Puerto Rico: A Showcase for Vulnerability in the Caribbean
Georges Félix is a Puerto Rican food sovereignty activist and early-career researcher in agroecology, linked to Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica and SOCLA Puerto Rico.
When Hurricane María slammed into Puerto Rico on September 20 it pushed the beleaguered island from crisis to disaster. The hurricane’s 150 MPH winds destroyed Puerto Rico’s trees, electricity, roads, bridges, and farms (yes, farms). There are no working hospitals, no fuel, no water, no power, no airport… and no food. The scale of the destruction and the suffering are unprecedented. Nonetheless, the disaster was entirely predictable.
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Plagued for decades by an unpayable debt, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), signed into law by former President Barack Obama was supposed to help stabilize the island’s economy. PROMESA imposed a structural readjustment on the economy that gutted health care, education, and infrastructure, and privatized public services—the very ones that now are unable to deliver critical relief services following the hurricane. What was an economic crisis has become a tragic humanitarian crisis.
Food was a challenge in Puerto Rico before Hurricane María. Over 85% was imported. The Jones Act, a colonial legislation that requires all cargo into Puerto Rico be transported on US ships, ultimately doomed the island to high food prices and led to billions of dollars in lost trade revenues. Our dependency increased our vulnerability, exposing us to high risk in the face of the growing economic shocks and severe weather patterns battering the globe.
President Donald Trump waited a full week after the hurricane to suspend the Jones Act, effectively blocking urgently needed food and supplies offered by Venezuela and Cuba. The Jones Act should not just be suspended, it should be repealed. Our unpayable debt should be forgiven. (Does anyone really believe we can rebuild the island under this weight?)
And, we need to grow our own food. While the government of Puerto Rico has historically invested in biotechnology and industrial agriculture for export, this model has failed our food system. Now, in our time of need, social movements in rural and urban communities are organizing in brigades to rescue what is left of Puerto Rican agriculture.
Before the hurricane, the Puerto Rican movement for food sovereignty was growing with local farmers and budding farmers’ markets. More than 150 food activists were trained in agroecology. In the midst of tragedy we have an opportunity to rebuild our island’s food system—sustainably and equitably. The ground is fertile for an agroecological transformation.
Hurricane María exposed the political, social and environmental vulnerability of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. It’s time to re-construct our future, starting with the food system. Emergency relief is required immediately, but resilience needs to be planned and managed going forward. Agroecology is the tool. No co-optation. No dependency. It’s time for food sovereignty!
Support a farmer in Puerto Rico (Borikén):
- Resiliency Fund Puerto Rico
Food sovereignty collective to support both agroecological and conventional farmers in (1) emergency relief and (2) transformation towards agroecological food system. This fund is managed by Tara from El Departamento de la Comida in coalition with farmers, activists and artists
- Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológica
28-year Local Puerto Rico farmer’s organization, member of CLOC-Via Campesina, supporting smallholder farmers and farmer markets. WhyHunger has also started a fundraising campaign for Boricuá: https://whyhunger.org/connect/item/3267-reconstructing-puerto-rico-farmer-to-farmer-community-to-community
- Casa Pueblo
Non-government organization leading relief and recovery operations in the rural and mountain areas of rural Puerto Rico for over 20 years. As an immediate action after hurricane María, Casa Pueblo is investing in solar power solutions.
- María Fund
This fund collects for grassroots organizations leading relief and recovery activities in rural and urban Puerto Rico.
Finca Don Cotto Bocanada, Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico (tobacco, herbs and vegetables). Photo credit: Samuel Morales Cotto
Desde mi huerto, Patillas, Puerto Rico (seed bank, herbs, vegetables, workshops). Photo credit: Raúl Rosado
Jardín Pachamama, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico (edible forest fruits, seed bank, ecological restoration). Photo credit: Magha García Medina