Puerto Rican problematic privatization of electricity


This 17 June video says about itself:

No Oversight of $1.5 Billion Electric Project Raises Alarm over Privatization of Puerto Rico’s Power

As hurricane season begins, we look at moves to privatize Puerto Rico’s electric grid and a new investigation that reveals the island’s government failed to follow proper oversight or examine the environmental impact when it issued a $1.5 billion contract to a company for the first large power generation project since Hurricane Maria, that will continue its reliance on fossil fuels. Former Puerto Rico Chief of Staff Ingrid Vila Biaggi co-authored the report and calls it “an ill-conceived project full of fiscally irresponsible practices.”

Puerto Rican workers strike against COVID-19 danger


This 11 May 2020 United States CBS TV video says about itself:

Puerto Rico slowly reopening economy despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases

Puerto Rico is slowly rolling out its plan to reopen the economy after two months of strict lockdowns. Associated Press correspondent Danica Coto joins CBSN to preview what that plan looks like, how the island is struggling to feed children, and if the U.S. will include earthquake recovery funding in its next stimulus package. She also gave an update on the investigation into the homicide of two transgender women in Puerto Rico.

From the World Socialist Web Site, 19 May 2020:

Puerto Rican highway workers refuse to go to work over COVID-19 concerns

Workers for the Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority (ACT by its Spanish acronym) stayed at home on May 12 in an effort to get the agency to comply with protocols to safeguard them from COVID-19. The workers are members of the ProSol Utier union.

In a press statement, the union said that 18 ACT work centers were idled because of the lack of protective clothing and equipment like masks, gloves, soap and sanitizer. It added, “Social distancing measures were not taken, work areas were not disinfected, nor were personnel given guidance on protocols established by the agency and the commitments established previously by the union in a meeting held on May 8.”

The statement referred to Executive Order 2020-38—issued by the administration of Wanda Vázquez on May 1—which permits the phased reopening of some businesses. It allows businesses to submit applications to the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PROSHA) of their “self-certified” plans to make their workplaces safe.

Workers in health, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment manufacture, as well as the Banco Popular and Walmart, submitted over 680 complaints to PROSHA between March 14 and April 29, according to a Center for Investigative Journalism report. By May 17, the number of COVID-19 cases was 2,646 with 123 deaths.

Puerto Rican governor endangers people’s lives


This 1 May 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Caravan for Life: Protesters in Puerto Rico Demand More Tests & Resources to Combat the Coronavirus

On Thursday in Puerto Rico, activists in dozens of cars held a “Caravan Por La Vida”, or “Caravan for Life”, through San Juan to demand the government provide more COVID-19 tests and sufficient resources for people to stay at home during the pandemic.

At least 92 people have died from COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, and last week the island was reporting a testing rate lower than any U.S. state, at an abysmal average of 15 tests a day for every 100,000 people. No one in Puerto Rico has received $1,200 checks from the government, according to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

Police stopped the caravan and said their sound trucks were illegal. When organizer Giovanni Roberto demanded that police describe the laws they were breaking, he was arrested. Roberto was released later in the night, and his charges of obstruction of justice were dropped. We hear voices from the protest.

By Alberto Escalera:

Amid charges of unsafe conditions, Puerto Rico’s governor issues back-to-work orders

15 May 2020

On May 1, Puerto Rico’s Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced issued an executive order allowing for the phased resumption of non-essential commercial and manufacturing activities by May 11. Under the executive order, insurance, real estate and legal services were allowed to resume operations, along with hardware stores, auto repair and sales shops, other appliance repair and installation businesses on May 4. Retail banking operations and medical offices, including dentists and optometrists, were also given a green light to reopen.

The order also allowed for gas stations and pharmacies, which previously had been allowed to operate on a restricted schedule, to resume normal operating hours. Construction and manufacturing at non-essential plants were also allowed to resume on May 11. The government is also planning for a reopening of non-essential retail outlets, restaurants, bars, barbershops and beauty salons before the end of the month.

In order to reopen or continue operations, businesses are being required to complete a “self-certification” form attesting to the development of a control plan or risk-management plan. There is to be no official review of said plans. Rather, there is a self-certification form, which consists of 21 questions that require checkmarks in “yes” or “no” boxes, that is to be submitted to the Department of Labor and Human Resources once completed. In other words, businesses have been left to supervise themselves in all matters related to worker safety as the government’s regulatory agencies essentially wash their hands of the matter.

