Hurricane María: An Agroecological Turning Point for Puerto Rico?

Georges F. Félix, Eric Holt-Giménez

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle

Abstract

When Hurricane María tore through Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, it left 17 dead, 11,000 seeking shelter, and the island's 3.4 million people without power, water, or fresh food supplies. i It also ripped off the democratic veneer of the US' " commonwealth, " revealing the structural vulnerability of an island that has been colonized for over half a millennium. Disasters tend to unmask both unsustainable practices and inequitable relations of power. But they can also unleash the power of solidarity and self-governance as communities—abandoned by their governments and preyed upon by disaster capitalists—come together in unexpected ways. In the aftermath of Puerto Rico's worst social, economic and environmental catastrophe, the Puerto Rican food sovereignty movement is using agroecology to reconstruct the island's beleaguered food system. The vulnerable underbelly of any society is its food system. Former US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger infamously stated, " If you control the oil you control the country; if you control food, you control the pop-ulation. " ii Endowed with mountainous tropical forests, lush alluvial plains, and a perfect climate for year-round food production, even before the hurricane, Puerto Rico still imported 85% of its food. A history of slave plantations, mercantile capitalism, and co-Our research and analysis is fueled by people like you. Help keep Food First an independent think-and-do tank today at foodfirst.org/support. Photo by Marie Court lonial domination has long prioritized the production of tropical export crops (e.g. sugar cane, coffee, tobacco) over lo-cal food supply. Though the hurricane stripped the for-ests of vegetation, these will recover with restoration and time. Puerto Rican society, however, is still suffering from the vulnerabilities that made María the worst hurricane in nearly a centu-ry. Aside from destroying homes and communication systems, the hurricane devastated roads, electricity grids, and water systems. Outdated and in need of repair before María, these services have still not been restored on most of the island, nearly two months after the hurricane. Relief and reconstruction efforts are crippled by an unpayable US$73 bil-lion debt and the loss of public goods and services resulting from the auster-ity policies imposed on Puerto Rico over the last decade.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Volume23
No.4
Specialist publicationFood First Backgrounders and Issue Briefs
PublisherFood First
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Puerto Rico
  • Hurricane María
  • Jones-Shaffroth Act
  • Caribbean

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