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Support and Solidarity for Puerto Rico

Dear Harm Reduction Family,

The people of Puerto Rico need our support and solidarity…and we’ve owed that support and solidarity for decades.

Path of hurricane and location of harm reduction programs

Path of hurricane and location of harm reduction programs

The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. People are struggling to get basic needs met—the entire island is without power, the water supply is at risk of contamination, thousands are without food and shelter, and people living with chronic illnesses like HIV and hep C may soon be without life-saving medication. For people who use drugs, those lucky enough to receive methadone in advance will soon run out of their supply. And others for whom methadone isn’t the answer? Well, I’m not certain how they’re managing right now.

If you’re like me, it’s getting harder to read the news. Our social media feeds are bombarded with hateful rhetoric and violent images. Every minute of every day we’re hit with story after story about how shitty the world is. If you’re like me, you might just want to tune out, shut down, or compartmentalize just to get through the day. I often find myself saying “dis tew much” and start another level of Candy Crush. I just need to get to that next level….

It’s a legitimate response to the overwhelming hate, trauma, and negativity but—the next level is a luxury we can’t afford. It’s imperative that we act. If you care about people who use drugs, their families, and loved ones—you need to act now. If you’re sitting comfortably in front of computer or reading this on your cell during your commute—you need to act now. If you spent Sunday watching the ball being punted back and forth between our Administration and the NFL—you need to act now. It doesn’t matter what you know about Puerto Rico (although we’re about to change that). It doesn’t matter if you haven’t followed every breaking story. What matters is that you do something now. A small effort on your part, multiplied by the thousands of harm reduction comrades around the country, will go a long way as the people of Puerto Rico slowly try to put their lives back together. Follow the links to find out what you can do.

Hurricane Maria is only one piece of the complicated story of Puerto Rico. We asked Tanagra Melgarejo, a native puertoriqenx now living in Oakland, CA, if she would help the harm reduction community better understand the gravity of the situation in Puerto Rico. Like, really understand it. When you’re done reading—please act. You. Are. Needed.

In Solidarity,

Monique

Special shout out to Christine R. for igniting the flame.

—————–

A week ago today, I was on the phone with my family in Puerto Rico as they braced for the imminent impact of hurricane Maria.  The island, already in a precarious situation due to complications with the passing of hurricane Irma now faced Maria, the largest, strongest hurricane in the 21st century to directly hit Puerto Rico.  A natural disaster which, compounded by 119 years of colonial government mismanagement, a decimated infrastructure and a massive debt, has left hundreds of thousands without housing, power, water, food, and other basic survival resources.  

As I read the news from my apartment in Oakland while desperately trying to contact my friends and family to hear if they were okay, I started to realize the very serious consequences Maria will have on my homeland for decades to come. 

Last year our colonial government had to declare bankruptcy and a fiscal control board took over our government and our economy under the guise of emergency federal law.  Immediately, this fiscal board imposed severe austerity measures and raised already very high taxes to restructure the island’s $123 billion colonial debt, making living conditions in the island much more difficult and dangerous, particularly for those most vulnerable: women, elders, and people stigmatized by cyclical poverty. If that panorama was not dire enough to raise serious concerns about its long-term effects on our economy, our mental and physical health, now we face the destruction caused by Maria. 

PR is now subsumed in a humanitarian crisis, much more profound than it ever was before.  Whole towns have been wiped out leaving thousands at the mercy of temporary shelters,  with no place to return to, creating a wave of internal refugees. Dams and bridges threaten to collapse, our communications system has been ruined, there is no access to potable water.  The Puerto Rico Power Authority, which was in extremely poor condition before (and had fought multiple attempts at privatization) has been rendered powerless, leaving the whole country, literally, in the dark. The government has not been clear with its fellow citizens about the extent of the damage or how long it is really going to take to come back from this disaster.  Right now, the governor estimates the whole island’s power grid will be up and running in six months. Those of us that survived Hurricanes Hugo or Georges know that it will take much longer than six months to get our country back on track.  Not only were neither of those hurricanes as powerful as Maria, at that time the economy was not in such shambles, the government had not declared bankruptcy, and the infrastructure had not sustained 20 consecutive years of decay and mismanagement.

As I think of what lies ahead for my country, for myself, my loved ones, I can’t help but feel that we must openly acknowledge the toll that those 119 years of colonialism have had on our country. I hear folks exclaiming with happiness “here comes the help from the U.S. government.”  Well, it is not “help”, it is reparations. It is what the imperial government owes us for more than a century of looting and plundering our land, our resources, our bodies. Puerto Rico is in the situation it is in solely because it is the oldest colony in the world, with no right to decide our future, control our economy or destiny.

Many friends here in the US ask me what they can do to help. There are several things you can all do:

  1. Write letters to the editor as well as letter to Senators, Congresspersons, the President and demand a moratorium or amnesty on Puerto Rico’s national debt, as well as the repeal of the 1917 Jones Act.
  2. Publicly demand the repeal of the PROMESA law and the Fiscal Control Board. You can’t come back from a crisis of this magnitude without economic resources to do so.
  3. Donate to organizations and programs that can guarantee the funds will get to those that need it the most. Do not use the Red Cross or the initiative led by the First Lady of PR. We know in times of humanitarian crisis, such as the one we face in PR right now, the government or large NGO’s have a history of not been trustworthy, fair, or accountable.  Check out this page where you will find a list of links to local organizations with a history of solid, local grassroots community organizing you can support.

I know us Puerto Ricans face some very hard and difficult times. If we are going to come back from this, now more than ever we need all the support and solidarity we can get from allies all over the United States and the world.  As one of our most revered poets Jose de Diego wrote in his poem En la brecha:

¡Ah desgraciado si el dolor te abate
si el cansancio tus miembros entumece!

Haz como el árbol seco: reverdece
y como el germen enterrado: late.

De la tormenta al iracundo empuje,Resurge, alienta, grita, anda, combate,
vibra, ondula, retruena, resplandece…
Haz como el río con la lluvia: ¡Crece!
Y como el mar contra la roca: ¡Bate!

no has de balar, como el cordero triste,
sino rugir, como la fiera ruge.

¡Levántate!, ¡Revuélvete!, ¡Resiste!
Haz como el toro acorralado: ¡Muge!
O como el toro que no muge: ¡Embiste!

——

If suffering comes unabated,
if weariness weighs down your spirit,
do as the once barren tree:
flourish.  And like the planted seed:
rise.

Resurge, breathe, shout, walk, fight,
Vibrate, glide, thunder, shine forth…
Do as the river rich with new rainwater:
grow.  Or like the sea approaching a rocky shore: strike.

Know how to face the angry thrust of storms,
not braying, like a frightened lamb,
but roaring, like a defiant beast.

Rise! Revolt! Resist!
Do as the bull in the face of adversity:
charge with confident power.

We will bloom again. We will come back stronger and more powerful than before to reconstruct our country in a way that is fair and just for all.

We’ve done a bit of homework and found the following places you can make cash donations to help the people of Puerto Rico.

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