Puerto Rico devastated by hurricanes, colonial exploitation, and Trump’s racism

October 1, 2017


We condemn the racist response of the Trump administration to the desperate situation in Puerto Rico. What we are seeing there is nothing less than a physical and moral apocalypse.

The devastation wrought in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20 was intensified because it followed so closely the damage caused by Hurricane Irma two weeks earlier. Irma created dangerous flooding and infrastructure damage.

Then Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in 90 years, left dozens of people dead; destroyed thousands of homes and other structures; caused flooding from 6 to 15 feet in places; knocked out the island’s power grid and most communication networks; wiped out a year’s worth of agricultural production; and caused billions of dollars in insured losses.

At least 55% of the population (by U.S. military estimate) lack clean water. Hospitals are without power—witnesses have described one hospital in which all Intensive Care Unit patients died. Basics like baby food are lacking or in short supply.


In the words of San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, “I am begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency and bureaucracy. If we don’t solve the logistics, we are going to see something close to a genocide.”

But Trump’s initial response to Maria has been characteristic of his hate-filled regime. First he has been slow to send needed aid, mobilizing many less rescue workers than has been done in response to previous disasters. The depravity at the core of his racist regime couldn’t have been expressed more clearly.

This is a public spectacle conducted largely for the benefit of Trump’s racist support base. A public exercise in the collective humiliation of millions of human beings. When Puerto Ricans rightfully objected, this inhuman creature dared to accuse them of “wanting everything to be done for them.”

This was and is racist mass murder.


Trump also starkly expressed the logic of capitalism when speaking of Puerto Rico to the National Association of Manufacturers. There he hissed, “Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort—it will end up being one of the biggest ever—will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island.”

This multi-billion dollar debt is the result, in large measure, of over a century of U.S. colonial exploitation. U.S. landlords seized the lands of peasant farmers and turned agriculture into a sugar-cane monoculture, driving the jibaros to the cities. The people became producers of cheap manufactured goods for U.S. companies—U.S. businesses in Puerto Rico were allowed exemption from minimum wage laws, and efforts to lower the minimum wage continue today.

In Capital Karl Marx writes of the “great part that the public debt…played in the capitalization of wealth and the expropriation of the masses.” This is exactly what Trump is threatening, the leveraging of Puerto Rico’s debt to introduce a brutal new round of primitive capitalist accumulation. It is parallel to and depends on his racist and bigoted ideology.

What a ruling class monster like Trump understands all too well is that only if racism and bigotry are common currency can capitalist crisis and environmental collapse be weaponized to his class advantage. Then sectors of the working class and the poor can be demonized, degraded, denied protection—left to the elements—murdered—as others are mobilized as attack dogs.

This is not only Trump’s plan for one devastated island, it is his plan for the entire crisis-ridden world. It is his capitalist “philosophy.” The essence of Trumpism is germinating further apocalypses, up to and including imperialist world war. It must be met and destroyed both as an idea and as the racist reality which has poisoned U.S. society from its founding.

Gerry Emmett, for the Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
September 30, 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *