Puerto Rico In RuinsOn Sept. 18, 2022, Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico. This Category 1 storm left hundreds of people stranded all across the island. Houses and buildings were obliterated and left on the streets. Current residents are reeling and coping with how their homes no longer exist.

Puerto Rico’s History of Hurricanes

Five years before Hurricane Fiona, Puerto Rico was visited by another tropical storm: Hurricane Maria. Maria was a Category 4 hurricane that left aftershocks still impacting the island. Not only did it leave Puerto Rico in physical ruins, but it also collapsed the country’s electrical system. Although the Trump administration attempted to help with damage and repairs, United States aid efforts were inadequate, given the magnitude of the storm and the amount of relief provided. When Hurricane Fiona hit a few years later, the island had not recovered.

Hurricane Fiona Strikes

Severe flooding occurred as dark clouds rested above the entire island and delivered record amounts of rainfall in Puerto Rico. Still traumatized from Hurricane Maria, Danny Hernández, a citizen of San Juan, recalled the scarcity’ most Puerto Rican residents have experienced since the first catastrophe years ago. Hurricane Fiona left 900,000 residents without power and 358,000 without access to water. Due to high winds, debris blocked many peoples’ escape routes to safety. In Cayey, a mountainside town, the Puerto Rican National Guard was sent to rescue 21 elderly and disabled people from an elderly home. Photography student, Ada Vivian Román, experienced several trees and fences being knocked over around her town. However, she goes on to say how privileged she feels compared to those whose homes were submerged underwater by the storm, AP News reports.

Hurricane Relief Efforts in Puerto Rico

After seeing Puerto Rico in ruins, U.S. President, Joe Biden, took action in assisting the struggling island. Biden has promised to allocate federal funds to pay for 100% of aid costs related to Fiona for one month. Before the hurricane, he approved a declaration allowing FEMA to give money directly to the people impacted by the storm. Moreover, on Sept. 21, Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico.

Several organizations have begun to raise funds to support this catastrophe. For instance, Global Giving has started a Hurricane Fiona Relief Fund to help residents on the island and others bordering Caribbean islands affected by this storm. In addition, a women-led nonprofit, Taller Salud, is already working to provide hurricane relief across Puerto Rico by accepting donations of everyday items.

With Puerto Rico devastated by the hurricane, many residents are left wondering what the future holds and how the hurricane’s impact will likely be felt for years. With continued support from international and local aid, Puerto Ricans strive to overcome this disaster.

– Madison Stivala
Photo: Flickr

Startup Hub Caribbean
Facebook has partnered with Parallel18, an accelerator for startup companies that is part of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust, to provide support for 10 startups in the Caribbean. The program is called Facebook’s Startup Hub Caribbean and it is a 12-week program that started in May 2019. This program can tremendously benefit these technology startup companies and the communities that they work in.

The 10 companies selected are from Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic and the partnership chose all of them because they provide a product or service that focuses on goals that better their communities. These include gender equality and employment opportunities. These companies will be able to grow and expand into other markets under the support of Facebook and Parallel 18 through their free services and mentorships.

Possible Benefits

The unemployment rates in Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are currently 7.7 percent, 8 percent and 5 percent. Although these numbers do not appear high, it comes to a total of about 785,000 people that are unemployed. Although providing support to these 10 companies will not completely fix the unemployment rate in these countries, they should be able to grow and provide jobs to their communities with enough support from Facebook and Parallel18.


Other than creating jobs for various communities, these start-up companies are providing real change and solutions. From Puerto Rico, Agrobeads is one of the 10 companies that Facebook has chosen to help. It provides capsules with water and nutrients to farmers in areas that are susceptible to droughts. According to Agrobeads, the capsules allow for the watering of crops and plants every two weeks instead of daily. Facebook’s support of Agrobeads will allow communities in the Caribbean to have greater access to locally grown foods and a more stable income for farmers.


A company focused on providing assistance to those who are underprivileged, Edupass originally formed in 2014. It provides information and assistance to those in the Dominican Republic going through the admission process to university or college. Education is the key to growing a strong workforce and with the support from Facebook’s Startup Hub Caribbean program, Edupass will be able to provide assistance through its admissions experts. These experts will be able to guide students through the application process, help transition students into life at college and provide students with tutoring and the opportunities for internships.

