This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the day’s biggest stories, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best of culture. Sign up for it here.
For the upcoming November issue of The Atlanticwrote author Jaquira Díaz about the ongoing impact of Hurricane María on Puerto Rico. On Sunday — two days before María’s fifth anniversary — another hurricane, Fiona, struck the Commonwealth of the United States. I spoke to Díaz about the significance of both disasters and how they feed into the growing call for Puerto Rico’s independence from the United States
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
“All Too Familiar”
Five years after Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, the Caribbean island archipelago (and the Commonwealth of the United States) is bracing for the fury of another violent storm. On Sunday, Hurricane Fiona left 1.5 million people in Puerto Rico without power; now, three days later, less than a third of those people have their power restored.
For many Puerto Ricans, both on the islands and abroad, Fiona means more than just a somber coincidence of timing. It will almost certainly be a major setback for the nation in its already sluggish recovery from María – a disaster whose death and destruction, many argue, was compounded by American political neglect. As Diaz writes, “María wasn’t just a natural disaster; It was a political event that I believe provokes a historic turning point.”
I emailed Díaz today about the impact of the hurricanes and how they impact Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States
Kelli Maria Korducki: Notably, Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico just two days before Hurricane María’s five-year anniversary. Poignant timing aside, why do some people draw comparisons between the two?
Jaquira Diaz: For me, watching the devastation from the United States was almost like watching Hurricane María. I still haven’t heard from all my family. Some of the people I’ve heard from don’t have electricity or water. For some of us, this sounds all too familiar – knowing that our families are experiencing this devastation while much of the US seems to care more [British] royal funeral by placing our trust in local Puerto Rican charitable organizations and support groups because we do not know if the aid and money we are sending is actually reaching our people. It’s hard for me to even put it into words. Nobody should have to live like this.
Celli: In your article you write that you have visited Puerto Rico several times since Maria. How would you characterize the level of recovery from this catastrophe? What went right and what went wrong?
Diaz: Everyone I know in Puerto Rico, in pueblos like Comerío and Yabucoa and Vieques, feels abandoned. Five years later, I still see blue tarps on the roofs of houses when I drive around – the evidence of neglect is all over the archipelago. I mean why doesn’t Vieques have a hospital five years later when we know what happened after María and we’ve been in the middle of a global pandemic for years? Yesterday I was part of a panel where a Puerto Rican professor showed us photos outside his home where five years later power lines are still down.
What went wrong? First, the Trump administration’s lack of response and intentional blocking of aid funds. To date, Puerto Rico has not received all of the hurricane relief funds it was entitled to following Hurricane María in 2017. And the lack of a response from FEMA without a really structured emergency plan for distribution suministros to the people who needed help; Emergency supplies sat in storage and were left abandoned. Many people who received aid or supplies received it from local community mutual aid groups.
And of course the financial control authority, resp the junta as we know them, whose members have chosen austerity over rehabilitation and have prioritized debt repayment over the lives of the Puerto Rican people. The people of Puerto Rico shouldn’t have to live in survival mode, and that’s been happening since María. The Fiscal Control Board made it so much harder for people.
Celli: How do natural disasters play into debates about whether Puerto Rico should become a US state, remain a commonwealth, or sever its ties with Uncle Sam altogether?
Diaz: We’ve seen hurricanes in Puerto Rico before. But with Hurricane María, we also saw appearances by politicians who sent thoughts and prayers instead of actually helping while purposely blocking or delaying funding, appearances by fake non-profit organizations that used the devastation to swindle people out of money. We’ve seen disaster capitalists and wealthy “venture capitalists” capitalize on the devastation without caring about the real people living with the effects of the storm and its mistreatment. There are currently non-Puerto Ricans living on the archipelago using it as a tax haven while Puerto Rico is drowning in debt and also dealing with the fallout the juntaausterity measures. We’ve seen foreign reporters come to the archipelago from elsewhere, instead of paying journalists in Puerto Rico to report from their own communities, and instead of paying local contractors, contracts for reconstruction projects have been awarded to American companies. We literally saw Americans benefit from this storm as Puerto Ricans themselves lost their jobs and were forced to leave to find work.
We haven’t seen all of Fiona’s effects yet. But the replies I got in the last 24 hours alone since my article was published The Atlantic website, were insightful. The response from young people in particular – both in the archipelago and in the diaspora – is that support for independence is growing and that they do not trust a colonial government to bolster Puerto Rico’s infrastructure or its ability to survive future climate disasters .
- Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Joe Biden said Russia’s aim was to “eradicate Ukraine’s right to exist”.
- The Federal Reserve approved a third straight rate hike. It is the Fed’s most aggressive anti-inflation move since the 1980s.
- Vladimir Putin called up 300,000 reservists to the Russian military and discussed the possibility of a nuclear escalation in the war against Ukraine.
Björk builds a matriarchy
By Spencer Kornhaber
On a Monday afternoon in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, Björk walked into a café and gave me a riddle. Just that morning, our interview had been rescheduled an hour earlier than originally planned so that we could travel to an unknown location. When we arrived at the plant-filled cafe where we had arranged to meet, Björk thanked me for my flexibility. “We had to set our watch for the high tide,” she said cheerfully, as if I knew what that meant.
Björk looked very Björk, which means she looked like nobody else on this planet. Her Cleopatra hairdo was dyed with stripes of white, pink, and gray blue, and the drooping ruffles of her dress-like cloak were patterned in orange and gray-green. The whole look reads like mushroom chic, reflecting the earthy aesthetic of their new album. Fossorawhich will be released at the end of this month. But she moved through the busy café unmolested, unstared even by the other patrons. “Icelanders,” Björk explained, “are too cool for school.”
Read the full article.
More of The Atlantic
Read. ‘The Widow’s Elegy’, a new poem by Kwame Dawes.
“It’s an inside joke, but that’s the nature / of grief. No one is there / to understand.”
Watch. Abbott Elementary School, a mockumentary-style comedy that feels totally fresh, returns to ABC tonight for its second season. (You can catch up on the first season on Hulu.)
Play our daily crossword puzzle.
As Díaz made clear both in our conversation and in her article in the magazine, Puerto Rican roots span the ocean. Across continental borders and federal jurisdictions, the boundary that separates the archipelago’s residents from members of its diaspora is porous. With that in mind, I would like to recommend the Fania All-Stars.
The All-Stars were the famous salsa collective put together by the New York label Fania Records in the late 1960s and turned champions like Celia Cruz, Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe into international superstars. A series of live performances by members of the group from the 1970s can be found on the Fania Records YouTube channel. It’s all great, but the concert footage of Puerto Rican-born Lavoe singing his signature song “Mi Gente” — his tribute to which makes me cry nine times out of ten — is a fantastic starting point.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.