Editorial | Puerto Rico deserves more from the U.S. government


AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo

View of a house that was washed away by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Imagining waking up without power, and then waking up the next morning without power, and then the next and the next. This is the reality for people living in Puerto Rico. 

Puerto Rico has struggled with power outages for years. Since Hurricane Maria took place five years ago, more than one million customers periodically lose electricity due to the power grid’s instability. The 2017 storm cost nearly 3,000 lives and caused some areas to struggle for several months without power.

Hurricane Fiona, a Category 1 storm that has killed 16 people in Puerto Rico as of Saturday, prompted residents to storm prep with gas generators, substantial non-perishable food collections and lots of bottled water. Some Puerto Ricans even took to TikTok, showing their hurricane preparation in case they wouldn’t be able to access necessary resources.

In addition to power outages, half a million people experienced water shutoffs for three days after Fiona hit the island. At one point last week, only 40% of households had clean running water. 

Puerto Rico also experienced severe water shortages after Hurricane Maria and in periods of drought during the pandemic. People have also raised concerns about water contamination for years due to poor water management.   

Even though Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 and was designated a commonwealth in 1952, the nation has treated it terribly. Despite having U.S. citizenship, Puerto Ricans are not granted full participation in national or local politics, considering they don’t have electoral votes in presidential elections nor voting representation in Congress. 

The island also lacks “economic sovereignty.” The U.S. regulates its trade, currency and business affairs, preventing the island’s economy from growing independently. Years of bad economic policies and practices, in large part due to intervention by the federal government, have devastated Puerto Rico’s economy and made recovery harder.   

The Biden administration announced last week that the federal government will pay 100% of the costs of Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Fiona for the next month, including debris removal, power and water restoration, as well as food and shelter assistance. Although these are necessary efforts that will make a substantial impact, the government does not deserve praise for these moves. 

Puerto Ricans pay federal taxes — contributing $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2020 — and are entitled to the same assistance as states. 

Although the government has spent about $24 billion in disaster relief for the island since 2017, it demonstrates a lack of effective change if the power grid continues to fail and clean water isn’t accessible time and time again. If the government continues to mismanage disaster relief and not invest in necessary infrastructure, more Puerto Ricans will suffer and die at the hands of something preventable. 

Regardless of what’s to come, the U.S. must do more for Puerto Rico while it’s in control. Allowing citizens to live without power and clean water for sustained periods is inhumane. Puerto Rico deserves so much more and so much better.