Puerto Rico National Guard will be distributing supplies found in a warehouse in Ponce. The supplies have apparently been in storage since 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit the Island. Portable stoves, tarps, cots, baby needs, and household goods will be supplied to people in multiple municipalities hardest hit by the earthquake.
The question is, why have the supplies been stored all this time, and will there be further discoveries like this? The Governor tried to get an inventory of undistributed supplies and an answer to those questions, but could not find answer. She responded by letting three government officials go. One was Carlos Acevedo, the chief of emergency management.
“In the last days there have been actions by members of the government that are not acceptable,” Vazquez said. “I will not permit this type of conduct in my government.” Vazquez also called for a full investigation, which has been handed over to the federal Department of Justice.
Acevedo tried to defend his agency, saying, “It is important to emphasize that no citizen has been denied any of the items found at this place. At the moment, there is no shortage of any of these articles and they are being distributed to the people who need it; data that can be verified in the shelters and base camps.” Acevedo’s position is that the supplies are being reserved for times of greater need, and have been distributed appropriately.
Protestors called for the resignation of Governor Wanda Vazquez, chanting
Where is Wanda? Wanda is not here.
Wanda is hiding the country’s supplies.
Not the first time
This is not the first time disaster assistance supplies have been found in storage. In 2018, a warehouse full of supplies was discovered. Like the most recent warehouse, the earlier news was also broken with a video on social media.
Reporting from National Public Radio presents the shocking news as a trigger for renewed horror in Puerto Rico. People who suffered without sorely-needed supplies after the hurricanes and the earthquakes are devastated to find that there were in fact supplies available. The people responsible for distributing those supplies have no explanation.
Some say that the supplies were received after their use-by dates had passed, and they could not be distributed. For years, there have been news reports saying that getting the supplies to Puerto Rico’s ports was one thing but getting them to the people is another.
At the same time, the discovery of unused supplies is also fueling claims that Puerto Rico can’t be trusted with disaster relief funds. HUD illegally withheld billions of dollars in Congress-allocated funds, and the diapers found in a warehouse are being used to justify that action.
Not the last?
Local news source Noticel reports that the National Guard has suggested that there may be seven more warehouses of undistributed supplies.
The Organization for World Peace points out that blaming the government of Puerto Rico for the inadequate disaster funding is part of a common pattern. “While acting as an argument to refuse the funds to marginalized groups like Native Americans and Puerto Ricans, it also serves to establish the inferiority of those groups. It paints them as incompetent, incapable of governing themselves.”
Howard Hills made a further point in a comment on that article.
One interesting comparison is the Alaska earthquake of 1961. Alaska was not on sound financial footing after admission to the union two years earlier. The state government was not able to take over certain responsibilities that were federal functions during the territorial period. There had to be delays in uniform tax treatment. But because it was a state with voting members of Congress the federal response was massive and ironically it was the federal response to a disaster the jump started the territorial economy that was sputtering along. The put Alaska on the road to prosperity.
If Puerto Rico had stopped its self defeating obsession with “autonomy” and become a state before Hurricane Maria and the recent earthquakes the federal response would have prevented elevated suffering and duplicated Alaska’s experience recovering and thriving as a state, rather than withering on the vine as PR is doing.
The experiences following the earthquake swarm that began on December 28th, 2019, is adding yet another straw to the camel’s back in Puerto Rico. We have to keep saying this would not be happening in a state.
Tell your legislators that it is time for statehood. We should not be facing an ongoing series of crises.