OPINION: Puerto Rico Calls for Help

The silence of the island speaks a thousand words. Cries of help and confusion are washed away in the soft waves of the Gulf of Mexico as a month of darkness becomes the only reply. In the center of the island, families huddle up in abandoned apartments, sharing a slice of bread as their only meal for the day. On the coastline, people flock to the region of Caguas, which has the most power, to try and communicate with worried loved ones across the Gulf. Hurricane Maria has come and gone, and left immense destruction in the aftermath.

During all this commotion and concern, President Donald Trump, who visited the sites of destruction a few weeks back, claimed that he was “having fun”. Later that same day, during a press conference with San Juan’s mayor, he had the courage to claim that the relief efforts had “thrown our budget a little out of whack.” The lack of action has already prevented recovery for almost a month now, and as President Trump continues to ignore it even more, the blackout on the island could last more than six months. 

Just because Hurricane Maria landed on a different island doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care. Over 3.4 million U.S citizens were affected and stranded on the island that was completely engulfed by the 50-mile wide Maria. An already troubled power system was only worsened by the storm, and with massive debt occurring in the power companies, there is no way they can rebuild on their own. Fresh water sources and fuel are scarce, causing the reported deaths of eighty people, and an estimate of 400 more casualties. The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, desperately calls out for help, begging the federal government to send them aid.

I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying,” Mayor Cruz said. “If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”

Even with all this desperation, President Trump still hasn’t committed to a strong course of action, claiming that the government doesn’t have to provide total relief. Although it has only been a few weeks, President Trump claims that Puerto Rico has kept FEMA, and other federal volunteers, for forever. A lack of empathy became established between the victims and President Trump with his inappropriate actions during the conference and the observation of the damage area. While he is providing some resources, and standard federal aid, the magnitude of this hurricane on an already damaged island creates a need for increased aid. Currently, the United States has been hit with a multitude of horrifying hurricanes, but those were all inland. If we  keep ignoring the fact that Puerto Rico is an island, we create the same standard for different people, dooming those stuck there.

In response to the lack of federal action, companies are taking matters into their own hands, creating an example for the president to follow. For example, Tesla shipped off solar panels and batteries to help the efforts to get energy back to the island. On the other hand, Google provided internet connection with balloons beamed along the island. Both of these large companies provide better help than the federal organizations due to the fact that they are doing it quickly and without complaint. Although aid is appreciated, if it has already been a month, and the only things that have changed are the clothes and food that people have, then it hasn’t been a successful recovery process. The lack of change is why these companies are stepping up in the first place.

Comparing the efforts after Hurricane Harvey and Irma and after Maria show a clear bias. Aid for the past few hurricanes were happily given, and there were no public complaints. Houston and Florida were ravaged by the storms, and while the damage wasn’t as bad as Maria, the costs were still racking up to billions of dollars. If the United States is contempt enough to pay for those storms, it should be ready to pay for other storms in the future. Some claim that President Trump has an unfortunate bias against Puerto Ricans because of the his previous actions and slurs against Hispanics, increasing complaints and reluctant actions. Others say that the total budget of the damage along with Puerto Rico debt is too much for the government to handle. Even if it is too much for the budget, we can’t stop aid because it becomes a matter of principle. America is based on the idea that everyone is equal, which includes American territories, meaning that we have to treat every disaster equally. Allowing the president to have a bias contradicts American principles.

Puerto Rico is completely devastated, and it will take a few decades to completely rebuild everything that was damaged. Meanwhile, President Trump is withdrawing aid from the government, with claims of laziness and wasteful resources dominating his tweets and speeches. The clear distinction between different hurricanes shows a clear bias, and when the target of the prejudice is the one that is the most harmed, it becomes a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, there are others stepping up to fill the void of resources. Locally, the Spanish Honor Society is currently holding a fundraiser to send supplies to desperate victims. Boxes are placed around the school, usually in Spanish classrooms, where you can drop off supplies such as clothes, batteries, water, and much more. Anything that you can donate helps the people who won’t be helped by anyone else. By coming together, we create change in the territory that so desperately wants it.