Left In The Dark: Puerto Rico’s Fight for a Just Recovery

*Awarded 5th Place in the 2018-19 Hearst Multimedia IV Team Reporting Competition

Roles: Managing Editor, Producer, Copy + Web Design  

Published: August 3, 2018, through the Global Eyewitness Photojournalism Fellowship, University of Nebraska-Lincoln 

View the full project here. 

Video footage: Merika Andrade, Emily Case, Marcella Mercer, Gabriella Parsons, Elsie Stormberg and Bill Wendl Drone footage: Merika Andrade, Ben Kreimer and Gabriella Parsons | Video edit: Gabriella Parsons

After nearly one year in darkness since Hurricane Maria and more than $100 billion in storm damages, electricity has still not returned to thousands of residents across Puerto Rico, where an estimated 5,000 people died from hurricane-related causes. And yet, the real disaster was man-made in the form of a $73 billion debt, which had destroyed Puerto Rico’s infrastructure long before the storms.

The vulnerability produced by two major hurricanes and a 10-year recession, amidst yet another hurricane season, calls for urgent action.

Vulture capitalists are hovering. Experts caution of outsiders profiting off Puerto Rico’s severely damaged infrastructure.Public education and other services are quickly becoming privatized, with more than 200 public schools closing in the past six months.

It seems the world is finally hearing Puerto Rico’s cry for help. A Harvard study estimates the death count from Hurricane Maria as more than 70 times the official government toll. However, the death of more than 5,000 Puerto Ricans has still not struck a response from the United States congress.

Most Puerto Ricans are not surprised by this.

“The hurricane just rushed us ahead of a crisis we’ve been living since 2006.” 

- Jorge Diaz, Founder and Artistic Director, Agitarte

After the proven negligence of the U.S. and Puerto Rican governments to respond to the humanitarian crisis on the island, grassroots groups quickly organized. A sustainable and just recovery has been the emphasis of these groups, demanding a democratic process led by and for Puerto Ricans.

While people in Puerto Rico work to rebuild and empower their communities, they also face significant challenges, a myriad of austerity measures and constant state violence. An estimated 200,000 people out of 3.5 million residents are expected to leave the island by the end of 2018.

This project, named to reflect the ongoing power outage in Puerto Rico and the negligent disaster response from the U.S., documents life in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and shows the dignity held by people in the face of injustice.