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The Hurricane After Maria

Photo by Antti Lipponen | CC BY 2.0

Taínos [in pre-Hispanic Puerto Rico]

considered ‘Juracán’ the manifestation
of the fury of Guabancex, goddess
of the winds.

— Félix Cruz

Furiously solipsistic, Maria brutalized Puerto Rico, bringing it to its knees. Three main collapses with one blow: Electricity, communications, and roads. From Tuesday to Wednesday, everything came down at once.

Who is afraid of wind and water?

One hell of a Wednesday, for sure, that will never be forgotten: September 20th, 2017.

Maria.

More than three months after Her debut, what can be called “Maria after Maria,” chaos after the hurricane, has been worse on people than the fury She unleashed on the island that awful Wednesday—after which life became a nightmare in slow motion.

Weak governmental response, local and Federal (FEMA). Inaction, immobility, worsening of the already bad. Little improvement. Two months after the blow, one who lost his house asked on a radio program sarcastically: When is “the picnic” going to be over? The inability to fix reality takes over the political landscape of the USA non-incorporated territory of Puerto Rico. A modern colony.

Colonialism—when power to effect change lies outside—harnesses the island to the point of implosion.

People wonder, what’s going on? Can’t Estados Unidos, the USA—the Federal Government that took over PR in 1898—fix the infrastructure of a small island?

Where is Uncle Sam’s muscle?

For a good chunk of the population, it has been more than three months (September to December) of hell since Maria struck—with no electricity, no water, no roof, unreliable communications, bad roads-and-traffic jams; and lines, many long lines people made to buy gasoline, water, food…

To make things worse, it was also hot and humid from September to mid December.

Bringing the island back to its feet, a task made for the mighty USA, has been slow, too slow; so much so that the major of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, stated in October: there is a plan to kill Puerto Ricans.

Eliding the agent doing the killing, the major was nonetheless quite explicit in her accusation. Immediately, the term “genocide” enters into the vocabulary of the island, whose population Juan M. García Passalacqua called the “happy colonials” back in the postmodern 1990s.

Has Maria turned Puerto Ricans into unhappy colonials?

Carmen Yulín’s is destined to collide with “Mr. King Trump,” as caricaturist Kike Estrada envisioned the “orange-haired beast” Paul Smith has crowded with epithets (“President Frankenstein”) climbing in a King Kong fashion the Empire State building after wining the elections of 2016.

Carmen Yulín will also have to face local, Puerto Rican criticism, both in terms of her accusation that Trump’s policy toward the non-incorporated territory is killing the people, as well as in terms of her ultimate vindication of the colonial relationship. In one mainland interview she talked about PR and the USA as being “one nation,” a statement contested, in Juan Agustín Márquez’s documentary, The Last Colony: A Close Look at Puerto Rico’s Close Relationship with Puerto Rico (2015), by Rubén Berrios Martínez, leader of the independence movement, who argues Puerto Rico and the USA are two nations, and therefore impossible to unite under the USA motto E pluribus unum (Out of many, one).

Regarding Yulín’s claim of genocide, a variation of which includes induced migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland, aimed to emptying out the island’s population, Rafael Bernabe, professor and former candidate for governor for the Working’s People Party of Puerto Rico in 2016, takes issue with her claim, stating in November that it is not necessary to blame Trump for killing Puerto Ricans after Maria. Capitalism is enough.

Do I hear Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Cornel West, Richard Wolff, Paul Smith, Henry Giroux, Vijay Prashad et al knocking on the door?

Regarding her complicity—despite her notorious confrontation with Trump—with the colonial structure that ties Puerto Rico to the Federal Government, writer, journalist, and lawyer Daniel Nina challenges Yulín in October to differentiate her brand of colonialism from her nemesis’—governor Ricardo Rosselló. Both, Nina argues, instead of drawing strength from the Puerto Rican people, give in to colonialism by immediately “begging” the Federal Government for assistance to solve the monumental problem Maria exacerbated on September 20th—that of decay/destruction, colonialism, and neoliberalism.

Who is killing Puerto Ricans? Carmen Yulín Cruz’s rhetorical question reaches, with a twist, Thom Hartman’s radio program in Russian TV in November—“Is Puerto Rico ethnically cleansed by the rich?” (2017).

Lawyer and economist Heriberto Martínez Otero steps in during December. Indeed, he argues; between the neoliberal government of Ricardo Rosselló, always faithful to Wall Street, and the neoliberal “Junta of Fiscal Control”—a supra-government—created by Obama at the end of 2016 to safeguard Wall Street’s interests amidst Puerto Rico’s public, monumental, and unpayable debt, there is a plan to depopulate the non-incorporated colony of Puerto Rico in order to facilitate privatization, and trickle up neoliberal restoration.

Outflow!

Less (people in the island) is more (Wall Street selling off the national patrimony).

In Florida, a Red state where most Maria-Puerto Ricans have been moving to after September 20th, Democrats salivate at Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism” (2007)—a business that turns calamity into profit.

Have the “happy colonials” been saddened by Maria’s destructive violence and the brutality of neoliberal capitalism?

Daniel Nina’s book, El gas en fila / Gas in line (2017), published in late December after covering Maria’s fury with photographer Neysa Jordán, turns violence into strength—according to Mayrim Cruz-Bernal’s presentation of the book. Like “dusmic” Nuyorican poets of the late 1960s and early 1970s in New York, who transformed aggression directed at them into positivity, as Miguel Algarín argued in Nuyorican Poetry: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Words and Feelings (1975), Puerto Ricans transformed Marias’ nihilism.

“The good of the bad,” as in José Martí’s late XIXth century poetic epistemology; in responding to Maria’s crucible and then to neoliberal USA capitalism, Nina argues, Puerto Ricans gained something valuable. An existential dialectics predicated on a rediscovered pronoun: We.

An unexpected cultural rebirth in the midst of agony. Going back to zero; indeed, forced to endure hour-long lines for everything taken for granted—water, food, gasoline, cash…

Dystopia. Chaos rules after She struck down the island with her solipsistic blow. Yes! Of course. Reality lost its roof. Homelessness ensued. Fragility became the norm.

Because of Maria and the neoliberal lack of effective response that followed Her—Katrina all over again: From Bush to Trump—Puerto Ricans gained, through those long lines they made under the sun, Nina concludes, an intersubjective strength that has empowered them to look at each other face to face. Naked—as it were.

From micro to macropolitics?

Maria…
and suddenly that name
would never be the same
to me…

(West Side Story, 1957)

(From the pages of anarchist James Corbett, a neologism emerges in 2011, “anastrophe,” to signify the “building up” followed by catastrophe).

Maria!

We’ll never forget you…

December 31st: last day of the worst year (2017).

Francisco Cabanillas is a professor at Bowling Green University.

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