Don’t Forget About Puerto Rico

(img courtesy of ABCNEWS)

Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico just over 100 days ago, as I write this on December 30th, 2017. It was a monumental catastrophe for over 3 million Americans. As of today, about 1/3 of those Americans (over one million people) are still without power, and estimates are that the power will not be fully restored until May. The Rhodium Group notes that this is already the biggest blackout in U.S. history.

The links above are direct links to ones that appear in Alexia Campbell’s Vox article on the current state of Puerto Rico. Campbell also notes that many people have fled the island, probably for good, and FEMA is overwhelmed by the response that is still needed to help the island. Here’s a chart that she posted from FEMA about their efforts:

So, FEMA is engaging in massive relief efforts, but it’s still not enough. The mayor of San Juan continues to criticize President Trump’s response to the crisis:

“He has failed the moral imperative that any leader of the free world should hold at the highest level,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said about the recovery efforts.

“All he needs to do is simple: do his job. I think the world has seen a commander in chief unable to command,” she said.

—-Newsweek, Dec. 28th, 2017

This criticism from Cruz has been pretty consistent since the disaster began, but to be fair to Trump, FEMA has remained on the island, despite his claims that he might have to pull aid because of the costs. I’m not sure what the upside to Trump’s threats was meant to be, but it has left residents on the island unsure of their future, which can’t be helpful.

In any case, Americans need to remain aware of the disaster that continues on the island. As that same Newsweek article notes, the official death toll is 66 persons, but the reality is probably over one thousand. Since the island is still in emergency mode, getting accurate numbers is difficult. However, the people on the island report much higher death numbers than the official stat.

Whatever the numbers, imagine for a moment being without power for over 3 months. Most Americans begin to panic if power is lost for a couple of days. Three months is practically unthinkable.

Beyond the problems on the island (though they should be the focus), the mainland U.S. is feeling the costs of the crisis as well. Campbell notes in her article that Florida could see a jump of nearly 100k new people from migration away from the island. Puerto Rico also supplies about 10 percent of the prescription drugs used in the U.S., and that manufacturing is obviously way down.

Instead of helping, some members of Congress seem to want to punish the island for criticizing the President’s response to the crisis. Despite criticism of early forms of the tax reform bill, which contains pointless taxes on goods made on the island, the final compromise bill still contained these taxes, which seems like kicking the territory while it is most vulnerable. Remember that this is a U.S. territory, not a foreign nation trying to sell goods to the U.S. As noted in the latter article, Puerto Rico has no representation in Congress. If they did, the bill would not have passed in its current state. I seem to recall some Americans complaining about taxation without representation at one point in our history, but apparently those concerns are a thing of the past.

In any case, as you read this, Americans are continuing to suffer in Puerto Rico. It’s a forgotten crisis that is far from over. If everyone reading this donated even a small amount to relief efforts, it would help, if only a little. As we enjoy our holidays, free from worries about clean water and electricity, we should all remember those who are doing without these basic modern necessities. This is the time of year when we try to remember our common humanity; when we are told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Puerto Ricans are not neighbors. They are family, and we should support them both because of that and because they are humans in desperate need.

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