Regular citizens, religious leaders, economists, teachers, and retirees took to the streets on June 28, 2023, in protest due to the increase of already high electric bills that many on the islands of Puerto Rico struggle to pay. Hoisting the Puerto Rico flag, they marched their way to the Governor’s mansion, warning that increasing the electricity bills would lead to an untenable way of living for many residents of the islands that struggle to survive.
The islands have suffered from multiple power outrages since the struggle to rebuild the power grid system after the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Since then, blackouts have been common occurrences in the residents’ daily lives, with the constant attacks of heavy rains and winds throughout the Caribbean. The proposal for the increase was introduced to the Legislative board as part of the debt recurring plan to pull the islands’ power company out of bankruptcy; if approved, it could cause bills for electricity to double. The islands’ rates for electricity are nearly double that of those in the US mainland. With more than 40% of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million citizens living below the poverty rate, those increased bills can literally be a life-or-death situation with families struggling to feed themselves.
The fear and threat of higher electric bills prompted many citizens to join in on the protest, such as Reverend Lizzette Gabriel, a bishop at Puerto Rico’s Methodist Church. She voiced concerns about the increase in the bills, stating that “The higher the energy costs, the less money a family has to survive, and not everyone has money to install a solar system.” Executive Director Cristina Miranda Palacios of the nonprofit League of Puerto Rican Cities shares that concern, adding that the increase is not fair on the residents who had nothing to do with the Company’s Bankruptcy; that they are not responsible for the actions of officials who accumulated the large debt through corruption, mismanagement, and excessive borrowing. “It’s inconceivable that the people,” she says, “including the most marginalized and economically disadvantaged populations, have to bear this cost for a highly questionable quality of service.” Despite the cries of frustrations from the islands’ citizens, David Skeel, chair of Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board, insists that this proposal is the best chance PREPA has to pay off the debt that is owed.