Feb 5, 2018
On Monday, January 29, the news media reported that FEMA, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, was going to cut off aid to Puerto Rico. The next day, Puerto Rican leaders, many aid organizations and some politicians in Congress spoke out against this decision. By Wednesday, FEMA announced that it would continue aid to Puerto Rico – and claimed the announcement of a cutoff was a mistake.
Maybe the aid cutoff announcement really was a mistake, or maybe FEMA officials simply decided to back off because of the outcry following their initial announcement. But one thing is for sure: The aid that the federal government has been providing for Puerto Rico is far less than what is needed.
For decades, the island has been used as a place for U.S. corporations to get cheap labor. For a while, it was used as a tax haven where big companies could avoid paying any federal taxes at all. And finally it has been a territory driven into deep debt where banks make big loans to the government at high interest rates – driving the territory even deeper into debt. In the meantime, Puerto Rico’s roads, sewer and water lines, and its electrical grid fell into disrepair even while ordinary people paid more and more for these public services.
The poor state of the island’s infrastructure meant the devastation of Hurricane Maria was even worse than it otherwise would have been. And FEMA’s response was incredibly slow given the magnitude of the crisis.
For days after Maria hit, there was no help at all. And when help finally arrived, it was nowhere near what was – and still is – needed. Many thousands of people, who could afford to, have fled the island for the U.S. mainland (many to Florida). Almost one-third of the island’s remaining population still doesn’t have electric service or clean, drinkable running water. And this is more than four months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island!
In his recent State of the Union address Trump declared, “We love you Puerto Rico.” But if this is love, we’re really worried what hate would look like.