Editorial: Don’t forget about Puerto Rico in wake of Maria



Hundreds of San Juan residents have taken shelter at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, until Hurricane Maria passes. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

When it made landfall in Puerto Rico Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria was the largest storm the island faced in the last 80 years.

Almost the entire population of the island — nearly 3.5 million American citizens — still do not have electricity. Many also do not have running water, and 95 percent of cell service on the island is wiped out.

But in the aftermath of the historic storm, President Donald Trump — on a quick break from criticizing athletes exercising their freedom of speech — offered an interesting take on the situation.

“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble…” he wrote on Twitter Sept. 25. He continued to berate Puerto Rico, criticizing their electrical grid — which he said was “in terrible shape” even before the storm — and holding the territory’s more than $100 billion debt over its head.

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Puerto Rico’s debt is an unavoidable fact at this point. In fact, much of Puerto Rico’s debt is a product of U.S. entanglement. Complex U.S. tax codes have enticed big business to develop in Puerto Rico, but when were by President Bill Clinton rescinded in 2006 the island was left with nothing. As a result of that debt, Puerto Rico has never accomplished nationwide infrastructure reform, which amplified Hurricane Maria’s impact.

But debt should be of little importance in the face of a disaster. Trump’s response shows a complete lack of empathy for people who aren’t his voting base. While residents of Puerto Rico are American citizens with many of the same rights as citizens born in the 50 states, Puerto Ricans don’t have the right to vote in U.S. elections — thus, their opinions of him don’t have as much political importance as citizens of U.S. states.

The U.S. even sent their largest naval hospitals to non-U.S. territories like Haiti after other natural disasters —  and it’s a good thing we did. Our responses to disasters should not be dependent on the political victories they can deliver.  What’s truly important when it comes to Puerto Rico is to listen to the locals who are calling for faster Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, aid.

We won’t argue on Puerto Ricans’ behalf about the future of their territory’s political status, nor will we argue about the severity of its debt. All that we know is that when humanitarian crises strike American territories, our nation has to take responsibility. Individually, we must speak up and use our political voting privileges that Puerto Ricans unfortunately do not have to show we will stand for all citizens.

But on the national level, the responsibility starts with our leader being proud of his citizens and committing himself to their cause — not berating a disaster-stricken island whose citizens never asked for their second-class status.

Our president must realize there are better, more impactful ways to show patriotism than standing for the national anthem. He could start by caring equally about all American citizens, regardless of their eligibility to vote.