What Would Help Puerto Rico?: raceAhead
Hurricane Dorian is set to hit Puerto Rico’s leeward side later today, aiming to bring heavy rains and wind to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
While the storm is not as strong as Maria, it will be hitting an area that’s still blue-tarped, scarred, and vulnerable, with insufficient power and fragile infrastructure. “There’s already so much damage on the ground from (Maria) that this isn’t going to take a lot to make a significant amount of damage, especially flooding,” Ken Graham, the director of the National Hurricane Center told CNN.
The island is also bracing for a storm of tweets from President Donald Trump, who has been widely criticized for an inadequate federal response after the devastation of Maria. They’ve already begun.
“Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end?” the president wrote on Twitter yesterday. “Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere.’”
And then this today:
“We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You—Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!” he tweeted.
While the president repeatedly gives himself high marks for federal generosity after the deadly storm, he’s completely wrong. According to federal data, some $42.7 billion was allocated for Puerto Rican disaster relief, and only $13.8 billion has reached the island.
The $92 billion number he refers is closer to the total number allocated for disaster funding for all the U.S. states and territories.
Even if you’re willing to overlook the math, Puerto Ricans don’t share his rosy self-assessment.
An in-depth survey taken last year by The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation found that 80% of Puerto Rican respondents say the president did a “fair or poor” job in responding to Hurricane Maria. Some 54% believe that the federal response to the storm was worse for the island than it was for affected mainland areas, and 61% believe that they would have had a better experience if Puerto Rico was a state.
So, in addition to getting our thoughts and prayers ready, it might be worth getting some political slogans ready, too.
It took Hurricane Maria to alert nearly half of U.S. mainlanders that Puerto Ricans are also American citizens, but second-class ones at best. They can serve or be drafted into the military and pay federal payroll taxes, but receive fewer benefits, can’t vote in federal elections, and have no representation in Congress.
Puerto Ricans have been divided on the benefits of full statehood for decades. But in recent years, the number in favor has been steadily increasing, and it appears a majority may now approve. They also seem prepared to be heard: They’ve recently forced a dramatic restructuring of their government through massive public protests.
Last summer, Puerto Rico’s House representative-in-name-only, Jenniffer González-Colón, filed legislation that would transition the territory into the nation’s 51st state by 2021. She called it a civil rights issue.
Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), one of the 14 Democrats and 21 Republicans who co-sponsored the bill, said that “Puerto Rico is in a colonial relationship with the United States, look at what happened after Hurricane Maria. . . they are an afterthought.”
So now the president is facing both a tropical and topical storm.
Trump remains “an absolute no,” on the subject of Puerto Rican statehood, a position that until now, seems to have few political implications for him. But it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where this revolú becomes an actual revolución.
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Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.