[To say that the island of 3.3 million has not yet recovered –
from the damage or the trauma – is an understatement. One year after
Maria, nearly every pillar of Puerto Rican society remains
devastated.] [https://portside.org/] 

 PUERTO RICO HAS NOT RECOVERED FROM HURRICANE MARIA  
[https://portside.org/2018-09-19/puerto-rico-has-not-recovered-hurricane-maria]


 

 Lauren Lluveras 
 September 18, 2018
The Conversation
[https://theconversation.com/puerto-rico-has-not-recovered-from-hurricane-maria-103288]


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 _ To say that the island of 3.3 million has not yet recovered –
from the damage or the trauma – is an understatement. One year after
Maria, nearly every pillar of Puerto Rican society remains devastated.
_ 

 Puerto Rico residents rely on each other and wait for aid , Time 

 

Puerto Rico was in crisis long before Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 20,
2017.

For years, this U.S. territory had been struggling with debt, economic
crisis
[https://theconversation.com/puerto-ricos-bankruptcy-will-make-hurricane-recovery-brutal-heres-why-84559]
and drought
[https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/how-puerto-rico-is-coping-with-the-worst-drought-in-decades].
In May 2017, the government defaulted on US$73 billion in loans
[https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-11/puerto-rico-debt-donnybrook-kicks-off-with-squabble-over-default]
and declared bankruptcy.

Then Hurricane Maria slammed the island with 155-mph winds and coastal
flooding
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/us/puerto-rico-toa-baja-hurricane-.html]
that rose to 6 feet within 30 minutes of landfall. The storm caused
the longest power blackout in U.S. history.

Sixty-four Puerto Ricans died during Maria and an estimated 2,975
Puerto Ricans
[https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/puerto-rico-crisis/hurricane-maria-death-toll-puerto-rico-may-be-closer-2-n904426]
perished from hurricane-related problems in the five months afterwards
– many from treatable chronic illnesses because the power outage
prevented them from getting antibiotics, insulin and other medical
care
[https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nation-and-world/hurricane-aftermath-brought-health-issues-death-to-puerto-rico/].

To say that the island of 3.3 million has not yet recovered – from
the damage or the trauma
[https://www.npr.org/2018/08/09/637230089/puerto-rico-estimates-it-will-cost-139-billion-to-fully-recover-from-hurricane-m]
– is an understatement. One year after Maria, nearly every pillar of
Puerto Rican society remains devastated.

Here’s a snapshot of Puerto Rico today, based on my academic
research and visits to family who stayed on the island both during and
after the hurricane.

In this photo from October 2017, Roberto Figueroa Caballero sits in
the ruins of his home after Hurricane Maria. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa,
File)

1. The economy

A few months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s government
proposed significant changes
[https://cb.pr/lo-mas-importante-del-nuevo-plan-fiscal-del-gobierno-de-puerto-rico/]
to the fiscal plan put in place in 2017 by the federally appointed
financial management board that has run Puerto Rico’s economy since
its bankruptcy.

In light of Puerto Rico’s post-disaster needs, Gov. Ricardo
Rosselló sought to ease some cuts to education and public services
while still paying down Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt.

But the oversight board objected, calling certain proposals
“inconsistent
[https://www.bondbuyer.com/news/oversight-board-wants-changes-to-puerto-rico-fiscal-plan]”
with the fiscal board’s mandate to restructure the Puerto Rican
economy
[https://www.reuters.com/article/puertorico-debt-budget/board-rejects-puerto-ricos-proposed-budget-asks-governor-for-new-one-idUSL1N1SH2O7].

The ongoing austerity measures have complicated Puerto Rico attempts
to recover economically from Maria.

Small businesses, the island’s main job creators
[https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-11/puerto-rico-s-small-businesses-are-still-hurting-from-hurricane-maria],
are struggling. Roughly 8,000 of Puerto Rico’s 45,000 small
employers have closed up shop over the last year.

Four in 10 Puerto Ricans
[https://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/national/washington-post-kaiser-family-foundation-puerto-rico-survey-july-3-aug-29-2018/2327/]
reported losing a job in the storm’s aftermath.

