When Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico in 2017, its devastating aftermath exposed the effects of centuries of colonization, first by Spain and then by the US, still to this day. Extractive and environmentally destructive policies and practices had left the Caribbean archipelago particularly vulnerable to the mounting climate crisis, turning natural events like hurricanes into human-made disasters of a massive scale.
Food and energy shortages following Maria underscored Puerto Ricans’ lack of sovereignty over these and other necessities, and their dependency on a foreign power whose negligent hurricane response resulted in thousands of preventable deaths. Furthermore, Maria came in the midst of an already mounting economic recession met with disastrous austerity measures imposed by the U.S. government. Increased economic stress went hand-in-hand with growing levels of gender-based violence, also worsened by Maria, and later by the Covid pandemic.
But centuries of colonization in Puerto Rico have been met with centuries of resistance, exemplified in the strong presence of social movements and other forms of organizing by frontline communities across the archipelago. In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, these popular networks sprang into gear. They carried out life-sustaining emergency response in the face of criminal government neglect, while simultaneously advancing transformative visions centered on grassroots feminisms, multiple sovereignties, and self-determination.
These organizing efforts continued into 2019, leading to the ousting of the corrupt former governor of Puerto Rico, and into 2020-22, through multiple forms of popular response to the Covid pandemic and additional disasters, including Hurricane Fiona. And they continue undeterred into the present. The idea, as social movements have so powerfully articulated, is not to survive from one disaster to the next, but to bring about much-needed social and ecological transformation. Having formalized our Puerto Rico program in 2020, Grassroots International is honored to accompany these efforts.
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