n September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Almost exactly five years later, Hurricane Fiona did it again. The death toll from Fiona appears not so great as was the case with Maria, but both times the island was left in darkness, as the electric power grid failed. The economic recovery from Maria was slow, and the economic impact of Fiona is likely to match that prior experience.
It is easy to view these two tragedies as “natural” disasters, but, of course, only if one ignores the fact that human-generated global warming has contributed to the frequency of severe hurricanes. In any case, the hurricanes’ causes aside, the impact on Puerto Rico is the consequence of an even greater perfect storm: the effects of Puerto Rico’s 100-plus years as a U.S. colony (following centuries of colonial rule by Spain); the damage wrought by the recent privatization of its electric power grid; and the legacy of the Trump administration’s reaction following Maria.
Puerto Rico, like other colonies, has been administered in the interests of the “mother country.” (See “Puerto Rico’s Colonial Economy,” D&S, November/December 2015.) This has meant, for example, providing generous tax advantages for U.S. firms operating on the island, delivering little benefit to Puerto Ricans but substantial profits for the firms; requiring that goods shipped from U.S. ports to Puerto Rico go on ships owned and operated by U.S. firms; controlling Puerto Rico’s economic relations with the rest of the world; and sharply repressing efforts to build an independence movement on the island.
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