Things That Matter

Puerto Rico Has Declared A State Of Emergency And Left Residents Without Access To Running Water

Another crisis is unfolding on the island of Puerto Rico, as a severe drought grips the territory and forces the government to take drastic measures. After a series of major earthquakes and hurricanes, Puerto Rico is now suffering through one of its worst droughts in history.

Water is scarce. And the government is implementing rationing measures that will leave hundreds of thousands of residents without regular access to running water.

Gov. Wanda Vazquez has announced a state of emergency as the government begins rationing water.

Puerto Rico is once again in the headlines for an ongoing crisis that is affecting hundreds of thousands of island residents. On Monday, Puerto Rico’s governor declared a state of emergency as a worsening drought creeps across the territory.

Starting July 2, nearly 140,000 customers, including some in the capital of San Juan, will be without water for 24 hours every other day as part of strict rationing measures. Puerto Rico’s utilities company urged people to not excessively stockpile water because it would worsen the situation, and officials asked that everyone use masks and maintain social distancing if they seek water from one of 23 water trucks set up across the island.

“We’re asking people to please use moderation,” said Doriel Pagán, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Water and Sewer Authority, adding that she could not say how long the rationing measures will last.

The order signed also prohibits certain activities in most municipalities including watering gardens during daylight hours, filling pools and using a hose or non-recycled water to wash cars. Those caught face fines ranging from $250 for residents to $2,500 for industries for a first violation.

Puerto Rico is experiencing a drought ranging from moderate to severe in some parts of the territory.

Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of last week more than 26% of the island is experiencing a severe drought and another 60% is under a moderate drought. Water rationing measures affecting more than 16,000 clients were imposed this month in some communities in the island’s northeast region.

The island’s access to water is complicated by the fact that many residents rely on a system of reservoirs in Puerto Rico for water. However, due to budget constraints, several have not been dredged for years, leaving sediment to collect and allowing the excess loss of water. 

Aside from drought, the island is still recovering from a pair of deadly earthquakes and Hurricane Maria.

Credit: Eric Rojas / Getty Images

Over the last few years, Puerto Rico has suffered a one-two punch that has left much of the island’s infrastructure in shambles. In fact, Vasquez cited the lasting impacts of the December and January earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic as exacerbating the water crisis.

The current water crisis has threatened the safety and wellbeing of Puerto Ricans. The earthquakes also disproportionately impacted the southern region where the drought is most severe. Vázquez also extended the coronavirus curfew for the whole island, which began in March, for three more weeks, making it the longest continuous curfew in the United States so far.

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

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Puerto Rico Lost Its Giant Telescope But Now It Hopes To Build A Giant Space Port

Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Puerto Rico’s famed Arecibo telescope collapsed in December after years of neglect and damage from earthquakes and hurricanes. But the island is looking to the future with the hope that the U.S. territory could become a major hub for space exploration as a potential space port.

Puerto Rico seeks to be a hub for international space travel.

Puerto Rico may best be known for its tourist packed beaches and its bankrupt finances, but as the island continues to recover from the economic disasters in the wake of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s looking to the future.

And to many officials on the island, the future is in space exploration. The Caribbean island has put out a request for information, or RFI, seeking companies interested in turning a sleepy airport at the base of the El Yunque National Rainforest into a space port.

The island’s location between North and South America and close to the Equator gives it “viable trajectories to a large range of desirable low earth orbit launch inclinations,” Puerto Rico’s Port Authority said in a notice posted Friday.

The potential base could be a major boost to the Puerto Rican economy.

The site is currently a small airport that already houses an 11,000 feet runway and offers flights to various points in the territory. But with the existing infrastructure, officials state it could easily be converted into a space port.

If the site does generate interest, it would be a major boost to Puerto Rico’s small but vibrant aerospace sector. Honeywell Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace all have manufacturing plants on the island.

Puerto Rico would also join a growing number of U.S. states and jurisdictions that are vying for pieces of the commercial launch business, which is expected to become a trillion-dollar market over the next decade.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (APPR), Joel A. Pizá Batiz, believes that “The aerospace industry is one of the economic sectors that is experiencing the most rapid growth. In fact, in the midst of the pandemic it was one of the few sectors that did not receive much impact,” he explained.

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