Puerto Ricans, both on the island and in the diaspora, have been mounting fierce resistance to the planned privatisation of the country’s electricity sector.
They are resisting what they claim to be austerity politics and privatisation, which have been repackaged as public-private partnerships and forced upon communities without their consent. There is growing communal resistance to corporate capitalism, which is emerging in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Ricans have been experiencing widespread power outages, utility price hikes, voltage fluctuations (power surges that damage appliances) and a plethora of ongoing issues since the start of the public-private partnership between Luma Energy and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the island’s public energy corporation, which is in charge of power generation.
Luma Energy is the US-Canadian company that seized control of the island’s power transmission and distribution system.
Demonstrations across the country
On October 15, demonstrators blocked Puerto Rico Highway 18 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, calling much attention to insistent blackouts and the 15-year contract between Luma Energy and PREPA.
Despite reports of flagrant disinformation and other peculiar obstructions, thousands of Puerto Ricans marched down the usually busy highway waving flags, carrying flags and banners.
Six days earlier, protesters staged a demonstration in Aguadilla and held another one in San Juan on October 1. Residents of Puerto Rico protested again on October 18 at the Capitol of Puerto Rico in San Juan, where they demanded an end to the US plan to make cuts to social services, public education and pensions.
Back in the mainland United States, Puerto Ricans in the diaspora held solidarity protests. Some gathered in New York City at Union Square and demanded the ouster of Luma Energy.
Demonstrators everywhere echoed the popular rallying cry “Fuera Luma,” (Luma Out).
Since its takeover, Luma Energy has imposed four electricity rate increases despite not being able to provide adequate service.
At one point, the energy corporation attempted to bill consumers 16 per cent more for electricity before the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau declined Luma Energy’s request and approved a three per cent increase instead. Many of the power plants in Puerto Rico are located along the southern coast of the island.
This means that transmission and distribution lines stretch across long tracts of land to reach mountainous regions and metropolitan areas like San Juan, which is why the transmission and distribution system is vulnerable to hurricanes.