Transgender Person Wins Spain’s Beauty Pageant, Aims at Miss Universe
Twenty-six-year-old Angela Ponce has surpassed 22 other contestants, becoming the first transgender person to win Miss Universe Spain. She will represent her country in the Miss Universe beauty pageant later this year. According to media reports, she will become the first woman, born male, to compete six years after the transgender ban was lifted.
The newly crowned Miss Universe Spain, Angela Ponce, stirred social media, becoming the first transgender person to get the title in her country.
Ponce, who is originally from Seville, had already taken part in the country’s Miss World Spain beauty pageant in 2015, but failed to secure the winner’s crown.
After being crowned Miss Universe Spain, she thanked those who supported her and voiced her commitment to promoting equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I have fulfilled a dream that I have always had, as this is the only thing I needed, to turn every obstacle that appeared on my way, took it as an opportunity for growth… Today begins a new cycle for me, committed to myself, with my life mission and Spain I’m going to the @missuniverse, with the awareness and commitment to carry forward a message of inclusion, respect, tolerance, love for oneself, love for others. “
Many shared support for the future Miss Universe contestant, wishing good luck to the first transgender to compete in the pageant in December 2018, according to media reports.
Some sympathized with other contestants who lost to Ponce.
There were those who protested letting her join the world’s competition.
The Miss Universe beauty pageant ended a ban on transgender competitors in 2012. Around that time one of the potential contestants, Canadian transgender model Jenna Talackova, threatened the Miss Universe beauty pageant, then owned by incumbent US President Donald Trump, with legal prosecution. According to her, she was told that Canada’s Miss Universe pageant was only open to “naturally born females.” However, the contest’s organizers insisted the change was made in spite of the looming suit.
Paleo Diet: Scientists Sort Out Last Meal of 5,300-Year-Old Alpine Hunter
The stomach contents of the ancient hunter, widely known as Otzi the Iceman, whose body was preserved in ice until it was discovered by a couple hiking in the North Italian Alps in 1991, offers a glimpse into what Europeans ate more than five millennia ago.
A radiological re-examination of the mummified body showed that his stomach was completely full when the man died.
According to a study published in the journal Current Biology, Otzi’s last supper included the fat and meat of a wild goat, meat of a red deer and whole wheat seeds which he ate before he died – a well-balanced menu of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids perfect for high-altitude trekking.
“It’s a harsh environment. They had to be prepared. They had to have food that gave them the necessary energy (to survive),” Frank Maixner, lead author and microbiologist at the Institute for Mummy Studies in Italy, told National Post.
He also said that the meat was likely uncooked and dried.
Traces of fern leaves and spores were also discovered in Otzi’s stomach.Justina Miszkiewicz, an Australian National University lecturer in biological anthropology said that “these findings are of huge importance to the study of the past of humanity as they let us understand that the Iceman made good use of fat, meat, and cereals in a cold and high-altitude environment — testament to the adaptability of the human species.”
Even though scientists have studied major dietary changes during the Neolithic period before, this research may be the first to provide insight into how and what people ate in those days.
Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton, and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (You can find previous installments, now in their fifth year, at TheNation.com.)
As Cohen pointed out in previous discussions, US-Russian (Soviet and post-Soviet) summits are a long tradition going back to FDR’s wartime meeting with Stalin in Yalta in 1943. Every American president since FDR met with a Kremlin leader in a summit-style format at least once, several doing so multiple times. The purpose was always to resolve conflicts and enhance cooperation in relations between the two countries. Some summits succeeded, some did not, but all were thought to be an essential aspect of White House-Kremlin relations.
As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes. Trump’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Putin, in Helsinki on July 16, is profoundly different in two respects. US-Russian relations have rarely, if ever, been more dangerous. And never before has a president’s departure—in Trump’s case, first for a NATO summit and then the one with Putin—been accompanied by allegations that he is disloyal to the United States and thus cannot be trusted, defamations once issued only by extremist fringe elements in American politics. Now, however, we are told this daily by mainstream publications, broadcasts, and “think tanks.” According to a representative of the Clintons’ Center for American Progress, “Trump is going to sell out America and its allies.” The New York Times and The Washington Post also feature “experts”—they are chosen accordingly—who “worry” and “fear” that Trump and Putin “will get along.” The Times of London, a bastion of Russophobic Cold War advocacy, captures the mainstream perspective in a single headline: “Fears Grow Over Prospect of Trump ‘Peace Deal’ with Putin.”