Not surprisingly, within businesses that have remained open since the outbreak of the pandemic there has been a rash of workers’ denunciations of unsafe conditions. The Puerto Rican Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PROSHA) has registered a sharp increase in complaints since March of this year. According to an investigation conducted by the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI), a collective of investigative journalists that advocates for transparency, the period between March 14 and April 29 saw 680 coronavirus-related workplace complaints filed with the PROSHA.

Of the registered coronavirus-related complaints, nearly 60 were submitted by hospital or health care workers. Significantly, several of the complaints to PROSHA have been leveled against Walmart stores and Banco Popular branches. Walmart and Banco Popular, Puerto Rico’s biggest bank, are two of the largest private employers in the territory.

In comments recently made to CPI reporters, a retail worker at a Walmart located in Bayamón, a densely populated town located just southwest of San Juan, described the situation for workers at the store. “There is no control of the public entrance and people are entering as if it were normal sales. .. For an employee to get a mask they make us sign a liability release and if we do not sign, we are sent home. The company doesn’t just supply masks. This is why several associates have opted to bring their own masks. But as I said, if you don’t fill out a release, they send you home.” Other workers have denounced these companies for withholding information about positive cases at work sites.

Additionally, several manufacturing outfits that have remained open in Puerto Rico throughout the pandemic have also been exposed for their reckless and criminal endangerment of workers. Employees at an Eaton-Cutler Hammer plant, located in the northern town of Arecibo, have repeatedly denounced the electrical supplies and power management company, which boasts operations in 175 countries and posted $21 billion in revenues during 2019, for not providing PPE or orientation on workplace safety protocols to workers.

Other manufacturing companies with operations in Puerto Rico denounced by workers for unsafe conditions related to COVID-19 include: ABB, Thermo King, Abbott, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Zimmer Bionet and SNL Technical.

In all of these cases, the response of PROSHA, which is itself an agency within the Puerto Rican Department of Labor and Human Resources, has been to require that the cited companies investigate themselves.

PROSHA has been notoriously negligent in intervening on behalf of workers. The last year of comprehensive reports on PROSHA inspections that currently appears on its website is 2014, during which, by the agency’s own account, it conducted only 33 inspections out of the 101 cases that remained pending from previous years.

Beyond the criminally complicit role being played by regulatory agencies, capitalist policies during the pandemic are being channeled through quasi-governmental agencies such as the Puerto Rico Business Emergency Operation Center (BEOC), which was recently reorganized as the governor’s “economic task force” for response to the coronavirus.

Tellingly, the governor’s economic task force is comprised entirely of representatives of the most powerful sectors of international capital with operations in the colony, including companies that workers have denounced for COVID-related workplace hazards. For example, Iván Báez, a Walmart executive, and Ignacio Álvarez, president and executive director of Banco Popular, are both members of the governor’s task force.

Other members of the economic task force include: Jaime Fonalledas, the patriarch of a commercial real estate and dairy dynasty with close ties to US retail interests and the Republican party; Emilio Colón Závala, an engineering and construction firm executive; Wendy Perry, an executive with the pharmaceutical giant Merck; Zoimé Álvarez, vice president of the Puerto Rican Bankers Association; and Eduardo Pagán, an executive of Tote Maritime, the largest shipping monopoly in Puerto Rico.

The rush to restart commercial and manufacturing activities in Puerto Rico takes place within the broader context of a prolonged economic recession dating since 2006, a dramatic surge in so-called public debt, and savage austerity measures imposed by successive administrations which have resulted in the dismantling of education and health care systems and the deterioration of physical infrastructure. Puerto Rico also has a notoriously low labor participation rate that has led to an exodus of over 500,000 residents over the past decade, with 45 percent of its remaining population, including 58 percent of children, living below the poverty line.

The 2016 Promesa Law, enacted under the Obama administration, created a legal framework for debt restructuring under federal bankruptcy courts while imposing a nine-person, Fiscal Control Board (FCB), known locally as la junta, with dictatorial powers that have enabled it to impose even more draconian cuts to social programs and pensions in the island colony. Earlier this year, the FCB expanded on the playbook used during the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings to impose an 8.5 percent cut to the pensions of public sector retirees.

Indeed, an application of this kind of bankruptcy model to restructure the growing debt of states across the US is already being foreshadowed by the political representatives of the ruling class, as evidenced by recent comments by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the increasingly dire social conditions imposed upon workers in Puerto Rico. In September of 2017, Puerto Rico suffered a devastating hurricane under a criminally negligent and corrupt administration which cost the lives of nearly 5,000 people.

