As the diaspora commemorates the third anniversary of the catastrophic impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the island is still on a long road towards recovery with many households living under blue tarps, spotty electricity, inconsistent water service, and incessant earthquakes in the southwestern portion of Puerto Rico. Today we honor the 4,645 lives lost as a result of the long-standing negligence and disregard for the humanity of Puerto Ricans living on the island, and we stand in solidarity with Puerto Rican climate refugees, families across the diaspora, and here in Chicago as we continue to advance the work for achieving self determination for Puerto Ricans. Recovery is just one step forward in the process for reimagining a more sustainable and sovereign Puerto Rico.
Many elements of the island’s infrastructure have yet to recover, let alone make progress towards a more sustainable and climate-sensitive strategy. Any development has been the result of community-driven mutual aid on the island and throughout the diaspora, local municipal efforts, and not through the central government nor through the federal government. In July 2019, the collective power of the people of Puerto Rico made clear their ability to converge across political ideologies, identities, and generations to reject business as usual that perpetuates colonialism and corruption at their expense.
With the recent White House announcement of releasing $13 billion from the relief package already owed to Puerto Rico just weeks before the general election, we advance the following recommendations with a focus on long-term, substantive policy that centers self-determination, self-actualization, and self-reliance:
• Direct all aid to local units of government and community-based organizations and not through the central government.
• Conduct a complete and independent audit of the illegal debt that continues to place a stranglehold on the Puerto Rican economy. Puerto Ricans should not be responsible for a debt that has not been independently verified as true and accurate.
• Dismantle the fiscal control board installed through PROMESA as members have direct ties to the corruption that landed Puerto Rico in its current fiscal crisis, and the enacted austerity measures have continued to gut pensions and undermine essential services.
• Repeal the Jones Act, a federal archaic policy, that requires any products imported to or exported from Puerto Rico to take place on a U.S. made and staffed vessel, which is substantially more expensive than other alternatives. This imposition places an economic burden on the consumers by passing along the increased cost of importing goods to Puerto Ricans.
• Secure a final solution to Puerto Rico’s long-standing challenges through the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act of 2020 introduced by Congresswomen Nydia Velazquez and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago is a non-profit organization comprised of local Puerto Rican leaders that informs policy leading to self-determination of Puerto Rican Chicago, the diaspora, and Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican Agenda Begins 4th Year of Rescue, Relief, Rebuild Campaign after Hurricane Maria
In response to the Hurricanes, the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago articulated a strategy from the beginning to advance our work under the 3Rs for Puerto Rico: Rescue, Relief, Rebuild campaign. Each element of the campaign has operated out of a framework of solidarity and not charity. Our collective success is evidenced by our community and allies raising funds to send the first plane filled with essential supplies from a stateside community to Puerto Rico five days after Hurricane Maria and bringing 300 people back, distributing thousands of pounds of food and supplies through local Puerto Rican businesses and partners, creating a full-service resource center to welcome displaced individuals and families to Chicago, rebuilding a community center in Loíza in collaboration with the Illinois Institute of Technology, constructing a new home for a displaced family, seeding the development of a Community Hurricane Oasis Center in Comerío, and administering nearly $600K in micro-grants to nearly 50 towns including those affected by earthquakes earlier this year.
As the Agenda continues to partner with groups in Puerto Rico, on this third anniversary we are particularly proud of a partnership with Y No Había Luz, a theater company that has produced independent pieces to evoke imagination through puppetry, masks, performances and workshops to spur discussion and action about environmental justice, affirming cultural identity, and sparking social responsibility for the past 15 years.
Starting in 2020, Y No Había Luz has addressed educational and social emotional challenges presented through the earthquakes and pandemic by launching educational workshops for children. Our partnership extends that work by supporting the English publication of their book, The Mango Tree Sentinel, and a Latin American educational initiative that introduces young learners to concepts and tools for transforming climate change and decolonizing education. For more information about how to get involved, go to: www.PuertoRicanChicago.org.