“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.” — Eduardo Galeano, author of Open Veins of Latin America
It has been six months since the end of last year’s hurricane season, and the Caribbean is still picking up the pieces.
More than 4,600 people died from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, according to a report from the New England Journal of Medicine. This number far surpasses the official figure of 64 deaths and tells a story of widespread human devastation, loss and suffering — the exact scope of which remain both unknown and profound.
Financially, 2017 ranks as one of the most devastating and costly hurricane seasons on record. The series of storms caused at least $282.2 billion in damages, $100 billion more than 2005, the previous record-holder. The season ties with 1936 as the fifth most active season since record-keeping started in 1851.
As hurricanes Irma and Maria raged, our partners and allies in the Caribbean responded. Unlike the parachute-relief operations of some well-meaning charities, our partners had intimate knowledge of the communities and their needs. After all, they live and organize in them every day.
Grassroots International stood in solidarity and supported these efforts. Soon after Hurricane Irma touched down, we launched a Caribbean Recovery Emergency Fund. The funds raised went to our partners on the ground for relief, recovery, and ongoing resilience.
The scope of the fund and our partners’ responses extended beyond immediate, essential relief. This work is not just about the recovery after last hurricane season, but about the safeguards put in place before the next one. It’s also about taking on the political hurricanes devastating our communities and the human-made climate crisis supercharging the natural ones.
On behalf of our partners and grantees, Grassroots International thanks every single person that donated to the Caribbean Hurricane Emergency Fund. Thanks to your support, we raised over $185,000. We’d like to update you on some of the amazing work you supported.
In Puerto Rico, we have seen devastation compounded by negligence and government inaction. Food and supplies sat in warehouses while people went hungry. Farmers saw their land flooded and ripped up by the powerful rains and winds. “My father’s ranch and all his work have been destroyed, [with] not a single pana tree standing,” said Pluma Barbara in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The island’s electrical grid, under-funded and pillaged for hedge fund vultures, was slow to recover. More than 25,000 homes and businesses still have not had power restored, mostly in the central mountain region of La Cordillera Central.
The most robust relief came from communities themselves. We sent $10,000 to Boricuá, the Puerto Rican agroecology movement. These funds allowed the group to support small farmers rebuilding their homes and livelihoods. They also provided resources for Boricuá’s farmer-to-farmer brigades so dozens could help each other rebuild their food system from the bottom up.
The emergency fund also supported the Comedores Sociales for $10,000. These grassroots community kitchens have fed people’s bellies and spirits alike. One mutual aid and political organizing center in Caguas served an estimated 500 to 700 people a day at its height, and our emergency funds helped with these projects’ storage facilities, equipment, food, and workers’ salaries across the island.
By many media perceptions, Haiti avoided the brunt of this year’s hurricane season. True, unlike the destructive gash left by 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, most of the country was spared. But the northern coast, especially northwestern Haiti, still saw lives upended.
“This storm didn’t even leave one tree with food on it for us to eat,” an exasperated Artis Esperance told The Miami Times as he chopped vegetation in Grand’Anse after Irma. “This has taken food out of the mouths of my children.”
With our partners’ and grantees’ deep roots in northwestern Haiti, they reacted quickly. The emergency funds from Grassroots were critical. For example, $5,000 went to the Papaye Peasants Movement (MPP).
“After the several hurricanes that went through Haiti in 2017, a lot of families lost their way of growing food. A lot of their livestock and animals were washed away,” said Juslene of the MPP. “Grassroots gave $5,000 in a very short time so we could buy seeds for people, buy goats for people, buy bananas for people — both so people could immediately eat and so people could grow again. That was a huge help, because the family farmers had lost everything.”
“That Emergency Fund enabled us to help 50 families in the area that was affected,” added Mulaire, also from the MPP.
Another $13,500 went to the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) and $4,000 each to Hands Together for Liberation and Community Advancement (MULAK), Tet Kole, and the Peasant Movement of Acul (MPA) for immediate assistance to farmers. Similarly, $13,000 went to the National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movement (MPNKP) to rebuild 750 family farms and forest systems lost in the storm.
Our solidarity extended into the Dominican Republic, where we supported the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA) and the Foundation for Cultural Interchange Among Caribbean Peoples (FUNCAR) for $3,200 each. MUDHA conducted direct cleanup, while FUNCAR rebuilt homes, provided drinking water, and supplied hygiene kits for the community.
Long-term Resilience and Resistance
Even in the face of disaster, the vultures continue to feed. In a recent blog for Devex, a former Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank rep recommends public-private partnerships for responding to future hurricanes.
Using slow response times as an excuse, she argues “governments must include concrete arrangements with private sector firms in traditionally unaffected neighboring countries, to participate in the timely supply of basic necessities for survivors.”
Our partners offer a different model: grassroots solutions led by the people affected. They offer solidarity built from the bottom up, not profiteering to benefit the wealthy at the top. But without building that alternative, top-down relief can easily lead to further, human-made, disasters for ordinary people.
That’s why our emergency fund also supported resistance and resilience efforts from our partners and grantees.
In Puerto Rico, the Jones Act, U.S. colonial domination, and the hedge funds’ debt have all deformed development and recovery. So as Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (CAM) and the comedores have provided mutual aid, they have also provided spaces to organize against this oppression. Our $22,750 to CAM supported these twin goals.
Likewise, the feminist Coordinadora Paz para las Mujeres received $6,000 to create discussion spaces so people can organize against the political disaster, “even more dangerous than the natural disaster.”
To avoid future power outages and dirty, dangerous gas generators, Casa Pueblo is providing 20,000 solar lights to rural communities with the $6,000 we sent them. Another $7,600 went for a solar-powered community organizing space.
Industrial agriculture and human-driven climate change bear responsibility for this devastation. Monocropping drives soil erosion and fossil fuel use has unwittingly born Frankenstein-like weather patterns. Therefore, even as they help rebuild, partners and grantees like PAPDA and Boricua are strengthening the movement for agroecology — encouraging sustainable farming that can withstand the next hurricane season.
Our deep gratitude and thanks again goes out to all the supporters of the Caribbean Hurricane Emergency Fund. Your solidarity fueled the recovery, resilience and resistance that inspires us all.