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Hurricane Maria

Resistance is Disaster Relief

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, October 10, 2017

On this day, we must remember that for some communities, disasters have been unfolding for centuries, depriving people of life and liberty every single day.

Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been attacked and oppressed for over 500 years.  This continues today.  Every day.  Indigenous communities in the United States have exceptionally high rates of poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, infant mortality, teen suicide, high school drop-outs, homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, diabetes and other preventable diseases, incarceration, and violent crimes committed against them – in some instances the statistics are multiple times more than any other communities.

And today, in cities all over the United States, parades are held to celebrate the man who initiated this age of terror.  Columbus Day is a celebration of genocide.  Christopher Columbus remarked, upon meeting the Taino peoples of so-called Hispaniola (now known as Haiti & Dominican Republic), that “they are artless and generous with what they have… Of anything they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they would give their hearts.”  Columbus was a different sort, however; based on this observation he concluded that “with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.”

On his return trips, that is exactly what he did.  He proclaimed the following: “I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”  The Taino could not understand a word of this, and did not adequately resist the tyrants who demanded that each person over 14 extract a daily quantity of gold.  If they did not bring enough, their hands were chopped off; slaves who tried to escape were burned alive.

Why do we celebrate this man?

Abolish the debt that is drowning Puerto Rico

Editorial - Socialist Worker, October 11, 2017

SOCIALIST WORKER supports President Trump in his call to cancel Puerto Rico's punishing debt.

We can pretty much guarantee you'll never see the first five words of that sentence here ever again--and the supervisors of the "adult day care center" at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are obviously trying like hell to make sure we never have reason to.

But it says a lot about the Wall Street-made catastrophe that has plagued Puerto Rico for years before Hurricane Maria that even a reactionary fanatic like Trump didn't think twice before stating the obvious.

"They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we're going to have to wipe that out," Trump said in an interview last week with Geraldo Rivera of Fox News. "I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that."

"Wall Street promptly freaked out," Politico reported the next day. That was an understatement. Heavy trading on the normally stable bond market pushed the value of Puerto Rico's general obligation bonds--already devalued to 56 cents on the dollar after the island effectively declared bankruptcy earlier this year--down to 37 cents on the dollar.

The White House then "move[d] swiftly to clean up Trump's seemingly offhand remarks," Politico continued. Again an understatement. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was rushed in front of a television camera to tell CNN: "I wouldn't take it word for word with that."

Just to make sure Wall Street got the message that no one in the Trump administration had any intention of doing what the head of the Trump administration had just said, Mulvaney was more explicit--and more contemptuous of the Puerto Rican people--in a second interview with Bloomberg: "We are not going to bail them out. We are not going to pay off those debts."

Anyone want to bet that Trump doesn't talk about "saying goodbye" to Puerto Rico's debt again?

But the simple fact is that justice demands exactly that: The cancelation of all of Puerto Rico's debt repayments, by the action of the U.S. government, taking responsibility for the Wall Street loan sharks who inflicted the damage in the first place.

Puerto Rico is caught in the same kind of debt trap that has ensnared poor countries in hock to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank--or more advanced economies like Greece, at the hands of European bankers and bureaucrats. The aim is to force vulnerable societies to knuckle under to the will of the ruling class.

And now, the devastation of neoliberal policies has made Puerto Rico's crisis following Hurricanes Irma and Maria much, much worse.

People who want to show solidarity with Puerto Rico today will rightly focus on ways to provide immediate relief to communities desperate for food, water and critical supplies. SW hopes its readers will raise what money they can to donate to grassroots efforts--see the What You Can Do box with this article.

But we have another job to do now, while Puerto Rico lingers in the media spotlight: expose the debt trap that made the island more vulnerable when Maria struck and demand that it end.

Nurse Volunteers in Puerto Rico Call For Escalation of Relief Efforts Amid Dire Conditions for Residents

By Charles Idelson - Common Dreams, October 10, 2017

WASHINGTON - Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, registered nurse volunteers on the ground continue to sound the alarm about dire conditions and countless numbers of residents still in desperate need for assistance amid a federal relief effort that has failed to reach many people in need.

