“I’m Not Fatalistic:” Naomi Klein on Puerto Rico, Austerity and the Left

Source: The Guardian

Naomi Klein’s latest book, The Battle For Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, examines recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria. It is the first time the acclaimed author and journalist has focused on Puerto Rico and is based on a reporting trip earlier in the year. Klein talks to the Guardian’s senior reporter Oliver Laughland about the book and the island’s future.

I was in Puerto Rico shortly after Maria hit and found it a particularly shocking assignment. It reminded me a little of covering the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and observing an entire population let down by infrastructure and government. What sort of personal impact did it have on you, being on the ground?

When I was in Puerto Rico, I met people from Detroit, Michigan, who were there to talk about the emergency management boards and the impacts on schools. People from New Orleans were there, sharing information about what had happened to their school system after Hurricane Katrina. I found that pretty moving and different – that these kinds of grassroots, community-to-community exchanges were happening so soon after the disaster.

Where you have overwhelmingly black and brown communities, an economic crisis or natural disaster becomes the pretext to just do away with any pretense of self-government, of democracy, and impose austerity measures. So-called “structural adjustment programs” are often done in the aftermath of a shock, to take advantage of people’s state of emergency; the fact is that it’s really hard to engage in any kind of political participation when you have to wait in line three hours for food and water. To just stay alive is a full-time job.

It’s an incredibly cynical political tactic, and even so, people do manage to resist it, under these extraordinary circumstances.

What I found really moving in Puerto Rico was seeing the capacity to organize under such impossible circumstances, and I think that speaks to the island’s deep, deep history of resistance to colonization, and the [activist] infrastructure that predated Maria, in terms of the resistance to what Puerto Ricans call La Junta, the fiscal control board.

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