Capitalists in Washington, D.C., and Wall Street have worked hard over the past two decades to privatize much of Puerto Rico’s economy, including the healthcare sector. A profit-over-people model soon enveloped most public services in Puerto Rico, contributing to a lack of preparedness in responding to major natural disasters.
In the autumn of 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. One of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, Maria brutalized Puerto Rico’s electrical and transportation infrastructure.
Medical workers did their best in very difficult circumstances. Understaffed and under-equipped as a result of years of privatization, they were unable to access patients in a timely manner, leading to many deaths.
Washington, D.C., could have responded with a robust, well-funded, interagency effort. Instead, Washington took advantage of the disaster to double down on its neoliberal economic policies of privatization and corporate welfare. The Pentagon plays a central role in this profiteering.
The Pentagon has paid three corporations – The Louis Berger Group, Fluor, and PowerSecure – to restore electrical power in Puerto Rico.
The Louis Berger Group received one payment. It was worth $860 million.
Fluor received three payments, all awarded in 2017, totaling over $1.3 billion, for construction services to help restore electricity in Puerto Rico.
Fluor is a long-time Pentagon favorite. It has renovated secure facilities within U.S. Embassies, operated military installations in Guam and the continental U.S., built maintenance facilities for bomber aircraft in North Dakota, and worked on other projects.
Prior to Hurricane Maria, the Pentagon had issued PowerSecure only one contract. By early May 2018, PowerSecure had received its ninth installment of cash for repairing and restoring Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. This brought PowerSecure’s total receipt of government funds since Hurricane Maria to $517,375,000.
In the beginning of April 2018 – by which point PowerSecure had received over $367 million from the Pentagon, and Fluor and the Lewis Berger Group combined had received over $2 billion – the island suffered a serious blackout, allegedly because a contractor drove an excavator into critical electrical facilities. Substandard work and minimal oversight are two common consequences of neoliberal privatization schemes.
All of these Pentagon contracts raise critical questions.
Why are corporations like the Louis Berger Group, which has a record of defrauding the U.S. taxpayer, being awarded contracts to assist a people in need, on an island long treated as a colony? Why is the Pentagon, which for decades contaminated parts of Puerto Rico using military ordnance, the go-to department through which electricity is being provided to U.S. citizens? Have we so thoroughly neglected and depleted the non-militarized portions of the U.S. government that we’re no longer capable as a nation of summoning aid to our citizens without turning to the war machine?
The answers are clear.
The U.S. government possesses no homegrown, non-military capacity to care for its citizens during and after a natural disaster. The people cannot rely on Washington, D.C.
According to a recent Harvard study, over four thousand six hundred U.S. citizens died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria. Billions of tax dollars have since been funneled through the Pentagon and spent on mediocre work, which means the electrical grid in Puerto Rico will fail when the next major storm hits. That is acceptable to Washington, D.C., because the Washington oligarchs and their Wall Street patrons view both people and disasters as mere numbers from which to profit.