An anti-“peace” Washington establishment is, of course, what still-unproven Russiagate allegations have wrought, as summed up by a New York magazine writer who advises us that the Trump-Putin summit may well be “less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.” The charge is hardly original, having been made for months at MSNBC by the questionably credentialed “intelligence expert” Malcolm Nance and the, it seems, selectively informed Rachel Maddow, among many other “experts.” Considering today’s perilous geopolitical situation, it is hard not to conclude that much of the American political establishment, particularly the Democratic Party, would prefer trying to impeach Trump to averting war with Russia, the other nuclear superpower. For this too, there is no precedent in American history.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s dreaded visit to the NATO summit has only inflated the uncritical cult of that organization, which has been in search of a purpose and ever more funding since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. The New York Times declares that NATO is “the core of an American-led liberal world order,” an assertion that might startle many of the non-military institutions involved and even some liberals. No less puzzling is the ritualistic characterization of NATO as “the greatest military alliance in history.” It has never—thankfully—gone to war as an alliance, only a few “willing” member (and would-be member) states under US leadership. Even then, what counts as “great victories”? The police action in the Balkans in the 1990s? The disasters in the aftermath of Iraq and Libya? The longest, still-ongoing American war in history, in Afghanistan? NATO’s only real mission since the 1990s has been expanding to Russia’s borders, and that has resulted in less, not more, security for all concerned, as is evident today. The only “Russian threat” since the end of the Soviet Union is one provoked by the US-led NATO itself, from Georgia and Ukraine to the Baltic states. And only NATO’s vast corporate bureaucracy, its some 4,000 employees housed in its new $1.2 billion headquarters in Brussels, and US and other weapons manufacturers who gain from each new member state, have profited. But none of this can be discussed in the mainstream, because Trump uttered a few words questioning NATO’s role and funding, even though the subject has been on the agenda of several think tanks since the 1990s.
Also not surprisingly, and unlike in the past, mainstream media have found little place for serious discussion of today’s dangerous conflicts between Washington and Moscow: regarding nuclear-weapons-imitation treaties, cyber-warfare, Syria, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Black Sea region, even Afghanistan. It’s easy to imagine how Trump and Putin could agree on conflict-reduction and cooperation in all of these realms. But considering the traducing by the Post, Times, and Maddow of a group of senators who visited Moscow around July 4, it’s much harder to see how the defamed Trump could implement such “peace deals.” (There is a long history of sabotaging or attempting to sabotage summits and other détente-like initiatives. Indeed, a few such attempts have been evident in recent months and more may lie ahead.)
Nor is the unreasonably demonized Putin without constraints at home, though none like those that may cripple Trump. The Kremlin’s long-postponed decision to raise the pension age for Russian men and women has caused his popular ratings, though still high, to drop some 8 to 10 percent in recent weeks. More significantly, segments of the Russian military-security establishment do not trust Putin’s admitted “illusions” about negotiating with Washington in the past. And like their American counterparts, they do not trust Trump, whom they too view as unreliable, if not capricious. These Russian “hard-liners” have made their concerns known publicly, and Putin must take them into account. As has been a function of summits over the decades, he is seeking in Trump a reliable national-security partner. Given the constraints on Trump and his proclivities, Putin too is taking a risk, and he knows it.
Even if nothing more specific is achieved, everyone who cares about American and international security should hope that the Trump-Putin summit results at least in a restoration of the diplomatic process, the longstanding “contacts,” between Washington and Moscow that have been greatly diminished, if not destroyed, by the new Cold War and by Russiagate allegations. Cold War without diplomacy is a recipe for actual war.
We should also hope that the Democratic Party’s reaction to the summit, in its pursuit of Trump, does not make it the party of unrelenting Cold War, as it may be already becoming.
