Announcer: This is The Takeaway with MHP from WNYC and PRX, in collaboration with GBH News in Boston.
Female Speaker 1: This is what we do. This is part of living in paradise, is knowing that once in a while these storms come at you.
Male Speaker 1: I'm waiting on the next flight. They talking about Saturday, but I don't know if will be real or not.
Male Speaker 2: We got up and they said 155 mile an hour winds, going to lose power. We don't have a generator.
Female Speaker 2: I feel really scared because I don't know what's next.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Hurricane Ian battered the Gulf Coast as it made landfall yesterday afternoon in southwestern Florida. What you were hearing there were some voices from the region courtesy of the Associated Press. Now, according to the National Hurricane Centre, Ian made landfall as a category 4 storm clocking 155-mile-per-hour winds as it picked up steam in the Gulf, and that's just two miles an hour short of a category 5.
Now, Ian could cause up to $70 billion in damages according to disaster models, which would make it the sixth most expensive hurricane in the US. President Joe Biden assured Floridians yesterday that they'd be taken care of.
President Joe Biden: Storm warning is real, the evacuation notice is real. The danger is real. When the storm passes, the federal government's going to be there to help you recover.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The Federal Emergency Management Agency deployed more than 1,300 federal response workers to Florida, and they're busy distributing food, water, fuel, and generators to those affected by the storm. More than 2 million Floridians are without power as of this morning. Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, spoke about the danger yesterday.
Ron DeSantis: You're going to have millions of people without power in this state within the next 48 hours, no question. You're going to have to rebuild some of this stuff, to have some reengineering, to have some structural fixes, and that's going to require manpower, but it's just going to take a little bit more time.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Folks in the Caribbean know all too well how much time it can take to restore a hurricane-damaged power grid. As Ian charted a path in the Gulf, it hit Cuba as a category 3 on Tuesday, with heavy rains and 125-mile-per-hour winds that knocked out the entire island's power grid. Ian isn't the first hurricane of the season to cause severe damage.
In Puerto Rico, nearly 300,000 people remain without power after Hurricane Fiona blew through as a category 1 storm at the start of last week. At least three people have been confirmed dead and a dozen more deaths are still being investigated to determine how they're related to the storm. Now, that's far fewer than the nearly 3,000 deaths estimated after Hurricane Maria tore through the island around this time in 2017.
That figure was only revealed after independent reporting and several lawsuits pressured then governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, to commission an analysis of Maria's casualties. Originally, official reports claimed only 64 people had died as a result of that storm. Many of the same problems with power, with corruption, they remain in Puerto Rico, and so does public distrust in its government. That's what's bringing activists and artists to the forefront of the social justice fight on the island. Artists like Bad Bunny.
Puerto Rican musician Bad Bunny is arguably the biggest pop star in the world right now. He's taken his global superstardom and leveraged it to bring attention to some of the most pressing issues in Puerto Rico: gentrification and government corruption. Bad Bunny used the official video for his song, El Apagón or the blackout, to bring attention to these issues.
Melissa Harris-Perry: At a show last weekend, Bad Bunny talked about the song's chorus.
Bad Bunny: [Spanish language]
Melissa Harris-Perry: He says he's proud to be from Puerto Rico, and that those on the island know that it's really great because every day it gets harder to live in Puerto Rico, every day there are fewer resources for Puerto Ricans to live on the island, and that Puerto Ricans have to give themselves everything, while the government that is practically an enemy gets richer. The official music video for El Apagón is 23 minutes long. It's been viewed 7.5 million times on YouTube in less than two weeks.
It interweaves the song with a documentary entitled Aquí Vive Gente or people live here. The documentary is by freelance journalist, Bianca Graulau.
Bianca Graulau: [Spanish language].
Melissa Harris-Perry: The documentary shares the story of gentrification in Puerto Rico, and explores how government corruption has facilitated the displacement of thousands. I talked with Bianca Graulau about her reporting.
Bianca Graulau: This is a topic I've been covering for a while now ever since I've been getting messages from people showing me the letters that they've been getting saying that they have to leave their apartments in 30 days because someone has bought the building and they have different plans for the building. I've been covering some of those cases.
When the opportunity came up to do this documentary for Bad Bunny's channel, then I was able to contact some people that I already knew were going through this situation, so that we could tell their stories about how they're getting pushed out because there are people coming in with a lot of buying power and acquiring these properties and asking people to leave.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You said when this opportunity came up to work with Bad Bunny, how did that opportunity emerge?
Bianca Graulau: I believe he had seen some of my previous reporting on the topic. When they were talking about the music videos, he had the idea to attach a new story to the music video for the song El Apagón, because at the end of that song, the lyrics talk about displacement in Puerto Rico. About how Puerto Ricans want to stay here because this is their land. They don't want to leave and it says they should leave.
