Why can’t Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, get any significant attention nor widespread help in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that wiped it out six days ago?
Houston? Florida? They were the beneficiary of immediate and sustained assistance.
Puerto Rico? You’ll notice that the various appeals to text money to the Red Cross often mention only two keywords: Irma or Harvey, even though you can text “Maria” too.
Overnight, the president blamed Puerto Rico’s aging infrastructure for the problem.
“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” the president tweeted.
That doesn’t explain the response.
— NYU Primatology (@nyuprimatology) September 25, 2017
There are no Navy ships heading to Puerto Rico. There’s no government waiver of rules preventing foreign ships’ transportation of cargo, even though waivers were granted for both Texas and Florida, the Associated Press says.
Officials figured flying supplies in to Puerto Rico would be faster, but there’s no fully functioning air traffic control system there.
How is that a CBS reporter yesterday had to be the one to tell Puerto Rico’s governor that a humanitarian crisis was unfolding at San Juan’s airport?
Phillip Carter, a senior fellow at Georgetown, writes on Slate that the there are no neighbors Puerto Rico can call on for help. The U.S. military could be providing military police and more troops, but they’re thinned out by other things.
Given all these commitments, and the military’s focus on overseas missions, it might take something huge—like a presidential call-up involving tens of thousands of reservists, or presidential adjustment to the Afghanistan deployment schedule—to create the military capacity that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands need now. Such a call-up would require additional resources, too—something Congress would almost surely give. But the White House has signaled it would not even request that funding until sometime in October.
Such a presidential order should have come before the storm, or immediately afterward. Unfortunately, President Trump appears more concerned with helping his political allies, taunting professional athletes, and issuing new travel bans. Although his White House issued pro forma disaster declarations, and authorized some additional funding, its focus has clearly been elsewhere. In the absence of presidential leadership and orders, military commanders cannot (and should not) deploy additional forces or commit additional resources to help. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground remains dire, with hospitals and critical infrastructure running on their last days of generator power and supplies, waiting on the White House to send more support their way.
The governor told NPR this morning things are going to be “uncomfortable for a couple of days.”
The governor said Washington better respond soon or Puerto Ricans will head to the mainland.
“Don’t forget we’re U.S. citizens,” he told NPR.
Related: How to Help Puerto Rico and Other Islands After Hurricane Maria (NY Times)