FBI agent Peter Strzok did not need help shaming Trey Gowdy and the other Republicans at Thursday’s Joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committee hearing on allegations that the veteran FBI counterintelligence agent had led an inquiry into foreign meddling in the 2016 election that was biased against Donald Trump.
Sharp and focused, generally unruffled yet appropriately upset with outrageous questions from Gowdy and his hyper-partisan colleagues, Strzok responded to the unrelenting attacks by declaring “unequivocally and under oath” that “not once in my 26 years of defending my nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took.” Then he went to the heart of the matter with a pointed declaration that “I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”
But the most powerful moment in day-long hearing did not result from any of the wild lines of questioning produced by the likes of Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert—nor from Strzok’s takedowns of off-the-rails committee members. The exchange that shredded the committee’s absurd focus on a handful of texts Strzok had exchanged with FBI lawyer Lisa Page came courtesy of one of the sharpest lawyers in Congress, Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin.
Raskin began his remarks by explaining why the hearing was really taking place. “The purpose, of course, is to derail and discredit the investigation by the special counsel that has obtained 19 indictments and five criminal convictions,” he said, referencing the investigation into wrongdoing by Trump associates that is being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Noting that Strzok had, in his personal texts, been an “equal opportunity insulter” of Democrats and Republicans, the veteran law professor argued that, while some of the texts might have been nasty, they could not reasonably or responsibly be reimagined as evidence of conspiratorial wrongdoing. “There are no kings here and we have freedom of speech—the right that is cherished by the people and feared only by tyrants. But my colleagues have insisted on making a conspiracy theory out of your pillow-talk texts,” said Raskin.
But there are a couple facts they can’t get around. Number one, the IG found no partisan biasaffecting the official investigation. Number two, Attorney General Sessions is a Republican appointed by Donald Trump, Rod Rosenstein is a Republican appointed by Donald Trump, James Comey is a Republican appointed by Donald Trump, FBI director Wray is a Republican appointed by Donald Trump, and Robert Mueller is a life-long Republican. So this would have to be a Republican conspiracy. So I’m looking for evidence of the Republican conspiracy and all I could find were the kind of statements that you have been arraigned on today.
With this reality in mind, continued Raskin, “I want to ask you about those statements.” What ensued was a remarkable recounting of objections to the president from the nation’s most prominent Republicans, and from Trump’s own appointees. Raskin began: “In the spring of 2016, Senator Ted Cruz called Donald Trump a ‘snivelling coward, a pathological liar and a serial philanderer.’ Was this attack on Trump by Senator Ted Cruz a coordinated part of a deep-state conspiracy that you organized?”
“No,” replied Strzok.
“Senator Marco Rubio said Trump was unworthy of being our president. Was this attack part of a deep-state conspiracy that you organized?”
“No,” replied Strzok.
“In the October of 2016, Speaker Paul Ryan said, ‘I am not going to defend Donald Trump—not now, not in the future.’ Was this fleeting outburst of moral courage part of a deep-state conspiracy that you organized?
Raskin then referenced Trump appointees who had reportedly ripped into the president as “a moron,” “an empty vessel when it comes to the Constitution,” “like an 11-year-old child,” and “a dope and an idiot with the intelligence of a kindergartener.”
“Were all of these vituperative, negative characterizations of Donald Trump part of a deep-state GOP conspiracy engineered by you and your friends?”
“No,” replied Strzok.
“Were any of these statements part of a conspiracy you organized?”
“No,” replied Strzok.
For good measure, Raskin asked whether the FBI man had arranged for rocker Bruce Springsteen to declare that “the republic is under siege by a moron.”
“No,” replied an amused Strzok.
“This hearing has been a circus and a kangaroo court run in banana-Republican fashion,” said Raskin, who concluded, “I believe that some of my Republican colleagues have disgraced themselves today in their attack on the FBI and the justice system of America.”
That was true enough. But it was even more true that Raskin had risen above the chaos and shined, as the rare member of Congress who is capable of combining sharp insights and a wry sense of the absurd to devastating effect.
Not long ago a journalist approached me out of the blue to do an interview about my impressions of Robert Mueller. At first the name didn’t ring a bell; it never crossed my mind that he might be referring to the Robert Mueller. You can imagine my surprise when this same journalist told me not only that he was referring to the special counsel appointed to investigate wrongdoing during the Trump presidential campaign but that Mueller had been my thesis advisee at Princeton 52 years ago.