A year and a half later, social tensions reached a critical point when a leaked chat between government officials brought to the fore rampant and brazen corruption as well as a mafia-style political culture at the highest levels of the administration. Days of massive protests eventually led to the forced ouster of then governor, Ricardo Rosselló. Earlier this year, a wave of earthquakes struck several towns along the southern coast of the main island leaving hundreds of families in tent encampments and raising further questions about the mishandling of emergency management and corruption.

Since the outbreak of the current pandemic, Puerto Rico has registered 2,427 positive coronavirus cases and 117 deaths as of May 14. It continues to have one of the lowest rates of testing on the planet, despite previous official statements to the effect that the government would base its strategy for dealing with the health crisis primarily on testing and isolation measures.

In fact, the Puerto Rican Health Department recently stopped updating data on testing in a feeble attempt to cover up the government’s reckless abandonment of the health and lives of the workers who it has committed to forcing back to work.

A recent scandal that has led to public hearings in the colonial legislature was provoked when a construction company with ties to the PNP administration, Apex General Contractors, was awarded a $38 million contract via a fast-track process to procure thousands of testing kits from a nebulous company based in Australia, Premedical, whose business activity prior to the pandemic consisted of selling fat-freezing gadgets, ultrasound vaginal rejuvenation and erectile function machines. The testing kit contract was ultimately cancelled.

Just as in other parts of the United States and Latin America, the working class in Puerto Rico is assimilating bitter lessons. Like workers across the globe, they are being forced to sacrifice their health and lives to guarantee capitalist profits. The independent, political organization of the working class, guided by a socialist and internationalist program, has never been more urgent than the present.

The author also recommends:

Puerto Rico braces for COVID-19 peak with lowest per capita testing
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The mass protests in Puerto Rico
[24 July 2019]

Puerto Rican deep-sea fish’s mouthbreeding discovery


This 17 January 2020 video says about itself:

Deep sea fish Parazen pacificus feeding behavior: NOAA Okeanos Explorer

Taken during the NOAA Okeanos Explorer expedition to the Caribbean Sea.

By Jake Buehler, March 10, 2020 at 2:50 pm:

This is the first deep-sea fish known to be a mouthbreeder

Scientists found over 500 eggs attached to the inside of a parazen’s mouth

Most fish are broadcast spawners, casting their eggs and sperm in clouds and leaving their young to develop alone. But a tiny minority — about 2 percent — are “mouthbreeders”, keeping their fertilized eggs (and sometimes hatchlings) protected in their mouths. Now, a study reveals the first fish known from the deep sea to mouthbrood, researchers report February 27 in Scientific Reports.

In 2015, ichthyologist Randy Singer, now at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology in Ann Arbor, was identifying fish spotted by a remotely operated underwater vehicle for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Okeanos Explorer ship. A red-glinting fish flashed by the vehicle’s camera some 500 meters deep, near Puerto Rico.

Later, Singer identified the fish as a parazen (Parazen pacificus), a poorly known species found in the deep West Atlantic and West Pacific. Upon learning about parazens’ disjointed range, Singer suspected these fish were actually multiple species, not just a single species. He started examining and comparing museum specimens from both oceans.

When examining one specimen from a fish market in Taiwan, Singer peeled back its gill cover to count structures on its gills, and got a surprise. “There was just this big, gnarly clump of something in its mouth,” Singer says.

Initially thinking the female parazen had gobbled up another fish’s eggs, he looked closer and saw that the membrane-enveloped masses were attached to the inside of the mouth by “alienlike tendrils.” Clearly, Singer says, the eggs were being held in the mouth deliberately. He and his colleagues used CT scanning to count an estimated 530 developing embryos.

Deep-sea fishes normally spawn externally, and their young migrate to more productive shallow waters before returning as adults to the food-scarce deep. But mouthbrooding is a comparatively costly investment. Some shallow-water mouthbreeders eat with a mouth full of eggs, which is more difficult and costs more energy, and others abstain from eating entirely as the young develop, draining energy reserves. That parazen would invest so much in protecting their young in such scarcity begs for further investigation, Singer says.

Ashley Robart, an evolutionary biologist at Occidental College in Los Angeles, agrees that this appears to be the first deep-sea fish to mouthbrood. She points out that the fish seems to live in a sandy bottom area with little refuge from predators. “This [environment] may also favor mouth brooding since eggs or free-swimming larvae would be difficult to defend in such an exposed habitat”, she says.

