Protests in Puerto Rico: 1 million plus still without power

By Seth Galinsky
January 15, 2018
Protests in Puerto Rico: 1 million plus still without power

Anger is rising in the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico over the slow pace of government efforts to restore electricity and other basic necessities more than three months after hurricanes Maria and Irma. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority admitted Dec. 29 that at least 45 percent of its customers are still without electricity. Workers and small-business people have taken to the streets across the island over the last few weeks to protest the outages. Above, Dec. 27 action in the Bayaney neighborhood of Hatillo.

Even the government’s 45 percent figure is misleading, Fredyson Martínez, vice president of the electrical workers union, told the press. While 90 percent of industries and 75 percent of businesses have power, residential areas are disproportionately in the dark.

The government says that 21,000 electric poles have arrived, or will soon, far short of the 50,000 needed to restore power. Tens of thousands of working people who the government calls “squatters,” because they don’t have legal title to the land they have lived on often for decades, are not eligible for aid.

But for some U.S. bosses the disaster is a blessing. Dakota Provisions sent a recruiter seeking workers for its turkey packinghouse in Huron, South Dakota, which depends on immigrant labor. He convinced 22 of the up to 2,000 people fleeing the tough conditions on the island every day to sign up. The company loans the money for the plane ticket, and then deducts the cost over time from each paycheck. Pay starts at $10 an hour.