Puerto Rico Seeks Justice and Solidarity

From the moment the Arctic Sunrise crossed through El Morro, we found a united people and solidarity within each community working 24/7 to recover.

When I was invited to be part of a brigade of activists from the #OurPowerPR campaign that would join the crew of the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise to help the people of the island, I did not think it twice. My family has also gone weeks without water and electricity after experiencing catastrophic hurricanes like Alex, which severely hit Monterrey, Mexico in 2010. But I had never seen anything like what happened to Puerto Rico.

We arrived in San Juan exactly two months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island on September 20th and it looked like it was only yesterday. I spent four days in San Juan, where most of the traffic lights and electricity did not work, there were still trees that blocked the streets, light poles, and cables on roofs and cars. More than half of the businesses were closed and at night there were no lights in many homes. Puerto Ricans have suffered these conditions for ten weeks and counting.

The campaign plan was to transport supplies from Miami to contribute to Puerto Rico’s just recovery: solar panels, water filters, agricultural tools, and bicycles. The farmers on the island need these materials because they are essential for farms being rebuilt by communities in a way that they won’t depend of foreign assistance in the future. Unfortunately, the Jones Act prevented us from bringing these supplies into the Arctic Sunrise, but it could not prevent the activist brigade from reaching San Juan on board the ship.

It took 5 days from Miami to San Juan. We had time to share, prepare and refine details with the brigade activists. One night, Lex Barlowe of Movement Generation, one of the more than 25 organizations that support #OurPowerPR, said something that stayed with me from that moment:

“The best resistance is resilience, communities that make their own decisions and build their own solutions.”

It is a powerful phrase in itself, but it is vital in the context of Puerto Rico. From the moment the Arctic Sunrise crossed through El Morro, we were greeted by kayaktivists — and we kept on finding groups and individuals who are working 24/7 to recover. We found a united people and solidarity within each community. Everyone had their own stories after the superstorm season, but all shared a goal for their country — they seek a just recovery, which builds resiliency to face increasingly strong and devastating storms fueled by climate change.

Crystal Bruno, also an activist in the brigade, used a phrase in her art that I can’t stop thinking of:

“What is done to the land is done to the people.”

The kayakers from the organization Amigos Del Mar welcome the Arctic Sunrise as the ship arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Vanessa (left) and Alberto, also known as Tito Kayak (middle) from Amigos Del Mar give a gift of campaign tee shirts to Crystal Bruno, Resident Artist at Uprose, as she presents them with her artwork as a gift.

One afternoon, we visited a farm where we helped to clean up what Maria destroyed, preparing the land for a new crop cycle. Our first activity was to sharpen machetes by hand, using files because there is no electricity to do it any other way. Work is hard — and becomes harder than we can imagine from afar — if there is no access to basic services.

Monica Mahecha from Climate Justice Alliance, weeding the garden during the Our Power Puerto Rico brigade visit to Proyecto Rizoma, a local urban farm in San Juan that is part of Organizacion Boricua.

How can our brother and sisters in Puerto Rico recover without electricity? People cannot depend on negotiations between big utility companies to do something as basic and vital like filing their machetes to clear the land they need to produce the food they eat.

Needs in Puerto Rico go beyond what we can think and that is why its people seek justice and solidarity. That afternoon clearing a field, volunteers from Puerto Rico, United States, Mexico, and Colombia, formed a team committed to sustainable agriculture on the island. Watch this video that was broadcast live on that day.

Disaster capitalism is not the solution, it is the problem. We have to make sure that the communities can make a transition to food sovereignty, renewable energies, and independent decision-making.

The Arctic Sunrise departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Representatives from the climate justice organizations that form Our Power Puerto Rico are connecting and working with local communities and organizations to support the process of a just recovery for the island, to help its people thrive and be better prepared in the case of future climate disasters.

My visit to San Juan is over, but there are still many things to do for the people and the communities in the island. More brigades will be arriving there in the coming weeks. Take action with #OurPowerPR. This is people to people power.

Written by: Rodrigo Estrada Patiño

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