A DiaspoRican (Nuyorican returnee) arriving from the San Francisco/Bay Area Latino immigrant mecca (in 1999) and becoming an “Eyewitness to a Dying Colonial Nation” over the years—I take to heart the writer’s advice of the radical African American author Alice Walker:“You have a right to express what you see and what you feel and what you think. To be bold. To be as bold as you can possibly be. Our salvation, to the extent that we have one, will come out of people realizing the crisis of our species and of the planet and offering their deepest dreams of what’s possible.”
Never Forget/Prohibido Olvidar
Nearly two years after Hurricane María’s devastating landfall on September 20, 2017, the quintessential Rita Moreno narrates “Puerto Rico: The Forgotten Island.”
THERE: Once again, Carmen Yulín Cruz saca la cara (comes to the defense) of our beleaguered Boricua Nation before the outer world. The racist Trump now has the upper hand and stands to trample on our human rights. Although he’s bragged about how much he cares for Puerto Ricans, he keeps repeating the $92 billion lie that was already fact-checked several times.
‘’San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a political opponent of the (then) governor, said poor people on the island who still need federal aid will be the victims of the corruption charges if they lead to reductions in federal spending. The allegations ‘do not represent what the people of Puerto Rico are about,’” she said. “The governor of Puerto Rico and his administration have now given President Trump the ammunition he needed,” Yulín Cruz’s comments to the Washington Post.
True to his m.o., Trump tweet-panders to his White supremacist base (“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth”), potentially inciting more hate crimes and anti-Spanish attacks against mainland Puerto Ricans.
And we were awaiting the menacing Tropical Storm Dorian in 2019, the ‘Fabricator-in-Chief’ takes another cheap shot at Puerto Rico and the San Juan Mayor. Only soon after, the historic front page of the island’s major news engine El Nuevo Día respectfully fires back: Mr. President: Your Numbers Are Fake.
HERE: ¡Anda Pa’l Cará! (Lo and behold.) The tables are turned on Trump! The specter of the trumped-up Whitefish Energy scandal and the “Despicable Ones'” involvement reappear like magic. There’s a sense of amazement lingering over the heads of the vindicated PREPA electric power authority. Puerto Rico is not the most corrupt place in the country: the U.S. Government is. Let alone the “(Mis)leader of the Free World” and his conflicts of interest. (One starts to wonder: Could it be the White Wannabe American Copycats in our Mini-Trumpworld had learned from the best—and then some?).
It was poetic justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and our U.S. District Attorney arrested two Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional administrators under the White House’s command—who aided and abetted in the COBRA Energy exploitation of $1.8 billion in power grid restoration juicy contracts, making a handsome sum in the disaster fraud and bribery scheme.
FEMA had fessed up to the failures of the Puerto Rico emergency disaster response effort. PREPA project managers set the record straight on WKAQ radio stating on-air: “the FEMA administrator demanded we turn over the contracts to COBRA or we would not be reimbursed.” The blackmailing and coercion tactics of corrupt FEMA overseers sabotaged speedy power grid restoration PREPA projects from the word go.
At once, giving credence to my allegations, based upon unaddressed colonial grievances observed over the years. Among them: 1) the unaudited and “illegal debt;” 2) the unexplained exclusion from U.S. Chapter 9 bankruptcy protections; 3) the arbitrary elimination of IRS tax code 936; 4) the antiquated Jones Act maritime laws strangling Puerto Rico’s economy; 5) the inordinate taxation of islanders to line the pockets of usurious debt vultures; 6) on top of the imposition of the dictatorial PROMESA Fiscal Control Board (or La Junta) that promises to bleed innocent islanders dry as cruel and unjust punishment for the sins of our past and present self-serving administrations. (Need I say more?) That “someone” in the highest echelons of power was also responsible —by omission or commission— for the wrongful deaths of loved ones taken too soon.
After Mother Nature’s (anticipated) and violent fury pulled the plug on (at home and hospital) life-support medical equipment lacking reliable generator backups on a “U.S. protectorate” chained to a “third world” electric utility infrastructure, known for its frequent power failures and faulty maintenance, to begin with. (Not to belabor the obvious, but the climate change denier’s crazed suggestion to nuke the hurricanes before they make landfall, and the radioactive fallout alone, would surely finish us off!)
And that, the purported “genocide” personally witnessed and documented by Yulín —amid the real first responders during the inhumane horrors after the monster cyclone— was not far-fetched.
“I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics of a small island 100 by 35 miles long.” Mayday! (…) “You are killing us with the inefficiency and bureaucracy,” blasts the San Juan mayor from her impromptu municipal disaster relief command center, tirelessly dispensing humanitarian aid, love and compassion to the island’s isolated and forgotten disaster survivors (or damnificados)—damned if we get FEMA disaster aid… and damned if we don’t.