Then I got a call saying that he would like to allow me to use his platform to have my reporting seen by more people. Then that's how it started, and we got to work and I started making calls for the story. We worked on it for several months until we have this documentary.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Can you tell me about Act 22? What is it and how is it implicated here?
Bianca Graulau: Act 22 is a tax incentive that the government of Puerto Rico approved about 10 years ago. It is now part of Act 60, and it is an incentive for individual investors. What it does is that it gives a 0% capital gains tax to people who move here. That means that people who invest in things like property, cryptocurrency, stocks, if they acquire those assets while they're living in Puerto Rico, while they have already become residents here, then they don't pay any capital gains tax on those assets.
That's a really good deal for people who have a lot of investments. That means that it has been attracting a lot of people to move to Puerto Rico. What we found in the story is that there is a connection between some of the people buying up properties, who also benefit from this tax incentive. We analyzed areas of Puerto Rico where a lot of properties have been bought up, and we looked at who has been buying them. We saw a significant number of those properties and are now owned by beneficiaries of Act 22.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Presumably, stoking investment in the island is precisely what a government is supposed to do. We can look at similar kinds of actions done by American states where corporations are given massive tax cuts in order to build a business or bring a factory to that state. Why is it that Act 22 has had this particular kind of effect relative to gentrification?
Bianca Graulau: It has to do with what the intent behind the tax incentive is. There's a difference between tax incentives that have a requirement to create jobs and to have a particular kind of investment in a place. This particular investment, admitted by their government, was not created with the intent to create jobs. It was created with the intent to incentivize investment, but what we've seen is that the kind of investment that's coming out of it is investment into real estate, for example.
That's why you see people acquiring properties. Now, what we've seen is that that might create a few jobs maybe if they're remodeling the place, if they're hiring someone to manage the properties, but it is not a significant number of jobs compared to what we've seen in terms of gentrification and displacements.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, in your documentary, you compare tourism in Puerto Rico to the plantation economy. Talk to me about coming to that conclusion and why it was important for you to draw those historical connections?
Bianca Graulau: It was important because 120 years later after the US invaded Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico is still a possession of the US without representation in the US government, without voting representation in the US government. It was important for me to see how in the past, US companies benefited from Puerto Rico being a territory of the US, from the US having acquired Puerto Rico, and how we still see that today. One of the things that you hear people talk about with Act 22 is that the reason it's so great and attractive is because it's the only place within the United States that you can have 0% capital gains tax.
The fact that Puerto Rico is a US territory makes it that much easier for people to take advantage of this tax incentive because they don't have to give up their passport, they stay within US territory when they come and move to Puerto Rico. When you make an incentive that attractive and the only reason that that incentive exists is also because Puerto Rico is not a state. A state is not able to offer such a tax incentive. Now you have these factors that have to do directly with Puerto Rico's status that attract people here.
What we're seeing is that that's having an effect on the local population. We see how Puerto Rico's status today plays into that just like it did years ago in the '20s, '30s, and '40s when US companies were able to come to Puerto Rico because now Puerto Rico belonged to the US.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell us about Puerta de Tierra.
Bianca Graulau: Puerta de Tierra is a neighborhood that is very strategically located in the sense that it is the entrance to Old Sa Juan. Most people when they hear Puerto Rico, they think of San Juan and San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico. Old San Juan is a very visited place. Puerta de Tierra is that entrance. It has beautiful ocean views.
It is where the Capitol of Puerto Rico, the Capitol building is located but it is also a historic neighborhood in the sense that the people who lived there initially were the ones that the elite of Puerto Rico wanted to keep out of Old Sa Juan. That's why it's called Puerta de Tierra because there were these big walls that closed off Old Sa Juan and former enslaved people were pushed out of the city, so they lived there.
Now, fast forward to today, that's a neighborhood that has become very attractive because it is a place where tourism could be booming in the eyes of some people. Now, the people who are now the descendants of former enslaved people who live there are fighting to be able to stay there because all of a sudden, their neighborhood has become attractive.
What they've seen is a lot of people are buying up properties and that is one of the neighborhoods we analyzed and looked at and we saw that some of the people buying up properties benefit from this incentive. They're fighting to stay there. They've been there for generations. They want to stay there but they're finding it difficult because as people acquire more properties, they feel like they're getting pushed out.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Just as a final note here, what difference does it make that this story is being told in a Bad Bunny video?
Bianca Graulau: I think the difference is that it reaches a worldwide audience. It just reaches that many more people than it would if I had done it somewhere else. I think it's also that Bad Bunny has shown people that he's this very talented global star, but that he's always going to maintain his connection of Puerto Rico. In fact, his music talks about Puerto Rico and he's been able to reach this level of fame, continuing to talk about very specific things about the place he's from.
I think it just continues that message and it just means that there's so many more eyes on this story, a message that's really important for us, Puerto Ricans and that we want the world to know about.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Bianca Graulau is a freelance journalist covering Puerto Rico. Bianca, again, thank you for being here.
Bianca Graulau: Thank you.
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