News compilation by A Socialist In Canada, Sept 26, 2017
Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, population 3.4 million, on September 21. Earlier, on September 7, the island received an indirect hit from Hurricane Irma. Both hurricanes brought terribly destructive winds and record or near-record rainfalls. The economy and infrastructure of this island colony of the U.S. was already in shambles. The accumulated debt of the island’s governments is already beyond payable.
The United States seized Puerto Rico from Spain during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Wikipedia.
Travelers swamp Puerto Rico’s main airport; dam on verge of collapse
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Hundreds of stranded travelers filled the sweltering halls of San Juan International Airport on Monday [Sept 25] anxious to know when they could leave and reconnect with families after Hurricane Maria devastated power and communications across the island.
Fearful of checking out of hotels in case they could not get on the few flights available, worried passengers waited in long lines at Puerto Rico’s main airport, struggling to get through to loved ones and airlines alike.
“Everything is hearsay at the moment because there is no communication,” said 31-year-old Rene Kessler, a medical student from Baltimore, Maryland, preparing to spend the night in the airport ahead of what he hoped would be a flight back to the United States.
Puerto Rican officials have confirmed at least 10 storm-related fatalities on the island, and the hurricane was blamed for at least 19 other deaths across the Caribbean, the bulk of them on the devastated island nation of Dominica.
A microcosm of the battered island, the San Juan airport is a top priority in efforts by Puerto Rico’s cash-strapped government to repair the vast damage caused by Maria. Experts say the work will take months and likely run into tens of billions of dollars.
Closed for days following the storm, the airport is a major test of Puerto Rico’s ability to transport people and supplies and overcome the communications vacuum that has plagued the island since the storm.
María has also turned Puerto Rico, a haven for Caribbean islanders left homeless by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, into a disaster zone with virtually no power that many are now desperate to escape.
A dam on the island has weakened by heavy rains from Hurricane Maria was in danger of failing, posing a flood threat to thousands of homes downstream. The fear of a potentially catastrophic dam break added to the extreme difficulties facing disaster relief authorities in the aftermath of Maria, which has claimed at least 29 lives across the Caribbean, according to officials and media reports.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello urged residents of the area to evacuate after surveying damage to the dam over the weekend, telling reporters that a fissure in the structure “has become a significant rupture.”
The National Weather Service in San Juan, the island’s capital, on Monday continued a flood warning for western Puerto Rico. Maria, the second major hurricane to savage the Caribbean this month and the most powerful to strike Puerto Rico in nearly a century, carved a path of destruction through the island after plowing ashore early on September 21.
‘We lost everything’
“We lost our house, it was completely flooded,” said resident Carmen Gloria Lamb, a resident near the rain-swollen Guajataca. “We lost everything. Cars, clothes, everything.”
Severe flooding, structural damage to homes and the loss of all electricity, except from backup generators, were three of the most pressing problems facing Puerto Ricans, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said during a tour of the island. New York is home to many of Puerto Rican descent.
“It’s a terrible immediate situation that requires assistance from the federal government, not just financial assistance,” he said on CNN on Saturday.
Even the island’s medical facilities have been left in precarious shape, with many hospitals flooded, strewn with rubble and running critically low on diesel fuel needed to keep generators operating. Evacuation to the U.S. mainland is the only option for some patients.
The storm has caused an estimated $45 billion of damage and lost economic activity across the Caribbean, with at least $30 billion of that in Puerto Rico, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.
Puerto Rico is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. Where is the media?
The destruction in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria has received relatively little attention. Are our disasters not important enough?
Hurricane Maria – the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 89 years – devastated the island when it hit early Wednesday morning [September 21]. If the U.S. government doesn’t act swiftly, 3.5 million people will face a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.
Currently, large swathes of the island have no water, power or cell phone coverage. An incredible 1,360 out of 1,600 cellphone towers are down. According to some reports, it could take four to six months for electricity to be restored. Hospitals and other emergency services are struggling to cope.
As Maria made landfall, many Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland and elsewhere scrambled to get news of their loved ones on the island. Most, if not all of us, turned to social media. Why? Because we couldn’t trust major media outlets in the United States to give us in-depth coverage of the devastation. Our disasters, we figured, just don’t rate high enough in their eyes.
