In late September, just one week apart from each other, hurricanes Fiona and Ian came hand in hand through the Caribbean region with a force and impact reminiscent of the paired hurricanes Irma and Maria, which hit the region five years ago almost to the day.
In Puerto Rico, despite billions of dollars invested in recovery efforts after Maria, mismanagement and corruption have left the archipelago just as vulnerable, or more, to hurricanes five years later. Most notably is the highly centralized, fossil fuel dependent electrical grid, taken over by a private company, LUMA, in June 2021. Even before hurricane Fiona made landfall, there were regular blackouts occurring. On September 19th, the vulnerability of the system could not withstand the hurricane and knocked power out across Puerto Rico. Eleven days later, at least 30% of the population is still without power, causing grave impacts on the ecological, economic, physical, social and emotional health of these communities.
The silver lining is that the incredible grassroots organizing that emerged in response to the Maria crisis has birthed a multitude of well-established and diverse collectives and community-based organizations with systems in place to respond to both recovery and continued long term work building just transitions for food and energy sovereignty. These organizations are filling spaces that the colonial government is not attending to and resisting the disaster capitalism being forced upon them. There are too many organizations to list, but here are some that we have partnerships with that are actively working on equitable recovery efforts:
In Cuba, hurricane Ian hit the western part of the island on September 27th with category 3 strength, causing fierce destruction in the province of Pinar del Rio and knocking out power to the whole island. Again, Cuba’s centralized, fossil fuel dependent electrical system is highly vulnerable to blackouts from hurricanes. Three days into the power outage, electricity was intermittently being reestablished. However, this total island blackout comes at a time when rolling blackouts have been occurring across the island for several months, due to one of the most complex economic crises in Cuba’s recent history.
The current crisis is the result of a multitude of compounding factors and events including: a tightening of the embargo under the Trump administration, which involved adding Cuba to the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and further restricting remittances, travel and trade; a severe drop in foreign currency earnings due to COVID related tourism closures; the monetary unification process initiated in January 2021, which has spurred triple digit inflation; a lightning strike to Cuba’s main fuel storage facilities in August 2022 resulting in the loss of millions of dollars worth of fuel, among other challenges. Several policy and economic reforms in recent years offer glimmers of hope – new local development laws aimed at decentralizing decision making and fostering participatory governance; an agroecology and food sovereignty law; new policies for cooperatives and small and medium enterprises; a comprehensive national plan for climate adaptation and mitigation, and the recent passing of one of the most progressive family codes in the region.
Though for many, change is coming too slowly. The current wave of migrants leaving Cuba has surpassed the past two waves of migration - the Mariel boatlift of 1980 and the Balsero crisis of 1994 – reaching more than 177,000 in 2022. Despite the extremely challenging moment, many Cubans are staying and working to build a more just, equal, and resilient Cuba, with many islands of hope to build from. Right now, these groups need our support in their efforts to respond to those most in need in recovering from the Hurricane Ian disaster and continuing to build long term change.
While this message is a call for immediate support, it is also a call to open our hearts and minds to the need for long-term cooperation and solidarity. The acute disaster impacts from hurricanes are a reminder to the urgency for systems change. The impact of an external shock, like a hurricane, is dependent on the degree of vulnerability of the social and ecological system. Deep systems change, led from below, that forms pathways for just transitions towards new social, solidarity economies, sustainable food systems based on agroecology and food sovereignty, and decentralized renewable energy systems that build more resilient and sovereign communities are what we need to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.
To learn more about our work on climate resilience and climate justice please see: