples of that now in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

And to even say "aftermath" raises another question, because there's a new storm bearing down on Puerto Rico. But already, you can see how Irma knocked out the electricity, and that then becomes the pretext for a further push for privatization.

Then there's the centrality of climate change denial within the Trump administration, which has been such a defining feature of what this administration has prioritized.

I don't think this has anything to do with denying the science of climate change. It has everything to do with them understanding that if humanity is, indeed, confronted with an existential threat--which is what climate change represents--then the entire corporate project they stand for falls to pieces, and we need a very different way to organize society and make public policy decisions.

Puerto Rico Braces for Wave of School Privatization

By Jeff Bryant - Common Dreams, February 8, 2018

The warnings came right after the storm: Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico would be used as an opportunity to transfer management of the island’s schools to private operators of charter schools, and introduce voucher programs that would redirect public education funds to private schools.

Sure enough, with nearly a third of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 schools still without power and hundreds more plagued with crumbling walls, leaky rooves, and spotty Internet, Governor Ricardo Rosselló recently announced he will propose to create charter schools and voucher programs as a recovery strategy for the island’s education system.

That announcement followed shortly after a new fiscal plan from Rosselló that included closing over 300 of schools.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Marks End of Convergence Center

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, February 4, 2018

This following report from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief marks the closing of their autonomous space in Florida. To hear more about the community center and free clinic that they organized in the wake of hurricane Irma, check out our podcast interview with them here.

Last week marked the end of our Tampa Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Post-Irma Convergence Center, the space was generously offered to us by St. Paul Lutheran Church. This space was artful, accessible, warm and creative. Like larger social experiments where collectives have free reign to create, projects zipped in and out, ideas flourished and plans were encouraged to fruition.

From prisoner letter writing nights, to documentary screenings, to food prep, to the hundreds of care packages sent out from on site, to reportbacks, to workshops, to skillshares, to group meetings, to open mics, to radical caroling practice, and of course, the launching of relief teams doing disaster mutual aid to Puerto Rico, Immokalee, the Keys, Apopka, Jacksonville, and even refugee solidarity work in Belgium and France. We used those four walls to break down other walls and it worked. The space was opened for houseless friends to shower, do laundry and even for a houseless couple to have a romantic anniversary dinner.

We shared the space with Tampa Food Not Bombs, Love Has No Borders, Tampa Bay DSA, Restorative Justice Coalition, Black Lives Matter Tampa, Tampa Anarchist Black Cross and other liberatory movements. The space held a free clinic, a free library, a children’s playroom, a community kitchen, and an open space for people to share art and literature. The walls held revolutionary Zapatista quotes, portrait-stories, other messages of support and solidarity, and photos in memory of Andrew Joseph III, Meg Perry and Alonso Guillen – people we have lost along the way. The clinic treated emotional and physical trauma, provided acupuncture, reiki, massage, herbal teas and tinctures, diabetes care, treated dehydration and launched many, many mobile clinics.

Hakim Bey, the originator of the term temporary autonomous zone says they are “like an uprising which does not engage directly with the state, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself, to re-form elsewhere/else when, before the state can crush it.” The goal of these zones is not permanence or confrontation, and its lapse is not defeat, but a seed planted that will be carried to another time and place to be recreated again.

The aim is to spread these autonomous zones far and wide, so that everywhere and every-when, not just in disasters, people share goods and services freely, connect deeply and authentically with one another, have agency, self-determination and meaning in their chosen work, live in the moment, and are free to imagine with minds, but also with hands and feet, the better world we know is possible. These moments, when our bodies are sung electric by the possibilities taking wing inside and all around us, need not be fleeting. Most of human history has been spent in communities whose foundation was mutual aid, and our future can be likewise if we have the strength and courage to follow our vision through to where it leads.

Another example of temporary autonomous zones are the 12 Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (CAMs) located throughout Puerto Rico. These constitute an intricate web of people-powered, locally rooted recovery efforts that are proving revolutionary self-governance is not a utopian dream, but can actually be a natural response to the absence of authoritarian, statist means of control. We are currently raising funds to get the CAM in Caguas its own micro-grid solar photovoltaic system – an autonomous alternative to the bankrupt and perhaps, soon to be privatized, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. You can donate to this project here.

Some of us are still in Puerto Rico assisting with projects whenever and wherever we are needed and plan to continue doing so for the forseeable future. Some of us are busy preparing for a multi-state tour. And look forward to seeing many of you in person over the coming weeks and months and strategizing on how to build the movement for mutual aid together. To check out locations, visit our website. If we aren’t making it to your town yet, we apologize and thank you in advance for your patience. We have had far too many requests to meet them all at once, but we will continue booking spots for the Fall.