The now-eminent Mueller had indeed been my advisee, normally a rather close and somewhat collaborative relationship. The senior thesis is usually the crowning experience for Princeton undergraduates majoring in the social sciences. To have zero recollections of the man was surprising, especially as the subject of his thesis coincided with my central interests at the time.
Mueller’s thesis was an unusually perceptive analysis of a controversial judicial decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), commonly known as the World Court. Mueller approached the law and its political context in a sophisticated manner that would have been impressive if done by a law-school graduate, let alone a college student who, as far as I know, had not yet opened a law book.
His long analytical essay addressed a seemingly technical issue: the authority of the ICJ to decide a case involving the extension of South African apartheid to South West Africa, a territory then administered by Pretoria. Germany had conquered South West Africa in 1884 and imposed colonial rule over the sparsely populated territory until Germany lost its colonies after World War I. The Treaty of Versailles established the territory as a Mandate, to be administered on behalf of the League of Nations by South Africa. (That arrangement was terminated in 1966 by the United Nations General Assembly, which had inherited the League of Nations supervisory role after World War II, but South Africa retained control of the territory until it was granted independence in 1990 as the sovereign state of Namibia.)
Until the 1966 World Court case, South West Africa was primarily known for the extreme nature of German colonial rule under the personal authority of the father of Hermann Göring, regarded as an ugly and prophetic prelude of the Nazi era.
On rereading Mueller’s thesis, I found the international-law issues he discusses of considerable interest even now, five decades later, but far more relevant for the broader public is what Mueller’s thesis tells us about his approach to the interplay of law, politics, and morality in the apartheid context, when he was a college student.
I would not attempt such an assessment if I did not think the thesis contains some hints about his decision-making process as special counsel. This seems of some value, given the gravity of the current situation and the overall contempt displayed by President Trump for constraints of any kind, including those of law. Before his appointment as special counsel, Mueller was generally regarded as an admired civil servant, having effectively directed the FBI for 12 years. He is commonly described as “a lifelong Republican,” though he has also enjoyed exceptionally strong bipartisan respect. Until Trump and such media poodles as Sean Hannity came along, it would have been unthinkable that someone with such an honorable and distinguished public image would find himself under attack as biased or as leading a witch hunt, but so it goes in these dark times.
It is helpful to know a bit about the 1966 World Court case to evaluate the approach taken by Mueller and how it might shed light on the likely performance of his present undertaking. The academic-sounding title of the thesis is “Acceptance of Jurisdiction in the South West Africa Cases—Its Effect on the Development of the International Court of Justice.” It might seem like the sort of dry inquiry that only a few legal specialists would care enough about to pore over the elaborate pleadings and lengthy judicial decisions. In this sense the title gives a false impression. Mueller’s inquiry is really about whether an international tribunal can make a useful decision bearing on the lawfulness of South African apartheid. The specific issue facing the ICJ was whether under a Mandate agreement, Ethiopia and Liberia, as members of the United Nations, could bring a dispute for adjudication as to whether the extension of the South African apartheid regime to South West Africa was a violation of South Africa’s obligations as the Mandatory power. Those obligations required Pretoria to administer South West Africa in ways that protected the well-being of all of its inhabitants. (In the spirit of disclosure, I should mention that I became a member of the legal team representing Ethiopia and Liberia the year before Mueller wrote his thesis.)
Often, as in this instance, a case before the ICJ is divided into two separate proceedings. First is the so-called jurisdictional phase, a lengthy inquiry into whether the court possesses the proper authority to adjudicate the legal dispute. This was the focus of Mueller’s thesis. After that comes the merits phase, which only occurs if the ICJ concludes that it has the authority to decide, and issues a decision to this effect.
There was a four-year gap between the two decisions, with the jurisdictional decision reached in 1962 and the substantive decision in 1966. When Mueller wrote his thesis, the second—and very controversial—decision of the ICJ had not yet been issued, and its surprise outcome narrowly in favor of South Africa would have been entirely unanticipated by Mueller. In view of his treatment of the issues, it would probably have disappointed him, although he would likely have respected the legal reasoning that led to the perverse result of validating apartheid.