Maria also destroyed nearly all agricultural production in Puerto
Rico.

Overnight, farmers who were already struggling with climate change
[https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/05/06/climate-change-and-agriculture-americas]
and lack of agricultural workers
[https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/puerto-rico-crisis/push-we-needed-puerto-rico-s-local-farmers-step-efforts-n875491]
saw nearly 80 percent
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/us/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-agriculture-.html?mcubz=1]
of their crops destroyed – a US$780 million loss.

There is one bright spot: For the first time since 2013, unemployment
on the island is below 10 percent
[https://www.bondbuyer.com/news/puerto-rico-unemployment-rate-slips-below-10]
because rebuilding has created so many construction jobs. Those
positions, however, are temporary.

Puerto Rico’s economy isn’t expected to stabilize for another five
years
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/a-year-after-maria-puerto-ricos-economy-remains-feeble/2018/09/12/a947ce78-b136-11e8-aed9-001309990777_story.html?utm_term=.896fc5de7b02].

2. Health care

All of Puerto Rico’s 93 clinics and hospitals have reopened since
Maria
[https://www.kff.org/medicaid/fact-sheet/health-centers-in-puerto-rico-operational-status-after-hurricane-maria/].

But its health care sector remains devastated by the storm.

An estimated 500 to 700 physicians and surgeons
[http://www.colegiomedicopr.org/peligrosa-fuga-de-miles-de-medicos/]
out of roughly 10,000 on the island
[https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/puerto-rico-s-exodus-doctors-adds-health-care-strain-dire-n783776]
have left since Hurricane Maria.

According to Dr. Wendy Matos, executive director of the University of
Puerto Rico’s faculty practice plan, most health service providers
in Puerto Rico are privately owned
[https://www.nrdc.org/experts/mekela-panditharatne/six-months-after-maria-puerto-ricos-growing-health-crisis].
That means the bad news about shuttered small businesses and mass
unemployment applies to the island’s health care sector.

Just before Maria hit, the Urban Institute think tank found that 72 of
Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities lacked
[https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/87011/2001050-puerto-rico-health-care-infratructure-assessment-site-visit-report_1.pdf]
adequate primary care services in relation to their population and
health risk.

The storm did not improve coverage. Today, just 20 health centers in
Puerto Rico
[https://www.kff.org/medicaid/fact-sheet/health-centers-in-puerto-rico-operational-status-after-hurricane-maria/]
– roughly one-fifth of all medical facilities – provide primary
and preventative care services.

3. Electricity

Eleven months after Hurricane Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s power,
the island’s department of energy announced on Aug. 15, 2018
[https://www.democracynow.org/2018/8/16/headlines/puerto_rican_officials_say_electricity_fully_restored_after_11_months]
that electricity was fully restored.

Early on in the blackout, many Puerto Ricans hoped the power crisis
would lead Puerto Rico to build a cleaner, more sustainable power grid
[https://theconversation.com/climate-change-may-scuttle-caribbeans-post-hurricane-plans-for-a-renewable-energy-boom-94235].
The island generates almost half
[https://qz.com/1388117/puerto-rico-eyes-building-the-energy-grid-of-the-future/]
of its electricity by burning oil or diesel.

After Hurricane Maria, the company Tesla installed solar panels across
Puerto Rico to restore electricity to communities without power. AP
Photo/ Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo

Instead, the island’s power authority struggled just to function,
churning through three directors and five chief executives in the past
year
[https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/is-political-interference-damaging-puerto-ricos-utility#gs.VbbRgsA].

Some residents grew so tired of waiting for their lights to come on
that they repaired power lines themselves
[https://www.wired.com/story/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-recovery/].

On June 20, 2018, Gov. Rosselló signed a controversial bill putting
the island power authority up for sale, saying it would allow the
island to “jump into new energy models
[https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/puerto-rico-crisis/puerto-rico-officially-moves-privatize-power-grid-9-months-after-n885111].”

