Puerto Rico: The neglected island

Camila Martinez Rivera, Photo Editor

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is once again experiencing the tolls that come with hurricane season. With this comes time to reflect on the help, or lack thereof, the United States has provided its territories in need. I would like to mention that the following will be written from the perspective of a Puerto Rican that was born and raised in the States. Although I have not lived through the tragedies that the hurricanes have brought my friends and family, I am writing with the same anger and frustration they feel.

Hurricane Maria took place in Sept. 2017. Maria, a Category 4 hurricane, destroyed Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and vegetation. Mercy Corps stated in their article that Electricity was cut off to 100 percent of the island, and access to clean water and food became limited for most. The powerful Category 4 storm devastated the island and plunged all of its 3.4 million residents into a desperate humanitarian crisis.” Although hurricanes are to be expected when living in Puerto Rico, Maria was not like the others. The island still has not fully recovered from the effects of the hurricane. Months later, the island was left without power, clean water, cell service and other vital supplies. “According to the New England Journal of Medicine, households went 84 days without power, 68 days without water, and 41 days without cell service.” 

While the citizens suffered, the former U.S. president protected those who withheld the help that Puerto Rico needed. “The administration of former President Donald Trump obstructed an investigation looking into why officials withheld about $20 billion in hurricane relief for Puerto Rico following the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” NBC news stated. This disaster relief would have completely changed the outcome of the aftermath. Trump “repeatedly opposed disaster funding” because of his “concerns about corruption” in Puerto Rico. The former president “did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico,” while Congress “approved a total of $20 billion in HUD funds for Puerto Rico.” Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico were all going through the tragedies and trauma that come with hurricanes, but Puerto Rico was the only one that had its HUD held up.

In Sept. 2022 Fiona hit Puerto Rico, the Category 1 hurricane making landfall on the island’s fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria. Although this storm was weaker, it still had very strong effects on the island. As Puerto Rico has still not fully recovered from Maria, Fiona has made it so “almost half a million residents of Puerto Rico remain without electricity, and thousands still lack access to clean water, more than a week after Hurricane Fiona made landfall.” Since Hurricane Ian landed in Florida, I have seen little to no coverage of what is happening in Puerto Rico. This sounds alarmingly familiar. 

It has been said by President Joe Biden “that the federal government would pay Puerto Rico’s total cost of recovery — including debris removal, power and water restoration, shelter and food — over the next month.” Although his words are pretty, where is the action? On his website it states “Joe Biden will not wait, however, to address the current untenable situation in Puerto Rico, which has resulted in the unequal treatment of the American citizens who call the island home.” He should have addressed the ongoing issues when he was first elected by granting Puerto Rico their full HUD to repair from the previous hurricane. He does not need to go to Puerto Rico with his camera crew and conduct a walk-around to give us the resources we need. Our island is not a press tour — its citizens cannot vote for the U.S. president.

It has been calculated by the Morning Consult + Politico that  “3 in 4 voters believe the US is responsible for Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Fiona Recovery efforts.” The mainland’s citizens can agree that what has happened and is happening in Puerto Rico is devastating, yet there has been no change. President Biden has promised urgency, and I hope to see some sort of action coming soon. I fear that Puerto Ricans have already been forgotten. Maria left Puerto Rico defenseless and battered, Fiona destroyed what was left, but Puerto Rico’s spirit still stays strong.