By Brady Shields
On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, damaging many towns and homes. This has caused 1 million Puerto Ricans to lack clean drinking water, along with many lacking electricity. Puerto Ricans are U.S. Citizens, which entitles them to government services. 3.4 million U.S. citizens live in Puerto Rico, making it more populous then the states of Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska combined. If it were a state, it would be the 30th most populous. Under the Stafford Act, which guides federal response to major disasters, the federal government must treat Puerto Rico like a state. However, President Trump hasn’t authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide emergency restoration to the island. This action (or lack thereof) is an example of careless leadership.
When the president traveled to Puerto Rico, he addressed a crowd of hurricane victims by stating, “I hate to tell you (Puerto Rico), but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack!” Following his despicable statement, he threw paper towels into the crowd. Obviously, he is unaware that the people of Puerto Rico need more than just a few rolls of paper towels. They need electricity, clean water, and fair treatment. What escalates the absurdity of the action is that he is a multi-billionaire, possibly worth $10 billion, but as far as we know, he is only worth $4 billion. He can afford to donate to relief efforts. Even $1 million can help many people obtain clean drinking water.
Not only has the president neglected U.S. Citizens, but he has insulted Carmen Yuln Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, calling her “weak”. He doesn’t seem to notice that she, herself was rescuing flood victims; She was wading in the flooded streets, water up to her waist. She is a dedicated public servant, “getting her hands dirty”. When did Trump serve his community in a similar way? Never! He dodged the draft for a fake bone spur, yet he didn’t find another way to serve his community. He is not to call a dedicated public servant weak; especially when the person is directly helping the public.
Americans living in privileged areas ought to remember that Puerto Rico’s crisis started before the hurricane. The island was home to many companies, as it offered low federal corporate taxes. These companies employed many Puerto Ricans, boosting the economy. However, these loopholes were repealed under the Clinton Administration. This action caused the companies to leave the island. Also, the Jones Act, or the Merchant Marine Act places tariffs on imports that do not originate in U.S. ports. This has hurt Puerto Rico, which requires much of its food to be imported from foreign ports. These laws have brought increased prices for basic necessities and a lack of employment.
Along with their lack of employment and high prices on food, they are in immense debt. However, they do not have the benefits of a state or a country. If they were a state, they could file for bankruptcy and renegotiate debt. If they were a country, they could obtain help from the International Monetary Fund. But, territories do not have such benefits. They are required to remain in severe debt. This has caused Puerto Rico to cut funds for public services, such as schools, fire departments, paramedics, hospitals, and utilities.
Puerto Rico ought to receive assistance from FEMA, rights to bankruptcy, tariff-free necessities, and employment opportunities. They ought not to be ignored. They are Americans. They are entitled to the same services. They deserve better!