You are here

disaster capitalism

Remake Puerto Rico’s power grid and create a universal basic income

By Elsie Bryant  - Climate Change News, December 6, 2017

Hurricane Maria, which made landfall at the end of September, left the island of Puerto Rico without energy, as more than three-quarters of its energy infrastructure was lost to the storm.

As Puerto Ricans sought help in restoring power to the people, for green energy enthusiasts, the destruction of Hurricane Maria was an opportunity to rethink – not just rebuild – Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure by going off-grid with solar energy.

Puerto Rico has a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink how it gets electricity”, wrote Earther journalist, Brian Kahn; “Solar industry wants to build Puerto Rico’s grid of the future” was the Bloomberg headline. Even the energy and environment minister for the Maldives, Thoriq Ibrahim, weighed in: “Puerto Rico hurricane shows islands must have renewable energy,” he wrote. Elon Musk has been one of the more prominent players in the space, with his company Tesla offering solar systems and batteries.

While any move away from fossil fuels is welcome, we need to think bigger about what resilience could mean for Puerto Rico. There’s an even larger opportunity here to transform Puerto Rico, where before the natural disaster happened, an economic and social crisis has been playing out for nearly a decade.

Puerto Rico’s economy has been in recession for over 10 years, the population is in drastic decline and the household income is less than half of what it is in the poorest US state. All the while, the island’s debt burden continues to grow, making private firms very rich. A resilient Puerto Rico needs not just a new grid but a new economic system, one that is localised and community driven, with Puerto Ricans owning and managing those resources.

This is not a vision that Puerto Ricans are waiting for the wider world to bring to them. Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, head of Utier, the electrical workers’ union in Puerto Rico, told reporters “solar power and wind power in Puerto Rico is really the key to the future of the island’s energy independence”, adding that “all the alternatives have to be owned by the community”.

The benefits of community ownership are clear when the evidence shows that some of the most resilient communities following the hurricane were cooperatives such as the Cooperativa de Vivienda Ciudad Universitaria. The co-op is a community of over 1000 people, who as the Orlando Sentinel reported, “learned to formalise the neighbour-to-neighbour mentality so well that in situations of crisis – such as this one – they don’t have to wait for the government to show up or feel the need to flee”.

Thinking even more radically, the gains of a commons-based solar network, could be extended by advocating that dividends from any energy sold back to the grid could be redistributed to every Puerto Rican as a basic income.

Stay Warm this Winter! Come to Houston and Volunteer with Autonomous Disaster Relief!

By an anonymous contributor - It's Going Down, December 5, 2017

We need…

anti-oppressive people skilled in construction, childcare, squatting, media, cooking, growing food, fundraising, medics, healers, birthworkers, herbalists, artists, musicians, and Spanish speakers.

Houston is the 4th largest city in the US and the heart of the oil industry in terms of both corporate headquarters and industrial infrastructure, but most of the city’s people have always been considered expendable by those powers.

In the days immediately after the storm, disaster communism naturally took hold as neighbors took it upon themselves to organize boat rescues in the absence of any help from the state. For a few weeks, its influence extended beyond the hardest hit neighborhoods and we found ourselves as a small part of a large mobilization. Neighbors helping each other were the biggest force, church groups and liberals were out in large numbers, and even the local fascists were playing at relief work (in their own neighborhoods). Many businesses shared resources, including restaurant kitchens which were used to mass-produce free meals for distribution.

Fourteen weeks after Harvey, those free meals are a distant memory. Thousands of people are newly homeless, or living in unsafe conditions, or crowded in with family – and it’s starting to get cold here at night.

This is a critical time for anarchists to intervene against the return to normalcy – we do not want to rebuild the old Houston of hyper-individualism and slow death under capitalism. We want to take space opened by the storm and build new ways of supporting each other and relating to each other.

If you can help with that, and you don’t mind camping (with bathrooms/showers, kitchen etc) in a communal setting, get in touch with us at htxautonomy@protonmail.com

Survival on the island of the portable generator

By Judith Lavoie - Socialist Worker, November 28, 2017

IT IS now more than two months after Hurricane Maria struck, and Puerto Rican society is completely reliant on portable electrical generators.

Businesses and services that we thought were back to normal frequently have to close up shop because their generators break down or are in need of maintenance or repair. Everywhere you go, almost all the businesses that are open are only open part time--and even these have to open and close depending on when electricity is available to them.

Doctors have to postpone critical medical services such as CT scans because some generators simply can't sustain the machines.

These days, when we make any kind of plans, they are always tentative, because an unexpected power outage can quickly force us to cancel. These power outages can happen because of yet another failure in the electrical grid or because someone's generator has failed--yet again.

The government insists that 50 percent of homes have had electrical services re-established. They arrive at this percentage by taking the total amount of electricity being generated and estimating the number of homes served based on the island's maximum electrical load.

