The world we live in is one ruled by capitalism and revolves around those who are making the effort to maintain a capitalist world economy. How much you have in wealth is tied to your self worth and perceived worth, so basically, who you are and how people see you. If you benefit from capitalism, you are seen as successful, with no regard given whether the system is intentionally created to benefit you or not. Likewise, if you are not benefitting from capitalism, it is perceived that you are a failure. Taking or using welfare tools or donations is seen as needy or greedy or avoidable when in reality you are merely taking the needed steps to survive in an economy created to fundamentally work against you.
This sets up a system where the exploitation of workers for a larger and larger amount of capital has officially become the norm. Ideas of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and shoving your own way into capitalist benefit literally originated in Puerto Rico with “Operation Bootstrap” in the late 1940s. In this plan, the United States created exploitative work for people of the island, while making sure that there were not enough jobs for everyone, making it easier to convince people to migrate onto the US mainland as a new, desperate, and most importantly exploitable source of labor both on and off the island. The United States said that this would create employment for the island, giving the population more funds which all imply that Puerto Ricans will gain the opportunity to better climb the class/social ladder.
The United States as a government, in support of both itself and its affiliated companies, investors, and lobbying groups wants to minimize their bottom line and pay their workers as little as they can so more can go in their pockets. This way of thinking is majorly flawed because the capitalist needs someone to buy their goods and of all the workers are just enough to live there is gonna be no one to buy their goods. Right now the minimum wage in Puerto Rico for workers not covered by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act is 6.55, 70 cents lower than the federal minimum. Lowering the minimum wage below that will do nothing but depower the working-class people and make it more difficult for them to get by and live their life.
Articles like this one and this one justify lowering the minimum wage by saying that there is not enough evidence saying that raising it will be any good and even go as far as to say that raising it will be catastrophic. The biggest case made is that raising the minimum wage will also come with an increase in unemployment while a decrease in the wage will create more jobs as capitalists will be able to pay more people. They also argue that prices will rise to meet the payments and will put us back where we started. All these reasons are not only flawed but short sited.
Cutting the wage might lead to more jobs due to more money being available to pay but it does not do anything to increase the buying power of those with money and makes it worse for them. Without the price of living also going down cutting people’s pay is just going to make their lives more difficult and deter them from consuming goods. With how crucial money going back into the system that is capitalism and people buying things it makes no sense to lower the buying power of the people in it.
This way of thinking is flawed as it makes it seem like the company has no other way to make more money to pay employees other than cutting them or raising prices. It stems from the idea I mentioned earlier of capitalists trying to maximize their profits. CEOs are making more than they ever have now and this greed has made it so the working class is struggling just to live. It is also why plans for raising the minimum wage might not work. Instead of taking the money they are making and hiring more or paying more these CEOs are keeping it to themselves. If they took a pay cut they could very easily compensate for the rise in the minimum wage.
As much sense as raise in the minimum wage in Puerto Rico, it is only a band-aid in the problem that is its economy. As of 2019, Puerto Rico is 74 billion dollars in debt. This unescapable amount is the root of many of Puerto Rico’s problems and can not be solved in just one easy move. While raising the minimum wage would help the people with jobs and most likely stimulate the economy unless there’s also a system set up to create jobs for those that do not have one it will be meaningless. Subsiding job-creating opportunities or creating more government jobs would do a lot to a country with 7.7% unemployment.
These plans to lower the minimum wage are only to further the exploitation of the working class and to widen the wealth gap that is already huge. It only benefits the capitalist to lower them goes against how the capitalist system is meant to work. More meaningful and proactive policies can be done if the U.S. government really wants to help the people of Puerto Rico but the history of the U.S. says otherwise. Protests growing in Puerto Rico demonstrate that the people are tired of being exploited by not only capitalist but their own government as well. With the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló hopefully, brighter days are ahead for Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria was devastating to many Puerto Ricans, even those not on the island at the time. Luis Miranda Jr. (father of Lin-Manuel Miranda), co-founder and managing partner of the MirRam Group, (a government affair, lobbying, and political consulting firm), was in New York when Maria touched down. Luis had been in contact with his family in Vega Alta Puerto Rico for all of the week before, “there was radio silence” as he said when Maria passed. For 10 days neither Luis or his son Lin could get in contact with their family on the island. Like many Puerto Ricans that were outside of the island, Luis found out that a member of his family, his brother, was okay and alive through social media. A picture posted by his cousin that lived in Jacksonville Florida had his brother in it. He remembers strongly his first contact with anyone on the island. It wasn’t even to his direct family, it was to a childhood friend who informed him that his parent’s house, the house he grew up in and was raised in, was gone, the hurricane had taken it with many other houses in his barrio of Maricao, Vega Alta.