Hacker Hostel

From Jamaica, Hacker Hostel is a company started by Akua Walters that trains and markets Caribbean developers for remote jobs in North American countries. Walters created the company because he saw that talented JavaScript developers were leaving the Caribbean to pursue jobs in developed countries. This was a major problem because the people who were leaving to obtain jobs in developed countries could potentially provide solutions to help with problems in developing nations. Now with the support of Facebook and Parallel18, Hacker Hostel can help better train and prepare software developers to work for North American companies remotely.

Looking Forward

With the creation of Facebook’s Startup Hub Caribbean program, Facebook and Parallel18 are able to provide assistance to young companies that have created solutions for communities around the Caribbean. Although these companies focus and work to benefit their own communities, they could potentially expand to areas outside the Caribbean with the tools, workshops and mentorships from Facebook.

Ian Scott
Photo: Flickr

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, the agricultural sector of Puerto Rico suffered one of the most devastating losses in its history. The island lost about 80 percent of its entire crop value in the initial aftermath alone; according to the Puerto Rican Department of Agriculture, the damage amounted to approximately $780 million in lost agricultural yields. The organization, Boricua, however, promotes agroecology in the hopes of limiting agricultural damage in the face of future disasters.

The Impact and Aftermath of Hurricane Maria

For weeks after Maria, felled trees in the hundreds of thousands dominated the landscape of rural Puerto Rico, stripped of their leaves and bark. The storm also flattened fields of crops or simply blew them away. To make matters worse, the hurricane also killed thousands of livestock and decimated the infrastructure of the area.

For the few farmers who were still able to produce anything, the loss of infrastructure and supply chains rendered it virtually impossible to transport food from farms to cities or towns. Not long after the catastrophe ended, one dairy farmer reported that he had thrown out about 4,000 liters of milk a day for almost a week, since there was no way to transport or sell milk and nowhere to store it safely.

These losses occurred at the worst possible time; according to Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the island of Puerto Rico had “only enough food for about a week.” Before the hurricane, Puerto Rico was importing roughly 80 percent of its food, a large percentage of which came from other islands in the Caribbean, including St. Martin and the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico became vulnerable to starvation between the destruction of homes, roads and vehicles, as well as the hurricane’s damage on nearby islands that exported food to them.

Food Vulnerability and Efforts to Rebuild

Many Puerto Ricans described the aftermath of Maria as a revelation, exposing the vulnerability of an island dependent on external sources for all of its food. For Puerto Rico to avoid this vulnerability in the face of future disasters, it needed to be able to rely on its own agricultural sector – the same agricultural sector that Hurricane Maria had recently ripped to shreds.

Despite the destruction, some Puerto Ricans saw this as an opportunity to begin rebuilding. After the end of the catastrophe, the Organization Boricua de Agricultura Eco-Organica (often known simply as Boricua, a local word for a native Puerto Rican), along with various other local organizations, such as the Resiliency Fund, mobilized to clear roads and provide assistance and food to rural communities affected by the hurricane. This help came mainly in the form of solidarity brigades, which were groups of local volunteers who had banded together to help their neighbors survive and rebuild after Maria.

Organization Boricua

For the Organization Boricua, these relief brigades came in moving camps which would spend three or four days in each farm they visited. During this time, volunteers would help rebuild farm structures and repair damage to farmers’ houses, along with helping farmers replant crops that had been ruined or blown away.

These relief camps represented a long tradition for Boricua. The organization, which emerged in 1989, promotes agroecology and solidarity among rural communities in Puerto Rico. For Boricua, the use of volunteer brigades was not a new development in response to the hurricane, but an old tactic being put to use in rural Puerto Rico’s time of need. Farmers affiliated with the Organization Boricua frequently form brigades to help their neighbors in times of need. Needy farmers may invite volunteers from neighboring farms to come over with food or spare tools or simply to help with harvests, plantings or repairs.


However, the organization’s work goes beyond promoting solidarity and mutual aid. Boricua is a proponent of agroecology – an ecological approach to agriculture which promotes biodiversity, sustainability and the use of native vegetation in farming. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Boricua relief brigades did more than simply help bereaved farmers keep their heads above water – the organization, along with many others, began preparing rural Puerto Rico for a more sustainable way of life.

Boricua promotes a holistic approach to farming, in which farms contribute to and rely on the natural biodiversity of their surroundings. In addition, agroecology allows farmers to stop being dependent on the use of commercial seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. By cutting free from commercial farming supplies, agroecology both fosters independence in small farms and denies the use of common agricultural practices that damage the environment.