For Singer, the discovery shows that there’s a greater diversity of reproductive strategies in the deep than have been appreciated. But scientists are on the cusp of unveiling far more about how fishes have adapted to deep-sea living (SN: 6/5/19).

“We’re kind of in a renaissance for deep-sea exploration right now,” Singer says. “I would expect people to see many more new discoveries coming rapidly in the future.”

Puerto Rican urban lizards evolution


This 2013 video is called Lizards at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan Puerto Rico.

From Washington University in St. Louis in the USA:

Hot time in the city: Urban lizards evolve heat tolerance

March 10, 2020

Faced with a gritty landscape of metal fences, concrete walls and asphalt pavement, city lizards in Puerto Rico rapidly and repeatedly evolved better tolerance for heat than their forest counterparts, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Studies that delve into how animals adapt in urban environments are still relatively rare. But anoles are becoming a model system for urban evolutionary research.

“Urban lizards are exposed to higher temperatures, consistent with the urban heat island effect,” said biologist Kristin Winchell, postdoctoral research associate in the Losos laboratory in Arts & Sciences. “We found that they are able to maintain their function at temperatures of about 0.82 degrees C (or 1.47 F) higher on average across all populations.”

In one population in this study, urban lizards were able to go about their business in temperatures above 40 C (104 F). That’s a lot of heat for a tiny animal — one that measures about 5 centimeters long, not including its tail.

“Better heat tolerance can make all the difference in an urban habitat,” Winchell said. “Whether it’s being able to stay active during longer parts of the day or being able to occupy perches that reach higher temperatures, it expands their niche space.”

This adaptive thermal response is even more interesting because only those lizards that grow up in the city seem to be able to tap into it — an example of natural selection favoring trait ‘plasticity,’ researchers said. The study is published March 9 in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

A hidden superpower

In previous work, Winchell showed that city lizards have evolved longer limbs and larger toepads with specialized scales. Both of these traits allow them to more effectively and quickly traverse urban habitats, allowing them to climb up smooth, painted walls.

Compared with these adaptations, thermal tolerance is a relatively complex trait. It affects multiple body systems and involves potentially hundreds of genes. And cold-blooded animals like these lizards also have the option to behaviorally regulate temperature — for example, by shuttling in and out of sun, or by changing the time of day when they hunt or look for mates.

Winchell’s partner for this effort, Shane Campbell-Staton, assistant professor at UCLA, is an expert at sussing out genomic aspects of thermal adaptation.

“A big part of this story is that the target of selection in urban heat islands is plasticity, the ability of an individual to respond adaptively to its environment,” Campbell-Staton said. “Individuals that are high responders — that is, those that can become more heat tolerant when raised in cities — are favored by natural selection. The major difference is that the adaptation only appears when an individual is born and raised in a city environment.

For example, when Winchell’s previous work showed that lizards with long limbs do better in cities, those individuals would have longer limbs no matter where they are raised.

“In contrast, differences in heat tolerance are hidden in a forest habitat and only show themselves when the proper genes are exposed to warm temperatures,” Campbell-Staton said. “It’s kind of like a hidden superpower that only presents itself in the right environment. We are only just beginning to understand how natural selection works on this type of trait to influence the process of evolution.”

Comparing city lizards to forest lizards

The ability to withstand more heat anytime, anyplace, is potentially a game-changer for Anolis cristatellus, the most abundant and visible species in urban environments of the 10 kinds of lizards that are found across Puerto Rico.

Winchell and her team studied 150 lizards from four municipalities across the island, including the capital San Juan. Each of these locations was part of a paired site: with one lizard collection area in the city, and the other in a nearby forest. The researchers also brought back some of the lizards to a laboratory setting at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where Winchell was a graduate student at the time.

The scientists relied on an established lizard research protocol that tests thermal tolerance as a measure of a lizard’s ability to right itself after being placed gently on its back. The researchers raised the temperature by small increments, and the trial ended when a lizard took too long to right itself. After the tests, a cool water bath helped bring the lizards comfortably back down to normal temperatures.

Separately, the researchers also took tissue samples from lizards exposed to cold, ambient and warm temperatures. Genetic tests revealed different patterns of gene expression in the tissues from city and forest lizards exposed to different temperatures.

