Naomi Klein: Puerto Rico and Disaster Capitalism


Excellent article by Joel Cintrón Arbasetti (Centro de Periodismo Investigativo) who recently interviewed Naomi Klein. She was in Puerto Rico to witness the hurricane-ravaged island first-hand and to participate in a public forum called “De los Desastres del Capitalismo al Capitalismo del Desastre: Resistencias y Alternativas” [From the Disasters of Capitalism to Disaster Capitalism: Resistances and Alternatives]. This event was held at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras and organized by the group Profesores Autoconvocados en Resistencia Solidaria (PAReS), the UPR School of General Studies, Climate Justice Alliance, and The Intercept. In the forum, Klein was joined by Ruth Santiago of the Eco Development Initiative of Bahía de Jobos (IDEBAJO), Elizabeth Yeampierre of UPROSE and Climate Justice Alliance, Eva Prados Rodríguez of the Frente Ciudadano por la Auditoría de la Deuda, and Mariolga Reyes Cruz of PAReS. Cintrón Arbasetti writes:

Canadian journalist Naomi Klein, who has been in areas that have become fertile ground for business, led by large companies after economic crises, wars, or natural disasters (for example, in Iraq after the United States invasion or in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina) came Puerto Rico to report on a new chapter of what she described as “the shock doctrine.”

It is a theory of power that states that political and economic elites know that they can only advance unpopular agendas if they declare some kind of state of emergency. Furthermore, Klein documents how crises and natural disasters are used increasingly as an opportunity to conduct business. This is what she calls “disaster capitalism”—a concept she explains in depth in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, published in 2007, and that made waves in important international forums and became one of the best-sellers on The New York Times list. [. . .]

In 2014, Klein published the book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate; one of her goals while visiting the island, is to seek answers to the question “How we respond to climate change in a fair way, when the poorest people—who have done the least to create this crisis—are the ones who suffer the worst impact of environmental pollution. “It is important to remember that what we have right now is an extreme climate injustice,” Klein said in an interview with the Center for Investigative Journalism [Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, CPI].

“Puerto Ricans have been living the shock doctrine for a long time, and I think there have been different ways, different scenarios, indeed, starting with the economic crisis—and there have been several economic crises that have been exploited in Puerto Rico. But speaking of the most recent, and especially since PROMESA, you have a concrete example in which a state of exception and emergency has been declared, which becomes an excuse to throw aside any pretense of self-government, to which is added an agenda of privatization and austerity that has just begun to be introduced,” she said. The case of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, about which she has already written for The Intercept, is so unusual that it has made her rethink the concept with which she has described so many scenarios in the past decade.

“It is a different form, maybe it’s not the shock doctrine; maybe it’s something else. Maybe I have to rewrite or write a new chapter called the trauma doctrine, because it is not shock; it is trauma that has been exploited, which is different and surprising,” added Klein, who ascribed the concept to conversations with Puerto Rican anthropologist Yarimar Bonilla, who suggested to Klein the idea of a sequel called “the doctrine of trauma.” Bonilla is a researcher and professor of anthropology and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University, as well as co-founder of the Puerto Rico Syllabus project, which collects important documents on the debt crisis in Puerto Rico.

According to the journalist, part of this trauma has been caused by the slow response by administration of Donald Trump, a figure she addresses in her latest book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. Here, she describes him as “a Frankenstein monster, out together with body parts from the most dangerous political and economic trends: the growing power of private wealth over the political system; the global imposition of Neoliberalism, often using racism and the fear of the ‘other’ as a powerful tool; the damaging impact of free corporate market; and the denial of climate change among the right wing of the political spectrum.”

The concrete example of the shock doctrine and disaster capitalism in Puerto Rico was the recent announcement by Governor Ricardo Rosselló of the beginning of the process of privatization of the Electric Power Authority (Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica, AEE).

[. . .] After so many years of observing the same shock techniques and the effects of disaster capitalism, as in the case of New Orleans, where almost the entire public education system was replaced by charter schools after Hurricane Katrina, or in the case of even Sri Lankan farmers who were expelled from their lands after a tsunami in 2004, to build a resort, Klein says that the wish list of certain political and economic groups is already well-known.

“Privatizing large parts of the Puerto Rican economy: charter schools, electricity, ports. There is still a lot to sell here and they were able to achieve part of that agenda. But they also stumbled. I believe that the great demonstration of May 1, of teachers and parents organizing to stop the closure of schools, will not make it so easy to get away with it. So I think that what we will see post-Maria is a return to the trenches and starting again, at this moment in which people are focused on what they should focus on: their family, their health, their security. If we lived in a decent world, we would not be having this conversation.”

[Photo above by Leandro Fabrizi, CPI.]

Excerpts above translated by Ivette Romero. For full article, see

One thought on “Naomi Klein: Puerto Rico and Disaster Capitalism

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    ‘The Shock Doctrine” … Naomi Klein; excellent author; excellent read.
    ‘It is a theory of power that states that political and economic elites know that they can only advance unpopular agendas if they declare some kind of state of emergency.’
    This is exactly what Puerto Rico, my country, has been experiencing for many years. Hurricane María has accelerated the process.

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