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Vol. 81/No. 35      September 25, 2017

(front page)

Social catastrophe in US, colonies in the Caribbean

Both Hurricane Irma, which tore through the Caribbean Antilles, Cuba and Florida, and Hurricane Harvey, which slammed into Texas a little more than a week earlier, are described by capitalist politicians and the big-business media as unprecedented natural disasters. But what is not unprecedented is the way these natural events are transformed into social disasters for working people by the normal workings of the capitalist system, where the drive for profits by the propertied rulers takes precedence over the well-being and lives of workers, ranchers and farmers.

For working people — whether in the U.S.; French, British or Dutch Caribbean island colonies; in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico; or in Mexico or Asia facing hurricanes, monsoons or earthquakes — the owners of capital and their governments have one message: “You’re on your own.” It’s up to you to keep yourself and your family out of harm’s way, bear the cost and pull your life together afterwards.

“You can’t tell millions upon millions of people to evacuate without giving them any real way to do so,” stay-at-home mother Darlena Cunha in Gainesville, Florida, told the Washington Post as Hurricane Irma approached.

“Meaningful evacuation would have meant public transport, safe shelters along the way, medical help and facilities throughout, and safe shelter, food, water and sanitary supplies on the other side of it all. For free,” she said.

“We know these storms come. We need a preventive plan set into motion before a storm hits to save lives,” Cunha stressed. “Sending in the cleanup crew to count the bodies and save the traumatized survivors is not enough.”

The only exception was the revolutionary government of Cuba, which mobilized and led the Cuban people to work together.

Capitalist rulers had no plan.

In both Florida and Houston, construction and other bosses got rich overbuilding roads, parking lots, malls, offices, houses and resorts — many at or below sea level — in search of profits. In doing so, they covered over grasslands and other natural runoffs for flood water.

In Houston “at least 4,000 residential and commercial structures have been built within the identified 100-year floodplain since 2010,” the Post said, and 30 percent of Harris County’s coastal prairie wetlands were paved over from 1992 to 2010.”

“Like many cities in Florida,” the Wall Street Journal reported, “parts of Tampa are built on filled-in marshland. Many homes, apartment buildings, and even a major trauma center are close to sea level. Tampa’s population has increased 12 percent since 2010. Roughly 50% of the population lives on ground less than 10 feet above sea level.”

In Estero, Florida, the lines of people waiting to get into the Germain Arena temporary shelter were close to two miles long. “If we can’t get in,” Gina Muñoz, who was in line with her two grandchildren, told NBC, “We don’t have anywhere to go.”

In some locations, cops did background checks on people seeking shelter to see if they owed fines or had outstanding warrants. Many immigrant workers avoided going to shelters for fear they would be deported.

The parasitic property insurance bosses are an integral part of the unfolding social disaster. Due to small print insurance rules widely put in place after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, those with property insurance will have to pay little-known additional “hurricane deductibles” that allow these companies to shift thousands of dollars in damage costs onto home owners.

The rulers were even more callous in their colonies. Hundreds of soldiers and police were dispatched by French, British and Dutch authorities to “restore order” and hunt down “looters.”

“After four days with no water, no electricity, no roof over our heads, two babies to take care of — they give us three bottles of water. And then they complain that people loot,” was a message posted on social media from the French Antilles. “This is not stealing, this is surviving.”

Even though Irma to a large extent bypassed Washington’s colony of Puerto Rico, the infrastructure there that the U.S. rulers have allowed to go to hell collapsed. Almost 70 percent of the population lost electricity.

Over years the cash-strapped U.S. Virgin Island’s colonial government, which owes $2 billion to capitalist bondholders and creditors, swiped millions of dollars in funds supposedly set aside to cover disaster insurance claims to pay for other priorities.

The International Monetary Fund rejected a proposal for a moratorium on the $3 million debt of the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, despite the fact that Hurricane Irma destroyed all of its infrastructure and 95 percent of homes.

The one exception to this picture was in the British Virgin Islands, home to many of the major capitalist firms involved with offshore corporations and other tools bosses use to disguise their wealth and avoid taxes. Executives and other employees in this niche business got special treatment.

The law firm Conyers Dill and Pearman had its staff airlifted to Puerto Rico and then the Cayman Islands and Bermuda in private aircraft and helicopters.

Unlike undocumented workers in Florida threatened with deportation, “the Cayman authorities have been first class and good about relaxing the usual work permit restrictions,” a managing director at Grant Thornton, an upscale accounting firm, told the Financial Times.

Workers faced a different picture. By Sept. 8, more than 7,000 complaints about price gouging for water, gas and airline tickets were received by the Florida attorney general’s office.

Some Florida Pizza Hut and Walmart stores threatened workers with disciplinary measures if they left work early to prepare to evacuate.

One thing points to the capacity of working people to take control of their own destiny — time and again, the solidarity of working people has come into play to save lives, care for the injured and those whose lives have been turned upside down.

Puerto Ricans moved quickly to get help to people in nearby islands directly hit by Irma, donating water, clothing, first aid and other supplies and using their own boats to deliver them and evacuate people on the way back.

In Texas, the Cajun Navy, which expanded last year after a woefully inadequate government response to floods in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and other volunteers using their own boats, played a decisive role in rescuing people from flooded homes.
Related articles:
Capitalism makes storms social disaster for workers
Cuban Revolution mobilizes population to defend island
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