Left in the Dark

Puerto Rico's Fight for a Just Recovery

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, Founding Artistic Director of 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.

A Dominican living in Puerto Rico rebuilds his home with the help of his neighbors. A family works to maintain normalcy without reliable power or clean water. A mother and daughter in Vieques are torn between defending their island or retreating. A teenage farmer gains popular attention by reinventing his family farm. Grassroots movements imagine an alternative future for the island.

Historically, Puerto Ricans have long defended their lands. But after Hurricane Maria, this sentiment remains truer than ever. These stories reflect why.


Conversations about decolonization and sovereignty for Puerto Rico had been happening long before the hurricanes. Knowing the island was already at a vulnerable position in its 120-year-old colonial relationship to the United States, Puerto Ricans responded to the storms with a call for change.

Jose Esteban Lopez Maldonado is working to open an agricultural school in central Puerto Rico to help bring more awareness to sustainable agricultural practices. But he faces numerous challenges, including rebuilding his coffee farm after it was hit by Hurricane Maria.

Stephanie Neco Morales grew up with her grandparents in a house overlooking the caribbean. Months after Hurricane Maria, that house and her home island, Vieques, Puerto Rico, remain in a devastated state.

Boasting the “longest Christmas in the world,” people across Puerto Rico break out into two months of nonstop celebration after Thanksgiving each year. But after Maria left much of the the island powerless and destroyed, Christmas was the furthest thing from most people’s minds.

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria, hundreds of thousands of people required aid across Puerto Rico. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, along with church groups and grassroots organizations provided supplies, food and water. But many Puerto Ricans have criticized the way this aid was carried out. FEMA refers to Maria as Disaster 4339.

The Monte Hatillo Boxing Club in San Juan, Puerto Rico, supports the young Puerto Ricans who dream of becoming boxing legends like their childhood heroes. The gym helps children rise past the cycle of poverty and violence to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.

The Toussaints, a family of six in La Vega, Puerto Rico, adjust to life on their organic farm post-Hurricane Maria. After the storms, the farm and the people of La Vega were without electricity for seven months.