Puerto Rico's Perfect Storm
In the fall of 2017 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, wiping out the electric grid and plunging 3 million people into the worst blackout in US history. Roughly 3000 people died in the months after the storm and thousands lived in the dark for nearly a year. In the words of a New York Times report, Puerto Rico “all but slipped from the modern era” (Glanz and Robles 2018).
How could this happen? We are a filmmaker and anthropologist who teamed up to tell the story of the root causes behind the long blackout. We also asked what does it mean when a modern place that has enjoyed electric services for over 50 years is shut down by one extreme climate event. Are there warnings here for the rest of us?
Our film, “DisemPOWERed,” finds no “natural” disaster, but instead a “perfect storm” of debt crisis, corruption, manipulation by Big Oil and Wall Street, an electric utility that was bankrupt before Maria, and the burdens of colonialism that has left Puerto Rico with a dying economic model and a legacy of heavy oil dependence.
This film supports the ongoing citizen’s movements in Puerto Rico to democratize its energy system and make it more resilient. It also serves as a resource to students, educators and the general US public where the consequences of Puerto Rico’s territorial status and its colonial history, are poorly understood.
Meet the filmmakers
Sandy Smith-Nonini PhD is a former journalist who teaches anthropology at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. She does research on the relationship of energy and debt.
Roque Nonini is a filmmaker and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. He studied film and television production at Savannah College of Art and Design.