Even more interesting, the researchers discovered a single gene variant that differed consistently between the city and forest populations — one that was associated with differences in thermal tolerance. The researchers believe that this indicates natural selection is selecting for the ability to respond to higher temperatures when needed, what they refer to as a ‘high-plasticity genotype.’

Rapid and repeated changes

“One of the unique and exciting things for me about this study is that we’re able to simultaneously address this question about the repeatability of evolution at several different levels of biological organization,” Campbell-Staton said.

“Starting at the whole organism level, we clearly see that urban lizards are able to maintain functioning at significantly higher temperatures than their forest counterparts.

“Then, when we look at all the genes that are being differentially expressed, we see pretty high repeatability in how those large suites of genes are changing as well,” he said. “But if you zoom in even further, we found not only a single gene, but what seems to be a single polymorphism that is repeatedly under selection in these urban heat islands as well, which is fascinating.”

By studying how animals adapt to different habitats, like life in the city, researchers have a unique opportunity to investigate traits that are environmentally dependent but influenced by an animal’s genetic makeup.

That dynamic is part of why Winchell says she is partial to A. cristatellus, which is abundant in urban areas not only in Puerto Rico, but outside of their native range in the southern United States and other parts of the Caribbean.

“I like to say they are urbanophilic, or urban-loving species,” Winchell said. “There are other terms that people use, like urban tolerant or urban-adapting. But I think urbanophilic captures it best. They’re exploiting novel niche space that isn’t present in the forest environment. But they’re not reliant on humans. If humans went away, they would still do fine.”

More earthquake, Trump misery, Puerto Ricans interviewed


This 5 February 2020 TV video from Florida in the USA says about itself:

Tampa woman caught in latest Puerto Rico earthquake while delivering supplies

It’s one thing to see it on the news, Jeannie Calderin said, it’s another to live through it.

That’s how Calderin described experiencing the magnitude 5.0 earthquake that struck Tuesday morning off Puerto Rico’s southwest coast.

“It was a hard one,” she said. “First you hear a sound—like something is roaring—then everything starts to shake.

“I just froze.”

By Kayla Costa and Julio Patron in Puerto Rico:

“We’re facing the worst crisis we’ve ever seen”

Trump threatens to block aid as Puerto Rico is hit by new earthquake

6 February 2020

Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.0 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday morning, the latest major earthquake to strike in more than a month of tremors and aftershocks that have placed significant stress on the island’s infrastructure.

A Puerto Rican flag hangs within the rubble of the Ely Mer Mar hardware store, which partially collapsed after an earthquake struck Guanica, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

The most recent earthquake struck the U.S. territory at 10:45 a.m. just 13 miles southeast of Guanica, a town in the southern region of the island. The region is near the epicenter of the earthquakes that began on December 28, with the most severe of them triggering a series of aftershocks that has yet to cease.

Given the historic lack of funding for infrastructure development and emergency preparation, the region has experienced major damage to public buildings and homes, power outages, and water shutoffs. One person has died, based on current official counts.

Structural damage on a house in southern Puerto Rico

Astonishingly, the local government of Puerto Rico and US federal government have not been able to coordinate any significant allocation of resources to the affected residents. The island has still only received just shy of $11 billion out of the $50 billion that was allocated by Congress after Hurricane Maria in September 2017, though the estimated damage from that disaster is roughly $100 billion.

Remembering all too well the official negligence after Maria, which resulted in more than 5,000 deaths, hundreds of workers have been traveling from the less-impacted northern region with emergency supplies for residents of the south.

Speaking about the help that has been provided by workers, Saul Muñez, a government worker for the Medicaid office in Yauco, told the World Socialist Web Site, “The help that we’ve received from the north shows the solidarity that we all have for our fellow Puerto Ricans, regardless of differences that we may have, in the most critical of times, we are always standing side by side, no matter how dangerous it may be.”

Saul Muñez outisde his home in Yauco, Puerto Rico

Considering the reasons for the lack of emergency preparation and adequate response, Muñez commented, “The response of the government in Puerto Rico is the same as in all countries. The problem is the system throughout the world.”

Workers and youth on the island know that the entire political establishment is not to be trusted. In Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike have backed the dictatorship of finance capital over the island and the implementation of brutal austerity, with the key examples of former President Obama’s installation of the Financial Oversight Board and current President Trump’s constant cuts to social services and emergency aid.

