As we move closer to the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s complete devastation of Puerto Rico, on Sept. 20, 2017 (a horror from which the island has not recovered), it’s important to look at how things have changed there in the last half-decade—for better and for worse.
Several mainland, mainstream media outlets will probably grant brief attention to the anniversary before moving on; however, groups of Puerto Rican activists fighting for self-determination are planning events to commemorate the tragic events that took place, while continuing to call for change.
If I look at current events here on the mainland—like what is happening to the people of Jackson, Mississippi, who are suffering under the effects of systemic racism within that state, or the residents of places like Flint, Michigan, who received similar treatment—I can only conclude that even shorter shrift has been and will be given to the fate of 2.69 million people who live on an island colony, whose primary language is Spanish, and who may not be majority “Black,” but are clearly majority “other.”
And so I can’t help but wonder if people here in the mainland U.S., who are not connected to Puerto Rico by either birth, kinship, or ancestry, will even give a damn about what Puerto Ricans continue to endure.
There are so many issues that currently afflict the island, it is impossible to cover them all in one story.
People are being forced to leave the island and relocate to the mainland for financial reasons, fueled also by gentrification and “Airbnb-itis.” There are continued blackouts and the lack of adequate response from LUMA Energy. Too many public schools have been closed, accompanied by a loss of teachers. Hospital closings and the relocation to the mainland of medical personnel due to insufficient Medicaid reimbursements is a looming disaster, and Vieques still has no hospital at all. Encroachment by developers onto the island’s beaches, which by law are open to the public, has sparked protests. There’s rising violence against women, alongside political corruption from the ruling elite and the heavy-handed rule of the U.S.-imposed “Junta.” Puerto Rico also faces grave environmental threats due to climate change, and its people struggle with the high cost of living—which is exacerbated by the antiquated Jones Act.
I haven’t even mentioned the impact of COVID-19, along with recurring health issues like zika, dengue, and the all too prevalent asthma and diabetes.
I’m proud to say we have been covering these issues here at Daily Kos. In September 2017, during the early days of the Maria crisis, we created a Community group here called SOS Puerto Rico. Though I founded LatinoKos here in 2011, I felt, as did other admins, that we needed to have a group which would specifically address Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. Since that time we have re-blogged 574 stories on Puerto Rico, and hopefully heightened the awareness of all things Boricua for the Daily Kos readership.
One of the things that makes the task of getting people who are not Puerto Rican engaged in Puerto Rican struggles more difficult? The bulk of news from island media sources, both televised and print, is in Spanish, which automatically leaves English-only speakers and readers out of the loop. Few people are willing to take the time to run print articles through clumsy and inaccurate online translators.
There are some excellent progressive websites, but they don’t cater to English-only speakers. The Centro Periodismo Investigativo, (Center for Investigative Journalism) is a source of in-depth reporting on island issues; however, very few stories are translated into English. On Twitter, most of their tweets are also in Spanish, like this one discussing a recent study pointing to an undercount of the death toll from Maria—by over 500 souls.
I wish some foundation or donor would give the Centro the money to support translation.
Folks who don’t speak Spanish have frequently asked me where I go to gather Puerto Rican news and views that they too can read, or who should they follow on social media for the same. Here are some of my suggestions.
There are a few mainstream television reporters who covered Maria and continue to report on Puerto Rico; most notably and visible is CBS News’ David Begnaud, who announced Monday that he will be traveling to the island for the Maria anniversary. He will also be reporting on the power issues created by LUMA Energy, and the collapse of the health care system. Of course, Begnaud will also be talking to Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and other elected officials, as well as “everyday folks.”
While it’s good to see a major network reporter who does pay attention, there are several problematic issues which have been raised about Begnaud’s reportage. First, he doesn’t speak Spanish and requires a translator; this leaves much to be desired in grasping nuances. Secondly, Begnaud, by virtue of of his CBS News status, tends to report uncritically on some of the same elected officials who are part of the problem. Thirdly, with no background in Puerto Rican-U.S. history and politics, Begnaud isn’t really able to contextualize what he is reporting on.