"This isn't the way it is done," said Matthew Cordaro, a trustee of the Long Island (N.Y.) Power Authority, told El Nuevo Dia. "The first thing you have to do is figure out how many of the distribution lines reach customers and how many have been re-established...What electricity is being generated and sent to the network is not actually being tracked. Instead of this, chaos reigns."

At the beginning of November, in the midst of the controversy about how they calculated the number of homes connected to the grid, the U.S. Department of Energy stopped counting the number of homes without electric service in Puerto Rico altogether.

Shock Doctrine Implemented in Oaxaca After Earthquake

By Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F. - It's Going Down, November 28, 2017

Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine, argues that the economic policies of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics have gained importance in countries with free market models not because they are popular, but rather because through the impacts of disasters or contingencies on the psychology of society, in the face of commotion and confusion, unpopular reforms can be put into place.

It has been little more than a month since September 7, when the strongest earthquake of the last 100 years in Mexico hit, at 8.2 on the Richter scale. The landscape in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the region most affected, is still one of devastation. The city of Juchitán de Zaragoza resembles a ghost town. Wherever you look, there is debris or damaged buildings. The police and military still roam the streets, heavily armed.

The earth has not stopped shaking. Strange sounds emanate from the depths of the sea on the shores of Oaxaca. It is possible to feel tremors every hour. Mexico’s National Seismological Service has registered more than 6,000 aftershocks, in addition to a second earthquake with a Richter scale reading of 7.2 that happened on September 19 and devastated several sites in Mexico City, where 369 deaths have counted as of the October 4.

Official data from the government of Oaxaca state that the earthquake affected 120,000 people in 41 municipalities, as well as 60,600 homes, of which 20,664 were destroyed and 39,956 had partial damage. Its infrastructure, drinking water, and drainage networks are damaged. The local economy has been hit. Garbage is piling up in the streets. There is concern about a possible health crisis.

Workers’ rights are being abused as they rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

By Casey Quinlan - ThinkProgress, November 27, 2017

Day laborers, many of them undocumented, are reportedly being exploited as they rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, and their health and economic well-being are are stake.

According to a report from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and University of Illinois Chicago that surveyed 360 workers, 26 percent of workers have experienced wage theft in their post-Harvey work and 85 percent did not receive health and safety training. Sixty-one percent of workers did not have the necessary respiratory equipment to protect them from mold and chemicals, 40 percent did not have protective eyewear, and 87 percent were not informed about the risks of working in these unsafe buildings.

Workers have been exposed to mold and contamination on a regular basis, and regardless of whether workers are undocumented, they often aren’t aware of their legal protections, according to the report. To make matters worse, Texas is the only state that lets employers opt out of workers’ compensation for work injuries.

Advocates for different labor groups focusing on undocumented laborers have been speaking out on the issue of exploitation and visiting work sites to survey workers and pass out flyers with information on labor rights. There is tension between these advocates in Houston and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) on how the federal funds for hurricane recovery should be distributed. According to the Guardian, worker groups would prefer the money be distributed through the office of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D), since the mayor is seen as a progressive ally. They’re afraid that if the money is instead distributed through the general land office run by George P. Bush, as Abbott wants, immigrant and worker groups won’t receive the aid they need.

The Associated Press interviewed workers hired by individual homeowners, subcontractors working on residential and commercial buildings, and work crews from outside of Texas about the working conditions. Martin Mares, a native of Mexico who came to Houston in 1995, told the AP that the demand for labor attracted people who don’t usually do this kind of work and don’t know how to do it safely. He gave the example of a pregnant woman working without gloves in an apartment building that had flooded.

Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project wrote in the Guardian, “One woman contacted us when she and her crew, after spending more than 90 hours clearing out a Holiday Inn, were turned away without pay.”

Advocates for undocumented workers in Houston are also concerned about Senate Bill 4 (SB4), a Texas law that lets local law enforcement ask people they detain or arrest about their immigration status and hits local government officials with jail time and large financial penalties if they refuse to comply with federal detainer requests. The law is currently being held up in the courts, but that hasn’t completely erased fears among immigrant communities in Texas.

In addition to being exposed to mold and chemicals as well as experiencing wage theft, undocumented workers have already suffered from the devastation of the storm in unique ways due to poverty, lack of insurance, and their undocumented status. There are some 600,000 undocumented immigrants in Houston. After the hurricane, many undocumented people were afraid to use local shelters because of their immigration status or didn’t want to leave homes because they were concerned about protecting property. Although local and federal officials have tried to persuade undocumented people that they are not there to enforce immigration laws, undocumented people are still worried about the risk of seeking help...

This is Caguas: “Centro de Apoyo Mutuo”

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, November 26, 2017

The rest is Puerto Rico.