Luis’ biggest fear in all of this was that his family would get sick. “…without electricity, water rising everywhere, with no medical equipment, getting sick wasn’t an option”. This was a common fear throughout people on and off the island. People that were ill and sick prior to Maria had their fate sealed by it, without power and being isolated from help many of them succumbed to their illness. Luis knew that this could easily happen to his family. This was a large contributor to the death count of Maria. Many deaths could have been prevented by being prepared for the devastation that the hurricane brought and being ready to provide aid to those who need it most. Luis said, “of course natural disasters affect poor differently,” and we see this difference as bright as day in Puerto Rico. This article highlights the disparities in aid received between Houston after Hurricane Harvey and Puerto Rico after Maria. Despite the similarities in physical devastation that both natural disasters caused, both FEMA and the U.S. government sent billions more to aid Harvey survivors than to aid Maria survivors. This is compounded and made worse by the fact that the infrastructure in Puerto Rico was much worse than in Houston and more money would have been needed to help and rebuild in Puerto Rico. Poorer communities are hit harder by natural disasters cause of this fact. The little they have in infrastructure and disaster provisions make it that much more difficult to bounce back after natural disasters.
Luis is a large activist for Latinos and with both his son and the MirRam group he has very powerful connections. He used these connections to get help as quickly as he could to not only his family but his barrio. At the time his son Lin wrote a song to raise awareness and funds to help the people in Puerto Rico and Luis himself was coordinating help with the major of New York. The park department of New York was able to lend some workers to clear up debris like fallen trees as well as mudslides. Luis also got supplies from camping stores with major one criteria for whatever he got, it had to be solar powered as he did not want to have the issue that batteries would bring. With supplies and people ready all Luis need was a way to get them to the island. The obvious solution to this was private planes. With planes lent to him from friends and friends of friends, Luis was able to finally get to the island and Vega Alta after 10 days.
After the initial few weeks of the hurricane, Luis had to come back to continue his work with the MirRam group and everything else in his life. It was after being back the Luis got to see the media coverage of Puerto Rico as well as the response of the U.S. government. “I was comfortable that the media was covering Puerto Rico and what was happening … Trump was a totally different thing and the lack of aid to Puerto Rico from the federal government is a totally different animal.” Luis believed that the media was being clear in showing how Hurricane Maria devastated the island. He was “pissed” at how unprepared the federal government was to handle Maria and could not understand how provisions were not made before the hurricane. All predictions of the hurricane were right and it wasn’t something of a surprise when it made landfall, isolation could have been prevented. “To add insult to injury,” Luis said, “not only was the federal government not ready but this Buffon, this clown, (Donald Trump), goes to Puerto Rico for a photo op.” This was in reference to Trump going to Puerto Rico 14 after hurricane Maria, and throwing the infamous paper towel into a crowd. This whole event was the manifestation of the incompetence of the federal government to help during and after Hurricane Maria. To this day, there are still many people feeling the effects of Maria and this incompetent government. Luis says “… what hits you the most as you’re getting to Puerto Rico in a plane is the amount of blue tarps…” These are blue tarps that are still up from the initial aid from FEMA and others to provide shelter to people. They are still being used by people that have nowhere else to go. More could have and should have been done
Looking into the future of Puerto Rico, Luis is “optimistically cautious.” He sees the pockets of change that can lead to something bigger. Hurricane Maria Exposed a lot of the systemic issues that Puerto Rico is dealing with. In Luis’ words “ Puerto Rico has been living with borrowed money, borrowed time, in a fantasy world…” Puerto Rico has 74 billion-dollar debt that was made worse by the hurricane. Wall Street banks pushed the government to keep taking out loans at ridiculous rates that it could never payback. Even with the money, it was taken out, it was not going back into the infrastructure and the communities of Puerto Rico. Not only were the power station and the electrical grid poorly taken care of but, “Water pumping stations, bridges, levees, roads — all had been starved for investment for years.” Puerto Rican people have only seen their island mishandled and exploited and the aftermath of Maria has been the last straw.
