More than two weeks after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, the largest such hurricane to hit the island since the 1920s, the situation remains, as many officials and residents of the island have stated, “apocalyptic.” The island has been afflicted with massive flooding, buildings have been decimated, and the island’s electric grid and communications networks have been knocked out. The official death toll, as of this week, has risen to 34, and is expected to rise much higher, possibly even into the hundreds, in the coming days.
And yet, to hear the White House tell it, it would seem that everything was completely under control.
As President Trump toured the affluent, primarily English-speaking San Juan suburb of Guaynabo, which was largely spared Maria’s wrath, he praised the government response, remarking how the citizens of Puerto Rico should be proud to not be faced with a “real catastrophe,” like 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. At a meeting later that day, he would go on to throw rolls of paper towels into the crowd, as if he were giving out prizes at a show.
Despite what the White House claims, however, many, especially Puerto Rican officials and members of Congress, have noticed that the situation in Puerto Rico is being handled with much less urgency than that in Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey, or in Florida after Hurricane Irma. While the response for those hurricanes was massive, well-coordinated, and immediate, the response for Hurricane Maria has been much slower and not nearly as intensive. Some of this, of course, can be blamed solely on the fact that unlike in Texas or Florida, much of the island’s communications have been decimated, making it harder to coordinate relief efforts. However, the Trump administration has been overall much slower to react, and has done so with almost a sense of disinterest.
There is no more reliable indicator of what the president is thinking than his Twitter account. It is rather telling, therefore, that the President waited a full five days after Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico to first mention the catastrophe on Twitter - far more important, apparently, was his feud with the NFL - and even then, he seemed to focus more on the island territory’s debts and supposedly shoddy infrastructure. Why could this be? Perhaps it has something to do with the many corporations wanting Puerto Rico to privatize its electrical grid and other infrastructure, exploiting the catastrophe for a profit… or perhaps Trump is merely desperate to hoist blame for the devastation to pre-existing but largely unrelated issues.
While aid has arrived, it took much longer than it did after Harvey or Irma, and on a much smaller scale. Puerto Rican officials, along with members of the United States military and other aid administrators, have openly stated that they do not have the manpower or supplies necessary for recovery, and even now, weeks after the disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to authorize full funding for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. In contrast, the relief efforts in Florida and Texas began almost immediately, and on a major scale. President Trump’s visits to those states were much earlier as well, within a few days of the hurricane making landfall, as opposed to a few weeks. And yet, the Trump administration maintains that they are doing all they can, and are quick to lash out at Puerto Rican officials, such as San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who criticize the relief effort.
Similarly, the administration has been quick to blame Puerto Ricans themselves for the slow recovery. President Trump has complained via Twitter that Puerto Ricans “want everything done for them,” and criticizing officials who disagree with him, such as Cruz, for their “poor leadership.” He further claimed that the only reason for the criticism was that Puerto Rican authorities were being told by the Democratic Party to be hostile towards him; Cruz is not in fact a Democrat, but a member of the Puerto Rican Popular Democratic Party. The backlash to these comments has been widespread and immediate, with politicians, celebrities, and others calling them “insulting,” and referring to the president with terms that cannot be repeated here.
Truly, the Trump administration would rather blame Puerto Ricans for their failures rather than put their full effort into the recovery. For any who wish to contribute themselves, please contribute to organizations such as One America Appeal, Friends of Puerto Rico and the Food Bank of Puerto Rico.
Chris Flynn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org