Puerto Rico, abandoned by Trump and facing disaster capitalism looting by big business, turns to socialist and anarchist collectives to rebuild
Disaster capitalism depends on the idea that “There is No Alternative” and that the populace can only sit by passively while their infrastructure, government, homes and schools are hijacked and sold off to low-bidder corporations to financially engineer and then extract rent from.
That’s certainly the model that started to play out after Hurricane Maria, when Trumpist cronies were handed sweetheart deals and the people were left to die in droves while captains of industry carved up the loot.
But the populace need not be a flock of sheep waiting passively for the shear: instead, they can rise up and take care of themselves, through systems of solidarity and mutual aid, and that’s what’s happening in Puerto Rico, where Molly Crabapple reports on the smashing success of anarchists and socialists whose collectives are filling in the humanitarian relief that has been denied to them by Trump’s incompetent state and the shareholder firms who are more interested in their bottom lines than the human lives they are being paid to ease.
So you’ve got the radical black feminists of Taller Salud, rebuilding homes in Loíza; Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, handing out “food, supplies, and money for tarps”; there’s the punks of Santurce’s El Local, feeding 600 people a day from a community kitchen; and many others — often these groups date back to the incompetent bungling of the Hurricane Irma relief, and have gone from strength to strength, forging ties with the diaspora in Miami and New York, showing people that there is an alternative.
Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, aid remained a bureaucratic quagmire, mismanaged by FEMA, the FBI, the US military, the laughably corrupt local government. The island looked as if it were stuck somewhere between the nineteenth century and the apocalypse. But leftists, nationalists, socialists—Louisa Capetillo’s sons and daughters—were stepping up to rebuild their communities.
Natural disasters have a way of clarifying things. They sweep away once-sturdy delusions, to reveal old treasures and scars.
Over the next month, Luis, Christine, and ARECMA, took over the group’s storm-ravaged hilltop center and set up the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo (Project for Mutual Aid). I flew back home to New York before I could see it open. They began by feeding hundreds of people a day, with rice, pork and beans, rather than the MREs and tropical-flavored skittles provided by FEMA and the military. Then they added a weekly health clinic. Classes in chess and bomba dance for bored kids (the vast majority of schools remain closed). A free meal delivery service for the elderly. Potable water. Even Wi-Fi. Their Proyecto is one of a rapidly growing network of autonomous, self-managed Centros de Apoyo Mutuos (CAMs), which now also exist in Caguas, Río Piedras, La Perla, Mayagüez, Utuado, Lares, Naranjito, and Yabucoa. Each offers a communal dining room, with delicious free food. They distribute goods donated both by locals and those abroad, and they organize brigades to clear roads with machetes and axes. The CAMs are established by and for their communities, and in the course of providing aid, they create spaces for discussion and political organization. In theory and in practice, they resemble the solidarity networks that left-wing Greek activists used to survive their country’s financial crisis. In the words of AgitArte, a radical San Juan art collective deeply involved in the CAMs, they don’t exist just to address urgent needs, but “to combat the onslaught of disaster capitalism and its henchmen.”