Published on Feb 13, 2018
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By Matthew Taylor
13 February 2018
An explosion ripped through the Monacillo power plant outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico Sunday night, causing large-scale blackouts in the capital city. More than 175,000 residents temporarily lost power. The San Juan International airport, the University of Puerto Rico’s San Juan college and Centro Medico, the region’s largest hospital, were all left without power for several hours. There were no reported casualties from the explosion.
While the cause of the explosion is still unknown Angel Figueroa Jaramillo, union leader for the Puerto Rican Electrical Power Authority (PREPA), told reporters that a breaker should have prevented the blackout and that it was too early to determine if mechanical failure was the problem given the decrepit state of the islands power plants.
Sunday’s blackout illustrates the precarious state of the electrical infrastructure in Puerto Rico nearly five months after Hurricane Maria destroyed the island’s power grid, plunging the entire country into darkness and worsening the already impoverished conditions that the majority of Puerto Rico’s citizens live in. To date, 30 percent of the island is still without power, encompassing some 1 million people. Where power has been restored, primarily in the urban areas, it is unreliable and subject to failure.
The power plant explosion occurred in the wake of the announcement by the island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, that his government would seek to privatize PREPA, the largest public utility company in the United States. In June of last year, the utility had already filed for a form of bankruptcy protection under Title III of the Promesa law, a law passed by Congress in 2016 to impose austerity measures upon the island’s population and ensure the payments of its debts to Wall Street. To carry out this task the law created an unelected eight-person body known as the Financial Oversight and Management Board.
Staffed by bankers and other social parasites who had driven the island to insolvency through various deals with hedge funds and wealthy investors, the board voted in June of last year to sell PREPA to private interests.
Sunday’s incident will undoubtedly be used to bolster the governor’s argument that the island’s electricity needs can be better served by private business interests.
The privatization of PREPA has been a long-held goal of Puerto Rico’s elite and the Wall Street interests they represent and serve. Just as on the mainland, and throughout the world, publicly held utilities and their potential to generate vast profits through providing the vital necessities of life—clean water, electricity, trash removal, etc.—are an irresistible target for the capitalist class. Natural disasters are used frequently as the pretext for the transfer of publicly held assets to the private sector.
Hurricane Maria was the catalyst for the sell-off, the groundwork for which has been laid by years of under-funding, corruption, and mismanagement. It is a widely held belief among Puerto Rico’s electrical workers that the disrepair of the system is the outcome of a deliberate policy intended to smooth the transition to privatization.
An examination of the state of repair of the island’s electrical infrastructure supports this belief. The average age of power plants in Puerto Rico is 44 years, more than twice the industry average of 18 years. The workforce has been steadily diminished in recent years, from 8,628 workers in 2012 to 6,042 in 2017.Years ago PREPA abandoned a regular maintenance program as too costly, instead opting to make repairs when equipment became damaged. The utility also holds $9 billion dollars of debt, the largest portion of the bankrupt island’s $74 billion dollar debt.
There have also been indications that the directors of PREPA have deliberately slowed recovery efforts post-Maria. In January, the Intercept published an article describing the armed seizure by FEMA and the US Army Corp of Engineers of a warehouse in Palo Seco, owned by PREPA, where the utility company had been hoarding equipment used in repairing the power grid. Discovered in the raid were hundreds of high tension steel sleeves, which are required to build new power lines along with “2,875 pieces of critical material to contractors.” USACE and FEMA reportedly started distributing the seized equipment to contractors immediately, and the story was buried by the media.
In addition to hoarding needed equipment, PREPA has also come under criticism for its corrupt contracting process. Most notably, they awarded a $300 million no-bid contract for repairs to Whitefish Energy, a company of two employees founded in 2015 with connections to the Trump administration. The founder of the company, Andy Techmanski is close friends with the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke. Whitefish’s primary investor, HBC Investments, was founded by Joe Colloneta, a major donor to the 2016 Trump campaign.
The no-bid contract was awarded due to an executive order issued by Rosselló in the aftermath of Maria, which lifted all standard processes and restrictions for awarding government contracts. Included in the contract was a clause that prohibited government auditors from examining the labor costs and profits from the project.
Rosselló was forced to cancel the contract after news reports detailing its corruption became widespread and resulted in public outrage. Among the more notable discoveries was that Whitefish was charging PREPA $319 per hour for its linemen, roughly 17 times what linemen in Puerto Rico earn. Meanwhile, PREPA’s subcontractors, who had been recruited from several large Florida utility companies, were paid $63 dollars per hour, just one-fifth of the total per hour charged by Whitefish to the government of Puerto Rico. The FBI is said to be investigating the awarding of the contract.
