Should We Believe?: Climate Change and Privatization in Puerto Rico
by Juan E. Rosario-Maldonado, of AMANESER 2025
Sustainability and Climate Change are trendy words, but for many people are just that: words. Most people in Puerto Rico had not paid any attention to neither of them, despite the alert from the environmental community. Scientists and environmentalists have been warning for two decades about the catastrophic consequences Climate Change could create on the island. Our own advice, based on the 1995 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, was gone with the wind. In that report, the panel made a dire warning to Puerto Rico. It said that the effects will be severe, and the most affected countries will be: small islands based in the tropical zone that are densely populated. As the scripture said, “those who has ears listen.” However, it happened again; the rulers did not listen.
Then it happened. On September 6, 2017, Irma, a mighty hurricane with winds of 300 km, passed north of Puerto Rico, killing 3 people and severely damaging the electrical system in the north section of the island, but saving its worst for other islands and people in the Caribbean. Just three days after that, the morning of Saturday, September 9, José, another powerful category four hurricane, was five hundred miles southeast of Puerto Rico. The hurricane deviated north, and on Sunday, José passed north of our island, and again we were unharmed.
Then eleven days after, on September 20, our closed ears were opened by the devastating force of nature that spoke through the third hurricane in just two weeks, Maria. In the end, our electrical system was flattened down, and the most prolonged blackout in USA history plagued our people for many, many months. Some people were more than a year without power. The hurricane not only turned off the electrical system. It also extinguished the life of more than 3,000 of our brothers and sisters.
In Puerto Rico, a reliable electrical system is a matter of life and death. In less than a week, we will face the beginning of a new hurricane season. We are scared because that same day, our electrical system will be privatized so that the system will be run soundly. This is a one-sided contract in which the private company, LUMA, reaps all the profits, and the public assumes all the risks and losses. They were supposed to receive one hundred million dollars a year as a fixed fee. Still, only in the first seven months, they claimed more than 116 million in expenses. More than 3,000 workers will be moved to agencies that do not need them but also do not have the budget to pay their salaries.
In AMANESER 2025, we are afraid that LUMA will stop all our efforts to create energy resiliency. The company could ban our community empowerment process of promoting small photovoltaic systems in the communities we worked with. These same people went without electricity for many months. These are the people who saw their neighbors suffer and, in some cases, die because they could not refrigerate their medicines or kept health treatments.
These people saw the light and regained some hope when four months after Maria working with AMANESER 2025, the first PV system was installed in their community. Today, almost a third of the community has a system they can rely on when widespread blackouts affect the community.
Still, there are reasons to continue having faith. The government plans to privatize the electrical system. Still, AMANESER 2025 will keep hope public and available to those willing to embrace their fellows.
Join us for a Virtual Pilgrimage to Puerto Rico with AMANESER 2025 in July 2021! Click here for pilgrimage details and registration.