Puerto Rico: The USA Domestic disaster no one wants to talk about.
Today we learned officially what was already widely known – that the death toll on Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria (followed by Hurricane Irma) was more than 1400 people, not the 64 people its government originally estimated. There will be some discussion about the discrepancy between these two figures but there is a much bigger discrepancy – the one between the help given by the USA government to Florida (Irma) and Texas (Harvey) and the help given to Puerto Rico. Yes, it’s true that the geography of Puerto Rico made it harder to get National Guard and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) staff on site. But:
- In Texas after the storm, the number of FEMA employees, other federal agencies, and the National Guard deployed topped 31,000 and FEMA supplied 3 million meals and 3 million liters of water to be distributed to survivors. Only 63 people died.
- In Florida after the storm, more than 40,000 federal personnel, including 2,650 FEMA staff, were in place within days. FEMA transferred 6.6 million meals and 4.7 million liters of water. Only 72 people died.
- In Puerto Rico after the storm, just 10,000 federal staff were on the ground split between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands “assisting search and rescue and recovery efforts”. 1400 hundred people have died.
This isn’t just geography, it’s policy. On January 9th 2018 FEMA rejected making a loan, already promised to Puerto Rico, determining that “Puerto Rico does not need the money at this time.”
Half of Puerto Rico’s population had no power at this time.
There’s another difference too. When Florida and Texas get disaster relief, they get it. That’s it. When Puerto Rico gets ‘relief’ it is on the basis that it has to pay it back as a loan (something its struggling economy is in no condition to be able to do.)
Why should this be? Is it perhaps because Puerto Rico’s next door neighbour is Hispaniola, the island which is home to Dominican Republic and Haiti, one of the ‘shithole countries’ President Trump is so keen not to receive immigrants from?
Let’s put aside debate about the wisdom of Trump’s immigration policies. They are not the issue here. Because…
Puerto Ricans are not immigrants. Puerto Rico is part of the USA and Puerto Ricans are USA citizens.
Disaster Relief to Puerto Rico is not foreign aid it is domestic politics.
Imagine if the UK government in Westminster were to tell Scotland it couldn’t help with flood relief because it was too busy helping the ‘home counties’ (don’t tempt me) and you’re closer to the scandal here.