Dandelions lose their minds in the wind, and spread their seeds in a thousand directions. We are a result of one of those seeds. And we know that every end is a beginning. Wherever you go, may you carry a piece of a liberated zone with you. Wherever you stand, may you be the heart and soul of that place.

Until next time.

Don't privatize Puerto Rico's electric power

By MST - Socialist Worker, January 30, 2018

In late January, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced plans to privatize the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA, by its initials in English; AEE by its Spanish initials). It is a terrible, but not unexpected, stage in a still-disastrous situation, where as many as one-third of residents remain without power four months after Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Rosselló, whose promise to have 95 percent of power restored by Christmas went by the board, said his government "will sell shares in AEE to firms that will transform the power generation system." His televised address was filled with the well-worn buzzwords used to justify previous schemes for privatizing other public services, like health care, telecommunications and the island's main airport. The new system, Rosselló said, will be "modernized and less costly" and "consumer-centered...where you will have choices."

At a press conference after Rosselló's January 23 address, Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the electrical workers union (UTIER, in its Spanish initials), brushed off the governor's claims, saying "We will never fall for the government' game of using the people's suffering [to push through its agenda]."

In the face of these developments, the socialist newspaper Bandera Roja, published by the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras (MST, or Socialist Workers Movement), published the following statement denouncing the long history of corruption and mismanagement of the power authority under the island's two main parties, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and Rosselló's New Progressive Party (PNP). The statement also notes how the years of austerity under PREPA's restructuring officer, the corporate "turnaround" specialist Lisa Donahue, weakened the power grid further.

Puerto Rico’s Decision to Privatize Power Coupled with Trump’s Alarming Infrastructure Plan Spells Out Devastation for Vulnerable Communities

By Wenonah Hauter - Common Dreams, January 23, 2018

“In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people are still reeling from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. In a time of such dire need, the Trump administration has failed to provide the support needed to restore water to 7 percent of Puerto Rican residents and power to the nearly one in three residents going without, paving the way for today’s catastrophic announcement. The decision to privatize Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company follows the same dangerous path mapped out in the Trump administration’s draft infrastructure plan.

“Whether it’s water or energy, privatization helps Wall Street at the expense of the wellbeing and health of communities, particularly low-income families and people of color. The leaked infrastructure plan from the Trump administration similarly provides a blueprint for handing over our public land and public water to Wall Street. It seeks to privatize our local water systems and other critical public services, prioritizing limited federal dollars to Wall Street and corporate investors. This scheme would also sell off federal assets and create a new infrastructure fund by opening up federal lands and waters to mineral and energy development benefiting the oil and gas industry.

“A just and equitable infrastructure plan would dedicate funding for water systems, have a progressive revenue stream, and prioritize vulnerable communities with the greatest affordability and public health needs like Puerto Rico. This plan does none of this.

“Federal funding for water infrastructure is at its lowest point in decades. Instead of reversing the decline, Trump’s plan provides zero dollars to the highly successful State Revolving Fund programs, which are the main source of federal support for our local water and sewer systems. Meanwhile, it seeks to open up the clean water fund to private entities. This amounts to taking away existing federal money from our local governments to give to big water corporations.

“From Flint to Puerto Rico, our communities deserve better from our leaders. Our public water systems need dedicated, annual federal support to make sure that every person in our country has safe and affordable water.”

Building the Movement for Mutual Aid: Spring Tour 2018

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, January 18, 2018

The following statement comes from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and announces their spring tour in 2018 across parts of the US. 

Friends,

I am so excited and grateful for this opportunity to organize our first “Building the Movement for Mutual Aid” Training Tour!  This is a critical moment for developing a skilled and empowered standing network of organizers and volunteers who can help communities respond to climate chaos as well as “unnatural disasters” brought about by exploitation, violence, and extreme resource extraction.

We are still confirming dates on this far-ranging Spring Tour, but we can tell you now that we will be on the road March-May in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

In each of the 30 locations on our route, we will explain how natural storms turn into unnatural disasters through dangerous new forms of disaster capitalism and how everyday people are using principles of “Solidarity, Not Charity” to engage in d.i.y. disaster recovery.  A two-day workshop will include both an easy introduction accessible to the general public, and a deeper participatory training for those who are ready to get involved.

Check out the schedule!  It just went live, moments ago, on our shiny new website!  If you have not seen it yet, please check out the front page and read some of the many excellent articles written by members who are bringing direct action humanitarian aid to communities in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

This tour is the first step in a strategic capacity-building training campaign. Due to an outpouring of requests (over 100 so far!), plans are developing for a Fall 2018 Tour in the West, additional regional tours in 2019-2020, and a variety of follow-up trainings that will strategically and progressively build necessary skills and shared knowledge in local groups that are a part of the rapidly-growing MADRelief network. If you would like to invite us to your community, please place a request.

