It’s been said many times that there’s no such thing as a natural disaster these days. With all of our technology, we’re capable of building resilient infrastructure, moving people out of harm’s way, and engaging in herculean rescue efforts. As a rule, big disasters are made worse but inaction, incompetence, and corruption. At the end of the day, there’s more money to be made in the aftermath of a disaster than there is in preventing one. That means that when there was a push (eventually successful) to privatize Puerto Rico’s grid after the disaster of Hurricane Maria, it wasn’t hard to predict that the end result not be good for the people.
Now, under the advance of Hurricane Fiona, the entire island has apparently lost power.
A “total blackout” was reported on the island of Puerto Rico on Sunday as heavy rainfall and powerful winds pounded the island before Hurricane Fiona made landfall just before 4:00 pm local time.
Weather forecasters said the rainfall is likely to produce devastating landslides and severe flooding, with up to 25 inches (64 cm) expected in some areas. A Category 1 storm, with sustained winds of 85 mph, Fiona is nowhere near as powerful as Hurricane Maria which slammed the island in 2017, nearly five years to the day, as a Category 4 monster.
It wasn’t lost on many that the nation’s sole power utility company, LUMA—granted control of the territory’s electricity system in a 2020 privatization deal in the wake of Maria’s devastation—is the institution now in charge as the entire island has lost power in the face of Fiona.
In July, major protests were organized by Puerto Ricans opposed to LUMA—a joint venture by Canada-based ATCO and Houston-based Quanta Services. Citing increased outages, unreliable service, and higher bills, opponents demanded the 15-year contract with the company be canceled.
As Reuters reported in July, “Power rates have gone up five times since LUMA began operating Puerto Rico’s transmission and distribution system on June 1, 2020. The last rate hike, which took effect at the start of July, pushed rates up by 17.1%.”
Earlier this month, protests again were again on display in San Juan and elsewhere condemning LUMA.
In a statement on its website Sunday, LUMA said “full power restoration could take several days” and asked for “support and patience” from its customers.
Carmen Yulín Cruz, who was the progressive mayor of San Juan when Maria hit the island in 2017, offered a sobering comment in response to news of the blackout:
“Puerto Rico is 100% without electrical power,” she tweeted. “The cycle of death begins.”
“The cycle of death” is a good alternate name for disaster capitalism. I’m at a point where I am no longer willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to anyone in power. We know how this plays out. It’s been done over and over and over again all over the world. The people running our government – the leadership of both the Democrats and the Republicans, and the capitalist class they serve – know what they are doing. They know that things like privatizing Puerto Rico’s grid will result in high costs for unreliable results. They knew this would happen and they wanted it anyway. If someone wants to insist that they didn’t know, then they are so incompetent and out of touch that their ignorance is literally getting people killed.
Either way, things need to change.