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Six weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, millions of residents are still living without safe drinking water and electricity. Health experts say the storm's massive damage to Puerto Rico's water system is threatening to cause a public health crisis, as more and more people are exposed to contaminated water. Over the weekend, Democracy Now! was in Puerto Rico, and we traveled about three hours into Puerto Rico's mountainous highland region in the interior of the island in order to look at the ways austerity has exacerbated the crisis caused by Hurricane Maria.
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AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in Puerto Rico, where, six weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, millions of residents are still living without safe drinking water and electricity. Health experts say the storm's massive damage to Puerto Rico's water system is threatening to cause a public health crisis, as more and more people are exposed to contaminated water. On Thursday, the White House finally agreed to release FEMA disaster aid with more flexibility to try to help rebuild Puerto Rico's devastated power grid and other infrastructure.
The shift in aid disbursement was necessary because of Puerto Rico's massive debt crisis, which both severely limits the island's ability to prepare for the storm ahead of time and to respond fully in the days afterward. According to an investigation by Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism, quote, "The permanent disaster [of Maria] has been largely due to the slow and inefficient deployment of the emergency response due to a fatal combination between the lack of liquidity of the government of Puerto Rico and its municipalities and the federal government's inaction," unquote. For the last year, Puerto Rico has been controlled by an unelected fiscal control board, imposed by the U.S. Congress, whose role is to enact austerity measures to ensure the bondholders of Puerto Rico's debt are repaid.
Well, over the weekend, Democracy Now! was in Puerto Rico. We traveled around three hours into Puerto Rico's mountainous highland region in the interior of the island in order to look at the ways austerity has exacerbated the crisis caused by Hurricane Maria. We begin our journey in a town called Lares, about two hours west of the capital San Juan. I began there by asking Democracy Now!'s Juan Carlos Da'vila, who grew up in Puerto Rico, to tell us about the history of this town called Lares.
JUAN CARLOS DA'VILA: So, the motto of this town is "Lares, Ciudad del Grito," which translates to "Lares, City of the Scream." That is in reference to the revolution of 1868 here in the town of Lares, where Puerto Rican revolutionaries gathered to overthrow the Spanish forces from here and declare the Puerto Rican independence. The colonial administration, that continues to administer the colony, are saying that the motto is too subversive, that "Ciudad del Grito" is too subversive, so they have tried things like "Lares, City of the Beautiful Women" or "Lares, City of the Open Skies," so that to, in a way, try to erase the history of Lares.
AMY GOODMAN: Let's go over to the street of Pedro Albizu Campos.
JUAN CARLOS DA'VILA: Pedro Albizu Campos is a revolutionary leader of Puerto Rico, who was president of the Nationalist Party, a Harvard graduate. And he --
AMY GOODMAN: I think he was the first graduate -- Puerto Rican graduate of Harvard Law School.
JUAN CARLOS DA'VILA: So, yeah, Pedro Albizu Campos is a very important figure in Puerto Rico. He stood for the independence of Puerto Rico. He fought valiantly against United States imperialism. So, here, the important thing about Pedro Albizu Campos being here in Lares, and his street here in Lares, is that he represents the continuation of that struggle of the revolutionaries fighting against the Spanish forces. And for that, he was in jail, and he was tortured. And many believe he --
AMY GOODMAN: He was in prison for decades.
JUAN CARLOS DA'VILA: Yeah, he was in prison for many years. And he was -- and it is believed that he was tortured, and they experimented with radiation on him.
AMY GOODMAN: In Lares, we meet up with Martin Cobian, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico and a member of the Center for Transdisciplinary Studies in Agroecology. We head about an hour further into the mountains, to a region called Las Maras.