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Puerto Rico cries for help

Puerto Rico cries for help

Puerto Rico cries for help
September 28
15:51 2017

Eva Reinoso Tejada

I was listening to Patricia Velez, a Univision journalist, who was in Puerto Rico, interviewing survivors of Hurricane Maria. She recorded Ms. Diaz, members of the Colón, Collazo, Romero, Gonzalez and many other families who braved the devastation that María brought to the island. She would then call their relatives in the U.S. and showed them the videos and recordings, which was a treat, as Puerto Rico is highly uncommunicated after the storm. Only forty-five per cent of their people have running water, and after going on a complete blackout, most of the island is now running on power generators. So much so, that two people died at an Intensive Care Unite when their generators ran out of fuel and their life support equipment went dark.

I cried watching this. Not because of the pain and devastation, but because I saw one common denominator to all this. Never once those in Puerto Rico said, “help me”, “get me out of here”, “send me food”, “send me money”. The one thing they all said was: “Estamos bien” (We are all ok). Everyone without exception wanted to comfort their relatives in the U.S. Their children, their parents, their nephews and nieces. Some said, “We lost both cars and the house, but we are ok.”

It breaks my heart and almost makes me feel ashamed how we can literally drown in a glass of water, and these people, who really had it rough, show so much strength and composure. On the other hand, it is encouraging to see all the people who are doing something to help. Local initiatives like that of ALEF, celebrities like JLo, Marc Anthony and Daddy Yankee, all children of the island, have stepped forward with what they can.

However, this event has been a grim showcase of the true colors of the federal government. Not only the president hasn’t even glanced at the island a full week after the tragedy. Then he tweets a bunch of non-sense, and ends his reference to the issue by saying “This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean, and it’s a big ocean. It’s a very big ocean…” What I truly think is that this is seen as a second-class citizen issue, when bickering with the NFL can be more relevant and get more attention than doing the right thing in Puerto Rico.

But that is not the worst part. The worst of all this has a name, and it is the Jones Act. Named The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, this piece of legislation requires that any product shipped by water from one domestic port to another must use a ship built in America, owned by Americans, crewed by Americans and flying the American flag. It was made to preserve the ship-building industry back in those times. Nowadays, prohibiting foreign flag vessels from participating in relief efforts has made the response to national disasters slower and less effective. Fortunately, when emergencies strike, the federal government usually overrides this law to allow any vessel to transport relief to the affected areas. That is what George Bush did when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, and Obama did it when Hurricane Sandy slammed the Northeast.

The Trump administration also swiftly lifted the regulation after Texas and Florida were hit by Harvey in August and Irma this month. Unfortunately, that is not the case for Puerto Rico. The government has refused to lift this outdated regulation. Not only it is a true obstacle to get much-needed supplies to rebuild the island and help its people, it is a big offense and a reminder that, because there are probably no votes to look for in Puerto Rico, of because their people are Latinos, they well get the second-class citizen treatment. It is hard not to be resentful after this.

But Puerto Ricans continue to tell their relatives that they are doing fine, and that they will get out of this, which is as awe-striking to me as it is encouraging. I have learned a lesson from these Puerto Ricans today. If you feel you would like to help those in Puerto Rico, or even the victims of the earthquakes in Mexico, this edition of El Comercio de Colorado features extensive lists of initiatives and institutions that are doing what they can to help.

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Edición Virtual | #301 | 7 de Diciembre 2017

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