MADRelief envisions a new, participatory and empowering form of humanitarian aid that can become a big tent under which many diverse movements can find common ground and shared experience.  One that can overcome natural and unnatural disasters – from hurricanes to hate rallies, from mudslides to mine waste spills – and transform tragedies into opportunities for collective liberation.  One that we build in collaboration with all of you.  This tour seeks to strengthen our network, diversify our base, and increase our skills and knowledge, together. Please join us!

 

 

Dreaming With Our Hands: On Autonomy, In(ter)dependence, and the Regaining of the Commons

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, January 9, 2018

“It was like an atomic bomb went off” a local Boricua, as people born in Puerto Rico are often called, is saying about the view of the mountains the day after Maria passed. “Every branch, and every tree, was torn apart and broken, and scattered everywhere. Every green area was gray and brown.” The view now, almost three months after las tormentas, is eerie. The greenery is back, but the forests are very bare compared to how they were. Things can appear to be normal, except for the 60 foot telephone pole hanging over the edge of a cliff here, or leaned over at 45 degree angles onto a building there. As long as they still carry power to their destinations they’re left alone, even doubled over, to triage the other downed poles that are actually causing disruptions in the grid. These remnants of devastation can be seen everywhere, and everywhere there are people getting by and adapting to the changes Irma and Maria left behind with whatever limited tools are at their disposal.

I, a Brooklyn born Puerto Rican, arrive in Puerto Rico, or as the native Taíno people call it, Boriké, and meet up with a small team of two traveling partners. Our visits to Caguas on my first week were breathtaking, getting to know people, and watching the amazing projects that communities here are putting together. The town itself is very old, largely abandoned and magnificently beautiful. The streets in the pueblo are narrow and the buildings made of cement, painted bright pastel colors, with old Spanish architectures. Everywhere lay murals with sayings of hope, independence and resistance. In our short visits, we were able to glimpse how people here have begun rebuilding their lives, coming together to reimagine the kind of world they want to create.

Since before the hurricanes, the downtown neighborhoods were losing their small shops and local markets to the incurring large chain stores that sprouted up less than a mile away. Still, one immediately gets the sense that this town is full of cultural life and spirit much different from that felt in wealthier neighborhoods, like the gated community in Guaynabo we stayed in. In traveling to different parts of the island, we can see houses on the coast of Aguadilla that were cut in half by mini landslides, and traffic lights and highway signs stashed beside the roads with the piles of detritus and branches.

We’re on the northwestern part of the main highway that encircles the island now, and traffic comes to a halt for a half hour. It was raining for only 20 minutes, but it left a 4 foot deep puddle along a large stretch of the often overcrowded road. As we finally reach the end of the bottleneck, we see the flooding is being manually fixed by a single worker in swamp boots unclogging the drainage holes with a broomstick. I get the sense this is an example of how the municipalities in Puerto Rico aren’t equipped to properly handle the crisis.

In speaking with people, it comes as no surprise to them either that the government isn’t doing much to resolve the problems here. As many non-Boricuas are only now discovering, the island’s government has been suffocated with public debts, issued and purchased by predatory Wall Street hedge funds. Aligning with what has now become a global custom with these kinds of debts, Puerto Rico’s creditors are forcing the island’s government to enact austerity measures on the population, with help from the US and its Fiscal Oversight and Management Board. This Board is an unelected entity established by the US Congress to decide how Puerto Rico spends the tax revenue collected from its people.

“They don’t serve the interests of Puerto Ricans,” Maritza, a local community organizer says, “They serve the interests of Wall Street.” She explains how the Board members assign themselves their own salaries. “The chair of the Board decided to make $625k this year, and overall the Board costs $300 million to operate, paid for by Puerto Rican tax dollars.” It’s their job to make sure Wall Street hedge funds can keep getting payments from Puerto Rico’s unquenchable debt, and in the process, ensure that Puerto Rico never has a prosperous and self-sufficient economy. By gutting funding for healthcare, education, food assistance, public sector jobs and critical infrastructure development, this policy instead ensures a continually collapsing economy. Maritza describes the Board as wanting “to keep us like a banana republic, a place with only low-wage jobs for corporations to profit off of,” and I believe her. FEMA and the Puerto Rican government failed in meeting people’s basic needs after the storms, but in their absence, I’m told old and new community organizations took the lead and saved many lives.

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