The jurisdictional issue addressed by Mueller was trickier, and more intriguing than might appear at first glance, and it divided the 15 judges on the court. It was tricky for two reasons. First, it pitted the views of a sovereign state, South Africa, against those of a divided international community on the highly inflamed question of the compatibility of apartheid with international law. Second, it raised the question of whether a decision that would likely be rejected by South Africa could be rendered in a manner that would be effective. It should be understood that a repudiated decision by a court lacking enforcement powers would weaken both international law and the ICJ as an institution, and could make countries more hesitant to submit their disputes in the future. Yet the opposite case was also persuasive: A decision holding South Africa responsible for violating its legal duties as Mandatory on human-rights grounds would be widely appreciated as a contribution to the development of international law and consistent with the ethical expectations of public opinion, while a decision refusing to condemn apartheid would produce a cynical reaction.
What makes the Mueller approach in his thesis relevant for today is that the core of his inquiry is how a judge should interpret a legal document, which raises the jurisprudential question of whether law can be understood apart from its sociological context. This remains a subject of debate among international-law experts, with Europeans usually taking the view that law should be interpreted as autonomously as possible, by reference to the language in the text and without regard to political or moral considerations, and by refusing to heed the fact that societal values change over time in ways that might help guide an interpretation of the law. The American view, with many variations, is that the context is always relevant, as language is inherently ambiguous and reflects values and interests, and since those values and interests evolve over time, they should influence the dynamics of judicial interpretation.
Mueller, while adopting a dispassionate tone, sides with the American approach in his thesis, emphasizing that the purpose of a judicial decision is to be effective with respect to the issues at stake as well as to respect the intentions of parties to the extent that these are made clear in the documents under review.
At the same time, Mueller recognizes that the ICJ is entrusted with a distinctive mission, and this in the end seems to shape his evaluation of whether the court handled the case appropriately. Mueller describes his undertaking in the thesis as follows: “to show that, though the Court accepted jurisdiction in the face of many persuasive legal arguments backing the view that the case was outside the jurisdiction of the Court, nevertheless the decision was sound in regard to the role of the Court in the maintenance of international peace.” This phrasing is more awkward and convoluted than the careful reasoning and conceptual clarity of the thesis as a whole (for non-lawyers, it is important to appreciate that the term “jurisdiction” means “authority to decide”).
The jurisdictional issues are crucial in a case like this: Given the weight of international opinion against the practice of apartheid, it would appear that once the authority to decide is established, the outcome on the merits would follow as night follows day. In fact, in the most unpredictable development in the entire history of the ICJ, a deeply divided court ended up deciding in favor of South Africa. This decision on substance was so shocking to the international community that it generated a backlash at the UN that, ironically, turned out to be worse for South Africa than a defeat at the ICJ would have been. The UN General Assembly responded to the ICJ’s decision by voting overwhelmingly to terminate the Mandate, proposing political independence for South West Africa, leading eventually to the birth of the newly independent state of Namibia in 1990. (Mueller could not have been influenced by any of this, as it took place after the completion of his thesis.)
It is of particular relevance that the division in the court, in the jurisdictional phase, between those judges who wanted to accept the case and those who did not was elaborately argued in several learned opinions. Despite his antipathy to apartheid, Mueller clearly believed that the rejectionists had the better of the narrow legal arguments. Yet, as suggested, this did not resolve the issue for Mueller. He set forth an argument showing that South Africa had pursued an oppressive set of policies and practices that were imposed on the native population in draconian fashion. Pretoria had established a racial divide that created a color line “no less severe than the Iron Curtain.” Mueller condemned the South African administration for having set aside “the [least] arable, the most desolate, and the most unproductive” land for “Natives and Coloreds—45 years after the territory became ‘a sacred trust of civilization’” (the latter phrase is language in the agreement establishing the Mandate).