The drive toward privatization and the austerity measures imposed by the Financial Oversight and Management Board will deepen the social crisis that Puerto Rican workers have suffered under for years. The US colony has been in recession for the last 11 years and 45 percent of the island’s population lives below the poverty line. Many Puerto Ricans, facing unendurable hardship, have migrated to the mainland, a process that has greatly accelerated since the hurricane. An estimated 300,000 Puerto Ricans have made the move to Florida alone.
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Meanwhile, PREPA’s subcontractors, who had been recruited from several large Florida utility companies, were paid $63 dollars per hour, just one-fifth of the total per hour charged by Whitefish to the government of Puerto Rico. The FBI is said to be …
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They call what they are building “Puertopia”. But then someone told them, apparently in all seriousness, that it translates to “eternal boy playground” in Latin. So they are changing the name: they will call it “Sol”.
Dozens of American entrepreneurs, made newly wealthy by blockchain and cryptocurrencies, are heading en masse to Puerto Rico – a US overseas territory – this winter. They are selling their homes in California and establishing residency on the Caribbean island in hopes of avoiding what they see as onerous state and federal taxes on their growing fortunes, some of which reach into the billions of dollars.
And these men, for they are almost exclusively blokes, have a plan for what to do with the wealth: they want to build a crypto-utopia, a new city where the money is virtual and the contracts are all public, to show the rest of the world what a crypto future could look like. Blockchain, a digital ledger that forms the basis of virtual currencies, has the potential to reinvent society – and the Puertopians want to prove it.
For more than a year, the entrepreneurs had been searching for the best location. After Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure in September and the price of cryptocurrencies began to soar, they saw an opportunity and felt a sense of urgency.
So this crypto community flocked here to create its paradise. Now the investors are spending their days hunting for property where they could have their own airports and docks. They are taking over hotels and a museum in the capital’s historic section, called Old San Juan. They say they are close to getting the local government to allow them to have the first cryptocurrency bank.
“What’s happened here is a perfect storm,” said Halsey Minor, founder of the news site CNET, who is moving his new blockchain company – called Videocoin – from the Cayman Islands to Puerto Rico this winter. Referring to Hurricane Maria and the investment interest that has followed, he added: “While it was really bad for the people of Puerto Rico, in the long term it’s a godsend if people look past that.”
Puerto Rico offers an unparalleled tax incentive: no federal personal income taxes, no capital gains tax and favourable business taxes – all without having to renounce your US citizenship. For now, the local government seems receptive towards these crypto-utopians; the governor will speak at their blockchain summit conference, Puerto Crypto, next month.
The territory’s go-to blockchain tax lawyer is Giovanni Mendez. The 30-year-old expected the tax expatriates to disappear after Hurricane Maria, but the population has instead boomed.
“It’s increased monumentally,” say Mendez, who has about two dozen crypto clients. “And they all came together.”
The movement is alarming an earlier generation of Puerto Rico tax expats like hedge fund manager Robb Rill, who runs a social group for those taking advantage of the tax incentives.
“They call me up saying they’re going to buy 250,000 acres so they can incorporate their own city, literally start a city in Puerto Rico to have their own crypto world,” adds Rill, who moved to the island in 2013. “I can’t engage in that.”
The newcomers are still debating the exact shape that Puertopia should take. Some think they need to make a city; others think it’s enough to move into Old San Juan. Puertopians said, however, that they hoped to move very fast.
“You’ve never seen an industry catalyse a place like you’re going to see here,” says CNET’s Halsey Minor.
Until the Puertopians find land, they have descended on the Monastery, a 20,000sq ft hotel they rented as their base.
Matt Clemenson and Stephen Morris is drinking beer on the Monastery’s roof. Clemenson seems an easygoing and wears two-tone aviators; Morris, who is British, is in cargo shorts and lace-up steel-toed combat boots, with a smartphone on a necklace. They want to make two things clear: They chose Puerto Rico because of the hurricane, and they come in peace.
“It’s only when everything’s been swept away that you can make a case for rebuilding from the ground up,” says Morris, 53.
Clemenson, 34, a co-founder of <a href=”http://Lottery.com” rel=”nofollow”>Lottery.com</a>, which is using the blockchain in lotteries, said: “We’re benevolent capitalists, building a benevolent economy. Puerto Rico has been this hidden gem, this enchanted island that’s been consistently overlooked and mistreated. Maybe 500 years later we can make it right.”