Also, farmers in Puerto Rico have good reason to reject commercial agricultural practices. Research shows that one-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from agricultural production around the globe. Because of this, unsafe and unsustainable farming practices can come back to bite farmers; as the world’s climate grows warmer and more erratic, storms and droughts are growing more and more frequent. Hurricane Maria itself is a perfect example of this as the hurricane was one of the worst storms on record ever to hit Puerto Rico. Experts are worried that storms of Maria’s size and destructiveness may become the new norm if the pattern of global warming does not change. So, by turning Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector away from commercial practices, Boricua may be contributing a small part to the aversion of future storms like Maria.

In addition, there is a reason to believe that a more sustainable, more biodiverse method of farming would be less vulnerable in the face of another disaster like Maria. Research shows that smaller, diversified farms, on average, suffer less damage than larger farms that use monoculture.

Thanks to the efforts of the Organization Boricua and other local environmental organizations, Puerto Rican farmers have begun the slow climb out of the wreckage of Hurricane Maria and toward a greener, more sustainable future. Hopefully, if this trend continues, agriculture on the island will not only be able to heal from the hurricane’s damage but also better prepare itself for the next storm to come along.

– Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Poverty in Puerto RicoPuerto Rico, also known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, is a self-governing organized territory of the United States of America. This means that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the U.S. Approximately 3.3 million people live on the island but, due to rising problems, a larger mass exodus is occurring than in the 1950s. Here are 10 facts about poverty in Puerto Rico.

10 Facts about Poverty in Puerto Rico

  1. 43.5 percent of Puerto Ricans are living below the poverty line. This is more than double the amount of citizens living in Mississippi. The poverty level, as defined by the Health and Human Services in 2017, was $20,420 a year for a family of three, or $24,600 for a family of four. The median income of Puerto Rican households is a little over $19,000 per year.
  2. The unemployment rate of Puerto Ricans is 10.1 percent as of April 2017. The main reason for this is a lack of jobs and the slow rate of economic improvement.
  3. Puerto Rican youth from the ages of 16-24 have higher rates of non-participation in school and in work as opposed to other racial groups living in the United States. Youth without high school diplomas are three times more likely to be unemployed, underemployed or working for very low wages.
  4. Puerto Ricans have a higher risk of cancer, diabetes, alcohol consumption, asthma and infant mortality rates. Puerto Ricans have a 33.7 incidence rate per 1,000 counts while this rate is only 18.7 among non-Hispanic whites.
  5. Puerto Rico has had to close 184 public schools due to the economic crisis. In an effort to save millions of dollars, 27,000 students will have to relocate to a different school. When many children are frequently absent from school, usually they are impoverished, violence in the community can arise, there are high rates of diseases and these children have to deal with stresses such as caring for siblings. Enrollment in schools has declined by about 40 percent over the last decade.
  6. Poverty in Puerto Rico has also been affected by the large cuts to the healthcare industry in March 2017. Puerto Rico Medicaid and Medicare rates are about half of what other U.S. states get and nearly all that money is in danger of being exhausted.
  7. Puerto Rico’s drinking water system has been tested and found with elevated levels of bacteria and chemicals as of May 2017. The drinking water has also failed lead safety regulations. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the island is served by that same water. The government-run water utility company, while neglecting to conduct the required safety tests, routinely shows failing results for the safety tests they do conduct, according to a new NRDC report.
  8. Puerto Rico is unable to provide its citizens with effective support due to its crippling debt. The island has a debt of approximately 123 billion dollars.
  9. Population decline will hinder the island’s ability to recover and grow. As many Puerto Ricans leave the island, there will be fewer workers, which in turn leads to less productive capacity and lower consumer demand.
  10. 640,000 Puerto Ricans on the island receive food stamps.

These 10 facts about poverty in Puerto Rico might seem daunting. However, there have been many steps to help combat the issue on the island. Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello released a $9.6 billion spending plan to reduce the island’s debt, which can help relieve many of the issues stated above. There is speculation that The Jones Act will be repealed which means that it would improve the island’s maritime industry, adding new jobs and reducing costs of Puerto Ricans goods.

The 10 facts about poverty in Puerto Rico stem from the economic turmoil that the island has been experiencing. Once the island sees a rise in the economy and starts implementing positive strategies that spur growth, the poverty rate in Puerto Rico should start declining.

– Lorial Roballo

Photo: Flickr

New Tech InfrastructureThe recent ravaging of the island territory of Puerto Rico, first by Hurricane Irma, then by Maria, is a reminder of the sheer destructive mayhem Mother Nature can wield—but also of the ability of individuals, businesses and governments across the globe to come together to solve problems and help those in need. Although the storms undoubtedly caused major problems, they also offered opportunities for change and innovation.

