The Making of Caribbean Not-so-Natural Disasters

Cruz, Gibran and Fernandez Arrigoitia, Melissa and Ortiz Camacho, Janialy and Roman, Patria (2018) The Making of Caribbean Not-so-Natural Disasters. Alternautas, 5 (2). pp. 4-12. ISSN 2057-4924

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On Wednesday 20 September the lives of Puerto Ricans on the archipelago and abroad changed forever. Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico as a category four storm (sustained winds of 155mph), leaving the Island in a state of emergency. Essential services such as power, potable water and communication services collapsed (Duany, 2017). The first response from the Puerto Rico and United States federal government was insufficient and slow (Sosa Pascual & Mazzei, 2017). Flooding did not discriminate between marginalised and affluent neighbourhoods. However, like the damage caused by Katrina in New Orleans (Werner 2017; Brand 2018), the island’s natural disaster uncovered the soaring levels of inequality, unequal status and commodification of disaster-related recovery for Puerto Rican residents. To varying degrees, this ‘Not-So-Natural Disaster’ (Lloréns et al. 2018; Seda-Irizarry and Martínez-Otero 2017) has also affected ravished Caribbean neighbours like Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Dominica - with their own variable ‘sovereign’ political arrangements and spatial and socio-economic frontiers of unequal development. The government of Puerto Rico recently stated that “the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria creates an opportunity to redesign” the role of the government and the market (AAFAF, 2018:11). The Caribbean government is following Prince’s (1920) centenary idea of portraying a disaster as a chance of permanent social change. Jones (2009: 318) argues that major disasters “have rarely sparked significant social changes, other than to solidify the power base of elites and further immiserate the poor”. This reproduction of inequality can be seen in the wake of hurricane Maria, through the attack on an already weakened and financially beleaguered public infrastructure, including its public energy and education system-- a tactic Naomi Klein has critically framed as disaster capitalism and ‘the shock doctrine’ (2007) in cases like post-Katrina New Orleans and post-tsunami Sri Lanka. Referred to also as a ‘doctrine of trauma’ (Bonilla 2015), a unique exploitation of distress appears to underway in the island; where long-standing crises-- political, economic and environmental-- are being used to justify further acts of negligence and austerity. Given that the future Puerto Rico envisioned in the revised fiscal plan proposes further austerity measures, privatisations, stagnation, liberalisation and flexibilization of the labour market (AAFAF, 2018), we must ask ourselves, what type of significant social change would these post-disaster policies bring to residents? Beyond Puerto Rico, what kind of alternative Caribbean futures are being imagined and enacted in the wake of the 2017 hurricane season, and how are these entangled with a sense of greater infrastructural, relief or racial justice-- both local and regional? This special issue seeks to address the disaster conditions, responses and consequences not only in Puerto Rico but also in impacted neighbouring islands like Barbuda, Cuba, Dominica, Haïti, Turks & Caicos, Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, St Kitts & Nevis, St. Martin and the Dominican Republic, among others.

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22 Jun 2019 09:13
Last Modified:
11 Sep 2023 20:34