Other Puertopians arrived on the roof as a pack, just back from a full-day property-hunting bus tour. From the middle, Brock Pierce, 37, leader of the Puertopia movement, emerged wearing drop-crotch capri pants, a black vest that almost hit his knees and a large black felt hat. He and others had arrived on the island in early December.
“Compassion, respect, financial transparency,” Pierce says when asked what was guiding them here.
Pierce, director of the Bitcoin Foundation, is a major figure in the crypto boom. He co-founded a blockchain-for-business startup, Block.One, which has sold around $150m of a custom virtual currency, EOS, in an “initial coin offering”. The value of all the outstanding EOS tokens is around £5bn.
A former child actor, Pierce got into digital money early as a professional gamer, mining and trading gold in the video game World of Warcraft, an effort funded partly by Stephen Bannon, the former Trump adviser. Pierce is a controversial figure – he has previously been sued for fraud.
Downstairs, in the Monastery penthouse, a dozen or so other expats are hanging out. The water is out tonight, so the taps and toilets are dry. Minor lounges on an alcove chaise.
“The US doesn’t want us. It’s trying to choke off this economy,” Minor says, referring to the difficulties crypto investors have with US banks. “There needs to be a place where people are free to invent.”
Pierce paces the room with his hands in fists. A few times that day, he played a video for the group on his phone and a portable speaker: Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 The Great Dictator,” in which Chaplin parodies Hitler rallying his forces. He finds inspiration in lines like “More than machinery, we need humanity.”
“I’m worried people are going to misinterpret our actions,” Pierce said. “That we’re just coming to Puerto Rico to dodge taxes.”
He said he was aiming to create a charitable token called ONE with a billion dollars of his own money. “If you take the MY out of money, you’re left with ONE,” says Pierce.
Kai Nygard, scion of the Canadian clothing company Nygard and a crypto-investor, says: “He’s tuned in to a higher calling. He’s beyond money.”
The force of Pierce’s personality and his spiritual presence are important to the group, whose members are otherwise largely agnostic. Pierce regularly performs rituals. Earlier that day while scoping out property, they had stopped at a historic Ceiba tree, known as the Tree of Life.
Brock Pierce is a former business associate of ex-Breitbart boss Steve Bannon (Getty)
“Brock nestled into the bosom of it and was there for 10 minutes,” says Nygard.
Pierce walked around the tree and said prayers for Puertopia, holding a rusted wrench he had picked up in the territory. He kissed an old man’s feet. He blessed a crystal in the water, as they all watched. He played the Chaplin speech to everyone and to the tree, Nygard said.
That wrench is now in the penthouse, heavy and greasy.
Later, at a dinner in a nearby restaurant, the group ordered platters of octopus arms, fried cheese, ceviche and rum cocktails. They debated whether to buy Puerto Rico’s Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, which measures 9,000 acres and has two deepwater ports and an adjacent airport. The only hitch: it’s undergoing an environmental clean-up overseen by the US government’s Superfund programme.
Pierce had fallen asleep by then. He gets two hours of sleep many nights, often on a firm grounding mat to stay in contact with the earth’s electric energy. Josh Boles, another crypto expat, picked him up, and the group headed back to the Monastery.
They walked past a big pink building in an old town square, the start of their vision for Puertopia’s downtown. They plan on turning the structure, once a children’s museum, into a crypto clubhouse and outreach centre that will have the mission “to bring together Puerto Ricans with Puertopians.”
Work days are casual in Puertopia. One morning, Bryan Larkin, 39, and Reeve Collins, 42, are working at another old hotel, the Condado Vanderbilt, where they had their laptops on a pool bar with frozen piña coladas on tap.
“We’re going to make this crypto land,” says Larkin.
Larkin has mined about $2bn in bitcoin and is the chief technology officer of Blockchain Industries, a publicly traded company based in Puerto Rico.
Collins had raised more than $20m from an initial coin offering for BlockV, his app store for the blockchain, whose outstanding tokens are worth about $125m. He had also co-founded Tether, which backs cryptocurrency tied to the value of a dollar and whose outstanding tokens are worth about $2bn, though the company has generated enormous controversy in the virtual currency world.
“So, no, no, I don’t want to pay taxes,” says Collins. “This is the first time in human history anyone other than kings or governments or gods can create their own money.”
He moved from Santa Monica, California, with just a few bags and was starting a local cryptocurrency incubator called Vatom Factory. “When Brock said, ‘We’re moving to Puerto Rico for the taxes and to create this new town,’ I said, ‘I’m in’,” Collins says. “Sight unseen.”
