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Puerto Rico: Creating a Just Recovery Amidst a Human-made Disaster

October 2017

On September 20, Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on Puerto Rico. The initial reports and photos only tell a portion of the story of destruction. Farms, homes and the environment were decimated by the 150+ mph winds and torrential rains. Weeks later, 95% of the population is still without power. Many residents are struggling to access food, water and fuel to run generators. These impacts come on top of the impacts of a deep, human-made disaster — one with its roots in the US colonial relationship with Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico’s economy has been crippled by Wall Street, whose predatory lending has led to Puerto Rico’s indebtedness at astounding levels. To make matters worse, Congress passed PROMESA (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) in 2016, which turns over decision-making about Puerto Rico’s finances to an oversight board whose strategy is to resolve the debt through the imposition of austerity measures.

With all of this context, it is clear that the US has a particular responsibility to the people of Puerto Rico. However, disaster relief and recovery assistance from the US government have been shockingly slow to come.

There are key structural barriers that make it extremely difficult for international actors to provide assistance — namely, the Jones Act. The Act, passed in 1920, is an unfair law that has delayed relief to Puerto Rico and has kept the cost of living high due to the exorbitant cost of shipping goods to the island. Under pressure, Trump issued a 10-day waiver on the Jones Act — however, the devastation in Puerto Rico will require unrestricted access to imported goods and resources for any foreseeable future and the free movement of relief for an indefinite period.

History has also shown that far too often disaster aid can leave behind more pollution, more debt, less democracy and a weaker infrastructure. That’s why we are demanding a Just Recovery that would reduce pollution and debt, expose and challenge systemic racism, deepen democracy, and leave behind a sturdier, more resilient infrastructure. The principles of a Just Recovery are based on a regenerative economy and climate justice approach to the crisis led by the people of Puerto Rico.

We know that catastrophes like this are becoming more frequent as storms intensify with climate change. This is why we need to ensure that Puerto Rico rebuilds in a way that makes it resilient to future storms and that prevents the devastation that could otherwise be caused by disaster capitalism.

We urge you to join us and the Climate Justice Alliance in demanding Congress pass an immediate substantial federal Just Recovery and Relief Aid Package.

Some of the key components of this Just Recovery and Relief Aid Package include full debt relief for Puerto Rico, permanent lifting of the Jones Act, and designation of sufficient funds and technical support for Puerto Rico to design and develop, with the sectors that have been most impacted, a plan that incorporates renewable energy, flood-resistant infrastructure, and environmental assessment to restore local agro-ecological farms and the ecology of the island, in ways that assure a more sustainable, equitable, and secure life for all residents.

This moment requires a proactive vision that will uphold the rights and leadership of the people of Puerto Rico. Please join us in demanding a Just Recovery and Relief Aid Package that exposes the root causes of inequality and climate change and, instead, calls for economic transformation, ecological justice, and social change.

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