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disaster capitalism

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 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.

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.

Puerto Rico teachers fight to reopen schools

Mercedes Martinez interviewed by Peter Lamphere - Socialist Worker, January 4, 2018

Months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leading to hundreds of deaths and devastating much of the island's infrastructure, ordinary Puerto Ricans are still struggling to put their lives and communities together--with little help from the U.S. government.

In November, Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR)--a teachers' union that has organized against school closures and attacks on public education for many years--talked to New York City educator Peter Lamphere about how teachers are continuing the fight to rebuild Puerto Rico and what others can do to help.

In early November, 18 FMPR members were arrested as part of a civil disobedience action demanding the reopening of schools and drawing attention to the threat posed by advocates of neoliberalism--who view the hurricane as an opportunity to privatize public education and further weaken the power of the teachers' union.

P is For Privatization

By Camille Baker and Lydia McMullen-Laird - The Indypendent, December 27, 2017

When Nilda Sánchez and her children ventured outside after Hurricane Maria waged a direct hit on Puerto Rico, aluminum road signs were crumpled by the highway near their house and trees crisscrossed each other like slain animals in the street. The power and water were off, and remained so for six weeks. It was nearly three months before Sánchez learned whether another of the mainstays in her family’s life would be restored: her son’s education.

Sebastián, Sánchez’s 9-year-old son, had been receiving therapy for his learning disabilities at Instituto Loaiza Cordero, a public school in their San Juan neighborhood. Already the school had been shut down following Hurricane Irma’s sweeping of the island Sept. 6. For the next three months, Sánchez had no word on how much damage the school had sustained in the storms, and no inkling of whether or when it would reopen.

Their hardships multiplied. Sánchez began to worry that Sebastián, who suffers from developmental delays in hand-eye coordination and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was regressing without therapy and the routine of school. Child support payments from Sánchez’s ex-husband — whom she left, she said, after he became abusive toward her — stopped coming, slipping through the cracks of administrative upheaval. Without anywhere else to be, Sebastián had to accompany Sánchez to the few job interviews she could find in the hurricane’s wake.

Sánchez says Hurricane Maria opened her eyes to the “cruelty” of living in bureaucratic limbo.

Post Tax-Bill: Let’s Get Down To Business

By Anonymous Contributor - It's Going Down, December 26, 2017

A lot of debate over political and economic issues surrounding the latest GOP tax bill has flooded social media, news outlets, and propaganda outlets lately. It’s certainly troubling to think about; “cost-cutting” legislation that doesn’t pay for itself has historically had disastrous effects on the working class and on the economy as a whole. To make matters worse, the bill is a barely disguised christmas present of millions of dollars to large corporations, lobbyists, and the richest Americans who pushed this bill through the republican party. I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that this bill is going to be even more disastrous than the failed tax cut bills from previous administrations. The income inequality in America has become a horrendous giant that continues to grow day by day, and Donald Trump is about to feed it steroids. While the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the structure of our capitalist system is quietly teetering on the brink of collapse. When the next economic crash arrives, several extremely dangerous deficit bubbles like student loan debt, unfunded pensions, healthcare costs, and many others are going to pop at once. However, the most damaging of these bubbles is arguably the growing income inequality gap. It’s simple math, we cannot continue with this broken system. The rich are literally running out of wealth to steal from the working class.

Even now we see minimum wage jobs not yielding enough wealth to afford even the most basic of family needs like housing, food, and education. When the poor and working class can no longer be monetarily exploited, the last block at the base of the economic jenga tower will be pulled. The economy will tank like it never has before, and the tax overhaul has just accelerated this process tenfold. This issue coupled with the fact that our planet is entering self destruct mode makes our future seem very grim indeed.

The incredibly irresponsible actions of government officials in Washington have certainly set future generations up for failure. The exploitation of the working class has been written into law yet again, but we didn’t need it to be law for us to know it is already widespread. Institutions like consumerism, the market economy, racism, wage slavery, labor laws, and lobbying have already made inequality as American as baseball. I think it will be very interesting to see how the government reacts when the wealth gap reaches its climax. Our elected officials will be forced to choose between allowing a full-blown crisis to unfold or dramatically change the structure of American society and our “free market.”

Since capitol hill has repeatedly shown its ability to be sold out and used as a tool by elites, we cannot trust them to do the right thing in such a dire situation. Who knows what kind of deal corporate elites would attempt to barter with politicians in order to save their fortune, all we know is that it will be very ugly. Even if the government decided to bail out the people, it would be furiously debated in the house and senate as to how to carry out such a task. It’s not like reshaping the United States is the most partisan issue anyway. It would likely take weeks for Washington to make a semi-competent solution and even then it might not actually be a solution. The point is, it will be out of the peoples control as to what to do next, which is exactly what got us into this mess in the first place. Allowing a broken government to make decisions for all citizens in such a desperate time is irresponsible and dangerous. By the looks of how quickly the government is becoming incompetent, they may not even be capable of making any decisions.

To say a regime change is necessary would be obvious. Anarchists and other leftist activists have been saying that for years, I’m just the latest. Even though a “revolution” might prevent the impending collapse of American society, this will probably not happen. The apathy of many Americans along with our unbelievable ignorance prevents us time and time again to fix what’s broken. The possibility of regime change will arise only when our nation falls. It is imperative that the people and the working class decide what the appropriate change is. If not, exploitation is bound to continue for years to come. We would be fools not to take this opportunity, even though the opportunity comes in the form of crisis.

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