Jose Aybar reports that 30,000 more people have left Puerto Rico to live in the States since Hurricane Maria. For many Island residents, life in Puerto Rico is currently life without electricity, running water, sewers, shelter, access to food and drinkable water, or access to cash in banks which might allow the purchase of food and fuel. It’s understandable that people are moving to places that offer an easier — and safer — life.
For the people who are staying in Puerto Rico, survival is still the focus. Gaining access to basic human necessities is the top priority.
To plan a journey, you must know the destination.
As time goes on, though, decisions must be made with the future in mind. Will the current electrical grid, with its costly inefficiencies, be revamped and patched up? Then it’s essential to spend time and money identifying the salvageable parts of the system. Will Puerto Rico switch to a more sustainable solar energy plan? Then solar arrays must be built. They can be built on the ground, so there’s no need to wait for structures to be rebuilt, but time and money should go toward a comprehensive solar energy plan.
Either way, there will be many jobs. Some businesses are already up and running again, but many workers will be needed to rebuild homes and commercial buildings, bridges and roads. Replanting farms and fields, restoring information technology, and bringing back social services — all these things will provide jobs for many people who were unemployed before.
But decisions along the way have to be made on the basis of the future that’s planned. Aybar points out that the exodus to the mainland U.S. has been an economic drain for Puerto Rico for some time. “It is,” he writes, “an educational and labor force drain where the mainland is the ultimate beneficiary of a finished product and Puerto Rico pays for the cost of production. Puerto Rico has approximately 314,346 students in both higher and vocational education. What if this trained labor force had the means of making a living on the island because the demand was there?”
The plan for rebuilding Puerto Rico cannot be the same for a future in which the population of the Island shrinks to those who can’t leave, and a future in which people move to Puerto Rico to be part of its exciting growth. Those are two different paths. They won’t include the same steps.
What about the debt?
Aybar argues that the debt must simply be written off. The hurricanes have made that debt nothing more than a loss for investors. But whatever decision is made about the debt, Puerto Rico can’t put off decisions about the future.
“There is a need to develop a long-term business plan for Puerto Rico so that the rebuilding process which is going to take place will have a purpose,” Aybar says.
What about status?
There have been claims that political infighting has slowed down the progress of disaster relieve. We have certainly seen comments about status in the comments at this website — from calls to force independence on Puerto Rico now that major rebuilding will be required to calls for statehood so the next hurricane will not be so devastating.
We believe that the U.S. Congress has the chance to do the right thing: to build a strong and sovereign state in Puerto Rico, the 51st State of the Union. Money has to be spent, jobs will be created just because there is so much work to do. There is no reason to go backwards, because there is nothing there for us now.
32 territories have become states. Many were in very difficult situations when they did so. The idea that Puerto Rico should wait for some easier time before demanding statehood was a popular one before the hurricanes hit. It makes less sense than ever.