On Wednesday 20 September, 2017 the lives of Puerto Ricans on the archipelago and abroad changed forever. Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico as a category four storm (sustained winds of 155mph), leaving the Island in a state of emergency. Essential services such as power, potable water and communication services collapsed (Duany, 2017). The first response from the Puerto Rico and United States federal government was insufficient and slow (Sosa Pascual & Mazzei, 2017). Flooding did not discriminate between marginalised and affluent neighbourhoods. However, like the damage caused by Katrina in New Orleans (Werner 2017; Brand 2018), the island’s natural disaster uncovered the soaring levels of inequality, unequal status and commodification of disaster-related recovery for Puerto Rican residents. To varying degrees, this ‘Not-So-Natural Disaster’ (Lloréns et al. 2018; Seda-Irizarry and Martínez-Otero 2017) has also affected ravished Caribbean neighbours like Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Dominica - with their own variable ‘sovereign’ political arrangements and spatial and socio-economic frontiers of unequal development.
The government of Puerto Rico recently stated that “the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria creates an opportunity to redesign” the role of the government and the market (AAFAF, 2018:11). The Caribbean government is following Prince’s (1920) centenary idea of portraying a disaster as a chance of permanent social change. Jones (2009: 318) argues that major disasters “have rarely sparked significant social changes, other than to solidify the power base of elites and further immiserate the poor”. This reproduction of inequality can be seen in the wake of hurricane Maria, through the attack on an already weakened and financially beleaguered public infrastructure, including its public energy and education system-- a tactic Naomi Klein has critically framed as disaster capitalism and ‘the shock doctrine’ (2007) in cases like post-Katrina New Orleans and post-tsunami Sri Lanka. Referred to also as a ‘doctrine of trauma’ (Bonilla 2015), a unique exploitation of distress appears to underway in the island; where long-standing crises-- political, economic and environmental-- are being used to justify further acts of negligence and austerity. Given that the future Puerto Rico envisioned in the revised fiscal plan proposes further austerity measures, privatisations, stagnation, liberalisation and flexibilization of the labour market (AAFAF, 2018), we must ask ourselves, what type of significant social change would these post-disaster policies bring to residents?
Beyond Puerto Rico, what kind of alternative Caribbean futures are being imagined and enacted in the wake of the 2017 hurricane season, and how are these entangled with a sense of greater infrastructural, relief or racial justice-- both local and regional? Throughout 2018, the Alternautas Editorial board, together with three guest editors, Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia, Janialy Ortiz Camacho and Patria Román-Velazquez, brought together a series of articles to discuss and address these questions. Today, we publish this edited collection of articles together in our latest special issue.
The pieces in this special issue evidence the making of not-so-natural disasters in the Caribbean and propose alternative scenarios for resilient recovery. Alternative community organisations and grassroots movements demonstrated to be complementary actors to the limited and slow state- of market-relief response. The historical prioritization of Caribbean government towards perpetual economic growth in their development agendas, evidence the marginalization of space in the region. A space that could be used to grow subsistence crops, which is not only essential to mitigate starvation after a natural disaster but reduces the dependency on food imports. The hurricanes also demonstrated to be an opportunity for implementing neoliberal policies that previous governments were not able to be put in place due to internal resistance from interest groups or the general population. The Caribbean will continue to be a hurricane-receiving area because of its geographical situation, but as these articles argue, political, economic and social reforms can reduce the human suffering caused by the natural and not-so-natural disasters.
You can download here the journal issue in PDF. We forward to see this volume shared far and wide.
AAFAF (2018) New Fiscal Plan for Puerto Rico (Draft Submission). Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority, February 12, 2018, retrieved from http://www.aafaf.pr.gov/assets/newfiscalplanforpr-02-12-2018.pdf
Bonilla, Y. (2015) Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment, University of Chicago Press.
Brand, A.L. (2018) ‘The duality of space: The built world of Du Bois’ double-consciousness’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 36(1): 3-22.
Duany, J. (2017) Ten key facts about Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Oxford University Press's Academic Insights for the Thinking World. Retrieved from https://blog.oup.com/2017/12/ten-facts-about-puerto-rico-after-hurricane-maria/
Jones, M.M. (2009) There is no such thing as a natural disaster: Race,
class, and hurricane Katrina, Global Public Health, 4:3, 318-320, DOI: 10.1080/17441690902831253
Klein, N. (2007) The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Penguin.
Prince, S.H. (1920) Catastrophe and social change. New York: Columbia University.
Lloréns, H., Santiago, R., Garcia-Quijano, C.G. and de Onís, C.M. (2018) Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico’s Unnatural Disaster, Social Justice: a journal of crime, conflict and world order, January 22 2018, retrieved fromhttp://www.socialjusticejournal.org/hurricane-maria-puerto-ricos-unnatural-disaster/
Seda-Irizarry, I. and Martínez-Otero, H. (2017) ‘Puerto Rico’s Not-So-Natural Disaster’, Jacobin, October 24 2017, retrieved from https://jacobinmag.com/2017/10/puerto-rico-natural-disaster-hurricane-maria
Sosa Pascual, O. & P. Mazzei (2017) Huracán María: dónde falló el operativo de respuesta. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo / Miami Herald, 22 de Octubre 2017, retrieved fromhttp://periodismoinvestigativo.com/2017/10/huracan-maria-donde-fallo-el-operativo-de-respuesta/
Werner, M. (2017) ‘“We are citizens!” Puerto Rico and the Caribbean from Hurricane Katrina to Maria’, Society adn Space, retrieved from http://societyandspace.org/2017/10/06/we-are-citizens-puerto-rico-and-the-caribbean-from-hurricane-katrina-to-maria/#