Remembering Puerto Rico

 

Hey! Remember when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico? That was more than 100 days ago, and Puerto Rico still needs help. Allow us to remind you of that on this episode, featuring Dan O’Brien, Randall Maynard and Danger Van Gorder.

A little of the lesser-known background: what hit Puerto Rico–the Category 5 Hurricane Maria–is better described as a “catastrophic event” than a “disaster.” According to Tricia Wachtendorf, a professor of sociology at the University of Delaware, the difference is that “most, if not all, of the built environment is destroyed. It’s very difficult to navigate the impact zone — to know which roads are open, and to know what to detour around. It’s extremely difficult to pre-position supplies, because if you have any supplies pre-positioned they might have been destroyed. You have local officials that are unable to take their usual roles on.” This kind of event is more rare than a disaster and usually means the infrastructure across a wide swath of land is wiped out.

To make a bad situation worse, Trump’s response was absolutely monstrous. He didn’t even hold a Situation Room meeting about it until six days after the hurricane hit. For comparison, after a magnitude-7 earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, 8,000 troops were sent to the island within two days. Another 22,000 troops and 33 ships had arrived within two weeks. Only 7,200 military personnel had made it to Puerto Rico TWO WEEKS after landfall. 

And a major difference between the United States’ responsibility to Puerto Rico vs to Haiti is that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory–basically a state, but with slightly fewer rights. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.

A day after landfall, it was reported that the entire island’s electrical infrastructure had been destroyed, and would take six to eight months to repair.

AND. Not only was Trump not sending U.S. aid in anything like a proportionate response–almost no food, water, medical, or any other kind of emergency assistance, military or otherwise–he also initially refused to lift the Jones Act to make it easier for Puerto Rico to receive aid from anyone. The Jones Act requires ships carrying goods between U.S. ports to be built in the U.S., owned and operated by American citizens, and to fly the American flag (meaning they must also abide by U.S. laws). The Jones Act is commonly blamed for the island’s current debt crisis. And instead of waiving it–even temporarily–Trump tweeted: “It’s [sic] old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities—and doing well.”

Finally, after much pressure, Trump did lift the Jones Act–for 10 days. So generous. Meanwhile, people were dying in droves. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said, “We are dying here. If we don’t get the food and the water into the people’s hands, we are going to see something close to a genocide.” And Trump, old reliable, tweeted in response the same day: “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

13 days after landfall, Trump finally visited Puerto Rico, and threw a roll of paper towels at them. It was very helpful and not at all insulting.

Still-existing major issues revolve around Puerto Rican citizens relying on highly toxic water, being desperately short on drugs, and half the island still lacks power 100 days later. The official death toll is nearing or has topped 1,000 people by now, but The American Federation of Teachers, who has been in the area volunteering like a bunch of, y’know, awesome human beings, stated: “Anyone who has spent a day in Puerto Rico since the hurricane understands there is a far higher death toll than has been reported. This is an invisible crisis, and it’s allowed the callousness of the response and an inappropriate response on the part of the president.”

 

If you want to help, Samantha recommends donating to the American Federation of Teachers Disaster Relief Fund, which you can do here. Also, don’t give money to the Red Cross.

 

Sources

 

The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/what-happened-in-puerto-rico-a-timeline-of-hurricane-maria/541956/

The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/10/16/desperate-puerto-ricans-line-up-for-water-at-a-hazardous-waste-site/?utm_term=.6b27ead18144

The Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article180181156.html

Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/puerto-rico-recovery-100-days-hurricane-maria-760965

Golf Digest: https://www.golfdigest.com/story/maria-torres-survives-hurricane-becomes-first-woman-from-puerto-rico-to-get-lpga-card

 

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