NNU’s Registered Nurse Relief Network sent 50 RNs as part of a 300-member deployment led by the AFL-CIO in conjunction with the Puerto Rican Federation of Labor and the San Juan Mayor’s office.

They cite a continuing lack of food, water, and other supplies from FEMA and other relief agencies, people standing in line for hours waiting for help, multiple houses with roofs blown off and soaked interiors but people staying in those homes because they have no where else to go, and people still without medical aid.

“What our nurses witness daily is the harsh reality of a woefully inadequate government response and the brutal, inhumane impact on the Puerto Rican people. People are still without food and water. That poses an enormous humanitarian threat in terms of disease, life, and death and who succumbs first,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s RNRN program.

“No more disgraceful delays. The Trump Administration, FEMA, and Congress must act immediately,” Castillo said.

Coming together to overcome FEMA failures

By Monique Dols - Socialist Worker, October 10, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S hateful tweet that the residents of Puerto Rico "want everything to done for them" made people's blood boil around the world--but nowhere more than in Puerto Rico itself, where conditions are desperate after the devastation of two powerful hurricanes that was made worse by man-made factors.

In glaring contrast to Trump's racist twitter rant, the island's people are stepping up and organizing themselves, filling the vacuum left by the mismanagement of the federal government and some local authorities.

One example of self-organization to meet the needs of people still reeling from the disaster is Caguas, a city in a mountainous area south of San Juan, where members of Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico (Community Kitchens of Puerto Rico) and Urbe Apie (City Rising), a group of activists working for the revitalization of Caguas, organized the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Aid Center, or CAM).

Basing itself on the need for food and other critical supplies and services to reach the people who need them, CAM was formed a week after the hurricane and quickly became a hub of activity, with people pouring in to help each other through the crisis.

Organizers estimate the center feeds about 500 to 700 people per day and exists entirely on volunteer labor, donated food and food bought with monetary donations made directly to the project. At the center, people eat and cook together--and, just as importantly, find companionship and solidarity at a moment when millions are desperate and in despair, unsure of what will happen next.

Daniel Orsini, a CAM organizer in Caguas, says that solidarity activists outside of Puerto Rico wishing to send support to the island should donate directly to the CAM project. According to Orsini, the federal government's FEMA operation is badly mismanaged, and supplies sent to Puerto Rico, including through mainstream NGOs, aren't getting to the people who need them.

Nurses on Ground in Puerto Rico Warn Dire Conditions, Slow Relief Effort Posing Urgent Health, Safety Crisis

By Charles Idelson, National Nurses United - Common Dreams, October 9, 2017

WASHINGTON - Registered nurses volunteers on the ground in Puerto Rico are warning that dire conditions, and a glacially slow federal relief effort, are threatening a growing health calamity for millions of residents, warns National Nurses United.
NNU’s Registered Nurse Relief Network (RNRN) sent 50 RNs as part of a 300-member deployment led by the AFL-CIO in conjunction with the Puerto Rican Federation of Labor and the San Juan Mayor’s office. They cite:

  • People who have yet to receive any food, water, and other supplies from FEMA or any other agency.  
  • People standing in line for hours in blistering heat waiting for desperately needed water and food, only to finally see federal disaster officials bringing paperwork “to collect data” rather than critical supplies.
  • Multiple houses with roofs blown off and soaked interiors where there is dangerous black mold growing that creates respiratory distress and illness.
  • A breakout of leptospirosis, a dangerous bacterial disease that has already claimed lives.
  • Widespread devastation with families across the island who have seen no signs of FEMA or other federal relief officials. 
  • “While we hear boasts of a great response, the reality on the ground is far different,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s RNRN program. 

