By AARON BETANCOURT
On Sept. 20, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm with winds as strong as 115 mph. It was the most powerful tempest to hit the island in almost 90 years. Maria wreaked havoc, with rain so heavy neighborhoods flooded and wind so strong metal roofs peeled from their buildings. The entire island is without power and they may not get it back for six months to a year. Half of Puerto Rico was already suffering power losses after Irma. With no power, no one can get in contact with relatives. People cannot withdraw money from banks. A significant number of locals were forced to evacuate to shelters where they currently remain, displaced indefinitely. There was even a damaged dam that left downstream residents at high risk.
Many videos and photos shared on social media show the devastation that includes many houses, farms, stores and land destroyed in Maria’s path. The island that was once known as “la isla del encanto,” island of enchantment, is now an island of crisis in desperate need.
UT has a large student population from or with family in Puerto Rico. These students have neighbors and friends who have houses and property completely destroyed. Some have minimal communication with their families. Some may not even be able to return home for the holidays because of all the damage.
You would think the Trump administration would help an American territory like Puerto Rico as much as they could, right?
Trump visited the island on Tuesday, almost two weeks after the hurricane. Like always, he mentioned the island in a series of tweets. On Thursday, he complimented the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and first responders for doing a great job. On Sept. 28, the White House reported that 10,000 federal relief workers and 7,000 troops had been deployed to the island.
According to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, one of the biggest restrictions to aid is the islands infrastructure.
Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello urged Trump to recognize Puerto Rico’s residents as American citizens. After much hesitation and consideration, Trump waived the Jones Act. The Jones Act is a law that requires all goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported by U.S. vessels (meaning Puerto Rican vessels would not be allowed to carry relief products back home). Since Monday, lawmakers in Congress were pushing for a one-year lift. Only a ten-day lift was granted. Though brief, this lift will help make a speedier supply of food, fuel and other critical supplies. Ten days is better than nothing at all.
Trump also made comments about the island’s poor infrastructure and massive debt. There should have been no mention of these issues. There should be no hesitation or thought in sending aid to Puerto Rico. 3.4 million people on the island are affected by Maria and living in uncertainty about when their island will get back to normal; most of them lost homes, schools, or jobs in the storm. People just want their lives back.
I myself am Puerto Rican, and I have family currently living in Puerto Rico. When I heard and saw the aftermath of the storm, I was devastated. Completely and utterly shocked. I spent so many days and nights worrying about the safety of my family; where they were staying; what they were eating; how accessible necessities were to them; how were they feeling. There even came a point when I had to stop looking at social media and news coverage because it became too much for me. The amount of people suffering, desperation on the rise and a shortage of necessities is something no one should ever have to endure.
The fact that Trump is wasting time on this NFL feud nonsense and contemplating whether or not to lift the Jones Act is beyond me. 3.4 million American citizens are without power. 3.4 million American lives have been damaged. These people are suffering and need our help and this is what our president is doing. Rules sometimes need to be bent and things such as debt need to be overlooked. People should not be denied basic necessities. Puerto Ricans are American people too. I’m glad to see so many organizations and places around the country holding fundraisers to help Puerto Rico. I just wish our executive administration was more responsive.
Aaron Betancourt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org