Psst! There’s an American humanitarian crisis

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.

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)

  • Rob

    Since Puerto Rico is a predominantly Spanish-speaking territory, T.Rump will probably require everyone to learn to speak English before agreeing to provide humanitarian and infrastructure aid on a massive basis.

    • Jay T. Berken

      “Since Puerto Rico is a predominantly Spanish-speaking territory”

      Territory is also a key word. They do not have representation to push ANYBODY in Washington much less Trump.

      • Rob

        No argument. American Exceptionalism guarantees that Puerto Rico and its people are hosed, pure and simple.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        One comment that I heard (on radio or possibly TV) mentioned that what usually happens is the Senators from states with large Puerto Rican populations (New York was mention specifically) often will help lead the fight in Congress. But I’m guessing that would be for emergency funding to carry out whatever the President is trying to do.

  • jon
    • On NPR, the governor said they also need bus drivers and gas station operators.

      I only have a Technician Class ham license. Pity. I’d do that in a second.

      • Gary F

        How many folks under 50 have a ham radio license?

        • jon

          I personally know (including myself) at least 5 off the top of my head.

          Of course I only personally don’t know that many hams… maybe 10?

          Google search suggests maybe about 50% of hams are under 50yo in the US… which fits my observations…

          • Gary F

            I’ve always thought it was an old man’s thing until it dawned on me that cell reception would be the first to go. Now interested again.

          • jon

            Technician license isn’t hard to get if you know ohms and watts respective laws you have basically all the math down. (well that and dividing by 300 to go from frequency in Mhz to wavelength in meters…)
            Then it’s just a few other procedural rules you need to know…

            Handheld 2m radios can be had for cheap… Classes for weather spotting are usually free for hams, in the springtime (keep meaning to go to one) and you can be the person who the weather guy on TV refers to saying “trained spotters have reported…”

          • You don’t even need to have a ham license anymore to be a spotter. I took a class this past spring. NWS has an app for those without a ham, to use for storm spotting. Just key in your unique ID, etc.

            It was different 20 years ago, when I also took the class. Back then, everyone in the class was assumed to have a ham license, and participants also needed to pass an weather-condition-identifying test. I didn’t have ham (still don’t) but took the class because I am a bit of a weather geek.

          • I think the local repeater is up on the water tower in Oakdale. Would it survive?

          • jon

            An HT or mobile rig has the option of doing simplex.
            Not going to be able to do that with a cellphone.
            Repeaters give you a substantial bump in range, especially when they are on towers, but even the ARRL listing above is looking for experiance with VHF simplex…

          • Extra here, licensed same year as MPR was born. So old guy – observation confirmed! But lots of us old guys do use digital and are active in software development, remoting, building hardware, and so on. It was good to see the President calling for aid to PR, even if it was the ARRL president, not the other one…

        • Judging by what I hear on the Oakdale repeater, none.

          The only reason I got one is to install a low-power transmitter in the plane to use APRS as a tracking tool.

          • jon

            I got mine to install use APRS on the motorcycle.

            My brother got his so he could do FPV from his RC aircraft/drones, legally.

            I suspect you only hear the 50 yo’s on the repeaters because the younger folks are not using voice communications as much.

            Younger folks are opting for digital radio communications over voice.

          • I’ve never worked up the nerve to talk to anyone. Listening to the Oakdale repeater, people don’t have much to say.

            It would be cool to talk to the ISS when it flies over, though.

          • jon

            I keyed up once or twice on some repeaters…
            Though I had nothing to say, on the plus side neither did anyone else, and they all kept talking…

          • >>Though I had nothing to say, on the plus side neither did anyone else, and they all kept talking…<<

            Sounds like AM talk radio,,,

          • jon

            Nah, it was narrow band FM… 😉
            Though there were more voices than AM radio, and less politics more talk about radios and antennas…

          • theoacme

            Except that AARL repeaters have more to say when saying nothing than AM talk radio (at least, since Jerry Williams retired)…

          • Heh. I don’t listen to AM Radio.

            But I sure spent lots of nights as a kid listening to Jerry Williams on WBZ back in the day.

            “Wake up, America!”

      • jon

        Same, technician class ham license, I’m not sure I could get out of work for 3 weeks, but we do have a volunteer program where I might be able to get the leave for ARC, but maybe not ARRL, and the only spanish I speak is what I learned watching sesame street as a kid, and that was back before they got bigger into spanish. (so less (far less) than a dora the explorer level vocabulary)

      • The Stillwater Amateur Radio Association is running a free General Class course. It is not to late to join the class:

  • Ralphy

    Isn’t it obvious? Clearly the trumped up crisis over the national anthem and millionaire ball players civil rights and alleged lack of patriotism are much more important to our fearless leader than any crisis in PR, or some fake Russian collusion controversy, or name calling and provocation of North Korea into an overt act of war, or a health care bill or …

  • Gary F

    This does leave me scratching my head over this. PR is full of American pharmaceutical manufacturers, you would think they’d have some pull in Washington.

    • MikeB

      You would think millions of US citizens without power or water would be enough.

      • Ralphy

        Or homes. Or health care. Or water. Or transportation. Or…

    • Veronica

      Really? Brown people who speak Spanish who are US citizens? There is NOTHING about this that’s abnormal for this administration. 45 pardoned a guy who spent his career terrorizing US citizens who were brown and spoke Spanish. OF COURSE he doesn’t care. He’s probably positively gleeful about this.

      And if you think big business has much sway or say in policy these days, you must not be paying attention. 3 attempts at killing care, despite the fact that every single part of the healthcare system in the US jumping up and down and screaming that it would be catastrophic on all levels. The travel bans have hurt Silicon Valley. The lack of migrant workers are killing dairy farms and big agriculture. 45 does not care.