“What our nurses witness daily is the harsh reality of a woefully inadequate government response and the brutal, inhumane impact on the Puerto Rican people. People are still without food and drinking water. That poses an enormous humanitarian threat in terms of disease, life, and death and who succumbs first,” Castillo said. 

“There can be no more delays. There is an extreme threat to life. The Trump Administration, FEMA, and Congress must act immediately,” Castillo said.

On the southern edge of San Juan municipality, where there has been no contact with FEMA, Red Cross or any official relief. This family has been sleeping in their roofless house on soaking wet furniture for weeks. The youngest child has (unsurprisingly) developed a rash. When RN Lucia Lopez gave the mother hydrocortisone cream, she burst into tears.

Filling Gaps Left By Trump, Nurses and Labor Unions Join Puerto Rico Relief Efforts

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, October 8, 2017

As President Donald Trump continues to come under fire for failing to deliver sufficient help to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—which killed dozens and left millions without power and running water—nurses, doctors, engineers, and other workers affiliated with various unions including National Nurses United (NNU) and the AFL-CIO have teamed up to assist with relief and recovery efforts.

"I put out the call for help, and who listened? The unions," said Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital. 

Workers representing more than 20 unions boarded a flight to San Juan late last week "in response to the urgent need to get highly skilled workers to Puerto Rico to help people seeking medical and humanitarian assistance, as well as to help with the rebuilding effort," according to the AFL-CIO's Kenneth Quinnell.

"The nurses, doctors, electricians, engineers, carpenters and truck drivers on the flight will engage in various efforts, including helping clear road blockages, caring for hospital patients, delivering emergency supplies, and restoring power and communications," Quinnell added.

"When our union sisters and brothers see a need in our national or international community, we don't ask if we should act, we ask how," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "We are united in lifting up our fellow Americans."

NNU, for its part, sent a delegation of 50 volunteer registered nurses from throughout the U.S. to help provide urgent medical assistance to those in need.

"As nurses whenever there's a call and there's an ask, we go," said NNU vice president Cathy Kennedy, RN. "From the reports I've heard especially the elderly that have been without oxygen, without food or water, are at risk, everyone's at risk but particularly the children and the elderly."

In total, more than 300 union members are taking part in the joint response effort, which could be seen taking shape on social media over the weekend. 

"We use the word 'solidarity' a lot in the labor movement. The idea that when we come together, we are stronger," wrote Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. "On this relief mission, it was solidarity in the truest sense of the word. Working people united around a common purpose — to provide help for those in need."

The response of union workers to the crisis sparked by Hurricane Maria also garnered the attention of NBC News, which ran a segment Saturday that focused on the dire circumstances affecting millions and the efforts of volunteers to provide help that has not been delivered by the U.S. government.

Hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico: U.S. aid is slow and insufficient

Omar Pérez Figueroa interviewed by Ernie Gotta - Socialist Action, October 8, 2017

Soon after hurricane Irma devastated islands in the Caribbean and parts of Florida, Socialist Action reporter Ernie Gotta interviewed Omar Pérez Figueroa about the effects of the storm on Puerto Rico. Gotta followed up with Perez after hurricane Maria decimated the island. Pérez, a native of Puerto Rico, is a member of the Juventud Hostosiana, the youth group of the Hostosian National Independence Movement. He is an investigative analyst on climate and water quality and a doctoral student at the University of California Irvine School of Social Ecology.

Socialist Action: Can you discuss the situation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria?

Oliver Pérez: The situation is chaotic right now, there is no electricity, only 25% of people have water, and approximately 88% of the cellular towers are out of power. People are dying in the hospitals, treatment such as dialysis and oxygen therapy need electricity to be provided, and the gas that is used to run the power generator is scarce. The government is saying that they have supplies, but somehow people are not receiving them. As a result, people are camping, making long lines just to get some gas.

Another issue that has gone unnoticed is the mixture between stagnant water from the floods and sewage water. In a normal rain event, manhole lids burst because of the water pressure. Now imagine how many manholes blew with the hurricane! This water mix poses a health risk to everyone that comes in contact with it; sewage water contains high levels of pathogens. Because roads are either blocked or flooded, people do not have another option than to get in contact with this polluted water.