It has been two years since the high-end category 4 hurricane Maira made landfall in Puerto Rico. Since then little has been done to help and fix the damages done by the hurricane on the island and its people. The natural disaster brought more than just destruction of the environment and disaster, it uncovered a veil that had been put over all the systemic issues the people of puerto rico faced everyday. This course has brought these underlying issues into my view and has exposed me to what the real issues that come after a natural disaster are. Being a Dominican in New York City, my experience with Maria was very different from even fellow Puerto Ricans here in the city. The Dominician Republic did not come close to the damages faced by Puerto Rico and in the days leading up to the hurricane touching down I was not too worried about my family in The Dominican Republic. I was also just starting my 1st year of college when the hurricane passed and was overwhelmed getting used to it. This all added to me not being as invested in what was going on at the time in the carribean and especially in Puerto Rico. However, now learning more about Maria in this class and the history of Puerto in classes I have taken for my minor, I know that the media I consumed was doing a poor (if not awful) job in truly capturing what was happening before and after the hurricane hit. I was minimally aware of the injustice faced by the island and its people throughout history. The little I knew came from knowing the history of the Dominican Republic and the carribean as a whole. What I knew of Puerto Rico as a commonwealth was positive. I never knew the extent to which Puerto Ricans were negatively affected by being labeled a commonwealth and being a territory of the U.S. This npr article and this article explains what it means for Puerto Rico to be a territory. They are owned by the U.S. and at the whim of the government. They were not able to receive aid from other countries due to the U.S. having to approve the aid. On top of this most of the help and aid that was sent were extremely poorly managed.
It is amazing, however, how Puerto Ricans have dealt with all these challenges and injustices. While the problems brought up by Maria are nowhere near solved the actions taken after like getting the governor, Ricardo Rosselló, to resign is amazing. There were hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets and organizing their power. I work in chipotle and am a leader in organizing workers to fight for a union. The difficulty of giving people the courage to fight and demand from the company that employs them what they deserve is large but it pales in comparison to organizing protests to get a political leader to resign. However, it shows that these people are through with the injustices they have faced. They are willing to put what little normalcy of their lives they have at risk to demand the justice they deserve.
The readings we have done from the aftershock book add to this. The Puerto Rican people are the ones that have lived all their lives under trama. The Spanish slaughtered the native Tainos as well as the Africans they brought to the carribean. The Spanish then enslaved these Africans and exploited them for their labor in sugar fields. After years of being under Spanish rule, America came and replaced the Spanish and continued exploitation of the people and the island. This is a country that has gone through a lot and the people are still finding a way to survive. Saying that they are just hurricane survivors is not enough and does not tell the full story of what has happened. The effects of this constant trauma can be seen in many of our readings. In most of the essays, it can be seen that to cope with all this trauma, people often chose to lie to themselves. I couldn’t imagine going through all that they have gone through and losing all they did. I feel like this closing off and lying to ourselves and those around us also comes from the machismo that is ingrained into latino culture. It is seen as “weak” to express sadness and to not be self-sufficient. So for these people being strong means saying you’re okay and just trying to get by. On top of this being a colony for so long has made it the norm that people do not get the help they need and should be getting from the government. A lot of the people in campos and mountains were okay with the little they got because they were so used to getting less or nothing.
Something positive to come out of Maria was that people that were marginalized were able to essentially come out of their hiding and be their true selves. The articles we read is class touched on this. With the tragedy of the hurricane a lot more than just physical structures were torn down. A lot of societal borders came down as well after the hurricane. This meant a lot of queer folks being able to express themselves and be comfortable with who they are. This was something that was surprising at first to me but after reading about it, it made sense. While there were a lot of people leaving the island the queer folk were a population that did not typically have the resources and therefore the liberty to leave. So when Maria passed they were all left to survive like a larger population of people and this brought everyone together. This is also made me see how a lot of disasters and crises affect marginalized communities because they are often the ones left behind.
I hope to continue to learn more about not only Puerto Rico after Maria but about all of its rich history and support its people become their own nation.