cover image When the Sky Fell: Hurricane Maria and the United States in Puerto Rico

When the Sky Fell: Hurricane Maria and the United States in Puerto Rico

Michael Deibert. Apollo, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-948062-36-7

In this impassioned analysis, journalist Deibert (Haiti Will Not Perish) explores the role of the U.S.’s territorial relationship with Puerto Rico in the context of the damage wrought on the island by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Once a Spanish territory, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory following the Mexican-American War, administered by a governor and an 11-member panel appointed by Congress. Deibert recounts a history of inhumane treatment and economic exploitation: thousands of Puerto Rican women were forcibly sterilized in the 1930s; workers received unlivable wages on the sugar plantations; and Puerto Ricans marching for workers’ rights and independence were continually met with brutal police violence until as late as 2007. All the while, the often-corrupt government and outside investors exploited the island’s resources and drove it into debt. The commonwealth’s second-class status—without independent finances or voter representation in the government controlling it, the island’s infrastructure had greatly deteriorated—rendered it unable to respond to the hurricane’s destruction, and the U.S. government failed to launch a significant relief effort for months. Deibert reports that, a month after the hurricane, 80% of the population was still without power, schools had not been reopened, and 5,000 people were still living in shelters. This grim account of the U.S.’s treatment of this territory will shock readers not familiar with the details. (Sept.)