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Antonio Castenha, currently teaching at the University of Puerto Rico, sent out the report below on December 15th (and as of New Year the power STILL is off across half of the island!) -KB
*This commentary is written in conjunction with the forwarded
message/analysis by the New York Times on Puerto Rico’s projected death toll.
I love teaching Machiavelli because his thesis and analyses are so clear and fun to play with because they are just as relevant today as when they were penned five centuries ago. I have been teaching a couple of “delayed” classes this semester at UPR (University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras) and gave a version of this “mini-lecture” a couple of weeks ago. I was disgusted with the dismal response to hurricane Maria and certain direct effect it’s had on the death toll here, but moreso even more upset with the lack of preparation and total historical neglect of the electrical system or power grid.
I began the lecture with a question: What is the difference between Pedro Rossello, an ex-governor of the island and father of our current crony governor, and William Jefferson, the ex U.S. congressman who had stuffed $90,000.00 of bribery money in his freezer? Answer: “Jefferson got caught!” violating a fundamental Machiavellian principle. This is also the difference between the ex-congressman and, as we know, the many many American and Puerto Rican politicians who have perfected the art of Machiavelli’s central thesis: “How to Get Away With Murder.” The thesis of course implies getting away with anything, including murder, while maintaining power at any cost. With hurricane Maria it is quite literal: many people have died here due to historical neglect as politicians and businessmen filled their pockets $$$$ in the development process of Puerto Rico, thus ignoring the necessary updating or modernization of the power grid. We also cannot forget American ties and that the relationship here for over a century has been colonial. As a result, the United States has greatly benefitted off this place politically, militarily, and “economically,” first with King Sugar (sound familiar?), then the mass development of certain areas, and most recently with the sweet heart tax havens for gringo corporations that has helped lead to the current debt
crisis, austerity measure being put into place, and the not so recent consumer rat race that IS the San Juan metropolitan area.
The neglect is also contemporary with our fair politicans and officials making completely incompetent decisions that have delayed the response to help people. The hiring of Whitefish Energy of Montana – to a “$300 million” contract although they had only “two full time employees” on hand when Maria hit on September 20 – is the clearest example of this blundering and mocked by just about everyone here. FEMA’s response is also a humorous past time, the latest being a $30,000 million contract to an east coast company who never showed up! I do believe FEMA personnel working in Puerto Rico mean well but don’t have the necessary support from the “top,” or from the papertowel throwing clown in the White House. This will be the Trumper’s “Katrina” if the media is able to continue to expose it. The director of FEMA has recently said that he believes FEMA’s response in Puerto Rico has “not” been slow or inadequate. Well, he hasn’t seen my dilapidated car moving aimlessly around town! Given his boss, the director has to say this or he’ll probably be “fired.”
Thus, Puerto Rican governers and politicians of the past were negligent in not taking into consideration one of Machiavelli’s most important advises: Not preparing for the storm (or building the damn) in quiet times, or during the “good times” and instead chosing to solely reap the benefits of the times. With mostly all of my students not having electricity in their homes at the time, and power in the classroom able to go out at any minute, I said directly to them that their government had FAILED THEM and the people of Puerto Rico, and that what is happening here is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE. I heard the power was restored in Florida in “two days.” In just about any place in the United States power would probably have been back within a week or so. However there is a caveat or warning here for those with wooden homes, and I’m thinking specifically of our beloved Hawai’i where most of the homes are made of wood. THERE IS NO WAY A WOODEN HOUSE CAN WITHSTAND 150 MILE AN HOUR WINDS “POUNDING IT” FOR TWELVE HOURS STRAIGHT. 90,000 wooden homes in Boriken were destroyed by sweet Maria. Gott sei dank, most homes here are made of concrete.
In closing, the government of Puerto Rico continues to lie to the people about such things as the death toll (although no one believes their ridiculous figure of “62”) and has been giving the false hope that power would be restored to 95% of the island by December 15 (that’s by “tomorrow,” in time for x-mas so continue to shop, shop, shop!), granted that they are talking about “generation” and not “delivery” to residences. After well over three months since hurricane Irma and almost three months since Maria, most of the island is still without power. Given that there is no such thing as wifi at home or even televison, I’ve taken to the radio airwaves every day and night. I tune into three main stations, all claiming to be “number 1,” and although mi espanol is not that great, I know when 95% of callers say “no tiene luz aqui ” (no electricity here) or “sin luz de Urma” (without electricity since Irma). We in the “Bello” Monte say the same, although the mountain IS getting greener by the day! At least one station sometimes brings on an announcer who categorically goes through all of the areas (usually barrios and urbanizations (neighborhoods) that still do not have electricity but are being worked on. The list is long. My estimate is that only about 35-40% of residences in Puerto Rico have luz. What a crime. Machiavelli would approve. I concluded my talk to the students by saying that if this is your path the most important thing to do at this time is to continue your studies, whether here or elsewhere, and obtain your degree. Although I kind of looked down on this before, I exclaimed to not feel an ounce of guilt if you decide to leave because your government didn’t give a damn about you when they should have. Work hard and keep perservering and you’ll be alright. And, remember, ICE IS A LUXURY, so get it when you can.
Antonio Castanha, Boricua and Ph.D in that order