Oct 2, 2017
As of September 30, nine days after Hurricane Maria, millions of people in Puerto Rico still lacked electricity, water, food, and other necessities. The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, explained that “This is a story of devastation that continues to worsen.”
Hundreds of supermarkets across the island remained closed because of a lack of fuel for their generators. As a result, they are imposing rationing. Jose Alvarez, a school security guard in the city of Ponce, reported that “They limit what you can buy. Milk, two. Bread, one package. That’s if they have it.... If six people live in your house and you buy two small containers of milk, how long is that going to last?”
At least 3,000 containers of cargo are stuck in the port of San Juan, including food and other necessities. But the roads are blocked by debris. There is no fuel for trucks to move it. Workers cannot get to the port to help unload, or to the trucks they would drive to take the products to stores. And without refrigeration, much of it will spoil.
The White House bragged that within days after the storm, they had a million liters of water and 124,000 gallons of fuel, plus 274,000 meals to distribute. But Puerto Rico has 3.4 million people! That’s 1/3 of a liter of water, 1/15th of a meal, and a few drops of gas per person. And that’s if these supplies could get to the people who need them, which they have not. The White House also bragged that they have 17 chainsaw teams clearing debris. On the whole island!
At first, President Trump tried to praise the relief effort: “It’s going very well, considering....” The acting Homeland Security secretary, Elaine Duke, said she was “very satisfied” with the government’s response and called it “a good news story.”
Finally, Trump shifted gears, but not until day after day of images of a devastated island filled the TV news, reminding people of the images of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After the mayor of San Juan criticized the lack of help, Trump attacked her, and then had the nerve to blame the population itself: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.” He also complained that “This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” As if that was a reason the federal government could not help!
Of course, the fact that Puerto Rico is an island IS a problem – it means the population is trapped. But the U.S. government has plenty of ways to get help to all the people on an island. It’s called the U.S. military.
The military has fleets of cargo planes, aircraft carriers, hospital ships, helicopters to reach remote areas, machines to clear roads and repair water and electrical lines. It has plenty of fuel that it could distribute. The military has skilled specialists who know how to set up operations in places with limited or destroyed infrastructure – like Afghanistan or Iraq. The military has the capacity to feed millions of people with MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat. As anyone who has watched TV can attest, much of Puerto Rico already looks like a war zone, with polluted standing water, floating, rotting furniture, and felled trees and houses.
If the federal government made it a priority, it could bring the necessities of life to the 3.4 million stranded, desperate people on the island. It has the resources. But despite its propaganda, the military does not exist to help or protect people. It exists to maintain the domination of U.S. corporations over the whole world.