To: Detroit/Seattle Workers' Voice mailing list
September 29, 2017
RE: Puerto Rico in the wake of the hurricanes

  1. Trump dithers while Puerto Rico faces disaster
  2. Seattle activists call for clinic defense againstthe "40 days for life" campaign by antiabortion bullies

Trump dithers while Puerto Rico faces disaster

Puerto Rico has been devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Not only buildings and infrastructure were damaged, but even plants have been stripped of vegetation, leaving the island bare and wiping out agricultural production. The electrical grid, shaky before the storms, failed over the whole island, and it is expected to take a months before power is restored to everyone.

Puerto Ricans need food and water immediately. Without power, medicines and food spoil, and the water system is paralyzed, leaving many Puerto Ricans forced to drink contaminated water. Supplies have reached the capital San Juan, but rural areas have been isolated, and left without supplies.

This is a desperate situation. Now, it was known in advance that Puerto Rico might be hit hard by hurricanes Irma and Maria, but the Trump administration didn't care. And it has dithered in supplying aid even after the disasters have occurred.

It wasn't until five days after the Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico that Trump even bothered to tweet about it, and when he did, it was in large part to assure financiers and bankers that the Trump administration would insist on Puerto Rico paying them despite the devastation. The Trump administration didn't even arrange for a hospital ship to go to Puerto Rico until pressured by a petition, and it will still take a few days before the USNS Comfort is ready to go. After a week, he finally appointed someone, General Jeffrey Buchanan, to oversee military efforts to help Puerto Rico. And yet he is still hiding the extent of the danger facing Puerto Rico; and he is still boasting of his supposedly wonderful response to the hurricanes while not taking needed measures to ensure that supplies get beyond San Juan. Meanwhile Trump has concentrated on other things, from harassing anti-racist NFL players to having ICE carry out an oppressive four-day series of country-wide immigration raids against Latinos.

This has been a major scandal, as Puerto Rico and the much less populated US Virgin Islands have been treated shabbily even compared, not to their needs, but to how states on the US mainland have been treated after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Preparations were taken ahead of time to prevent mass suffering in places like Texas and Florida, and government agencies acted relatively quickly. It shouldn't be forgotten that these steps have been flawed: for example, the vast amount of chemical poisoning caused by damaged oil refineries and chemical plants and Superfund sites has been glossed over by the government; undocumented workers in the hurricane areas will be left without recovery funds; insufficient attention is being paid to rebuilding properly to deal with future hurricanes; etc. But at least immediate steps were taken to prevent mass casualties. By contrast, the steps for Puerto Rico have been slow and ineffective, while financiers are preoccupied with how to squeeze Puerto Rico further despite the hurricanes.

Thus the federal government has taken a different attitude to Latino Puerto Rico and the largely black Virgin Islands than to other areas of the US. Well, Puerto Rico has been an "unincorporated territory" of the US since the Spanish-American war of 1898. Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, but they are second-class citizens, and Puerto Rico has been a colony. Puerto Ricans cannot vote in federal elections; Social Security benefits are less for those living in Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico receives less Medicaid funding then a state of similar size would; etc. Puerto Ricans in the US have also faced discrimination like other Latinos. And now we see this second-class status taking place with regard to hurricane relief.

There needs to be major aid for Puerto Rico. Hurricanes Irma and Maria weren't simply a passing inconvenience that will be overcome in a few days or weeks; we are now entering the era where one can't simply restore business as usual with a modest amount of emergency funds. Puerto Rico's economy has been annihilated for some time, and who knows what storms it will face next year or the year after. The following list is a start at indicating some of the steps that are likely to be needed.

(1) There must be immediate and effective relief throughout Puerto Rico. Full account must be taken of the destruction of the infrastructure and the isolation of rural areas. It is essential that water, food, emergency generators, and medicines be provided, and effective communications restore.

(2) There must be cancellation of the Puerto Rican governmental debt. It is a major scandal that even before food and water are ensured for the hurricane survivors, the financiers and the Trump administration are concerned with squeezing Puerto Rico for debt payments. The power grid isn't back up, and won't be for months, emergency supplies haven't arrived for most Puerto Rican residents, but already some of the financiers have presented a new plan to have PREPA, the Puerto Rican Power Authority, guarantee payments to them no matter what happens to the Puerto Rican economy. The important thing for these loan sharks was to guarantee their place in line ahead of other creditors. What a greedy sense of priorities these coupon clippers have!

