The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act of 2016 (PROMESA) established an oversight board, a process for restructuring debt, and expedited procedures for approving critical infrastructure projects in the unincorporated territory of Puerto Rico because Strom Thurmond made it illegal for Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. The Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA) had been struggling with increased debt. They’d experienced a 30% reduction in their workforce between 2012 and 2017. Whereas Luis Muñoz Marin promised to bring prosperity to the island, PROMESA promised to bring austerity to the island. Tighten those belts, boys. We got $123 billion in debt to payoff.
The primary intent of PROMESA was to make sure bond holders (see earlier notes on vulture funds) got paid off. Nonetheless one of the larger hedge funds immediately filed a law suit saying the bankruptcy-like law violated the Constitution. All this political posturing took place six months before either of the hurricanes struck the island. You can see where the priorities of the billionaires lay. Even before the storms hit, the future prosperity of Puerto Rico was problematic. The jewel in the Caribbean crown had lost its luster.
Maria came onshore at the Southeast corner of the island at 4:00 am on September 20, 2017 with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour. The 50-mile wide storm traveled in a Northwesterly direction, exiting the island at Arecibo. The island was lashed with wind and rain for a total of thirty hours. Rainfall amounts totaling as much as four feet deluged the entire island. Everybody lost power. Roads flooded, roofs sailed away, shelters were crowded, communications were disrupted. Puerto Rico was quite literally cut off from the rest of the world.