Also, there are areas in the interior of the island where aid has not arrived. We have people writing “S.O.S.” on their roofs, hoping that someone will send aid. There are people who lost everything, unlike high-income people from Guaynabo, where President Trump visited during his trip to the island. This media circus portrayed Puerto Ricans as if they were doing just fine, rather than showing a humanitarian crisis.

SA: Can you talk about the U.S. relief response?

OP: FEMA is responding at snail’s pace. My sister told me yesterday that on the way to visit my grandmother’s house she saw houses without roofs and people sleeping out in the open. The process to obtain aid from FEMA has been exhausting. It is very complicated; you need the internet to complete the formularies. The people that I know that have been able to fill the application had done it through the phone. How come the fastest way to apply for aid is via internet and phone, when most of the island is without power and cell phone signal? Supposedly, FEMA sent people on foot to complete these forms, but they are nowhere to be found.

The U.S government has had an Army colonel named Jeffrey Hughes to oversee the aid operations in the island. This has been seen by many people as a new military occupation of the island. Yes, we need aid, we need tools and structures that can allow us to bounce back from this crisis, but we don’t need to keep perpetuating the same political system that has made us dependent on U.S. aid.

Furthermore, last week (Oct. 3) President Trump visited Puerto Rico to see first hand the consequences of Hurricane Maria. Rather than being supportive or expressing his concern for Puerto Ricans’ wellbeing, he stated that Puerto Ricans have thrown the U.S. budget “out of whack.” He went on to say that Puerto Ricans and Governor Ricardo Rosselló should be proud because only 17 people have perished in this event, which compared to Hurricane Katrina, in which the dead count went into the thousands, was “good.”

He mentioned how they have finally arrived to help us, as if Puerto Ricans have not done anything to pull themselves from this crisis. That visit showed a lack of respect and understanding of the Puerto Rico situation. Losing 17 lives is more than enough.

Puerto Rico needs aid, not an occupation

By Nicole Colson - Socialist Worker, October 4, 2017

DONALD TRUMP couldn't resist taking the opportunity of his visit on Tuesday to lecture the people of Puerto Rico about how grateful they should be--to him, of course--and how horrible they are for daring to suffer.

Unbelievably--or perhaps all too believably, considering who we're talking about--Trump declared that the island's 3.4 million inhabitants, who are still trying to survive without basic necessities two weeks after being hit head-on by Hurricane Maria, aren't enduring a "real catastrophe."

"Every death is a horror," Trump actually said, "but if you look at a real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died and what happened here with a storm that was just totally overbearing...Sixteen people certified...You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together."

Of course, the official death toll of 16 doesn't include hundreds, probably thousands and perhaps more who haven't been counted yet because many regions remain cut off, and bodies lie in morgues without any way to identify them or enter them into government tallies.

As this article was being written, the official death toll hadn't been updated in six days--a sign, as Vox's Elizabeth Barclay pointed out, of just how severe the government collapse is at this point.

And that doesn't take into account the many more who may die in the coming days and weeks as hospitals continue to go without power and supplies, and the population is threatened with epidemics as a result of the lack of potable water and other necessities.

Against Colonialism & Neoliberalism: Solidarity with Puerto Rico

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, October 3, 2017

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is organizing response teams to continually travel to Puerto Rico and surrounding areas to assist with rebuilding sustainable, modular water and energy systems to provide immediate, life-saving relief and long-term, permanent independence and autonomy of marginalized, impacted communities.

Please share our Action Network donation page and campaign Wishlist!

Email us to share your skills, knowledge,and time.
Contact us to stand in solidarity and mutual aid with Puerto Rico
as people rebuild their homes, and liberate and re-empower their communities in defiance of the United States’ colonial project of dependency, debt, and austerity.

The Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Puerto Rico Rebuilds Campaign/Campaign to Rebuild the Caribbean is a call to allies everywhere to stand in solidarity with people in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean who face the difficult and long-term journey to rebuild their homes and lives.


  1. Raise funds for equipment and tools needed to set up modular water treatment and solar energy systems, providing immediate relief.
  2. Response teams travel to impacted communities throughout October and November, providing immediate access to clean water and electricity.
  3. Mutual Aid Disaster Relief network continues decentralized response efforts over the long-term, raising funds to construct and install permanent, community maintained water catchment and filtration systems as well as sustainable energy systems.

The Mutual Aid Disaster Relief network is currently raising money to purchase the necessary supplies, materials, and tools to install modular water treatment systems and solar arrays to provide needed and life-saving clean water and electricity to impacted communities.

Each individual donation helps us get closer to providing sustainable water and energy access to residents in Puerto Rico for immediate and long-term disaster relief and community autonomy. If you would like to sign up as a matching donor, please reach out to us at

Currently, Puerto Rico still has no power and it is estimated that the island will not return to full power for six months, leaving 3.5 million people without electricity. The only power supply available for residents are a handful of generators, which is accompanied by a shortage of diesel fuel and gas. People are waiting in line up to six hours for fuel. Existing generators are powering essential buildings like hospitals, however, due to shortages, some hospitals have had to refuse patients and others have lost patients because there was not sufficient energy to power life-support equipment, oxygen machines, or to refrigerate some life-saving medications.

The threat to health is also increased by the lack of electricity to power vital wastewater and potable water treatment plants. Raw sewage and floodwaters can contaminate drinking sources.  The risk is exacerbated due to Puerto Rico’s already aging and leaking water system, which can result in bacteria and other contaminants leaking into the system as well.  Without electricity, water treatment plants are unable to treat and distribute clean water. It would require 2,500 generators to get the entire system operational immediately.

Approximately 60 percent of the island does not have access to clean water and 80 percent of the agriculture has been decimated, leaving millions of residents without drinking water, a stable food supply, the ability to provide sterile environments for health care, or the ability to cook, flush toilets, take showers, or grow food.

The lack of electricity has also made communication difficult with barely any functioning cell phone towers and no reception. Family and friends in diaspora are challenged with raised anxiety levels as family members on the island are unable to check in.  Rescue operations rely on satellite phones and response efforts are more difficult to coordinate.

Puerto Rico is Facing an Historic Crisis

Jael Pimentel and Yara Liceaga-Rojas interviewed by Dorian B - Socialist Worker, October 3, 2017

WHAT ARE conditions like on the ground in Puerto Rico? How severe is the humanitarian crisis?

Jael: There are many parts of the country outside the San Juan metro area that are completely without electricity, without any form of communication. Their roads are blocked and in many cases their situation is unknown.

Yara: There are massive infestations of mosquitos and rats because of the accumulation of rotting garbage. There were many animals killed during the storm, and they haven't been removed. At several cemeteries that were badly flooded, bodies have been forced from their graves by the water and are now just lying out in the open. Conditions are seriously unsanitary.

Many people are ill. The lack of air conditioning in the hospitals is leading to the spread of bacteria and bacterial infections. There are many hospitals in really bad condition, so much so that family members of patients are no longer being let in because it's unsafe.

Jael: Not only that, but people have no food. I have a cousin who waited in line for four hours. She was given three cans of spaghetti for five people.

Yara: Supermarkets are empty. Gas is being rationed out. You have to wait up to seven or eight hours in your car to get gas, only to be sold $10 to $15 of gas.

Jael: There are endless lines for everything. I really want to stress this because someone like my father, who is 85 years old, has tried to wait in lines twice already, but has had to leave because of his physical condition. He woke up at 3:30 a.m. one day to cue up for five hours to get gas. The elderly simply cannot stand in line for five hours. There are many people who are unable to access a lot of basic supplies.

HOW MUCH do we know about the loss of life so far?


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