Yesterday, the White House released a statement threatening to veto a $4.7 billion emergency aid package for Puerto Rico that is to be voted on by the House on Friday. Using local corruption as a justification for the criminal withholding of aid, the veto message said, “Neither Puerto Ricans nor the American taxpayers benefit when emergency aid is misallocated, lost, or stolen through waste, fraud, and abuse… Multiple high-profile cases of corruption have marred distribution of aid already appropriated and have led to ongoing political instability on the island.”

It is true that politicians on the island are wracked by corruption and, further, do not lift a finger against the profit interests of US imperialism. However, the opposition to this reality finds a much different expression in the working class.

Dalbert in front of his relative’s home in Yauco, Puerto Rico

Dalbert, a 31-year-old agricultural worker whose life has been impacted by the earthquakes, said, “No matter the politician or political party in power they’re always going to be corrupt, and they’re always going to steal what’s ours. I don’t think that’s going to change, but we need a change, and it’s not going to come from the government. This has to be carried out by the people themselves.”

“I’ve noticed people have a lot of fear and anxiety because of the earthquakes and won’t go back into their house, despite some of them having really sound houses. They’re sleeping just outside their house. It’s not just material damage, it’s emotional damage too.”

Last month, residents of Ponce found a warehouse full of materials with the branding of FEMA, which were supposed to be distributed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, but instead sat in the warehouse for 3 years. This further exacerbated the political crisis on the island, inspiring anti-government protests only months after masses of Puerto Ricans took to the streets and ousted the island’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

When asked about what he thought about the hidden emergency supplies in Ponce, Dalbert said, “It doesn’t sit well with me at all, because the government is always trying to trick us and they only care about themselves, but in the end, it couldn’t have stayed hidden forever. What’s worse is that they’re stealing supplies and money from Puerto Ricans when we were facing, and are still facing, the worst crisis we’ve ever seen on the island. We’ve lost a lot.”

“Puerto Ricans are tired of hearing the same lies from these politicians, but they’ve learned from this whole situation,” Dalbert said, pointing to the social struggles that have taken place and are developing not only in Puerto Rico, but throughout the world.

Puerto Ricans demand resignation of governor


Puerto Rican demonstrators

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Puerto Ricans call for resignation of leaders

PUERTO RICANS demanded the resignation of Governor Wanda Vazquez yesterday over her mismanagement of an earthquake emergency in the US territory.

Singer Residente – real name Rene Perez – and baseball player Yadier Molina called on citizens to join a march to demand the resignation Ms Vazquez and Senate President Thomas Rivera following the crisis generated by multiple earthquakes that hit the island starting on December 28.

The march was scheduled to begin in the Caribbean island’s capital, San Juan, yesterday evening after the Morning Star went to press.

Residente said: “They have to understand that people have the power. The corrupt government, which has not been able to deliver, has to understand that we decide.”

He also tweeted a reminder that demonstrations last summer resulted in the resignation of then governor Ricardo Rossello, saying that the people should make a similar effort now.

Singer Ricky Martin also tweeted that he had travelled to Puerto Rico to participate in the rally against corruption.

“In times of greatest need for our people, those who supposedly should lead us have failed us again,” he said.

“They have once again transgressed the most basic rights of human beings: water, roof, education, security. They did it with evil. There is no other explanation.”

Earlier this week, food provided by international humanitarian aid agencies was discovered in a warehouse in the city of Ponce, having never been used to help some 4,000 people affected …

​Protesters are also demanding early elections to replace officials who, they say, should be ousted from the government.

Notes from Puerto Rico: Earthquakes and government indifference leave trail of social destruction: here.

Will Asian snails save Puerto Rican coffee?


This video is about the snail Bradybaena similaris.

From the University of Michigan in the USA:

Can a tiny invasive snail help save Latin American coffee?

January 23, 2020

While conducting fieldwork in Puerto Rico’s central mountainous region in 2016, University of Michigan ecologists noticed tiny trails of bright orange snail excrement on the undersurface of coffee leaves afflicted with coffee leaf rust, the crop’s most economically important pest.

Intrigued, they conducted field observations and laboratory experiments over the next several years and showed that the widespread invasive snail Bradybaena similaris, commonly known as the Asian tramp snail and normally a plant-eater, had shifted its diet to consume the fungal pathogen that causes coffee leaf rust, which has ravaged coffee plantations across Latin America in recent years.

Now the U-M researchers are exploring the possibility that B. similaris and other snails and slugs, which are part of a large class of animals called gastropods, could be used as a biological control to help rein in coffee leaf rust. But as ecologists, they are keenly aware of the many disastrous attempts at biological control of pests in the past.