Many islanders feared
[https://www.forbes.com/sites/debtwire/2018/04/03/puerto-ricos-prepa-privatization-a-sale-too-private/#4c4737df7490]
that privatizing the public utility would worsen its existing problems
with mismanagement and corruption
[https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/puerto-rico-energy-authority-investigates-dozens-of-post-maria-bribery-cases].
Environmentalists counter the move actually stunts any hope of a green
energy shift
[https://theconversation.com/why-privatizing-puerto-ricos-power-grid-wont-solve-its-energy-problems-91179].

Half of the authority’s board members resigned in protest
[https://www.bondbuyer.com/news/majority-of-prepas-board-resigns-criticizing-the-authoritys-politicization].

4. Education

Education is another of Hurricane Maria’s casualties.

This past summer, Puerto Rico closed 283 schools
[https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/puerto-rico-crisis/puerto-rico-school-closings-hit-families-communities-hard-n863461]
– about a quarter of all public primary educational facilities –
due to dropping enrollment.

Almost 39,000 fewer students registered
[https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/01/us/puerto-rico-school-closings.html?login=email&auth=login-email]
for the 2018 school year, according to Puerto Rico’s Department of
Education, presumably because their families emigrated.

The Department of Education says that its $300 million deficit
[https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/puerto-rico-opens-first-ever-charter-school-amid-controversies-n902056],
which existed prior to the hurricane
[http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-puerto-rico-bankruptcy-20170505-story.html],
did not drive the school closures.

5. Democracy

Hurricane Maria has brought new urgency to an old debate about Puerto
Rico’s status as a United States territory
[https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/15/politics/puerto-rico-hurricane-governor-cnntv/index.html].

The island is home to an estimated 2.5 million
[https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2016/comm/citizen_voting_age_population/cb16-tps18_pr.html]
voting-age American citizens who cannot vote for any representatives
in Congress.

Puerto Ricans who fled the island for the U.S. mainland after Maria
are eligible for the first time to vote in congressional elections. AP
Photo/Julio Cortez

Though lawmakers in Florida, New Jersey and New York
[http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/politics/403520-as-the-federal-government-fails-the-people-of-puerto-rico-local]
have tried to advocate for Puerto Ricans’ needs since Maria, island
residents are effectively “disenfranchised
[https://www.abc17news.com/news/politics/puerto-rico-gov-problem-of-colonialism-needs-solution/795620984],”
says Gov. Rosselló.

Many commentators have observed that Puerto Ricans’ lack of
political representation may explain
[https://newrepublic.com/minutes/145030/trump-looking-excuse-not-fund-puerto-ricos-recovery]
why the island’s recovery has lagged, equating its territorial
status with second-class citizenship.

But the number of Puerto Ricans who can vote in federal elections is
growing. An estimated 135,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida, New
York, Texas and Pennsylvania
[https://www.citylab.com/environment/2018/05/watch-puerto-ricos-hurricane-migration-via-mobile-phone-data/559889/]
since Maria.

Voter advocacy groups
[https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/ahead-midterm-florida-hopes-bridge-gap-potential-puerto/story?id=57438796]
are connecting with these new Latino voters ahead of the upcoming
midterm congressional elections.

On Sept. 7, a federal judge ordered 32 Florida counties
[https://www.reuters.com/article/us-florida-election/u-s-judge-orders-32-florida-counties-to-help-puerto-ricans-vote-idUSKCN1LN2MM]
to ensure Puerto Ricans can cast ballots in Spanish.

Before Maria, politicians may have found it easy enough to disregard
Puerto Ricans
[https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/the-political-travesty-of-puerto-rico-196852/].
Now, they represent an angry and energized electorate in some of the
country’s most important swing states.[The Conversation]

_Lauren Lluveras
[https://theconversation.com/profiles/lauren-lluveras-410196],
Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Urban Policy Research and
Analysis, University of Texas at Austin
[http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-texas-at-austin-1343]_

This article is republished from The Conversation
[http://theconversation.com] under a Creative Commons license. Read
the original article
[https://theconversation.com/puerto-rico-has-not-recovered-from-hurricane-maria-103288].

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