The lights are back on in Puerto Rico—but for how long?

Unlike most of the island’s happenings, this most recent blackout managed to garner coverage in the mainland mainstream media, and even got “Puerto Rico” trending on Twitter. Sadly, mainstream media does a piss-poor job, for the most part, of covering the island, from current events to its history, politics, and challenges. Now that it is being reported that “power has been restored,” Puerto Rico will likely drop from the headlines … until the next disaster strikes.

Yet a days-long, island-wide loss of electricity, powering not just lights and appliances like refrigerators but also water pumps and medical equipment is a disaster. It’s not a “natural” one, like hurricanes or earthquakes, but this one is manmade, attributable to both island and mainland politics, as well as corporate greed and corruption.

Intrepid independent and bloggers on social media highlighted not only the frightening and life-threatening crises, they also provided of the ongoing anger and coverage against LUMA and the government on the island who are not just the problem, but also clearly not the solution .

For those reading who use Twitter and have an interest in the ongoing situation in Puerto Rico, these folks are an invaluable resource. For those who don’t speak or read Spanish, I’m highlighting some English-language reporters.

For the history of how Puerto Rico wound up with LUMA Energy, a good start is Ed Morales’ in-depth 2020 story in The Nation, “Privatizing Puerto Rico.”

On June 22 of this year, Puerto Rico’s Public-Private Partnerships Authority announced that LUMA, a consortium between Houston-based Quanta Services and Canadian-based ATCO, two firms previously involved in the Keystone XL pipeline, would operate PREPA’s distribution and transmission systems. The contract also includes the retention of North Carolina–based Innovative Emergency Management, a company involved in the responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, apparently to manage the massive input of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds—as much as $18 billion—for repairing and renewing the authority’s systems.

The LUMA consortium was decided over three other bidders (Duke Energy, Exelon, and PSEG Services) that were announced in January 2019 by the Puerto Rican government. After the cancellation of the disastrous Whitefish contract—the tiny Montana company was awarded $300 million to repair the island’s electrical infrastructure after Hurricane Maria, a task it was apparently unequipped to carry out—and a recent revelation that fossil fuel companies have for years been charging PREPA exorbitant fees for low-quality oil, the opaque process by which LUMA won the contract has done little to improve public faith in the future of the utility.

The awarding of the LUMA contract has drawn a sustained outcry, not least because of the veil of secrecy that obscured the full scope of the arrangement from public view. “There has been no stakeholder engagement and no public participation, to the point that the documents related to this transaction have not been available until after the transaction was concluded,” said Cambio’s Vila. In an interview with The NationFigueroa Jaramillo said that he became aware of LUMA’s selection only on June 12, when a local reporter asked for his reaction, and that the Puerto Rico Energy Board, an independent regulatory body, had knowledge of the agreement as early as May 18 and “ had not informed the public.”

Freelance journalist Carlos Berrios Polanco covers island protests and movement activities, including this event on Friday.

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Polanco has also been a frequent contributor to Latino Rebels, which provides consistent coverage of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican issues.

New York city-based filmmaker Andrew Padilla tweets daily about both Puerto Rico and the diaspora, also translating news items from the island press from Spanish to English.

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Independent journalist Bianca Graulau can be found on Instagram and YouTube, in addition to Twitter. She does short, informative explainers about a whole host of issues, including sustainable agriculture, gentrification, the junta, and Puerto Rican history.

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Not even six months ago, Graulau was tweeting about another outage.

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And (not quite) three months before that?

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Graulau also covers community groups working to build a self-sufficient Puerto Rico.

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Ironically, on the first day of the latest blackout, the newest La Borinqueña graphic novel from Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez was released; it was about fixing the power grid.

Still wondering what the answer might be to the question of “For how long?” The short answer: As long as the island has a privatized energy consortium wedded to the use of natural gas instead of wind and solar, who keeps raising the rates, and whose inept and exploitative system is supported by elected officials on the island and mainland politicians who are allied with them, Puerto Ricans can’t rely on their power grid.

The people of Puerto Rico crying out “Fuera LUMA” (“LUMA get out”) won’t see improvements until they kick out of office those responsible for—and benefiting from—their suffering.

Join me in the comments for more about Puerto Rico, and for the weekly Caribbean Twitter News Roundup.

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