“This is the first time that any gastropod has been described as consuming this pathogen, and this finding may potentially have implications for controlling it in Puerto Rico,” said U-M doctoral student Zachary Hajian-Forooshani, lead author of a paper published online Jan. 12 in the journal Ecology.

“But further work is needed to understand the potential tradeoffs B. similaris and other gastropods may provide to coffee agroecosystems, given our understanding of other elements within the system,” said Hajian-Forooshani, who is advised by U-M ecologist John Vandermeer, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Vandermeer and U-M ecologist Ivette Perfecto, a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, lead a team that has been monitoring coffee leaf rust and its community of natural enemies on 25 farms throughout Puerto Rico’s coffee-producing region.

Those natural enemies include fly larvae, mites, and a surprisingly diverse community of fungi living on coffee leaves, within or alongside the orange blotches that mark coffee leaf rust lesions. Hajian-Forooshani has been studying all of these natural enemies for his doctoral dissertation.

“Of all the natural enemies I have been studying, these gastropods in Puerto Rico most obviously and effectively clear the leaves of the coffee leaf rust fungal spores,” he said in an email from Puerto Rico.

Chief among those gastropods is B. similaris, originally from Southeast Asia and now one of the world’s most widely distributed invasive land snails. It has a light brown shell that is 12 to 16 millimeters (roughly one-half to two-thirds of an inch) across.

In their Ecology paper, Hajian-Forooshani, Vandermeer and Perfecto describe experiments in which a single infected coffee leaf and a single B. similaris snail were placed together inside dark containers. After 24 hours, the number of coffee leaf rust fungal spores on the leaves had been reduced by roughly 30%.

However, the snails were also responsible for a roughly 17% reduction in the number of lesions caused by another natural enemy of coffee leaf rust, the parasitic fungus Lecanicillium lecanii.

“With the data we are collecting now, we seek to find out if there are any apparent tradeoffs between these two consumers of the coffee leaf rust,” Hajian-Forooshani said. “For example, if the fungal parasite is especially efficient at reducing the rust, and the snail eats it along with the rust itself, that could be a tradeoff: promote the snail to control the rust and face the possibility that the snail eats too much of the other controlling factor.”

In their Ecology paper, the authors say they’re cognizant of “the many disastrous attempts at classical biological control” in the past.

One of the best-known examples of a biological backfire was the introduction of the cane toad into Australia in the mid-1930s to control a beetle that was destroying sugar cane. Long story short, the cane toad was completely ineffective at controlling the beetle and became a pest in its own right by multiplying dramatically in the absence of natural enemies.

So, it’s too soon to tell if the fungus-eating appetite of B. similaris and other snails could be harnessed in the fight against coffee leaf rust. One big unanswered question: Do the fungal spores remain viable after they pass through the guts of the snails?

“The gastropods seem to reduce the number of spores on the leaf, but it’s not clear if the spores can still germinate in the excrement,” Hajian-Forooshani said. “Also, we don’t know how the effect of the gastropods on coffee leaf rust scales up to impact the pathogen dynamics at the farm or regional scale.”

And the potential role of gastropods in the fight against coffee rust elsewhere in Latin America remains unknown. But the U-M researchers hope their findings in Puerto Rico will stimulate further research in other coffee-growing regions.

Repression, not aid after Puerto Rican earthquake


This 12 January 2020 video says about itself:

Two years after the devastations of Hurricane Maria, many in Puerto Rico are struggling to get back on their feet. Now, after being hit with another earthquake, thousands are in shelters, fearful for the future. CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez reports.

By Andrea Lobo:

As refugees from earthquakes increase, Puerto Rican authorities prioritize repressive measures

15 January 2020

After two weeks of tremors in Puerto Rico, peaking on January 7 with a 6.4-magnitude earthquake that destroyed hundreds of homes and buildings and left at least one dead, heavy seismic activity and warnings continue. With thousands losing or fleeing their homes, afraid that they will collapse, the response by local authorities and US government has been marked by callous austerity and fears of social unrest.

The island’s Secretary of State, Elmer Román, announced Tuesday that there are 8,023 refugees in “official” camps administrated by the government or NGOs, while “many” more are sleeping in smaller camps and on sidewalks.