Centro de Apoyo Mutuo, Centers for Mutual Aid, exist as raised fists across the island landscape of post hurricane Irma, post hurricane Maria Puerto Rico.

In the narrow, colorful streets of Caguas, a building seized and defended by community is being painted by Centro organizers and a Mutual Aid Disaster Relief medical and systems crew from the main land.

Outside, a tuff tank 400 gallon buffalo awaits the systems teams’ erection of the high volume modular water filtration system and pump which will fill it with potable water for the community, creating a resource on lands reclaimed by autonomous Apoyo Mutuo community members.

By 2pm it is pumping heavily, spilling treated water from the mouth of a hose until long after sunset.

Apoyo Mutuo seized the space a month and a half ago. A month ago they defended it from policia who demanded to know their individual names.

“We just kept responding that our name is Centro de Apoyo Mutuo.”

At 8, a crowd fills the parking lot sharing donuts cut in halves with the opening scenes of a documentary on a history of direct action occupations in Puerto Rico playing on the concrete wall of the lot in front of the building.

Community members spend the following two hours taking turns at the pump and watching the buffalo fill. An Apoyo Mutuo comrade laid out their mission for us at the community kitchen where solidarity work and mutual aid feeds 300 people every day.
“We are changing the way we relate to each other. Thats what we want. To change the behaviors we have learned through capitalism.”

We parted with the crew of community members from Centro de Apoyo Mutuo late in the night after helping paint the new community kitchen space, building a compost toilet and pumping hundreds of gallons of potable drinking water into a common tank.

This is the work of actualization.

This is the dream of a new Puerto Rico being manifested by autonomous direct action.

Will Houston’s Post-Harvey Recovery Exacerbate Inequities or Build a More Just City?

Robert Bullard interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, November 24, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are just back from COP23, the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany, where the Trump administration tried to derail the conference by pushing coal, nuclear and gas as solutions to climate change. Well, on this Democracy Now! special, we’re looking at the ways climate change is already affecting the United States.

We turn now to Houston, which was devastated by massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey. The storm shattered all past U.S. rainfall records, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes in the fourth-largest city in the United States. Some call it the “Petro Metro,” Houston, because it’s home to the country’s largest refining and petrochemical complex. The storm also caused massive environmental and public health impacts. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, more than a million pounds of air pollution have been released into the air as petrochemical plants were forced to shut down by the storm.

Well, over Labor Day weekend, just as the floodwaters were receding, Democracy Now! traveled to Houston, where we spoke with Professor Robert Bullard, among others. Dr. Bullard is a professor at Texas Southern University, a historically black college and university. He’s considered the father of environmental justice. We spoke with Professor Bullard at his home, which he had just returned to after evacuating. I began by asking him about his experiences of the flood.

We saw Puerto Rico's struggle to survive

By Monique Dols and Lance Selfa - Socialist Worker, November 20, 2017

ALMOST TWO months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the island is adjusting to a new reality.

As one activist we met put it, Hurricane Maria ripped the leaves off the trees--and also ripped away the thin veil that barely concealed widespread poverty and immiseration.

The first few weeks after the storm were a period in which people worked just to ensure the safety of their families, comrades and loved ones, using alternative methods of communication to reach people in different areas. With very little support from the government, people pooled their resources to clean out their homes and try to salvage what was salvageable.

As of mid-November, about two-thirds of the island's residents remained without electricity. Although authorities are promising to restore power to 95 percent of residents by mid-December, attempts to repair the electrical grid have already run into many problems and breakdowns.

As a result, many people must rely on power generators for electricity, polluting the air with sound and exhaust. Without reliable electricity, people struggle to preserve and cook food, clean their clothing and keep desperately needed medicine such as insulin.

While 75 percent of the island reportedly had running water as this article was being written, people still line up for hours for bottled water--because it's suspected that water from the tap isn't safe to drink in the wake of the storm. In the Rio Piedras area of San Juan, the tap water ran blue as it flowed from faucets, according to residents.

Shortages of certain products roll through at different moments, creating spikes in prices. For example, right before we arrived, there was a shortage of mosquito repellant, which is now a necessity on the island.

The informal death toll is now around 900, but is likely more since communication is still spotty, reporting is low, and the medical system is still in a state of crisis.

Yet despite this latter crisis, the U.S. Navy medical ship, the USS Comfort--which, when we were there, was anchored in San Juan's port where cruise ships usually dock--is woefully underserving the sick people of Puerto Rico.

With doctors at Centro Médico in San Juan, the main hospital for the island, still operating by flashlight at times, many people wanted to know what you had to do to get admitted to the USS Comfort. The authorities had set up a couple of tents on the promenade next to the dock, and we saw dozens of people--some with walkers or oxygen tanks--lining up in the sweltering heat, presumably seeking treatment.

