Revisiting The Fuel Storage Blaze

In October of last year, a fuel storage facility in Puerto Rico erupted into flames. It started with an explosion that registered a 2.8 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale and burned for more than three days. A mushroom cloud of burnt fuel hovered over the island, emitting clouds of dark fumes that turned the sunset redder than usual.

Everyone in Puerto Rico was in shock at the magnitude of the fire. The aftermath of the incident sent a mini-panic among motorists. To make matters worse, a few gas stations closed shop in anticipation of a rising gas price. Government officials, however, were quick to allay the public’s fears. US President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in the island which freed up federal aid while Luis Fortuno, the Governor in Puerto Rico, announced an increase of a million gallons each for diesel and premium gasoline for the island to make up for the fuel lost in the fire.

There were calls for investigation of those who were responsible for the conflagration. Fingers were pointed at the owner of the fuel storage units, Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO)–a major player in the fuel distribution business in the island. The company has been cited multiple times for “serious environmental violation,” including the dumping of hazardous wastes.

Here are some of EPA’s findings of CAPECO’s previous violations:

1993-1997: one of the company owned gas stations in Utuado contaminated the Rio Grande in Arecibo, pumping between “5,000 and 20,000” gallons of fuel, which affected 263 residents’ health, according to a civil suit.

1996: the company entered into an agreement with the EPA to address soil and water contamination at the facility.

1998: the EPA levied $52,000 in penalties and fines after the facility was cited for violations under the Clean Water Act shortly after hurricane George.

1999: EPA levies $1.3 million in penalties and fines for an array of violations. The case was referred to the U.S. Department of Justice.
2001:The company and its subsidiaries sought bankruptcy Chapter 11 protection.

1990-2009: EPA’s National Response Center has reported at least 25 reports of leakages and explosions, 19 of them after 2000 when the company was heading towards bankruptcy.

2008-2009: bankruptcy court orders $1.3 million compensation to 30 residents living in Utuado, where a leak took place and residents, according to a civil lawsuit, alleged health problems afterwards.

2009: 21 storage tanks exploded igniting a fire that lasted 60 hours, where water and air contamination took place. The incident is under investigation.

Posted below are roadside pictures of the storage facility several months after the blaze:


A month later: UPR barricades remain

After a month, the crisis in the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) is far from resolved. The student protesters remain steadfast in their opposition to the planned budget cuts of the UPR administration, which include, among others, eliminating the financial support given to student artists, athletes, and honor students.

Roberto Thomas, one of the strike leaders, revealed to the Orlando Sentinel that “two months after José Ramón De La Torre was appointed President of the UPR, he announced a proposal to cut $100 million from the budget saying that there was a deficit of $139 million, which is now estimated in $200 million. They were proposing a 40 percent cut to the budget to buy books and magazines, at the same time they were increasing the budget of the administration by $25 million.”

The students feared that these planned budgetary cuts are preliminary steps towards the  privatization of the government-owned university system, similar to what has been happening in other areas of the Puerto Rican public sector. Rafael Bernabe of Solidarity said that in Puerto Rico, “privatization has taken different routes: subcontracting activities to private companies (in electric power), privatizing the administration but not the actual physical installations (water authority), leasing public operations to private concerns (health system in the 1980s), as well as the outright selling of state-owned enterprises (shipping).”

The end of the student strike is not yet in the horizon. Negotiations were attempted but no one is budging. Time travelling is crossing fingers that the issue will be resolved the soonest.


Several hundred students remain holed up in the premises of the Rio Piedras campus. Spread across the green lawn, a few meters from the university walls, are tents, about twenty of them. These are makeshift shelters and temporary discussion spots for the protesters. The gates are barricaded with wood, cardboard boxes, metals, and wires scavenged from school buildings. The students hold mobile rallies inside the university walls:  each one grabs a placard, marches in single file with the others, while chanting slogans. 

Those with a more creative bent organize skits and street plays. With the metal gates separating them from the  anti-riot squad, student strikers pass flowers to the stoic lawmen. At times, the street performers carnivalize the cold seriousness of the fuerza de choque. Dressing themselves in an all-black outfit with toy truncheons  and faces painted like clowns, they stand in mock alert in front of a unit of grim policemen. They stand face to face with the police and, for about 15 minutes, stare each other down with the intensity of opposing football players. Then, the brutal silence is pierced by a sharp chilling shriek followed by a chorus of sad howls. The reason? The street performers scream at every small twitch from the cops’ face in this stare down. Unexpected as it is hilarious, the screams break the ice between the lawmen and the protesters.

Outside the university gates, members of the university union and other supporters wear red shirts as they camp at the grounds of an adjacent building. The sharp metal stakes of the university walls–designed to ward off outsiders–become convenient places to hang protest streamers and placards. Portions of the cream-colored walls are painted with graffittis, screaming “La UPR No Se Vende.” Passing motorists honk their cars in support. Even the police–with their parked patrol cars and the intermittent buzzing of the hand-held radios–contributes too in generating this heavy air of protest. A tableau of sorts replete with real life characters.

Internationally, students outside of the island have expressed their solidarity in various forms, even declaring short university-wide boycotts as statements of support. Reputed Latin American artists and authors also chimed in to bolster the morale of the strikers. Eduardo Galeano, a critically-acclaimed novelist, has this to say on the UPR student strike:

“The people who do not listen to the demands of their students are in danger of losing their future. Student citizenship is the custodian of the sacred fire of hope for the people … We must listen to students … When the rest think not today, maybe tomorrow, students say now. When the rest get used to what is, students show us the shining path of the future,” said the author of “Memory of Fire” (1986) and “Open Veins of Latin America” (1971).

