Greg Cruz, an activist who recently returned from Puerto Rico, where he was delivering aid and doing relief work, told Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear that the drawdown of workers from Puerto Rico is clear evidence of the US "capitalizing off this disaster."
On Monday, the New York Times reported that Fluor Corporation and PowerSecure, which had both won contracts to work with the US Army of Corps of Engineers to restore power to the people of Puerto Rico, were starting a "responsible drawdown" of workers, with power being restored to 86 percent of Puerto Rico customers five months after Maria walloped the island in September.
Over the past two weeks, approximately 1,000 utility workers have left the island. Fluor Corporation has announced that its contract is "nearing the end" and PowerSecure's contract only requires it to continue work in the archipelago until April 7.
However, local officials on the island have condemned the decision, heavily criticizing the companies for decreasing the number of workers stationed there before work is complete.
Jorge González Otero, the mayor of Jayuya, a town in central Puerto Rico where 50 percent of residents still don't have power, said the move to pull workers was met with "indignation."
"Fluor was among the first companies to get here, about a month and a half ago," González Otero told the New York Times. "They said the contract was over, and they left everything half-done."
"Imagine: I have people here without power for five months who are 80 years old, disabled, bedridden, and they were just beginning to see people 50 meters away get their electricity back," he added. "They are growing desperate."
Cruz agrees that withdrawing workers so soon will have "disastrous" effects.
"What's to come is going to be disastrous," he told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.
"If Puerto Rico cannot be built with the backing of the US, then there is no hope for the island. All of these contractors came on the island, assaulted the island and capitalized off this disaster. Now, they're all leaving the island and it's bad to know that that's how we treat territories in the US. These people are citizens and it is sad we are treating them this way," Cruz said.
A Fluor spokesman recently defended the company, claiming that it has reached the limit on the amount of time and money it could spend working on the island and adding that it has been "directed by the [US Army] corps [of Engineers] to begin to transition people and equipment off of the island."
In a statement to the New York Times, US Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Jason Kirk wrote that restoring power to some of the most devastated areas of Puerto Rico, including Arecibo and Caguas, would take a few more months.
"We will not rest until we have the lights back on for all of our fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico," Kirk added in the statement.
Kiriakou said the workers' exodus is about funding drying up, not finishing a job.
"The way the federal government wrote the contact had nothing to do with completion of the mission, which is restoring electricity. It [the contract] was just a time limit. They [the US government] gave Fluor $750 million up front to restore power. The company took the money and now its workers are going home because Fluor has already billed the maximum amount under its contracts, and the people of Puerto Rico still don't have electricity," he said.
Cruz also added that workers being contracted by the US government to provide relief efforts in Puerto Rico are getting paid considerable sums of money, a benefit that is being denied to Puerto Rico citizens.
"I just got back from Puerto Rico on February 5. That was my third trip there since the hurricane and I've seen firsthand what is happening. I was out there with the tree workers," Cruz told Radio Sputnik.
Some of these people were hired by third party companies and they haven't worked in three weeks. These workers haven't been paid. However, I know some people working for companies contracted by the US government who are being paid $500 an hour or $1500 a day to drive trucks. But, no one is hiring people from the island to do these jobs. Instead of employing and supporting people on the island, they are getting rejected from being able to get involved in work that pays a lot of money," Cruz explained.