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Five years after Hurricane Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, it’s déjà vu. Hundreds of thousands of residents of the US territory are without power because of Hurricane Fiona, reviving memories of when Maria killed thousands, turned off the lights for months for three million people and how the US federal agency designed to help them “bungled” its response.
“I see an emotional exhaustion in people. It’s a ‘here we go again,’” social worker Gretchen Hernández told the Associated Press.
Fiona struck while Puerto Rico was already on its knees, and still rebuilding from Maria. According to Axios, more than 40 percent of Puerto Ricans live in poverty. The electrical grid as well as roads, bridges, schools and other infrastructure are in desperate need of renovation. But corruption, lack of leadership and tax revenues and questions over potential statehood have stymied efforts to make positive change. Authorities recently arrested ex-Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez, for instance, on bribery charges connected to campaign finances.
Many now question whether the island can remain viable, CNN wrote. After Maria, around 130,000 people, or 4 percent of the island’s population, left. That continued an ongoing trend. Since 2010, more than 530,000 people have migrated from the island. Most have gone to the US, where they are legally entitled to live as US citizens.
Many Puerto Ricans have given up hope for their island.
It’s no wonder. For example, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is bankrupt. The company is now working with federal courts to clear up its balance sheet, Bloomberg explained.
After months of getting the electrical grid up and running, officials transferred control of the grid to LUMA Energy, a private company. Critics have blasted LUMA Energy for failing to use billions in federal aid that was appropriated to help Puerto Rico, however, as electricity rates have spiked, and blackouts have become more common. Sweetheart energy deals for companies with political connections have also become the norm, added Israel Meléndez Ayala, an anthropologist and historian based on the island, in a New York Times op-ed.
The US could make some changes that might help. The Washington Post editorial board suggested the US change the 1920 Jones Act, which mandates that ships carrying goods to Puerto Rican ports from the US must be American ships. The law puts local Puerto Rican officials in the position of having to request a waiver for oil delivered on foreign ships – even in the wake of a disaster like Fiona.
In the Seattle Times, Gonzaga University Latin American Politics professor Jenaro Abraham contended that the island would only move forward when it severed its ties with the US. He suggested independence and American reparations to help the new country get on its feet.
The chances of Congress members and Senators embracing Abraham’s proposals are slim. Puerto Ricans, meanwhile, need more than lofty plans.