The common understanding on the island is that the local and federal governments have completely abandoned ordinary Puerto Ricans.

How corporate thieves prey on Puerto Rico

By Christopher Baum - Socialist Worker, November 17, 2017

ALMOST TWO months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, more than 750,000 Puerto Rican homes and businesses remain without electricity.

Yet political and business elites in the U.S. and on the island itself seem more interested in continuing the project of turning Puerto Rico into a cash machine for private companies than in giving the Puerto Rican people the aid they desperately need.

In the weeks following the hurricane, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) signed two highly dubious contracts with private U.S. firms to help with the rebuilding of the island's utilities infrastructure.

The more notorious of the two deals was a $300 million contract with a little-known Montana company called Whitefish Energy, which at the time Maria struck had only two permanent employees--and no experience on any projects even remotely approaching the scale of rebuilding Puerto Rico's power infrastructure.

In fact, as a two-year-old company, Whitefish could claim very little experience of any kind. What they did have going for them, apparently, was ties to the Trump administration's Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

This deal was so suspicious that even many congressional Republicans cried foul. In the face of enormous public and political pressure, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced on October 29 that he had instructed PREPA to cancel the Whitefish contract.

The deal still works out pretty well for Whitefish, however. As the New York Times reported, the company will continue to do repair work on the island through November 30.

The contract permits Whitefish to bill PREPA $319 an hour for each worker--of which the workers themselves, according to the Times, will receive between $42 and $100 an hour.

Whitefish is also authorized to charge $412 per worker per day for food and lodging, along with similarly exorbitant rates for equipment and transportation. As the Times notes, all of these figures as far above the norm, even for emergency work in remote areas.

And to top it all off, millions of Puerto Ricans who had their power restored were plunged into darkness again when a high-voltage transmission line supposedly repaired by Whitefish failed again.

Mexico City Earthquake Survivors: “We Had to Organize Ourselves”

By General Coordination of Mexico City Survivors - It's Going Down, November 15, 2017

With the approval of the 2018 Federation Expenditure Budget (PEF), the Chamber of Deputies showed their insensitivity and irresponsibility in dealing with the crisis left by the September 19 earthquake. They missed a historic opportunity to act in solidarity in the face of a national emergency of catastrophic proportions.

By means of mobilization, not by parliamentary will, a Reconstruction Fund (FONREC) of 2.5 billion pesos [roughly $130 million USD] was created. These resources are clearly insufficient for the reconstruction, repair, and reinforcement of the damaged dwellings and buildings.

This budget item, aside from expanding the Natural Disaster Fund, the Natural Disaster Prevention Fund, and the Capital City Fund, has no clear mechanisms nor rules to ensure that the resources land in the affected zones effectively and transparently.

Legislators who backed the 2018 PEF did not consider the situation of survivors as a priority. This is evident from their approval of 38 billion pesos [$1.98 billion USD] to continue bank bailout payments (Fobaproa).

At the same time, the federal representatives “authorized” a 200 million peso [$10.4 million USD] budget for the re-leveling of one of the buildings in San Lázaro [where Congress meets] that was damaged by the quake. It would seem that their sense of responsibility when faced with an event like that of September 19 only stretches as far as the walls of the Legislative Palace.

Furthermore, the Expenditure Budget maintains superfluous spending on perks, travel allowances, meals, and major medical expenses, for which it will designate 26 billion pesos [$1.35 billion USD], which could easily be used for reconstruction.

This disinterest compels us to strengthen our organizational efforts as survivors. Before our mobilization on November 9, a specific line item for reconstruction wasn’t even being considered in the PEF. We had to carry out joint actions for our demands to be made visible.

Protesting in the streets, where we’ve been since the day of the earthquake, we realized that there are many citizens who have demonstrated their support for us and understand our problems. Just as in the rescue efforts, we ask the people of Mexico for their solidarity in our struggle for reconstruction and against the oblivion in which we find ourselves immersed.

We will continue to bring our demands to the respective agencies, federal and local: that public resources be increased in accordance with our needs and used for the tasks of reconstruction, repair, and reinforcement of damaged buildings; as well as the issuance of advisory statements and necessary technical studies into soil mechanics, topographical levels, and materials resistance, among other subjects. Nor do we rule out turning to international agencies.

It’s important to point out that we are looking for solutions for all of the survivors, in their homes just as much as in the schools, hospitals, streets, and other public infrastructure damaged by the earthquake.

It must be underscored that the General Coordination of Mexico City Survivors is nonpartisan and from this moment on we reject all attempts to approach us in order to turn us into political spoils or a business opportunity for real estate developers.

We are citizens who demand the right to a dignified and safe home. In the face of the void displayed by the authorities, at all levels of government, we had to organize ourselves to confront the situation caused by the earthquake.

Pages