Disaster Capitalism: Hurricane Maria & Puerto Rico’s Schools

To learn more about the role of the teachers federation and other Puerto Rican unions’ role in community–based recovery: http://bit.ly/2Ardg7k

I just got off the phone with Sofia Feliciano in Puerto Rico. She told me that her father had been arrested yesterday. Sofia’s father is Rafael Feliciano, former president of the Federation of Puerto Rican Teachers (#FMPR) whom I first met during the Tri-National Coalition to Defend Public Education Conference that the BC Teachers’ Federation hosted in Vancouver in May 2016.

2017 Oct 23 Declaración de Prensa FMPR (Spanish)
Press Release FMPR Oct 2017 (English)

I have been calling Rafael and Sofia more frequently since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in late September, looking for updates on the situation and info on how CoDev and our Canadian partners might assist the teachers’ federation in efforts to rebuild schools and communities. They’ve described the innovative education that is taking place – like classes carried out in neighbours’ kitchens… How many ingredients do we need to feed every person on our block? and on the neighbours’ roofs… How to best build hurricane proof roofs with wood and zinc? But as cleaning up moves forward, they said, communities in Puerto Rico experienced a second blow, the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the US federal government are taking advantage of the environmental crisis. It was not long before Puerto Rico’s Education Secretary, Julia Keleher, announced that over 600 schools across the Island would close down and no longer be needing teachers. The FMPR fears they will replace them with charter schools, unloading responsibility for education onto the communities.

Sofia and Rafael explained how communities dealing with traumatic effects of the hurricane are now also faced with having to protect their public schools. Over 50% of them remain closed, in spite of having the adequate conditions to receive students.

The FMPR believes that it is unacceptable that well over a month after the hurricane, the government denies the right to public education to tens of thousands of Puerto Rican students. The schools belong to their communities, the union says, and they need them open in order to fully recover!

In response to Keleher’s plan to privatize public education, teachers organized a civil disobedience action in the Education Secretary’s offices this week, which resulted in the arrest of 21 teachers, including Rafael.

Clearly, Sofia was hurt and shocked to see her father arrested. Unfortunately she had to witness the same brutal actions back in June 2017 when fellow university students were also arrested for defending the University of Puerto Rico after the government attempted to pay its debt to international speculators by selling off the post-secondary institution. The students held a 72 day strike against sweeping austerity measures.

Rafael Feliciano and other teachers arrested, were released last night at 11pm and are expected to appear before the courts to face charges.

In the face of unprecedented devastation and an ineffective response from US disaster relief agencies in the occupied territory, the teachers’ federation has served as a useful network for community-based recovery from an environmental disaster. It is disturbing that Puerto Rico’s teachers must now also fight to prevent the destruction of their public school system.

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