They soon went back to work, checking out <a href=”http://Coinmarketcap.com” rel=”nofollow”>Coinmarketcap.com</a>, a site that shows the price of cryptocurrencies.
“Our market cap’s gone up $100m in a week,” says Collins.
“Congrats, man,” says Larkin.
All across San Juan, many locals are trying to figure out what to do with the crypto arrivals.
Some are open to the new wave as a welcome infusion of investment and ideas.
“We’re open for crypto business,” says Erika Medina-Vecchini, chief business development officer for the Department of Economic Development and Commerce. She says her office was starting an ad campaign aimed at the new crypto expat boom, with the tagline “Paradise Performs”.
Others worry about the island being used for an experiment and talk about “crypto colonialism”. At a house party in San Juan, Richard Lopez, 32, who runs a pizza restaurant, Estella, in the town of Arecibo, says: “I think it’s great. Lure them in with taxes, and they’ll spend money.”
Andria Satz, 33, who grew up in Old San Juan and works for the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, disagrees.
“We’re the tax playground for the rich,” she says. “We’re the test case for anyone who wants to experiment. Outsiders get tax exemptions, and locals can’t get permits.”
Lopez said the territory needed something to jump-start the economy. “We have to find a new way,” he says.
“Sure then, bitcoin, why not,” says Satz, throwing up her hands.
Lopez says he and a childhood friend, Rafael Perez, 31, were trying to set up a bitcoin mine in their hometown. But electricity has been inconsistent, and mining even a single bitcoin takes a lot of power, he said.
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s annual investment summit, a two-day conference to woo investors to the bankrupt U.S. territory and the first since Hurricane Maria devastated the island, sported some new faces, particularly from the fast-growing cryptocurrency world.
The ranks of attendees and panelists on Monday were notably light on traditional mainstays, such as hedge fund creditors that hold the island’s $71.5 billion in debt.
Filling in some of the gaps were cryptocurrency investors, including Michael Terpin, who told the crowd at the Puerto Rico Convention Center he was the first from the crypto world to move to the island in 2016.
Terpin, who also runs a public relations firm that works with cryptocurrency investors, said the industry is keen to take advantage of tax breaks under Puerto Rico’s Acts 20 and 22 that benefit wealthy job creators who move to Puerto Rico from other jurisdictions.
“I hate it when I hear a talented person has to leave Puerto Rico because there’s no jobs here,” Terpin said. “We are bringing jobs.”
Puerto Rico is battling the largest bankruptcy in U.S. government history, $120 billion in combined pension and bond debt, and the effects of Hurricane Maria, its worst natural disaster in 90 years which killed dozens and decimated an already-weak infrastructure in September.
About 50 cryptocurrency entrepreneurs have relocated to Puerto Rico over the last year or two, and Terpin said he predicts that number will rise to 500 in the next 12 months. The island will host three separate cryptocurrency conferences over the next six weeks.
Speaker Brock Pierce, co-founder of Blockchain Capital, a venture capital firm investing in blockchain-enabled technology, said Puerto Rico has the mix of entrepreneurial spirit and tax benefits to make it an attractive launch pad for a what he views as a digital currency revolution.
“We leave the pilot phase” in 2018, Pierce said. ”We’ve been connecting all the dots, getting all the pieces in place. This is the year when scalability hits, when big ideas become possible.”
Reporting By Nick Brown; Editing by Daniel Bases
Latest blackout shows Puerto Rico’s fragility after Maria
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Puerto Rico is not a country.
In the letter, which describes the geography and politics of Puerto Rico, it is pointed out that the island is an unincorporated territory of the United States and based on that, that it is not a country.
It also emphasizes that, despite the fact that Puerto Rico has its own government, the head of the country is the president of the United States.
The article emphasizes that Puerto Ricans can not vote in the United States elections, although they can participate in the presidential primaries. Likewise, it refers to the Foraker Act (Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950) that placed the Island under the command of the United States Congress.
World Atlas is described as a group of writers that provides information on countries that range from geography to economics and politics.
You can write to him through <a href=”mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
Do you consider that Puerto Rico is a country?
Five months ago, Puerto Rico began its plunge into the longest blackout in U.S. history.
After much struggle and a botched contract to restore power, the embattled island was showing some progress in its recovery from Hurricane Maria. Then on Sunday, the lights went out again: An explosion and fire at two power plants shrouded much of the northern part of the island in darkness.
Most customers hit by the blackout had their power restored by Monday. But the incident underscores the challenges of recovering from a major storm on an island with aging infrastructure. It’s also a reminder that the U.S. territory will likely have a longer, tougher road to recovery than other states battered by recent storms.
