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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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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Naomi, I wanted to ask you about -- you first did an article, a long article, and now this book, in terms of what you saw when you went down to Puerto Rico, and also the -- how much Puerto Rico has fit into one of your main theses that you've developed over the years of disaster capitalism.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I was there -- I was actually there with Elizabeth Yeampierre, and we were lucky enough to be shown around to some parts of the country by Katia. And, you know, we saw people in February having to travel very long ways to plug in their oxygen machines, you know, elderly people, because they still didn't have electricity. So I think that this goes to the point that the deaths were continuing after the count stopped for this particular study.

And I'm really struck by this phrase that these are deaths "due to" Hurricane Maria, you know? It's not due to Hurricane Maria. Maria was the catalyst. But if you look at the study, the cause of death in so many of the cases, the largest cause, was the collapse of the healthcare system, which is intimately tied to the collapse of the electricity system, which is intimately tied to the collapse of the water system. So, this is really about a total infrastructure failure, right? And it didn't just fail. A total society doesn't have its infrastructure fail, unless you systematically knock out every support structure and you do so knowingly.

You know, I keep thinking about this phrase, from four decades ago, by the great late investigative journalist Rodolfo Walsh, the Argentinian kind of inventor of investigative journalists in so many -- of investigative journalism in so many ways. When he was describing the economic policies of Argentina's military junta, he called it "planned misery." And I think that applies so much to what is going on in Puerto Rico right now, that this has been a planned system of immiseration. Maria comes along, and it's just the final blow.

But, you know, I keep searching for a phrase to describe this. It's not a natural disaster. It's not just a tragedy. It's state-sponsored mass killing. That's what we're talking about here, because maybe there wasn't the intent to kill, but there was the knowledge that the infrastructure was being destroyed. And even after we see the results, the deadly results of it, they're doing it still. And, you know, this comes to what, Juan, you're asking me about how this fits into what I've written in the past about disaster capitalism in The Shock Doctrine. Even after seeing the effects of such brutal austerity and the thousands of lives it has taken, what is the response? More of the same -- huge doses of austerity that they're pushing right now, trying to kill -- trying to close hundreds of schools, more layoffs, more neglect. And the cost of this is counted in thousands and thousands of lives.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the White House press briefing Tuesday. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Puerto Rico.

HUNTER WALKER: Does the president still think his response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico deserves a 10-out-of-10 score, now that estimates say almost 5,000 people died there?

PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The federal response, once again, was at a historic proportion. We're continuing to work with the people of Puerto Rico and do the best we can to provide federal assistance, particularly working with the governor there in Puerto Rico, and we'll continue to do so. Peter?

HUNTER WALKER: Any concern about the massive volume of the death toll there?

AMY GOODMAN: So, there are the reporters asking about the volume of the death toll, and the White House spokesperson saying, "Doing the best we can." Elizabeth Yeampierre?

ELIZABETH YEAMPIERRE: Well, what we understand is that FEMA is evacuating people instead of rebuilding. We know that even before the hurricane, that lots of people were being pushed out of Puerto Rico, so many of them moving to Central Florida. We estimate that by 2020, I think something like 600,000 Puerto Ricans will have been pushed out of the island. We know that here, in New York City, those people who are in temporary shelters are also faced with eviction. They're living under the worst kind of circumstances. They get frisked when they get into their homes. They have to show their ID as if they were in some form of incarceration.

And I think that one of the things that concerns us the most is that this effort of evacuating the island is really an opportunity to really privatize the entire island. And so, if there are no people there, it really makes it easier for the United States to support corporate interests. One of the things that I've been concerned about is what happens, for example, with those 23 Superfunds that exist in Puerto Rico and a lot of the toxic exposure that people are being exposed to. None of that is being addressed by the U.S. government. Those are U.S. corporate interests, and those are sites that are managed by U.S. corporations. And that's another source of death for people in Puerto Rico. So, it's really disappointing.

But I also think that there's not a lot that is being expected of the U.S. government in this situation. We saw what happened in New Orleans, and we saw how people were treated in New Orleans. And people in Puerto Rico have not fared better than that.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to break. When we come back, we're going to take a little of the trip with you that Naomi Klein and Elizabeth Yeampierre went on in Puerto Rico, when they followed you, Katia, and others. We're talking to Naomi Klein. This is the day the book The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes On the Disaster Capitalists is released, with the big event tonight at Cooper Union. Elizabeth Yeampierre is with us. She is co-chair of Climate Justice [Alliance], among other groups. And Katia Avile's is with us. Katia Avile's is a well-known Puerto Rican environmentalist working in agriculture with the group Boricua' Ecological Agriculture. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Resilience," a new song by the Puerto Rican artist Taina Asili." This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonza'lez. Juan?

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