Disaster Capitalism on Puerto RIco: Causes and Consequences of the Privatization of Puerto RIco's Public Electric Authority after Huricane Maria
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After the Spanish American War, the United States established full control over the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico and several small islands surrounding it. Unlike other territories outside the continental United States, Puerto Rico was never offered a path to statehood. Under U.S. policy and control, the island, its government, and that debt held by the government and its many public authorities like PREPA (the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) grew over time. This thesis investigates the causes and consequences of the privatization of PREPA (the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority), especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Examining the privatization of this crucial government service in the context of the Puerto Rico’s unique status within the United States and its history as an unincorporated commonwealth territory, the specific measures of success and failure for an electric power utility, neoliberal policy that favors privatization and contractors, and the intersection of this neoliberal policy and the practice of disaster capitalism uncovers a complex story of policymakers, businessmen, union leaders, and government officials fighting to control an ailing service provider. By describing the current state of PREPA and the unique political landscape on Puerto Rico, this thesis considers the environmental, political, economic, historical, and social impact of the privatization of this public electric utility, answering the following questions: What role does Puerto Rico’s unique colonial legal environment play in PREPA’s decline, if any? Is PREPA simply a “failed experiment” of a public energy utility in the United States, or are other factors to blame for its current sub-par state of operations, lack of financial stability, and the resulting privatization focus of its managers and other political leaders on the island? What does the current state of PREPA reveal about federalism and neoliberal political ideology? Synthesizing the answers to these questions and many others through research on both government and private sector documents and across disciplines, this thesis accurately portrays different motivations for the privatization of PREPA and the impact that such a decision will have on Puerto Rico and its population.