Union leader Angel Figueroa Jaramillo, who represents Puerto Rico’s public electrical workers, spoke outside one of the damaged power stations and warned against privatizing the electrical system, something Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has favored.
“It’s been five months without power,” Jaramillo said, according to The Washington Post. “We could have made much more progress than this.”
Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm with 155-mph winds, ripped through the middle of the island on Aug. 20. It destroyed thousands of homes, killed at least 64 people and left thousands without electricity or water for months. As of Monday, 99% of customers in Puerto Rico had running water and 84% of the island had power back on. More than 400,000 customers still don’t have electricity.
Restoring power, in particular, has been a challenge, with renewed blackouts occurring just as homes regain electricity. Sunday’s blackout happened when fires knocked offline two substations near San Juan, power company spokesman Geraldo Quinones told the Associated Press. The substations were repaired by dawn, and most customers — including Puerto Rico’s largest public hospital and its main international airport — had power restored, he said.
“They’ll be working throughout today to fully restore service,” Quinones said, adding that authorities are investigating what caused the fire.
Photos posted to Twitter by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, showed charred equipment at one of the substations, and a video captured the fire at one of the plants as workers tried to control the blaze.
The outage is the latest in a series of setbacks that has rankled the island’s recovery. PREPA is heavily in debt and struggling to patch up a power grid that is outdated and in dire need of restoration.
A U.S. contractor initially hired by the power company to restore electricity was fired after delays and controversies over how the contract was awarded.
Rosselló said last month that he plans to privatize PREPA, which relies on infrastructure nearly three times older than the industry average. It would be the largest restructuring of a public entity in U.S. history.
Other areas of recovery have had similar challenges. Last week, the New York Times reported that a one-person, Atlanta-based company delivered only 50,000 meals instead of the 30 million called for in its contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA has said the disaster relief agency has delivered more than 50 million meals to Puerto Rico since the storm.
Restoring power to the entire island, for the moment, remains one of the top concerns.
PREPA board president Jose Carrion said Monday at a Puerto Rico investment summit that the power company has been bankrupted by administrators and abused by corruption, and that privatization is needed even after power is fully restored.
“The same inefficiencies that have dragged the utility for decades remain,” he said. “Of all the realities (Hurricanes) Irma and Maria confronted us with, without a doubt the most evident is that Puerto Rico’s energy system does not work.”
Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.
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Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island’s electricity network.
The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north.
“We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible,” the AEE said.
San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighborhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital’s airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators.
The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE’s 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017.
AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was “serious,” and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
International–New York Daily News–Feb 7, 2018
In-Depth–Forbes–Feb 8, 2018
International–Daily Signal–Feb 8, 2018
Madrid – The former governor of Puerto Rico (1993-2001) and president of the Equality Commission , Pedro Rossello , affirmed that the territory “is a living example of how Congress is governing in a colonial and imperial manner over its unincorporated territories . “
In an article published in EFE signatures, Rossello recalls that Puerto Rico is “the most populated and largest of the US territories” and, nevertheless, Washington “has turned a deaf ear to the claims of democracy and civil rights of American citizens (Americans) that resides in their territory. ”
The representative of Puerto Rico in the United States Congress explains that, although the inhabitants of the island were granted US citizenship in 1917, “the Congress has ruled over the island with plenary powers, and the territorial government and its laws have remained subordinate to the caprice of Washington. ”
“This imperial subordination prevents citizens of this American territory from voting in national elections, which deprives them of having a voice when choosing the president, vice president and members of Congress,” he adds.
He also regrets that, meanwhile, many young Puerto Ricans “have fought and served honorably in every war in the United States since the First World War.”
Rossello denounces that this colonial situation is maintained despite the fact that most Puerto Ricans have spoken out in up to two plebiscites during the last five years.
“In 2012, 54% of the electorate voted against the current colonial status, and 61% chose statehood as the best option for their political future,” he remarks, adding that “these results have been ignored by the federal government “
On June 11, 2017, in another consultation, “97% of those voters favored statehood for Puerto Rico,” he adds, to state that “to top it all off”, the United States Congress imposed a Board of Directors on Puerto Rico. Fiscal Supervision, “with the sole purpose of controlling the finances of the island from the federal capital.”
“American democracy is failing in its own territories (?). The time has come for the United States to stop acting like an imperial power and look in the mirror to see the real image of its democracy,” says Rossello, to conclude that “the time has come for the United States to renounce its modern imperialism.”