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'Total Failure of Governance' by Trump: Island-Wide Blackout Deepens Puerto Rico Crisis

As privatization fears loom, the U.S. territory is "still dealing with an unstable and unreliable power grid."

power line

PREPA has been criticized for its mismanagement of Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane Maria. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

After struggling for nearly seven months to rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, the U.S. territory experienced an island-wide blackout on Wednesday—its first since the storm struck last September.

As meteorologist Eric Holthaus put it, "This is still a humanitarian emergency."

Officials told The Associated Press that "an excavator accidentally downed a transmission line" and "it could take 24 to 36 hours to fully restore power to more than 1.4 million customers." The blackout is just the latest in a series of power outages that residents have endured since the storm hit, including one last week that left about 840,000 people in the dark.

Responding to the incident on Twitter, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) targeted the Trump administration's recovery efforts post-Maria—which have been widely denounced as inadequate—while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a broader government investment to repair the island's power system.

Sanders is among those who have advocated for rebuilding the grid to rely on renewable forms of energy as well as sweeping loan forgiveness for Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which even before the storm was plagued by outdated infrastructure and massive amounts of debt.

Wednesday's blackout, as the AP noted, "occurred as Puerto Rico legislators debate a bill that would privatize the island's power company, which is $14 billion in debt and relies on infrastructure nearly three times older than the industry average."

The privatization plan, announced by the governor earlier this year, has been met with contempt among local leaders and residents.

Writing for The Intercept last month, Naomi Klein explained that based on Puerto Ricans' past experiences with private telephone companies and water treatment systems, many fear "that if PREPA is privatized, the Puerto Rican government will lose an important source of revenue, while getting stiffed with the utility's multibillion-dollar debt."

"They also fear that electricity rates will stay high," she wrote, "and that poor and remote regions where people are less able to pay could well lose access to the grid altogether."

The privatization fears are accompanied by critiques of controversial repair work by government contractors such as Whitefish and Fluor following the hurricane.

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