Sadly – we were proven right. The destruction in Puerto Rico received relatively little media attention compared to Hurricanes Harvey [August 2017] and Irma[ September 2017]. Traditional broadcasters deployed a meager team of reporters. Even the Hispanic broadcasters on the mainland proved wanting in their coverage.
That’s why we relied on social media to relay vital information to family and friends. We used it to tell them which gas stations were open, which markets were still selling food and which banks still had cash. Social media became our life line.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump – usually very active on social media himself – was silent throughout the weekend on Puerto Rico. Instead of standing with those suffering, he chose instead to pick a fight with the NFL. Judging by his actions so far, few trust that he will do anything to bring attention to the devastation on the island, let alone address it in a meaningful way.
Because of Puerto Rico’s colonial status, it is consistently ignored, as is clear from the response to this disaster
How are we meant to get the attention of the U.S. president? One person suggested on Twitter: “If anybody reaches their families in #PuertoRico, tell them to #TakeAKnee” – a reference to the kneeling NFL players – “Maybe we’ll get noticed then.”
Political commentator Ana Navarro shared an equally grim idea on Twitter: “Friend from Puerto Rico: How do we get Trump to focus on us? Me: Pick-up Tiki torches, stage a neo-nazi protest. Then he’ll think ur ‘fine people.’”
Sadly, this treatment of Puerto Rico is no surprise. Because of the island’s colonial status, it is consistently overlooked and ignored. Nothing has made this more clear than the response to this disaster.
Consider that, as we speak, some vital supplies ships may not be able to reach the island because they don’t meet the requirements of an obscure rule, known as the Jones Act, which requires that all cargo ships docking in Puerto Rico carry a United States flag and an American crew.
Puerto Ricans have long maintained that the Jones Act, which is imposed on all U.S. ports, is crushing the island’s economy. While a waiver was issued after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, that hasn’t happened yet this time. This is shameful. Not only should it be waived, but it should be removed all together.
It’s also time to address the other slow-burning crises that Puerto Rico is facing. The island is suffering the most crushing economic and fiscal crisis of its history, brought about by a massive $70bn debt, which prompted the establishment of a fiscal control board, and a looming budget gap of more than $20bn.
To make matters worse, a soaring 12% unemployment rate has fueled a population decline that exceeds the 1950s Great Migration, stripping the island of its human capital as people head to mainland US in search of jobs.
Like the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, these socio-economic crises are largely under-covered by mainstream press and ignored by politicians in Washington DC.
Puerto Rico is teetering on the edge of a humanitarian crisis, and the television cameras are still largely absent. And if you’re shocked by that, imagine what else they’re not showing you.
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former news director for Univision in Puerto Rico
Additional related readings:
‘This is like in war’: A scramble to care for Puerto Rico’s sick and injured, New York Times, Sept 26, 2017
Cuba offers Puerto Rico aid after devastating Hurricane Maria, Xinhua, Sept 26, 2017
In battered Puerto Rico, governor warns of a humanitarian crisis, by Frances Robles, Lizette Alvarez and Nicholas Fando, New York Times, Sept 25, 2017
Mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital city speaks of ‘horror in the streets’ in aftermath of Hurricane Irma, video interview (five minutes) with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, in Washington Post, Sept 25, 2017
Trump reminds disaster-stricken Puerto Rico it holds ‘massive debt’, by Bess Levin, Vanity Fair, Sept 26, 2017
Trump-style empathy: ‘Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.’
Is the crisis in Puerto Rico becoming Trump’s Katrina?, by Abigail Tracy , Vanity Fair, Sept 25, 2017
As the president tweets about the NFL, the U.S. territory is said to be hurtling toward a humanitarian crisis.
Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is a wake-up call. It could be crushed like Greece, commentary by Martin Guzman, The Guardian, May 8, 2017
Puerto Rico’s ‘unpayable’ debt: is this the Greece of the western hemisphere?, by Alan Yuhas, The Guardian, July 6, 2015