One such possibility is the chance to build a new tech infrastructure from the ground up. Many U.S. companies are stepping up to join in on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Under the direction of Elon Musk, Tesla is sending its Powerpack battery system to Puerto Rico to help homes, businesses, hospitals and schools use their existing solar panels by providing energy storage. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is sending special balloons to help restore cell phone connectivity in areas where the infrastructure is down. Meanwhile, Facebook pledged $1.5 million in relief money to various charities and sent employees to Puerto Rico to work toward restoring internet connectivity to the island.

In an interview with USA Today, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló spoke about talking with Elon Musk. He affirmed that they were looking into batteries and solar panels as a long-term solution to transform energy delivery and bring down costs for the island.

The new tech infrastructure is direly needed. As The New York Times notes, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) was already $9 billion in debt before the two hurricanes hit. PREPA declared itself insolvent in 2014 and ceased making debt payments, forcing a debt restructuring deal that has yet to be finalized. To make matters worse, PREPA has been at the center of a corruption scandal, making it harder to unify the public behind its mission and importance.

But, according to Puerto Rico resident Gabriel Rodriguez, tech company aid to the island has been very polarizing. In his words, “People are really for it or against it. There are the people that say that of course it’s going to be a great improvement for us… but then there’s a lot of people that are very mad because they say we are selling the island to outside interests.”

Ina Fried of Axios speculates that the American companies currently volunteering side-by-side on the island will eventually compete with each other for larger-scale rebuilding contracts. The heavy lifting won’t come free, and this is likely the source of some Puerto Rican worries.

One of the challenges of rebuilding will be to do it in a way that respects Puerto Ricans’ autonomy and independent identity. These fears of selling out to foreign interests are similar to the ones that inspired the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s that toppled Fulgencio Batista and put Fidel Castro in power.

While the two situations are not politically analogous, the tales of government corruption and fears of foreign influence are, and those U.S. companies interested in helping would do well to approach the situation with sensitivity. There is room for all parties to share in the profits and rewards that a new tech infrastructure in Puerto Rico can yield.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr

Bringing Power Back to Puerto RicoTowards the end of this past summer, a series of hurricanes swept across the Caribbean and Southeastern U.S., damaging communities in Houston, Miami and – in particular – Puerto Rico.

Not only was Hurricane Irma also followed by Hurricane Maria, another devastating storm, but the disaster response from the White House has been rather slow to provide relief, during a time when over one million people are struggling with – or even entirely incapable of – accessing electricity. Needless to say, bringing power back to Puerto Rico is no small task. However, Puerto Rico may have found an unlikely ally: Elon Musk’s Tesla Corporation.

Tesla is primarily famous for its manufacturing of electric cars and spaceship equipment (through its sister company, SpaceX). However, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, has recently stated on Twitter that there may be a possibility of Tesla bringing power back to Puerto Rico. “The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too,” wrote Musk on the social media site.

But are Musk’s goals realistic, or even possible at all? According to National Geographic, a solar panel-based subsidiary of Tesla – SolarCity – managed to single-handedly switch a small island in American Samoa from diesel fuel to solar power. The island, known as Ta’u, not only managed to switch over completely to an extremely eco-friendly energy source but did so in the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane – and the solar panels in place on the island have been specially built to deal with such powerful winds and flooding.

Of course, Puerto Rico’s population of three million is far more than Ta’u’s modest population of less than 600, and therefore rebuilding the Puerto Rican infrastructure is a far greater task to undertake. Furthermore, the U.S. government has had a dubious past with intervening in Puerto Rican affairs, including early testing of birth control pills on women. Musk has, however, pointed out that any efforts made in solar power installation in Puerto Rico “must truly be led by the Puerto Rican people.”

After weeks of recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, however, Musk’s comments about not only bringing power back to Puerto Rico but reinforcing it both ecologically and structurally to withstand future storms, are ideas welcomed by many. Nevertheless, the plan is still in its embryonic stages and there is much more discussion that must take place before Tesla can spring into action.

Brad Tait

Photo: Flickr

Hurricane relief in Puerto RicoAfter weathering Hurricane Irma (the largest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic) and Hurricane Maria (the fifth largest hurricane ever to hit the U.S.), Puerto Rico is in desperate need of hurricane relief. The island still lacks power, as the storm knocked out 80 percent of the island’s power transmission lines, and the only electricity is coming from generators. Fuel, food and water shortages are creating a massive humanitarian crisis and are driving the urgent need for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico.

