BY MAX ROTHSCHILD
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, and dissipated on Oct. 3. The hurricane devastated the United States territory, leaving many without power and vital resources like food and water. Although the storm dissipated nearly a month ago, since then, not much has improved. 85 percent of the population still doesn’t have power, including most hospitals. Though 98 percent of hospitals remain open, most don’t have power and are referring patients to hospitals with generators. Hospitals that do have generators have found themselves overwhelmed by large numbers of patients. As a result, Puerto Rico’s ability to provide patients with healthcare services has been severely impacted.
In the wake of the crisis, many are asking why the U.S. hasn’t provided more substantial aid. Oxfam, an international organization dedicated to fighting poverty, recently levied criticism against the Trump administration: “Oxfam has monitored the response in Puerto Rico closely, and we are outraged at the slow and inadequate response the US government has mounted in Puerto Rico…Clean water, food, fuel, electricity, and health care are in desperately short supply and quickly dwindling, and we’re hearing excuses and criticism from the administration instead of a cohesive and compassionate response.”
In contrast to the U.S. response to other natural disasters, like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti for instance, President Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria has left much to be desired. According to a Washington Post article, “After an earthquake shattered Haiti’s capital on Jan. 12, 2010, the U.S. military mobilized as if it were going to war.” By the second day, there were 8000 American troops on their way to Haiti. Two weeks after the earthquake, 33 military ships and 22,000 troops were stationed in Haiti, bringing with them millions of pounds of rations and water.
The Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria pales in comparison. According to the same article, “eight days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island.” There were only around 1,000 Coast Guard members, and 40 U.S. military helicopters providing aid. President Trump’s comments regarding Puerto Rico’s recovery do not inspire much confidence either. In fact, they reflect a long history of the U.S. minimizing Puerto Rico. In a press conference, Trump called the disaster a burden to the U.S. economy: “You’ve [They’ve] thrown our budget a little out of whack. We’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.”
These words are ignorant on multiple levels. They display the president’s lack of knowledge concerning U.S. history. The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico via the Spanish-American War in 1898. The U.S. invaded the former Spanish colony because it wanted to forge a stake in its developing sugar market. When troops arrived, General Nelson Miles authored a manifesto that promised liberty and property for all Puerto Ricans. But, after Spain relinquished Puerto Rico in the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. constructed a colonial system in Puerto Rico.
Since that time, the U.S. has not given up its control over the island. However, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917 under the Jones-Shafroth act (although they can’t vote in federal elections). Therefore, the federal government is obligated to help Puerto Rico because it is a territory of the U.S. In stating that “[Puerto Rico] has thrown our budget a little out of whack”, Trump fails to acknowledge that truth. The comment makes light of a devastating hurricane and communicates disregard for the U.S. territory. That disregard harkens back to over a century of oppressive U.S. involvement with Puerto Rico.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico did not choose to be ravaged by a Category Five hurricane, nor did it choose to become a U.S. territory. The Trump administration has responded to the catastrophe in Puerto Rico with a lackluster recovery effort, exhibiting a galling lack of verbal compassion and basic historical knowledge along the way.