      The ONLY logic you need to know about this administration, Gary, is that as a white male, you are the only portion of the American populace that has any worth to them. As a white female, I don’t matter. Black and brown people REALLY don’t matter.

      To paraphrase Kanye– Donald Trump doesn’t care about Puerto Ricans.

    • Chris

      A guy who spends Sunday morning tweeting divisive racist tinged stuff about the NFL when he should be giving a press conference detailing the flotilla of aid heading for PR is who republicans elected. Never forget that.

    • jon

      Yup, and if there is one lesson we’ve learned time and time again it’s that companies are more than willing to throw money and time at problems the government is going to have to deal with anyhow regardless of the money/time thrown at it by the companies…

      they’ll keep their lobbyists on healthcare, because PR will take care of itself from the public outcry, if not from the humanitarian crisis then from the “immigration crisis” when PR residents start moving to FL…

    • RBHolb

      “PR is full of American pharmaceutical manufacturers . . .”

      It is full of factories owned by American pharmaceutical manufacturers. The manufacturers have no more ties to PR than any industrial concern that locates in a tax/regulatory haven does.

      • chris franklin


    • chris franklin

      I have wondered the same thing Gary- however, there is a reason that pharmaceutical companies are there…it comes down to the mighty buck.

  • AL287

    President Trump could care less about Puerto Rico. It’s out of sight, out of mind. He probably thinks Cuba should help them since they speak the same language.

    What Puerto Rico needs is not only money but donations of infrastructure supplies and manpower—high voltage electrical wire, plumbing supplies, construction supplies, Bobcats, backhoes, electrical engineers, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, construction workers, roofers.

    Surely there are electrical, plumbing and construction supply companies who could donate such items. Until power is restored there, it is difficult to manage the logistics of such an undertaking but it can be done.

    If we rebuilt San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, we can help Puerto Rico rebuild.

    The American Red Cross is the last organization to enlist for help. Don’t forget the debacle in Haiti after the earthquake there. The $500,000,000 dollars raised to build houses and living quarters for victims of the quake never got where it was supposed to or ended up in the pockets of dishonest contractors and subcontractors. (See ProPublica’s website for details.)

    Hopefully the presidential emergency relief fund is also helping Puerto Rico as well as Texas and Florida.

    • MrE85

      Actually, asking Cuba for help is not a bad idea. They have a lot of doctors there and a lot of experience recovering from hurricanes. We’re friends now, right?

      • Veronica

        They are rebuilding too. Cuba got hit pretty hard by Irma.

        • MrE85

          Yes, I know. Poor Cuba was taken a lot of severe weather hits of late.

      • jon

        Cuba offered assistance after katrina.

        • MrE85

          That was very nice of them.

      • AL287

        Not if the 30 percent’s beloved Trump has anything to do with it. Xenophobia and narcissism make for very strange bedfellows.

        I mean, after all, Communism is raising its ugly head again in North Korea. We don’t want those Commies over in Cuba lending us a hand, right? They might try to brainwash all those Puerto Ricans.

        Trump is like the really smart kid getting D’s because he’s bored in class.

        The Russian election investigation is heating up again so Trump has to divert everyone’s attention with another smokescreen about patriotism and loyalty.

        I didn’t know that Nixon negotiated secretly with the South Vietnamese peace negotiators to not attend the peace talks in Paris until I watched the most recent episode of The Vietnam War and that Johnson knew he was lying when he denied it but kept it mum.

        They didn’t call him “Tricky Dick” for nothing.

        Could Donald Trump, Jr. REALLY be that worried about his family’s privacy that he’s foregone a Secret Service detail?

        I wonder….

  • Gary F
    • Ralphy

      What does that have to do with the hurricane recovery crisis? Do you think Texas or Florida covered the cost of their disasters? This is a national crisis, and our national leadership has decided that pregame rituals are more important than the people of Puerto Rico.

    • Rob

      Good to know you’ve discovered that, at last.

    • kevins

      So is a lot of Mississippi….what’s your point?

  • Jay T. Berken
  • Noelle

    There’s a good op-ed in NYT from yesterday about getting rid of the Jones Act as a way of helping PR rebuild. It should have been repealed years ago…

  • AmiSchwab

    this is way beyond trump’s katrina. he will be responsible for the deaths of american citizens by virtue of doing nothing. the man is despicable.

  • CFMom

    I cannot stand Trump, but the disaster and slow response his not his f’ up. C-130s have been flying supplies in since 2-3 days after the storm. Planes can’t land without runways. Navy ships have been deployed, they can’t come into port and off load until there is at least a minimal port/dock to use. The governor of Puerto Rico was on television on day 2 to say/beg for help…he was and is aware of the humanitarian crisis that is engulfing his island. Trump is enough of a nightmare without exageration. In the mean time most charris are still collecting donations for Houston and Florida so they share the blame for slow response.


      They were able to get everything off the beach on D-Day in pretty short order once the shooting stopped.

      • CFMom

        If you think it is that easy go down and help. My son returned from there on Wednesday. The only traffic in and out when he left was military…bringing aid in-taking people out.

  • Jay T. Berken

    ““Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” the president tweeted.”

    I can not speak about Puerto Rico’s electric infrastructure. I also can not speak of ALL of Florida’s (much less Houston’s)

    I was talking with one of the linemen that had traveled down to Florida to help the people of two city municipalities to restore power. He indicated that their electric distribution grid was way under built and is a hazard in itself. The wiring was under built that it was, through the years, has stretched out to near faulting before the Hurricane. There are places on the systems where the fusing is under built to where they are blown and blades are inserted to bypass the fuse, which means not protection if a fault occurs. I do not know the management and funding of these electric distribution systems, but President needs to understand that stateside needs a lot of work too. Puerto Rico is not an outliner.