In Puerto Rico’s Highlands, Hurricane Maria Has Exploded Fault Lines of Poverty and Austerity

Six weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, millions of residents are still living without safe drinking water and electricity. Health experts say the storm’s massive damage to Puerto Rico’s water system is threatening to cause a public health crisis, as more and more people are exposed to contaminated water. Over the weekend, Democracy Now! was in Puerto Rico, and we traveled about three hours into Puerto Rico’s mountainous highland region in the interior of the island in order to look at the ways austerity has exacerbated the crisis caused by Hurricane Maria.

TRANSCRIPT 

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Puerto Rico, where, six weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, millions of residents are still living without safe drinking water and electricity. Health experts say the storm’s massive damage to Puerto Rico’s water system is threatening to cause a public health crisis, as more and more people are exposed to contaminated water. On Thursday, the White House finally agreed to release FEMA disaster aid with more flexibility to try to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s devastated power grid and other infrastructure.

The shift in aid disbursement was necessary because of Puerto Rico’s massive debt crisis, which both severely limits the island’s ability to prepare for the storm ahead of time and to respond fully in the days afterward. According to an investigation by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, quote, “The permanent disaster [of Maria] has been largely due to the slow and inefficient deployment of the emergency response due to a fatal combination between the lack of liquidity of the government of Puerto Rico and its municipalities and the federal government’s inaction,” unquote. For the last year, Puerto Rico has been controlled by an unelected fiscal control board, imposed by the US Congress, whose role is to enact austerity measures to ensure the bondholders of Puerto Rico’s debt are repaid.

Well, over the weekend, Democracy…

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