Still, he is really making an effort, and I was elated to see him share discussions of the current health care crisis and retention of medical professionals—in Puerto Ricans’ own words.
First, medical student Carlos Bosques breaks down the overall crisis.
Next, Dr. Hiram Rodríguez advocates for medical professionals and offers solutions.
Dánica Coto makes frequent appearances in Caribbean Matters. She’s a print journalist who reports for the Associated Press from San Juan. She’s trilingual (she also covers Haiti), and I suggest anyone who wants to be more informed on what’s happening in Puerto Rico and Haiti follow her.
There are also independent media sources of note. Top of my list is Latino Rebels.
We started as a group of like-minded individuals who knew that social media is real and here to stay. We believe in authentic, unfiltered and independent voices. With over 500 contributors, our stories range from reported articles to opinion pieces. Just because we publish the opinions of our contributors doesn’t mean that their opinions necessarily reflect the views of our editorial team.
As a result, we have been publishing stories through our main site, our Facebook page, our Twitter account, as well as our Instagram and YouTube pages. We are proud to have developed a very engaged community that is bilingual, bicultural, mobile, savvy, and doesn’t want to be sold.
Latino Rebels was founded by Julio Ricardo Varela, who often amplifies the videos and experiences of everyday people on the island.
The Rebels’ coverage isn’t limited to happenings on the island.
For on-the-scene, extended video coverage of events and protests on the island, Carlos Berríos Polanco is my go-to person. He usually posts his video coverage headlines in English to provide context.
He was one of the journalists, clearly labeled “Press,” who was attacked and pepper sprayed by police at a “Fuera LUMA” protest last month.
In addition to following these sources, be sure to amplify the English-language social media posts of those who regularly cover events on the island. A retweet costs nothing!
Truly, the medical crisis is worth highlighting:
Puerto Ricans are being left to die.
East Harlem filmmaker and adjunct professor Andrew Padilla posts primarily in English, and frequently offers critiques of media coverage of the island.
Organizations like Power4PuertoRico are important because they keep an eye on the federal government and legislation.
#Power4PuertoRico is a national coalition of the Puerto Rican Diaspora and allies working full-time and year-round for federal policies and legislation that will support Puerto Rico’s just recovery, economic growth and self-sufficiency.
This week, the organization is pushing back against the myth of “resilience” often used to glorify Puerto Ricans’ survival in the face of terrible circumstances—and to justify not providing aid.
Not everything happening on the island can be posted in English, but one editorial cartoonist I follow, Kike Estrada, captions his work in Spanish.
He was born Puerto Rican in the city of New York, back in the year 58 of the last century. He always knew he wanted to be a graphic artist and cartoonist.
He grew up in Puerto Rico (too much, he now weighs 240 pounds). He studied at the Luchetti High School of Arts, in Santurce. Then at the School of Plastic Arts of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and later at the Massachusetts College of Arts, in the city of Boston. It didn't end in any of them.
His works have been exhibited in various places on Planet Earth.
Right now he works in his studio on a mountain in the countryside of Puerto Rico. He publishes in the Claridad Weekly of Puerto Rico and makes a daily graphic commentary on social networks. He works in Graphic Design when he has no money.
Estrada’s screen name is Planetakike1; this weekend, he posted a cartoon on the island’s doctor shortage due to low Medicaid reimbursement, entitled “We Are Sorry.”
(bubble on the left — patient in a bed speaking)
(answer — bubble on the right}
“We’re sorry. At this time all (3) of our neurosurgeons are occupied.
The others got tired of the abuses and outrages of the medical plans
Please hold on and try again”
I recently discovered caricaturist Jesús Ortiz Torres, whose work I admire, and whose recent statement on Hurricane Maria is an apt way to close today’s post.
“Five years after Hurricane Maria, there are still more than 3,600 homes with blue awnings. It is a hate crime against the poor Puerto Rican!!!”
Look for a recap of activities surrounding the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria in the Thursday, Sept. 22 edition of Caribbean Matters.
Please join me in the comments for even more on Puerto Rico, and for the weekly Caribbean News Roundup.