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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/7/18

Naomi Klein: 4,645 Deaths in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria Were "State-Sponsored Mass Killing"

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AMY GOODMAN: For more, we host a roundtable discussion for the hour. We're joined by Naomi Klein, author, journalist, senior correspondent for The Intercept. She has a new book out; it's called The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes On the Disaster Capitalists. She's also author of No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, among others. Also joining us, straight from Puerto Rico, Katia Avile's-Va'zquez, a Puerto Rican environmental activist, member of a sustainable farming resource group called the Boricua' Organization for Ecological Agriculture, which is part of the Climate Justice Alliance, based in San Juan. Elizabeth Yeampierre is also with us, executive director of UPROSE and co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! You have just come, Katia, from the island. You were there when this Harvard study came out. It's not that a lot of people on the island weren't saying it's actually the opposite of what Trump said at the time. He's consulting the governor, and he said what? Sixteen, 17 people have died. That was right after. But now this number, maybe it's 4,600. Maybe it's 5,700 people who have died. Was that your sense of things? And what, as we move into this next hurricane season, are your major concerns right now?

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: So, I think the first thing is to highlight Omaya Sosa and the Center for Investigative Journalism. They were the first ones to document and call out what we all were feeling and knew and had seen, which was that we had died in the thousands. And I think it's really important to highlight their work. And particularly, they were able to gain a victory yesterday, to have access to the number of deaths, thanks to esquire Luis Jose' Torres Asencio, among other people that were in the team. The 4,645 number is a statistical mean.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Excuse me. When you say that they were able to gain access, that was a judge ordering the government --


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: -- of Puerto Rico to finally release --

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: To release the numbers, finally. Yeah, that was --

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: -- the death certificates, actually.

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: That came down yesterday, yeah. So, after -- come in June. And the numbers, we knew that it was going to be in the thousands. And I think it's important to not focus on whether it's 4,645 or 5,700, because we knew it was going to be in the thousands. The study remains within a three-month window, which is October, November, December. And it looks specifically at the survey that they were doing, and then they extrapolated based on that survey. But it doesn't necessarily count older people that went out of time, for example, our elderly and sick, that maybe could have lasted -- our knowledge bearers, that could have lasted a little bit longer, and suffered before they finally -- their bodies gave up, because they couldn't take the heat or the lack of food.

I think it's important to -- that highlights not only that it was kept secret, but the fact that it was kept secret to serve a political agenda, in the case of Governor Rosselló. That day, right after Trump left, the government recognized that the number went up to 34. So when he answered Trump's question, it's very unlikely that he didn't know the number was not 16 already, so that, again, it's just highlighting that the numbers and the entire situation has been usurped to serve Rosselló's political agenda and the capitalists that are now taking over the island.

I think the other part that needs to be taken into consideration, like you mentioned this, that the number of deaths now, and since January, has continued to increase due to Maria. And we have not only the suicide rates that are increasing, but stoplights literally falling on people and killing them, power plants blowing up and catching fire and killing people, and then people that have continued to die because of the lack of the necessary and appropriate resources. So, if we actually take into account all those indirect deaths, again, we're in the thousands of deaths.

And coming into the next hurricane season, infrastructure is still very weakened. Houses are still with tarps. There's very -- a lot of debris on the streets. There's still -- the water hasn't been restored everywhere. Electricity hasn't been restored everywhere. The boat system, La Lancha, that goes from the main island to Vieques and Culebra, is still not functioning properly. So, we're in a very weakened state to face the new hurricane season.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to go back to that issue. The Harvard study only, as you mentioned, goes from September 20th to December 31st, yet there were hundreds of thousands of people in January and February that still didn't have electricity, so that there were undoubtedly other deaths that occurred --


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: -- in the early part of this year, as well.

KATIA AVILÉS-VÁZQUEZ: Correct. And there are still some that happened a couple of weeks ago, because -- indirectly, because of that. Like I mentioned, literally, a stoplight fell, and the person that it hit recently died. So, we've had continuous deaths indirectly to the hurricane and its impact on infrastructure.

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