United We Are Stronger: A Single Struggle

PasterSaryPuertoRicoAction

The struggle for environmental justice in Puerto Rico has grown since the 1960s, and has been supported from the beginning by ecumenical organizations such as PRISA and Misión Industrial. Since the time of the Spanish conquest more than 500 years ago, Puerto Rico has suffered from the extractive economy as a manifestation of eco-colonialism on the island, and the struggle continues to this day. In an effort to concentrate these environmental struggles in Puerto Rico in a single claim on Wednesday, July 7, 2021, Pastor Dr. Sary N. Rosario Ferreira, GreenFaith delegate, took action with her congregation, and now writes to us from Puerto Rico.

As a global, multi-faith network, GreenFaith affirms hope in the midst of struggles for eco-justice as part of caring for the beautiful creation of which we are a part. Currently the environmental struggles in Puerto Rico are many, and its status as a territory of the United States means that, although they have very good environmental laws at the local and federal level, the implementation and enforcement of public policy in the agencies is far from what the environmental laws dictate. Hear Pastor Dr. Sary’s story here:

From our coasts to the mountains, including the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, the calls for ecojustice are growing. In Puerto Rico, as one of the places in the world most affected by climate change according to the 2017 Organization German Watch, we not only have local environmental problems, but the component of the impacts of the global climate crisis. For this and many other diverse reasons, environmental organizations have united to demand that the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources exercise its ministerial mission: to eliminate the umbrella of agencies that have weakened the functional performance of the same, that the current Secretary of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA) resign, and that the captivity of animals in the Mayagüez Zoo and Cambalache be eliminated (since the conditions for the non-human beings captive there are deplorable). 

We walked united, demanded environmental justice, and delivered our demands to the Natural and Environmental Resources Agency building. It should be noted that they did not want to let all five representatives of the movements into this agency, which belongs to the government of Puerto Rico and is public property. Thank God the press was there. After a negotiation, they let in the five comrades who represented each of the organizations present there. It seems unreasonable, but that is the sad reality that we have to deal with. Just as the environmental abuses that occur in our country are incomprehensible. 

The coastal law of Puerto Rico that dates back to the 19th century is still in force on the island, and has not been adapted to the considerations of today’s Puerto Rico. Due to climate change, we have lost beaches and coastline. The crass negligence in the granting of permits for construction in the maritime-terrestrial zone has caused inappropriate use and desecration of our coasts and the ecosystems of this important bioregion. The most recent controversy was the construction of a swimming pool for an apartment complex in the town of Rincón, on the same beach within the maritime-terrestrial zone. The effort to stop this construction has been an uphill battle, and even nature joined the protest as a Carey sea turtle that nests on the beaches of the island was photographed trapped in the construction, since that was its usual nesting place before they invaded its habitat. Organizations such as Amigos del Mar, among others who fight to preserve and protect our coasts, were present.

We also walked for the decades-long struggle of our brothers and sisters from the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, who are demanding a cleanup of the environmental disaster left by the U.S. Army’s military practices, which for more than half a century were carried out on the islands of Vieques and Culebra. The growing struggle for the Antenna Proliferation was also present in solidarity with these other struggles on our island. 

Many Puerto Rican brothers and sisters from the southern area of Puerto Rico, where the Applied Energy Systems (AES) coal plant has committed environmental crimes against humanity and the ecosystem by burning coal and disposing of toxic ashes, also walked with us. Where the plant is located, cases of cancer and other diseases linked to exposure to compounds generated by the operation of this plant have skyrocketed. AES has also knowingly contaminated the southern aquifer, which is a source of water for the bioregion, as well as deposited toxic ash for years in Peñuelas, Arroyo, Guayama and Humacao, among many other towns on the island. 

Where I live, we are fighting against the Natural Gas (Methane) operation of New Fortress Company who, taking advantage of the disaster after Hurricane Maria, began a fast track permitting process to evade environmental requirements. They are operating without a Sitting Consultation, therefore without an Environmental Impact Statement and without a permit from FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission)–right next to several communities that have already been affected by other polluting operations. Our reality is difficult just like many places on the planet, and continues to perpetuate itself in the most vulnerable communities.

Where God has given me the privilege of being Pastor, in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Toa Alta Pueblo, we have two major environmental problems: the toxic landfill that has affected the health of people and the ecosystem for decades, and an asphalt plant that pollutes the community, including the schools of the town of Toa Alta where our children and youth study. We live literally surrounded by many challenges and the dire need for ecojustice. 

Organizations that propose alternatives of hope in the face of so much pollution and suffering were also present. The Propuesta Queremos Sol, which promotes solar energy from the roofs of homes and businesses, is promoted by environmental organizations such as Alianza de Energía Renovable Ahora, the Sierra Club, El Puente, Enlace Latino de Acción Climática, among others: Enlace Latino de Acción Climática, among others that seek alternatives of hope for our Planet.

A representation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was there to support and walk with our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters in these just claims for the dignity of the Earth. As Jesus walked with the people and brought the liberating gospel, we are called to continue walking with those who suffer environmental degradation due to the oppression of neoliberal systems and the extractive economy that continues to be an instrument of plunder on our Earth. Accompanying and working for the liberation and restoration of the Earth is and will be hard work, but united and holding hands with the Creator God and everyone, there are hopeful possibilities. 

We felt that hope both in this demonstration on July 7 in Puerto Rico and on June 7 in Minnesota with our Anishinaabe brothers and sisters to stop Line 3. The possibilities of hope for eco-justice continue to grow in our communities and on the entire planet. We thank God for so many efforts that have been made, and will continue to be made until this consciousness transforms and brings liberation to the structures of oppression that promote these polluting companies in our common home: the Earth. 

Rev. Dr. Sary N. Rosario Ferreira,
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
In Toa Alta Pueblo, Puerto Rico
July 9, 2021

[1] Carlos Tolentino Rosario,
Una Tortuga Carey pasa Cuatro Horas Atrapada en Construcción de una piscina en una Playa de Rincón,

3 de julio de 2021, El Nuevo Día,
https://www.elnuevodia.com/ciencia-ambiente/flora-fau

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