Op-Ed: Puerto Rico’s never-ending recovery
Arguably since 2006, Puerto Rico has endured a plethora of natural and man-made incidents and disasters. After much travail, it seems that Puerto Rico agonizes under a never-ending recovery. And this fact is evident if we understand what recovery should be.
In the dictionary, recovery is defined as “the process of becoming successful or normal again after problems,” or “the process of getting something back that was lost or almost destroyed.” In the emergency management jargon, recovery is the “rebuilding of communities so that individuals, businesses, and governments can function on their own, return to normal life, and protect against future hazards.”
Just pay attention to the words in bold and start thinking a bit further into the topic.
You and I can agree that nothing in Puerto Rico has recovered. And our beloved island cannot recover if we collectively cannot agree on how to mitigate all the vulnerabilities and hazards that afflict us, and we continue to fail to plan and prepare effectively.
But the bottom line is always the inadequate execution and lack of continuity.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming New Cold War, climate change, a hypothetical US economic collapse, the continued crisis in the island and the possibility of another hurricane all threaten our immediate future, meaning that the normal life we knew, unfortunately, will likely never come back.
We remain in this vicious cycle because our government does not even start with the plans that have been prepared and made public. For example, whatever happened to the heralded Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation: An Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico? It was to be the roadmap to transform the island and justify the investments on both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s CDBG-DR recovery programs. I have the impression that once the Rosselló administration ended, it was put to the side.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority prepared and announced in 2019 a Grid Modernization plan as part of the recovery, but the public record is slim about the progress of its implementation. If we use history as precedent, we will likely be stuck with another fossil fuel contract to drive up the price consumers pay.
Not even the fiscal plan approved by the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico is followed. Multiple other changes must likely be on the way, perpetuating ineffective austerity measures in a poor country to strictly benefit Wall Street and its vulture funds. It is how our island is being allotted a huge dose of what journalist Naomi Kline called the “Shock Doctrine.” If that is the case, from that we will never recover. Just ask our Argentinian friends.
I am very familiar with plans in the realm of security and emergency management that are prepared, approved and “left to rest.” Read all about it here.
If we want to bring back some sense of normalcy, the state and local government, along with all its citizens, have to assess those threats that have the highest risk to our daily life and prioritize them based on their impact on individuals, society and business. Furthermore, we must address priority areas that need significant immediate investments.
In principle, we must define what is essential and place it at the beginning of our “to do” list. The roadmap for a plan that contains such “to do” list and does consider the our biggest threats, like global warming, should not require that we reinvent the wheel.
A reasonable benchmark can be the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) which are being adopted by many countries and seek to “recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth — all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”
At least the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics has adopted the SDGS and should receive our full collective support to withstand the threats it constantly receives from their government counterparts.
But again, I insist that we have to fully comprehend that our priorities need to be predicated by our realities, which may be evident to you and me, but our politicians willfully ignore. I insist in what I call the “Island Security Paradigm,” in which we make policy decisions based on the fact that in any crisis, we are on our own.