Visiting scholar Yarimar Bonilla (Rutgers University) recently spoke to a number of media outlets about the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. She appeared on Monday’s segment of Democracy Now (video above) to discuss the damaging impact that lack of sufficient aid has had on Puerto Rico’s recovery. Among the many obstacles preventing more help from reaching the 3.4 million American citizens living on the island is the Jones Act, a trade law that allows only U.S. ships to carry cargo to Puerto Rico and was only waived today. As Bonilla explains, this has prevented nearby Caribbean nations from sending aid. She adds that the law “also makes the cost of everything that arrives much higher. So at this time, the cost of basic necessities like batteries and generators is prohibitive.”
Bonilla has also recently written for the Washington Post on how Puerto Rico’s quasi-colonial status makes it vulnerable to disasters. She argues that as an unincorporated U.S. territory, Puerto Rico has been subject to legislation designed to favor mainland investors and corporate interests, which has exacerbated inequality on the island. Bonilla writes, “With a poverty rate nearly double that of Mississippi, failing infrastructure that has been neglected for more than a decade and a public sector that has been increasingly dismantled in response to the debt crisis, the island was already in a state of emergency long before the storm hit.”
This week Bonilla has also appeared on NPR’s 1A and WBEZ Worldview to talk about the situation in Puerto Rico. She is the author of Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment and a founder of the Puerto Rico Syllabus. During her time in residence at RSF, she is researching the Puerto Rican statehood movement in the context of the territory’s current fiscal, economic, and social crisis. Read more about her project.