The storms affected an already economically crippled Puerto Rico, which is under a regime of debt-driven austerity measures. In May, Puerto Rico declared bankruptcy, and it has since been trying to restructure more than $70 billion in debt. An already stagnating economy will struggle even more under the financial burden of reconstruction after the hurricane.

The call for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico has already been answered, although much more support is needed. Some 5,000 active-duty troops and National Guardsmen members have been deployed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has 600 people on the ground coordinating relief efforts. FEMA reports that “more than 4.4 million meals, 6.5 million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits to support 3,000 infants for a full week, 70,000 tarps, and 15,000 rolls of roof sheeting [have been sent] to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria’s landfall.”

In addition, the current administration granted a 10-day waiver from the Jones Act, a maritime regulation that requires all shipping from one U.S. port to another be carried on American-made and American-operated shipping vessels. This regulation itself is economically draining for Puerto Rico as it drastically increases the price of shipping. A 2010 study by the University of Puerto Rico found that the Jones Act cost the island $537 million per year.

Luckily, the waiver will allow goods to enter Puerto Rico more efficiently; however, the long-term effects of the raised prices in the U.S. territory will still be felt if the Act stays in place. It is unlikely that the Jones Act will be repealed without broad support because President Trump has stated, “We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Hurricane relief in Puerto Rico must be a priority for the U.S. going forward, but it must also be coupled with a renewed sensitivity to the ever-present economic struggles that the small island faces. Puerto Rico is a territory created in the legacy of U.S. colonialism and their short and long-term suffering must be treated with urgency. Hopefully, in the wake of this disaster, the U.S. government will continue to work with Puerto Rico beyond the immediate recovery efforts and towards alleviating the poverty and austerity created by the debt crisis.

Jeffery Harrell

Photo: Google

How to Help People in Puerto RicoOn September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria battered the island of Puerto Rico, leaving the island’s energy grid destroyed and 3.4 million people without power. The governor of Puerto Rico estimated it could take a month or more to get electricity back to the whole island. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) stated it may take three to four months. Before explaining how to help people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, learn why restoring electricity quickly matters for this territory.

Restoring Energy to Puerto Rico

Electricity is an essential part of life, necessary for improving the lives of people around the world. In Puerto Rico, restoring energy is vital for restoring stability post-hurricane, as a lack of access can be devastating. The greatest impact is felt by women and children. According to the U.N., about 17,000 children die each day from causes that are preventable with sufficient electricity. This includes access to clean water, better sanitation, adequate food, medicine and more education to improve earning power—all things that can be taken for granted in the developed West. Restoring power to Puerto Rico is urgent. The lives of the world’s most vulnerable populations – women and children – are at stake.

Energy is also essential for economic development. When access to energy is impeded, daily life halts. Access to energy means that many people enjoy shorter work days, better transportation and healthier diets. Energy also increases productivity in agriculture and industrial fields. One form of energy that impacts the wealth of a country greatly is electricity. Losing access to electricity could have alarming consequences for Puerto Rico’s economy.

How to Help People in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

Want to know how to help people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria? The most crucial need is restoring power. Currently, PREPA is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and utility companies from New York, Georgia and Florida to restore power.

Another priority is aiding Puerto Rico in its clean up efforts. In a Los Angeles Times interview, local Sonia Viruet stated, “First we need help cleaning. We can try to do it ourselves but it will take too long.”

Finally, a priority to help people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is to provide them with basic human needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Some organizations helping to meet these needs are:

1. American Red Cross
2. ConPRmetidos – a Puerto Rico based non-profit
3. Unidos por Puerto Rico – created by the First Lady of Puerto Rico
6. Save the Children

Global Giving is another organizations meeting the immediate need for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products and shelter. Once initial relief work is complete, this fund will transition to support longer-term recovery efforts run by local, vetted organizations responding to this disaster.

The recent landfalls of Hurricanes Irma and Maria have devastated the island of Puerto Rico. While the damage is grim, there is hope in the fact that the island has bounced back from catastrophic disasters before, such as in 1969 after Hurricane Hugo. With the aid of compassionate people, Puerto Rico should return to normalcy sooner than later.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr

Hurricanes in Puerto RicoThe active Atlantic hurricane season of 2017 has wrought unimaginable destruction. With barely enough time for the U.S. to recover from the shock of Hurricane Harvey (which caused devastating floods in Houston, Texas) the Caribbean islands and the southwestern coast of Florida braced themselves against the incoming wrath of Hurricane Irma. A category 5 storm, Irma bludgeoned Puerto Rico with 185 mph winds, sweeping a path of destruction that left more than one million residents without power. Looking at the history of hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Irma has without a doubt topped the charts as the strongest hurricane to overwhelm the island on record.

Irma has dethroned Hurricane San Felipe II as the worst hurricane in the island’s history. San Felipe II, also a category 5, made landfall on southeast Puerto Rico on September 14, 1928 with sustained winds of 160 mph—a full 25 mph less than Irma. It sustained its category 5 status as it swept across the island over an 18-hour period. In regions the eye of the storm passed through, whole towns were literally blown off the map, and almost every building on the entire island sustained some sort of damage. Sugar cane factories were swept away along with acres upon acres of coffee crops, decimating Puerto Rico’s already struggling economy. It took nearly a decade for the island to recuperate from the effects of San Felipe II.

Hurricanes are a cross Puerto Rico has always had to bear, experienced approximately every three years and making up nearly 25 percent of the island’s annual rainfall. Locals are of course familiar with the history of hurricanes in Puerto Rico, but rebuilding after these horrific forces of nature is still a daunting task. Of the 70 percent of people experiencing power outages in the aftermath of Irma, some are expected to be without electricity for four to six months.

This news does not bode well for the U.S. territory, which is already contending with a suffocating debt crisis. With intense power outages threatening Puerto Rico’s already disintegrating infrastructure, the aftermath of Hurricane Irma threatens to exacerbate the fragile economy even further. Thankfully, the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were quick to spring into action to deliver immediate assistance to Puerto Rico and surrounding regions. With time and continued aid, Puerto Rico can begin to recover and build anew.

Micaela Fischer

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Puerto RicoWith more than $70 billion in debt and three defaulted bond payments, Puerto Rico is in a debt crisis. Almost half of the population of Puerto Rico is in poverty, according to the U.S.Census. There are five main causes of poverty in Puerto Rico.

  1. Puerto Rico’s population has fallen by 400,000 since 2004
    When Puerto Rico’s economy initially began to decline, many islanders left for the mainland U.S. as a way to make a better life for them and their families. Employment has reached 11.8 percent, which is more than twice the unemployment rate in the U.S., so many skilled workers do not see the use of staying on the island.At least one doctor leaves the island per day. The loss of skilled workers negatively affects the economy and is one of the contributing causes of poverty in Puerto Rico.
  2. Government Overspending
    The Puerto Rican government has been continuously spending more money than it collects in taxes, in part because it is not required to create a budget like the states do since it is a territory, and also due to a translating error.The error was in the 1952 constitution with a phrase that said “recursos totales” that could be translated into total revenue or total resources, and it was interpreted as total resources. This allowed the territory to have a huge range of options when it came to issuing debt to fund activities, putting it into deeper debt. National debt has increased from $43.5 billion in 2006 to more than $70 billion presently.
  3. Congress changing laws
    Although Puerto Rico is a territory, it is still under the control of the U.S. Congress, so when the Congress changes laws it can contribute to the reasons that Puerto Rico is in poverty. At one point in time, Puerto Rico was a place where many businesses wanted to because there were huge tax breaks on the island, as Puerto Rico was not required to pay federal tax. The government started phasing out the tax breaks in the late 1990s, and by 2006 the breaks were nonexistent, causing businesses to go elsewhere.
  4. No Bankruptcy rights
    Congress also took away Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy rights in the 1980s, which means that the country is not entitled to Chapter 9 bankruptcy rights like the states are. It can only declare bankruptcy with the approval of Congress, and Congress has yet to give that approval.
  5. Credit vultures
    A vulture fund is a hedge fund that buys the debt of a struggling company, or in this case, an entire country, to make a profit. The companies buy the debt for a fraction of the cost and then make sure that they get paid back the original value of the debt plus interest. There are at least 14 hedge funds in the United States holding about $3 billion of Puerto Rico’s debt.

Puerto Rico continues to be in need of help, with unemployment and debt at an all time high. The government’s overspending and congressional unwillingness to change laws to benefit the island are the main causes of poverty in Puerto Rico.

To solve this problem, Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy in federal court, making it the first U.S. state or territory to do so. It has also been seeking assistance from the government in front of congressional committees. Puerto Rico has a lot of unprecedented in-court fighting to do, but if it is able to get its debt cleared from the federal government, many Puerto Ricans believe that it will give the territory the fresh start that it so desperately needs.

Téa Franco