In this regard, South Africa acted unacceptably with respect to its duties as Mandatory, failing to report properly to the international community, as required, and adopting what Mueller calls “procrastination and delaying tactics” over a period of more than four decades. In contrast, Mueller notes, the League of Nations (and, after World War II, the UN) engaged in “patient waiting” for cooperation in fulfilling the purposes of the Mandate. As Mueller writes, “How long can she [South Africa] rely on her sovereignty as a sanctuary, within which she can negate the progress made in the rest of the world in ensuring the human rights of all peoples?”
After a careful and intellectually sympathetic presentation of the conservative arguments against jurisdiction articulated in a dissenting opinion by two celebrated jurists, Mueller concludes that “the arguments against the acceptance of jurisdiction are more forceful in presentation than the arguments for acceptance of jurisdiction.” He goes on to say, “However, this does not mean that the arguments of the Court are unfounded on legal grounds.”
It is here that Mueller makes the rather subtle move of giving priority to the institutional mission of the ICJ to develop international law and contribute to world peace. In other words, Mueller considers the larger purposes of the law in this context to be the promotion of justice, respect for international law and human rights, and even the maintenance of peace.
Mueller proceeds thoughtfully to develop this rather nuanced view of the role of the ICJ. He is sensitive to the court’s need to manifest respect for the sovereign rights of states even as it serves these larger goals of peace and justice. He perceives this sort of jurisdictional decision as one way to balance sovereignty against upholding the interests of world order.
In the end, Mueller says that either way of deciding this jurisdictional question would be in accord with “acknowledged principles of international law.” He makes clear that the ICJ setting makes it inevitable that judges exercise greater discretion than in domestic law contexts. There are fewer precedents to guide interpretation, and no international legislature exists, giving the ICJ the task of promoting the development of international law. After exploring the wider issues raised, Mueller reaches his conclusion: “In sum, on the basis of what is known of the case at the present moment, the decision [to accept jurisdiction] was a positive contribution…to the ultimate goal of a world peace founded upon a rule of law.”
Against this background, what can we say about Mueller’s approach to the controversial interface of law and policy in the context of his role as special counsel? One factor that makes an examination of Mueller’s thesis of interest is that there is a certain institutional similarity between the ICJ case and his task as special counsel. Both institutional procedures are rather obscure to the public, including the media, and can be seen as operating free from any overriding set of traditions and precedents. In both cases, there are no clear boundaries specifying proper action in situations that have a high political profile. As with the ICJ, the special counsel enjoys a rather wide orbit of discretion, which of course is part of what worries the White House and invites controversy. We only have to recall how a recent special counsel, Kenneth Starr, pilloried President Bill Clinton to realize how treacherous this terrain can be.
The most striking feature of Mueller’s thesis, aside from his impressive treatment of technical legal issues, is his determined effort to explain in a fair-minded manner reasonable differences of legal opinion. What is most significant is his accompanying view that there may be instances, such as in the ICJ case, where opposing views are both based on sound legal reasoning, producing a situation in which there is no way to distinguish legal right and wrong on the merits, thus making non-legal factors such as human rights, peace, and justice potentially decisive. Yet that wider context is also one of conflicting concerns, since the court must show proper respect for sovereign rights, avoid the issuance of ineffective decisions, and not be seen as engaging in judicial legislation. Mueller impressively depicts this delicate balance.
It seems responsible to generalize from this understanding that Mueller will make an exhaustive effort as special counsel to gather the evidence and consider the best arguments on all sides of the issues under investigation as impartially as humanly possible. If the facts and law in the Trump inquiry lead to the sort of legal ambiguity that confronted the ICJ, then Mueller would likely feel obliged to consider the effects of any action on the legitimacy of constitutional democracy, including how it affects the confidence of the citizenry in the integrity of the rule of law.
In a sense, those who fear the damage done by Trump’s presidency to American institutions can only hope that Mueller as special counsel will exhibit the same kind of priorities as Mueller did when he was a Princeton senior. The early Mueller sided with the ICJ majority in its view that the human rights at stake were more important than deference to the technical virtuosity of the judges who favored turning their back on the victims of South African apartheid.
We do not know at this point where the evidence leads with respect to the extensive investigations of the special counsel, but if it gives responsible grounds for initiatives strengthening American political democracy at this critical time, one can only hope that Mueller will seize the occasion. One thing is almost certain to be present if he does proceed in this more activist manner: The case will be put forward dispassionately, but with due respect for the evidence and for the sanctity of constitutional rights and procedures, including deep respect for the office of the presidency.
