By Carol Widom
Last Wednesday night, exactly one week after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico, I finally breathed easier when I learned that all my relatives were alive. From a local ham operated radio, names were reported on a safety checklist and my cousin messaged that his dad’s name had been called out. Another cousin wrote on Facebook, “My sister is Alive!”
Yet today, nine days after the hurricane hit directly with winds one mile per hour short of Cat. 5, thousands of Puerto Ricans are still waiting today for communication from their loved ones. The three and a half million US citizens on the island are now entering the second week without electricity, gas, food or water. Heart wrenching pleas for help increasingly come from the Island as the humanitarian crisis intensifies. “People are starving, dying; the stored food has run out.” Families wait for hours on lines that extend for miles to receive two jugs of water and $10 of gas. But, every day even this limited distribution runs out and people are turned away.
Meanwhile, as a result of the woefully slow and inadequate response of the Trump administration, thousands of tons of food, water and supplies remain stockpiled on the docks, inaccessible to the population. Trump maintained that shipping industry interests opposed to the lifting of the Jones Act prevented the waiver. The Jones Act, a 100 year old legislation enacted after World War I to shore up the shipbuilding industry, restricts entry of vessels that are not built and operated by the United States. After an intense backlash, on Wednesday Trump announced a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act and has appointed a three star general to the Island to oversee distribution of supplies and food. Rep. Nydia Velazquez slammed Trump for citing shipping industry interests over suffering people. “This is not just a Puerto Rican crisis. It is an US crisis, worsened by a poor governmental response.”
“A ten-day waiver is far from sufficient given the size of the tragedy. It will be difficult to rebuild if the building supplies cost double what they are priced on the mainland.”
She called for a one-year waiver of the Jones Act. Ships that are not US-flagged have to be unloaded and reloaded onto US ships, almost doubling the cost of transporting goods to Puerto Rico. “It is estimated that the inflated costs attributed to the Jones Act, are responsible for billions of dollars of the Island’s staggering debt. Many are demanding the total repeal of the Jones Act, citing it as one of the tragic consequences of the Island’s colonial status. Many are demanding the total repeal of the Jones Act as well as the debt that strangles the Island’s economy.
San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, describing the heart wrenching conditions she witnesses daily, said, “Every day I hold people in need of medication and healthcare,” while more than half the hospitals are not operational. She said, “You don’t put debt above people, you put people above debt.”
As a humanitarian response, hundreds of people plan to come together in cities across the country on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 to demand that federal authorities give Puerto Rico what it needs and to highlight the role of banks that have profited and continue to profit from the misery of millions of Puerto Ricans.
“The devastation brought by Hurricane Maria has come on top of the storm by the public debt crisis and the recession that has made Puerto Rican families suffer for decades.”
Trump has equated the need for hurricane relief to the debt to Wall Street banks. “It is immoral to insist that Puerto Rican families can rebuild their homes, their hospitals, their schools and their roads, [that] they must first pay back the banks. It is time to eliminate Puerto Rico’s public debt altogether,” said organizers from Vamos4pr. Rallies will take place in Milwaukee, Chicago, Hartford, Philadelphia, Boston and Orlando under the banner of Relieve/Rebuild Puerto Rico.