Let’s talk about Hurricane Fiona—how a storm that caused significant damage to Puerto Rico revealed the island’s broken system. As the Editor-in-Chief of the Maurer Global Forum and a born and raised Puerto Rican, I would like to discuss Hurricane Fiona from a legal perspective to invite discussions on this forum.
Some of you may have seen Bad Bunny’s video called “El Apagón – Aquí Vive Gente (Official Video).” If you haven’t, watch it; if you’re an English speaker, it has subtitles. The video discusses the broken system uncovered by Hurricanes María and Fiona, where laws don’t cater to the Puerto Rican reality and needs. It is a system of corruption that favors the elite rich and those who benefit from the tax haven. More specifically, people benefit from the system, which causes gentrification, discrimination, food insecurity, and lack of access to education. The system’s goal is to make Puerto Rico the next Hawaii, as stated in the famous filtered chat, “I saw the future, it was splendid, there was no Puerto Ricans.”
Besides Puerto Rico and Hawaii, other similarly situated communities face similar gentrification, discrimination, and food insecurity issues. I hope to uncover the broken system without needing a hurricane and offer proposals for change.
What is happening in Puerto and other places can be described as chanchullo. Chanchullo is a Puerto Rican colloquial word that means to commit illicit acts for your benefit. Throughout generations, irrespective of the governing political party, the Puerto Rican government has a reputation for being chanchulleros. Although some politicians are the exception, the general rule is that politicians are chanchulleros.
To put the chanchullo in perspective, the first example is how construction permits are handed out to wealthy Americans to build condos and pools in the beach areas. The beach areas in PR are public spaces that should not have any structures; however, “chanchullo” comes into play here, and people build on beaches, anyway. The consequences are that locals are restricted from accessing these areas that are supposed to be for free leisure, not to mention the environmental damage.
The second example is how Santurce, Puerta de Tierra, and other communities are being turned into expensive apartment complexes by Americans benefiting from Acts 60, 20, and 22. These laws give a 100% tax exemption for developing such areas (playing white savior), leading to gentrification. As a result, many have left the island, and the population of U.S. colonies (Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Samoa) has declined from an average of 897,750 to 504,250, with Puerto Rico having the most significant decline from 3.3 million to 1.8 million. Consequently, locals do not have access to services such as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, and many universities, schools, and essential services are closing.
The third example comes from two reports revealing that a federal agency called the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the local government discriminated against poor communities during Hurricane Maria and are doing the same now. More specifically, the local government has not used the funds from Hurricane Maria in totality, and the money used was for the benefit of families and friends of the governing political party. Consequently, many did not receive the proper assistance to recover (unless from a not-for-profit) and ended up homeless. Thus, combining a fragile infrastructure with chanchullo leads to death because people can’t get help in time.
Another issue that has become apparent since the hurricane is that Puerto Rico has lost its food sovereignty, now importing 90% of its food. This topic, in particular, is something I provide solutions like creating a code of practice with product definition, marketing, collective organization, legal-institutional framework, and economic impact in my dissertation. Some consequences of food insecurity are that many locals have diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, heart problems, obesity, and other health issues.
Lastly, there is the closing of public schools with the excuse of hurricanes, earthquakes, and COVID; the government leaves education to only the rich and elite. Some public schools are still open, but the quality of education is low compared to private schools.
There are many more examples of chanchulleos, but one thing is clear, the problem here in Puerto Rico results from more than hurricanes. It’s the people who run the government. So, please, I invite Puerto Ricans, Latin Americans, and others to talk about corruption, gentrification, colonization, and similar topics, as I would love to read your point of view.
I saw the future; it was splendid, and there was a Puerto Rico libre of chanchullos.