Nine months after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island faces another potentially devastating hurricane season, while much of its infrastructure and land still remain in tatters.
The Category 5 hurricane that ripped through the Caribbean last fall not only caused nearly 5,000 deaths, but also exposed the fragility of the island’s social, political, and economic underpinnings. The truth behind Maria’s devastation and the United States’ laggard response to the hurricane lies in centuries of colonial exploitation—first by Spain and then by the United States—and in its perpetual subjugation to the whims of American elites.
There is little that distinguishes Puerto Rico from an American colony. Since its acquisition of the island in 1898, the United States has gradually stripped Puerto Rico of any political agency through a web of legal cases, laws, and arbitrary categorizations intended to keep the island politically weak, and economically dependent on mainland products—and its poor, brown, “foreign” population distanced from their mainland compatriots.
Hurricane Maria exposed for the world to see what Puerto Ricans have known for centuries: Washington treats Puerto Rico as little more than a captive market from which the United States extracts profits. Although Puerto Rico is an island bathed in sunlight and lashed by winds and waves, it imports 98 percent of its energy from mainland fossil-fuel companies. And despite its fertile soil and lush tropical landscape, Puerto Rico buys around 90 percent of its food from mainland agribusiness companies.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last September, it eviscerated fields of monocrops and shattered Puerto Rico’s already derelict electric grid. Many of the almost 5,000 deaths that resulted from Maria were due not to the storm’s whipping winds or flash flooding, but to the mass power outages and food shortages that ensued, a result of the government’s closing of hospitals and neglect of the electric grid, necessitated by US-imposed austerity measures.
Despite its catastrophic impacts, Hurricane Maria provides a kind of tabula rasa upon which a new, economically regenerative, and politically empowered Puerto Rico can be built. Several international and local organizations are already working in Puerto Rico to transition it away from an extractive and mainland-dependent economy and toward a self-sufficient, socially just, and ecologically sound one—while at the same time enhancing local economies, reclaiming sovereignty, and boosting climate resilience.
“When Puerto Rico experienced the effects of Maria,” Resilient Power Puerto Rico, a grassroots relief effort that began hours after Maria hit the island, promotes energy democracy in post-Maria Puerto Rico by distributing solar-powered generators to remote parts of the island. The Just Transition Alliance, Climate Justice Alliance, and Greenpeace have also sent brigades to install solar panels across the island.
Solar energy reduces the carbon emissions that fueled Maria’s intensity and makes Puerto Rico more resilient against the next climate-charged storm. A decentralized, renewable energy grid—which allows solar users to plug into or remain independent of the larger grid as necessary—combats Puerto Rico’s dependence on mainland fossil fuels. It also democratizes Puerto Rico’s energy supply, placing power (literally and metaphorically) in the hands of Puerto Ricans rather than fossil-fuel corporations.
Another aspect of Puerto Rico’s “just recovery” is food sovereignty, a movement to promote community-controlled agricultural cooperatives that grow food for local consumption and thus counter Puerto Rico’s reliance on the food industry.
The Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Ecológicaencourages food sovereignty through “agroecology,” a method that revives local agriculture through traditional farming methods, rather than the monoculture system put in place by US colonists.
According to Corbin Laedlein of WhyHunger, who visited the Organización in 2016, “food sovereignty and agroecology are grounded in an analysis of how US historic and structural settler colonialism and racism have shaped and continue to manifest in the food system today.”
By rejecting the larger food system and focusing on self-sufficiency, agroecology allows Puerto Ricans to reclaim the political and economy agency the United States denies them. The Organización sends brigades that deliver seeds for community members to plant. By stimulating local production, agroecology also reduces the carbon pollution emitted from ships transporting food to Puerto Rico, and moreover acts as a local carbon sink.
As the Atlantic Ocean incubates another hurricane season, the people of Puerto Rico are rebuilding their island in a way that not only enhances climate resilience, but also reclaims their political power. The island they are creating—one that is socially just, ecologically sustainable, and politically empowered—is an inspiring model for a just, sustainable future. One that is definitively not American-made.