This weekend, more than 4,000 Puerto Ricans marched down the main highway in San Juan, blocking traffic to protest ongoing power outages. The lack of electricity in Puerto Rico’s capital city is threatening residents’ health; they are overheating in their homes and are forced to throw out food and even insulin that has gone bad due to lack of consistent refrigeration.
Power outages have occurred frequently since 2017 when Hurricane Maria destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, knocking out power for 1.5 million people on the island and triggering the world’s second longest blackout. But the outages have worsened over time, occurring more frequently and lasting longer since the private company, Luma Energy, took control of the power grid in June this year. At one point, after a fire at a Luma substation, 800,000 Puerto Ricans were without power. Residents already pay twice as much as mainland U.S. customers for unreliable service, and now they will be paying an additional 1 cent per kilowatt of power they use. Between January and September of 2021, as a result of three separate price increases, the price of electricity went up by nearly 33 percent. The protest this weekend clearly denounced Luma’s role in the island’s worsening energy crisis, with many protesters demanding that the government’s 15-year contract with the company be terminated.
Puerto Ricans have long suffered due to the colonial control that the United States holds over the “territory.” U.S. rule has only exacerbated the effects of the worsening climate crisis in Puerto Rico that is making conditions unbearable for millions of people. As natural disasters occur more frequently, the extraction, military presence, and austerity that the United States forces on Puerto Rico has intensified and become even more difficult for the people to endure. Meanwhile, private capitalists like those at Luma use the disasters as an opportunity to reap greater profits by increasing prices while providing worse services.
Just like the private energy grid that left millions of Texans without power in the middle of freezing temperatures last year, the increasing privatization of essential services in Puerto Rico is devastating the island and its inhabitants. The working class and activists in the environmental movement in the United States must stand in solidarity with the protests taking place in Puerto Rico and fight together for an end to the commodification of basic services.