U.S. Dithers While Puerto Rico Suffers From Hurricane Maria Damage

by Ralph E. Stone on October 3, 2017

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving the island’s 3.4 million people without electricity, potable water, diesel fuel and gasoline are scarce, hundreds of thousands are without shelter, many are running low on cash with long lines at banks and ATMs that are operational, and some 80% of its agricultural crops were wiped out.  In addition, a dam may fail, endangering 70,000 people.  The conditions in Puerto Rico have been described as “apocalyptic.”

The Trump administration was praised for its response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma but the response to Hurricane Maria damage to Puerto rico so far has been too little, too slow.  The different responses to the hurricanes was, as Trump explained, because Puerto Rico “is an island in the middle of the ocean.  It’s a big ocean; it’s a very big ocean.”  Actually, the distance from Washington, D.C. to Houston is 1,409 miles and from Washington, D.C. to Puerto Rico is 1,560 miles, a minuscule difference.  He managed to get quickly to Houston but not quickly to the island.

Trump claims, “Everybody has said its amazing the job we are doing there.”  But not according to Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré,  the Army general credited with fixing the response to Hurricane Katrina,

“The Navy and Air Force could have been there Sunday [Sept. 30],” Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré said Thursday to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “Could have opened the port, could have opened the air field. Why the hell has it taken this long to do that? That is what we do in the military.  There’s something missing in the decision-making process,” he said. “[The cabinet should’ve] come up with a course of action and [called] the president off the damn golf course.”

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan also complained about the federal response, “People are dying in this country,” she said. “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”

Similarly, Puerto Rican lawmaker Jose Enrique Melendez said, “The federal response has been a disaster.  It’s been really slow.”

True, after prodding, the hospital ship Comfort is heading for the island and Trump is finally expected to arrive in Puerto Rico on October 3.  The Pentagon also announced it will send U.S. Army Brigadier General Richard Kim to coordinate relief and to determine what is needed.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency Director William Long had already visited the island.  Currently, there are about 1,000 active-duty service members and National Guardsmen on duty assisting Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth.  The Secretary of the Interior has responsibility for the island’ affairs; they elect their own governor (Ricardo A. Rosselló) and have their own constitution.  While Puerto Ricans cannot vote for members of the U.S. Congress or U.S. president, they are by law natural-born citizens of the U.S. and can move freely between the island and the mainland.  It uses the dollar and the federal minimum wage laws apply.

Puerto Rico is already suffering under a heavy debt load with an outstanding bond debt exceeds $70 billion with a 45% poverty rate and 12.4% unemployment that is more than twice the mainland U.S. average.

Clearly, the Trump administration and Congress must provide immediate debt relief, rebuild its electricity grid underground to protect it from hurricanes; give special grants and tax breaks for installation of solar and wind energy and purchase of Tesla power walls; and give grants for people to rebuild their destroyed and damaged homes and businesses.

In 2012, my wife and I traveled to Puerto Rico known as the “Land of Enchantment,” which at the time we could certainly attest to.  Unless our government acts quickly and decisively, it will probably be decades, if ever, before Puerto Rico will be a “Land of Enchantment” again.

Filed under: National Politics

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