“At times like this, when our Latin America is suffering with the rest of the world the disastrous consequences of the collapse of the greed of unbridled capitalism, today more than ever, we can not afford to turn our back on our students,” Galeano said. “We hope the university and government authorities, with the greatest respect, halt the use of force, sit down and negotiate with them in peace, as equals. Listen to them. Be generous. They are not within the enclosure, entrenched in the campus, on a whim. They are there because they are the heart, the flame of the university.”

For more info, please click the links below:

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Lost Aftershocks: time froze for the season finale

After six seasons, Lost finally said goodbye from primetime TV leaving all losties confused, distraught, and empty. While the season finale was emotionally cathartic, many of our questions still remain unanswered. Perhaps this was the intention of the Lost scriptwriters, leaving us viewers confounded so we can talk about alternate endings for all eternity. Here are the seven Lost topics we’ve been discussing for the past two days (aftershocks!):

  1. Why does the island move? What was the mechanics of this energy that made the characters move through time?
  2. Are they all dead? Why? When? Where? How? The plane shows Sawyer et al escaping the island yet the sideways suggests they are dead.
  3. Is everything just Jack’s dream and hallucination (i.e., the eye focus at the start and end of the series)? If so, what was he smoking? Ha! Is the healing island a metaphor of Jack’s medical practice?
  4. At what point in the series did Lost lose the science element? There was supposed to be a nice tension between mythical religion and natural science’s cold objectivity in previous episodes that the season finale just glossed over.
  5. If Richard survived the plane ride, how is he gonna deal with the (in)conveniences of present time?
  6. What is the story of Jacob’s mom? Who (what?) are the Others? Who is the son of Jack?
  7. Of course, we discussed too whether smoke monster is reptilian in its vocal repertoire.

Smoke Monster Vocal Repertoire

After the season finale ended, we stood in shock (and laughter) as Carla’s sister, Patricia, posted these messages:

Anthropologists Challenge New Arizona Immigration Law

Executive Board Passes Resolution Challenging Immigration Law in Arizona


May 24, 2010

Anthropologists Challenge New Arizona Immigration Law

In a strongly-worded resolution passed by its Executive Board on May 22, 2010, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) condemned the enactment of a new law in Arizona that would allow law enforcement to investigate an individual’s immigration status even if the person in question is not suspected of committing a crime.

Arizona Senate Bill (SB) 1070, signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer one month ago, has proven to be controversial as it is seen as the broadest and most strict law on immigration enacted in generations. The measure, among other things, makes the failure to carry certain immigration documents a crime and gives the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Arizona has a large population of Hispanic immigrants, and critics of the law, including AAA, see the law as a movement to target and harass this group.

A recently-passed amendment to SB 1070, House Bill 2162, clarifies that a person’s immigration status can only be investigated during a legal stop, detention or arrest, but the intent (and subsequent implementation) of the law was seen by the association leadership as problematic to the well-being of immigrant populations in the state.

“The AAA has a long and rich history of supporting policies that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or sexual orientation,” AAA Executive Board Member (and resolution author) Debra Martin said in a statement issued today. “Recent actions by the Arizona officials and law enforcement are not only discriminatory; they are also predatory and unconstitutional.”

The AAA resolution also pledges that the association as a whole will refuse to hold a scholarly conference in Arizona until SB 1070 is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid.

AAA Arizona Resolution
Adopted by the AAA Executive Board May 22, 2010

Whereas, the American Anthropological Association has historically supported policies that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation; and

Whereas, the American Anthropological Association has a membership of more than 10,500 people, and an annual meeting that draws more than 4,000 members; and

Whereas, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association takes notice of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 requiring all local law enforcement to investigate a person’s immigration status when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the United States unlawfully, regardless of whether that person is suspected of a crime; and

Whereas, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association takes notice of Arizona House Bill 2162 that stipulates that person’s immigration status must be investigated only during a lawful stop, detention, or arrest; and

Whereas, there exists more than a century of anthropological findings on the crucial social and political impact of discrimination based on race, national origin and ethnicity and a long history of anthropological concern for the well-being of immigrant populations, the American Anthropological Association considers these laws and the ways they may be implemented to be discriminatory.

Now, therefore be it resolved that the American Anthropological Association resolves not to hold a scholarly conference in the State of Arizona until such time that Senate Bill 1070 is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid and thus unenforceable by a court; and

Be it further resolved that this boycott of Arizona as a place to hold meetings of the American Anthropological Association does not apply to Indian Reservations within the State of Arizona.

Founded in 1902, the American Anthropological Association is the world’s largest professional organization of anthropologists and others interested in anthropology, with an average annual membership of more than 10,000. The Arlington, VA – based association represents all specialties within anthropology – cultural anthropology, biological (or physical) anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and applied anthropology.

Photo of the Day: Venus Sitting on the Moon

A few days after the sun dog phenomenon, my friends from the Philippines witnessed another rare celestial spectacle: the planet Venus sitting on a crescent moon. For those who rest their fates on the stars, Venus is the sign for love and emotions while the moon is the instinctual self.

Ancient stargazers use planetary alignments to govern their lives. The Chaco Canyon pueblos, for example, were constructed to mimic the regularity of the celestial cycles–somehow hoping that the heavens would give order to the builders’ earthly lives.

For the astrologically-challenged like me, witnessing the tango between Venus and the moon is still a sight to behold. The sheer beauty of their slow night dance calls for a much needed pause from everyone. We need this relaxing break, even if only for the night.