byMartha Bayne and Kari Lydersen | Centro de Periodismo Investigativo and The Chicago Reporter |
Of those who arrived in Chicago affected by Hurricane Maria , only 67 families entered the hotel program of the federal agency, while 155 were located or are on a list for subsidized housing in the city. Others already returned when they did not get where to stay.
Climate change effects like rising sea-level, more rainfall and stronger hurricanes are quickly eroding the coasts of vulnerable Caribbean islands and actively destroying community life and economic activity in plain sight with little to no governmental or international action to protect citizens. Hurricane’s Irma and Maria terribly exposed this institutional neglect in Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and British Virgin Islands where infrastructure collapsed, and coastal constructions were destroyed by storm surge and erosion. Politics play an important role in lack of action and visibility of these island-colonies -and about 10 others in the region- in official world global warming efforts because their data is not considered and they are not included in their analysis.
The most recent version of Puerto Rico’s fiscal plan for its central government would chart the future of the country, giving some degree of certainty to citizens, businesses and investors to bet on the island’s dismal economy. Yet it is built on economic projections totally incompatible with the historical experience of places that have been destroyed by hurricanes the world over. The plan also clashes with what has been Puerto Rico’s economic trajectory. In the past 30 years, the economy has never reached annual growth such as that estimated for fiscal year 2019 by the financial team of Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares. The group is led by Christian Sobrino, governor’s representative before the Fiscal Control Board (FCB), chief economic adviser to the governor, president of the Government Development Bank and chairman of the Financial Advisory & Fiscal Agency Authority (AAFAF by its Spanish acronym); and Gerardo Portela, executive director of AAFAF and by virtue of his position, member of the boards of directors of all public corporations.
Armando Vega Martínez anxiously awaits for the day he can have a home again. The house in which he lived, among the mountains of the Guaraguao neighborhood in Ponce, was completely destroyed when an adjacent structure fell on it after succumbing to the powerful winds of hurricane María just over four months ago. To find a new home, the 69-year-old man has $13,000 that was recently awarded to him by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to which he appealed for aid the same way as roughly one million people have done. “With that, nowadays you can’t even have two ‘zocos’ [or house pillars],” Vega Martínez assured, still struggling to verbalize what he experienced that September 20. “We have gone through hell.
The “work plan” to deal with these cases, the commissioner noted, was a verbal instruction given to the members of the Criminal Investigations Unit, the leadership of the Missing Persons Division and all police commanders. Coronel Francisco Rodríguez, the CIC’s Auxiliary Commissioner, gave the verbal order.
The “plan” said that investigators had to visit the missing persons’ homes to see if they had returned and to also conduct more targeted searches, according to Sergeant José Carlo Rosario, the head of the Missing Persons Division. However, based on several interviews, agents just called or visited shelters and hospitals in their respective areas.
All one needs is to visit town halls, police stations, and funeral homes in Puerto Rico’s towns to find them. The doctors also recognize them, but privately. The government, however, does not want to see them. They refuse to document them. But in the last three weeks —through interviews with mayors, security officials and emergency management from the island’s municipalities, as well as interviews with relatives and a review of death certificates— the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) has identified 47 deaths related to the hurricane, in addition to the 55 officially reported by the government of Puerto Rico.