Puerto Rico: What’s Next?

 

The images above show the lights of Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria.

President Trump recently tweeted, “Texas and Florida are doing great, but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble… Its old electric grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated… Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well.”

 

When it comes to electricity and running water, the position in Puerto Rico was delicate before the hurricanes hit. The systems had not been kept up, and there were trees and debris that added to the damage of the hurricanes by falling on power lines.

Fuel for generators is being brought to Puerto Rico, but bridges and roads have washed out, so it’s hard to get the fuel from the ports to the various parts of the Island that need the fuel. The same logistics problems that make it hard to get fuel to the people who need it also make it hard to get food and medical supplies to where they are needed.

There was terrible destruction in Florida and in Texas, but they are states. They have passable roads, functional electric and water systems, and an assurance of federal support. Puerto Rico was offered federal support, but much of it required matching funds. Puerto Rico needed to come up with 25% of the needed funds in order to receive any funds from the federal government. With no cash, the government of Puerto Rico couldn’t make use of those federal funds.

President Trump has agreed to provide a waiver for Puerto Rico. The federal government will give 100% of the disaster relief funding for 180 days — nearly six months. This will make it possible for Puerto Rico to rebuild.

 

Governor Rossello has expressed gratitude to the President for this unprecedented waiver. FEMA is making efforts, and there has been an outpouring of charitable giving for Puerto Rico. Jennifer Lopez and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez are just two Puerto Rican celebrities who have provided significant funds from their own pockets, and the appeals from UnitedforPuertoRico.com, Catholic Charities, and other organizations have raised more than expected from the generosity of stateside Puerto Ricans and our fellow American citizens.

What is the best way to move forward?

There are immediate needs. Dialysis patients must have access to insulin and generators with fuel to run the dialysis machines. Water and sewer services must be restored as quickly as possible to avoid widespread disease. People must have food to eat and water to drink. Roads must be cleared and communication must be restored.

Once these things are done, there is a clear choice.

  • The federal funds for Puerto Rico can set the Island on a sensible, strategic path toward sustainable social and economic recovery… or patch together an inadequate infrastructure that won’t support growth.
  • Puerto Rico can become a strong state with the ability to be self-supporting and to enrich the United States… or it can continue as a struggling territory.
  • The United States can end more than a century of a failed imperialist relationship, providing dignity to Puerto Rico and integrity for the U.S…. or continue to watch thousands of people leave the Island every month until Puerto Rico has been absorbed.

More than ever, this is the time for statehood. Hurricanes reach states and territories alike, but the aftermath of those storms points up the difference between states and the powerless territories. President Trump said, “Texas and Florida are doing great.” Next hurricane season, let’s see that Puerto Rico, like Florida and Texas, is doing great. On its way to being a state.

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