Even before the hurricanes, the Puerto Rico economy looked something like that of Greece, with the economy declining while workers are being squeezed to pay off an absurd level of debt which, in the case of Puerto Rico, is over $70 billion. The economy has been stalled for a decade; infrastructure has been allowed to decay, which is part of the reason the power grid went down so completely before Hurricane Maria; and social programs were being cut.

And then last year the US Congress passed the bipartisan PROMESA bill to prevent Puerto Rico from defaulting on its debt. It takes decisions on the economy away from the Puerto Rican government; it imposes extreme austerity; it relaxes environmental reviews; and it ensures that economic decline will continue as far as the eyes can see. It contains outrageous measures like permitting a $4.25 an hour minimum wage for workers in Puerto Rico who are 24 years old or less. In line with such plans, it was announced earlier this year that 178 schools in Puerto Rico were to be shut down, and $450 million was to be cut from the university budget: a strike on May 1 protested these and other cuts.

Given the devastation by the hurricanes, PROMESA is more cruel, barbaric, and unrealistic than ever. It  must be repealed, and the entire debt canceled. The Puerto Rican people have already paid for that debt by years and years of sacrifice.

(3) There should be programs to help people survive a year where there will be no agriculture, no power for up to half a year, and extreme economic hardship. This is not simply a question of providing grants for some rebuilding.

(4) There should be an end to the privatization drive. PROMESA provided for extensive privatization of government functions, and the financiers will be using the devastated conditions of the Puerto Rican economy to press forward this plan. Bu this makes a mockery of any serious effort to restore Puerto Rico to a livable condition.

(5) There should be more of a direct mass role in Puerto Rican governmental and relief agencies. For a start, they must be more transparent. This is the only way to improve their operation and, among other things, prevent more scandals. It is a way to provide more pressure for these agencies to orient to providing services for the people, rather than payoffs for the officials. For years, the Puerto Rican and mainland American bourgeoisie have milked Puerto Rico with financial scandals, leaving the masses to pay the bill by saddling them with debt and cutbacks.

And (6) the reconstruction of the Puerto Rican infrastructure and economy must take account of environmental conditions that Puerto Rico will face in the future. This year's disasters are a warning. Global warming is here, and we need both to protect against those changes that are already inevitable, and to do our best to help limit the extent of global warming.

The Trump administration will fight against such a program; it will take popular support for Puerto Rico to get at least some part of these measures.

--Joseph Green, Detroit Workers' Voice   <>

  Seattle activists call for clinic defense against
the "40 days for life" campaign by antiabortion bullies

Fired up by Trump, the anti-abortion bullies are back in action harassing women and medical workers going to and from clinics. But the clinic defense activists have gone into action too! Next Saturday. September 30, there will be a big defense of Planned Parenthood on East Madison. Below is the call from the organizers (Seattle Clinic Defense).

-- Frank Arango, Seattle Workers' Voice

From Sept 27 - Nov 5, the Forty Days for "Life" campaign will beharassing patients outside of clinics around the country every day for 40 days straight. During this campaign, we tend to see a lot bigger crowds with a lot more emboldened anti-choice behavior. They yell at and shame patients, hold up misleading and offensive signs, and overall try to send a political message that they should get to dictate others' lives. This is our time to step up and protect the clinics!

***We will be having an orientation to clinic defense at 8:45 and starting our defense at 9:00***  If you have never been to a clinic defense, please plan to come at 8:45. We will meet across the street from the clinic.

Their stated goal is to have at least one person outside the clinic every day, but weekends and days where surgical abortions take place are particularly popular. Saturdays at the Seattle E. Madison St clinic have a regular (monthly) crowd that is even larger during the 40 Days campaign. Our goal is to show up and show that, actually, most people support harassment-free health care and want people to be able to make their own choices about when and how to make a family. We get lectured so patients (who are sometimes feeling vulnerable) don't. We show that we stand with Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics.

Please note: this Planned Parenthood will be open during this defense, so our tactics in blocking the anti-choicers will be centered on ensuring that we are creating a supportive presence for patients. We ask that if you have not done a clinic defense before, please arrive 15 min early for training on deescalation tactics.

We will follow up the defense with an organizing meeting nearby. <>

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Posted on October 3, 2017.