What’s more, Whitefish and Cobra were not the only U.S. energy companies having a field day with Puerto Rico disaster recovery funds. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowed the multimillion-dollar embezzlement of FEMA contracts they awarded and failed to adequately supervise. That led to paying $20.9 million to Fluor Enterprises (from a total $1.3 billion) and $29.2 million to PowerSecure (from a total $88 million) for fraudulent and unaccountable expenditures, found a U.S. Defense Department audit (published September 30, 2019). That was further scrutinized by Puerto Rico’s Centro de Periodismo Investigativo.
But there’s more.
That Trump diverted FEMA disaster relief congressional appropriations —during peak Hurricane Season 2019— to fund his heinous Mexico border immigrant refugee detention camps, shows outright contempt for the imperiled lives of American citizens residing inside the Atlantic Ocean’s ever-warming Hurricane Belt.
As forewarned the journalist/scholar Ed Morales:
“And now it is becoming increasingly clear that Puerto Rico will be one of the U.S. territories hit hardest by the Pentagon’s plan to halt some construction plans in order to build Trump’s border wall. All in all, over $400 million in funding for 10 construction projects on the island, including a power substation and a National Guard readiness center, is now frozen.”
On a Caribbean island that’s prone to repetitive and troubling seismic activity, to boot. Arousing well-founded suspicions the unusual 6.6 earthquake January 7 warranting a “major disaster declaration” could be the dastardly effects of U.S. offshore oil and gas fracking activities being kept under wraps.
“The island residents I’m in touch with are particularly questioning if rigs they have photographed and observed near areas where new gas and petroleum was found a few miles off fault lines —Lajas Valley, Montalva Point, and the Guayanilla Canyon— could be causing unusual seismic events. The quakes are happening a few miles off the southern coast as the North American plate and the Caribbean Plate squeeze Puerto Rico. Literally,” confirms the hard-hitting journalist Sandra Guzmán from my family’s home turf on the southern coastline.
Further, the Puerto Rico-born columnist explains:
“Locals in the region say they are under attack by energy colonialists. Energy colonialists is another term they have coined to describe the 21st century battle for the billion-dollar gas industry on the southern part of island. It’s playing out now in a toxic mix of tremors, tsunami warnings, and confusion.”
To date, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has had to stop natural gas pipeline projects on the Northern Coastline by the New Fortress Energy Corporation (at a $1.2 billion investment) for lacking the proper FERC authorization.
And so, the overarching question now is: Who is fleecing whom?
By a curious twist of fate, homeless hurricane (and earthquake) refugees fleeing to the battleground States, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, Connecticut and Florida —accelerated net decline of 500,000 islanders over the past decade— could foreshadow the political clout (or PUERTO RICAN POWER) of the Diaspora to turn the tide on the “Evil Incarnate” reigning over our beloved Borinquen (island’s indigenous name)—and the Republic, for that matter.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing worse than when your own people sell you down the river. Correction: what’s worse is when your ruling pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) government is hell-bent on fast-tracking far-reaching changes to the Electoral Code (or La Reforma Electoral) in the middle of a global pandemic (voter suppression tantamount to gerrymandering in the States), despite the ACLU’s forewarning to Governor Wanda Vázquez to veto the antidemocratic bill—allowing more time for debate and consensus-building.
As of Saturday June 20, La Reforma Electoral was signed, sealed and delivered to Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, author of the reproachable legislation. That will in effect (among other things) leave the door wide open for “absentee ballot’ voter fraud. Not to mention, masterminding a futile “Statehood Yes or No Referendum” on the 2020 Election ballot designed to use pro-statehood supporters as pawns in order to prevail at the polls. Essentially, a bold-faced attempt to “steal the elections,” according to Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and former Governor, the eminent Sila María Calderón. (Sound familiar?)
Moreover, what remains to be seen is which of the Puerto Rico 2020 gubernatorial contenders —in the primary runoffs Sunday August 9— will be up to the task of leading the charge to victory over Trumpism, and the invasion of “energy colonialists,” given the lasting consequences of the “Summer of ’19 Island Revolution.”
That, “when things don’t go right, one goes left.”
Boricua Freedom Writer Norma Iris Lafé is a Writer’s Well Retreat Literary Competition winner (2012), former public affairs writer KCBS News Radio (SF). The Bronx Science alumna, holds a BA in Black and Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College (NYC). In Puerto Rico, has worked in community development capacities for federal, state and municipal governments. Currently editing her back-to-roots memoirs, for links to other published works, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.