The authorities said they will stop providing shelter locally, while the aftershocks continue to cause structural damage, and federal authorities estimate a 17 percent chance of an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude or greater in the next 30 days. Even though experts have warned against mass relocations due to costs for refugees, pushing them to take risks, and a slower recovery process, Román announced that the government will not provide aid unless people travel to five “base camps” set up only until this week by the National Guard.

Puerto Ricans on the island and supporters in the continental US have taken their own initiative to provide staple goods and other aid, with hundreds of volunteers driving to the most affected towns.

The administration of acting governor Wanda Vázquez, who was installed last August after mass demonstrations involving up to 1 million people forced the resignation of two governors, has prioritized the preparedness for another social upheaval over preparedness for another natural disaster.

Beyond the deployment of the local 8,500 National Guard troops, all local police have been called back to duty from vacations and Washington will send 300 security officials from special task forces. Vázquez signed an executive decree so that the latter are immediately sworn in as “agents of peace”, with special enforcement powers. The local legislature introduced a bill this week to request the deployment of Special Forces from the US military.

Another bill requests “financial institutions and telecommunication companies to create deferred systems of payments, without interest, to those affected,” and a third orders a publicity campaign on legal issues for those who lost their homes “without limiting that insurance companies, financial institutions, banks and law firms in Puerto Rico organize their legal departments and personnel and reach out to camps themselves.”

After a power outage across the entire island on January 7, power had been restored to most of the island by Tuesday, but 11,000 people were still without electricity in the Arecibo region and 15,000 without running water. Major repairs were still being carried out to the two main power plants of the island.

Last week, the Trump administration approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, but doubts have been raised that even the meager $5 million made available through the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will be delivered after the scandalous response of the Trump administration to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The estimated costs for rebuilding the island after Hurricane Maria surpassed $100 billion, but the White House has only released $1.5 billion of the $8 billion approved in federal aid. A Housing and Urban Development official told the Washington Post last week that Puerto Rico has only spent $5.8 million, citing “strong financial controls” by the federal government.

Puerto Rican National Guard Major General José Juan Reyes declared this week that their relief operations have been affected by the fact that out of the $550 million approved for the Puerto Rican National Guard in response to Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration reassigned $420 million to build the border wall with Mexico.

With trillions assigned for war by overwhelming bipartisan majorities since Hurricane Maria, the Trump administration is preparing a devastating war against Iran as it starves the US territory of funds.

The corporate press has stressed the surprise factor of the earthquakes, claiming that “generations have not felt such an earthquake.” However, the alarm was raised by experts repeatedly, but was dismissed. The extent of the destruction and suffering this week is the result of official negligence by a government that places the profit interests of Wall Street above social needs.

A 6.0 earthquake on September 23 last year—50 miles off the coast compared to less than 10 miles during the recent tremors—raised alarms across the island, just like the 6.4 earthquake in January 2014, located 17 miles north of the coastline.

Shortly after the September 2019 earthquake, Christa Von Hillebrandt-Andrade, the former head of the island’s seismic network, warned: “The island of Puerto Rico is surrounded by faults that could generate very strong earthquakes, and other faults cross it that could lead to major earthquakes and a significant impact. One can expect an earthquake above magnitude 8… Puerto Rico has to be ready for an earthquake and tsunami, 100 percent 24/7.”

This week, Von Hillebrandt told AP, “For decades, scientists and people like me have been informing and alerting communities and the government of Puerto Rico of the physical threat,” denouncing that “not much action was taken.”

Moreover, while the immediate structural integrity of the schools is being assessed, officials are entirely silent about making the necessary renovations or reconstructions to guarantee the safety of students.

The president of the Puerto Rican Association of Engineers, Juan Alicea, said last October in response to a new study that found that 1,000 of the 1,200 schools in the country have not been subject to any of the necessary renovations to abide by 1987 anti-seismic building codes, “The worst thing is that we know what to do and how to do it, but it must be carried out.” This week, Alicea told AP that 200,000 homes are not built to code: “If we don’t take action, this is going to cost us a lot of money and a lot of lives.”

PUERTO RICO’S EMERGENCY SERVICES DIRECTOR FIRED People in a southern Puerto Rico city discovered a warehouse filled with bottled water, cots and other unused emergency supplies, then set off a social media uproar when they broke in to retrieve goods as the area struggles to recover from a strong earthquake. [AP]

Trump administration to illegally divert an additional $7.2 billion to border wall construction: here.

Anger mounts in Puerto Rico as workers discover warehouse full of unused aid: here.