Puerto Rico: A Forgotten Nation

Updated on December 6, 2017

More than a month has passed since hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico is still struggling to survive; almost two-thirds of the island is still without electricity, and millions are without clean drinking water; 3.5 million U.S. citizens struggle to obtain the basic essentials of life, while 55,000 have already left the island.

The hurricane struck on September 16th, devastating Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, it was regarded as the worst natural disaster in Dominica since 1979. The official death toll was recorded at 51, yet many have noted that it’s probably much higher, "These individuals that you heard on the news lied about the death toll” said rapper and activist Immortal Technique at his Viva Puerto Rico benefit concert in which all the proceeds went to hurricane relief and recovery efforts. Due to the lack of food, water, and medicine, many more died after the hurricane hit; USA today notes how the causalities was probably much closer to 450.

One of the main issues continues to be a lack of medicine; many residents are unable to get their prescriptions. On top of that a public health crisis is imminent from damage done to the water system, reports of eye infections and gastrointestinal diseases from exposure to contaminated water have become a frequent occurrence.

All in all, the hurricane is taking a great toll on Puerto Rico’s economy, halting their way of life, many rural areas depended on agriculture as their main source of income, and much of it has been destroyed, while children are still unable to go to school.

Instead of giving Puerto Rico a grant, the U.S. government decided to put them in deeper debt by loaning them 5 million dollars, on top of their 72 billion debt owed to bondholders. Moreover, the Jones Act, a law from the 1920’s, creates shipping restrictions, making it harder for gasoline, medicine and other supplies to get to Puerto Rico, yet a group of American companies that dominate U.S.-Puerto Rico shipping routes have lobbied extensively to keep the law in place.

The fact is the Jones Act has always been a burden on Puerto Rico’s economy, due to all the extra fees, the same car will cost $6,000 more in San Juan than in Miami. However, only a few have spoken up about it’s negative effects, among them are Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Mike Lee of Utah who are calling for its removal.

An investigation done by Puerto Rico’s Center For Investigative Journalism states, “the permanent disaster of Maria has been largely due to the slow and inefficient deployment of the emergency response due to a fatal combination between the lack of liquidity of the government of Puerto Rico and its municipalities and the federal governments inaction.”

Despite a lack of assistance from the government, the people have managed to organically rise up and take action themselves, several organizations on the ground have been working hard to form emergency response teams and to get as much aid directly to the island. Organizations like Americares, Connect Relief, and Caras de la Americas have stepped up and provided immense relief.

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