Thousands of outraged Puerto Ricans protest power outages, block traffic on major highways

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – More than 4,000 people outraged by the ongoing power outages in the US territory of Puerto Rico marched Friday to denounce the effects of the lack of electricity on their health, work and children’s education.

Many of them demanded the ouster of Luma, a private company that took over the island’s electricity transmission and distribution on June 1. Some are also angry with the Electric Power Authority of Puerto Rico, which owns and operates generating units that have failed in recent times. weeks largely due to lack of maintenance and repair.

“We are tired of coming home and finding out we have no light,” said Mayra Rivera, 55, adding that she was particularly worried about her parents, who are 90, and the stifling heat. they face at home.

Thousands of people marched on a main highway in the capital San Juan at sunset, blocking traffic. After dark, they held their cell phones up in the air, turning the highway into a sea of ​​tiny lights. The highway was last closed during large protests in 2019 that led to the governor’s resignation.

Some wore T-shirts that read “Go to hell, Luma” as they banged or banged on pots and pans while walking behind huge speakers on microphones that called out slogans such as: “My the power went out, damn it, and now my fridge will be ruined. “

Among those who marched was Juan Antonio Rivera, 78, who said the latest blackout left him in the dark this week for 43 hours. The previous ones damaged his two computers.

“And one of them cost $ 200 to fix!” He apologized. “I have the receipts at home to send to Luma.”

Protesters march along the Las Americas Highway to demand the eviction of the Luma power company amid a continued lack of power across the island, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 15, 2021 .Rocardo Arduengo / AFP – Getty Images

Power outages have occurred more frequently and lasted longer in recent months, with people complaining about not being able to give themselves respiratory therapy or having had to throw out insulin or food. Many also complained that they couldn’t work or their children couldn’t attend online classes, and expensive devices had been damaged.

Cicma Albino, a 56-year-old teacher from Guayama who drove for over an hour to participate in the protest, said blackouts affected her school for three days.

“We had to send them home,” she said of the students.

Outages have occurred not only after the production units went out, but also due to selective outages announced by Luma that last for several hours after authorities warned that demand exceeds supply.

A protester who worked as a linesman for the Electric Power Authority donned his work clothes with a hard hat and tool belt, saying he was frustrated and angry with the blackouts since his mother went to bed.

“She’s going to suffer,” Jesús Ambert said of the blackouts.

Puerto Rico’s power grid became increasingly unstable after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017 as a powerful Category 4 storm. Efforts to strengthen the grid have yet to begin, the government announcing Thursday the first disbursement of federal funds to the Electric Power Authority, with $ 7.1 million slated for reconstruction work. The money is part of an aggregate $ 9.5 billion committed by the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild the network.

The authority’s new director, Josué Colón, said officials had identified various projects totaling $ 2.4 billion. He also noted that the production units are in “critical condition”.

The march comes on the same day that Luma announced it was providing electricity for the first time to a community on the neighboring island of Culebra that relied exclusively on battery-operated generators or solar panels. The company was also cleared on Friday to launch eight transmission and distribution reconstruction projects worth $ 117 million.

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