By Campaign Agent Oliver Ratcliffe
Puerto Ricans are no strangers to severe weather, or political controversy. In recent months both have been intertwined in a fresh political storm for the US territory. But what does the impact of hurricane Maria show about Puerto Rican politics and its economic frailties?
Puerto Rican Politics
To begin, it is important to clarify where Puerto Rico fits into the US political tapestry. Puerto Rico is an overseas US territory, whereby residents have US citizenship and move freely between the island and the mainland. However, unlike Hawaii, Puerto Rico is not a state; therefore it is unable to vote in congress and cannot vote for the US President.
The Caribbean island has been waiting for Congress to confirm its status as either a US State, or an independent state since 1898. A 2017 referendum was held in Puerto Rico on whether they should become the 51st US state, with 97% voting in favour of statehood. However, turnout was only 23%, completely undermining the legitimacy of the vote. Recent events have only further exacerbated political tension.
The impact of Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria bulldozed its way into Puerto Rico in September 2017. It was a category 4 hurricane, with winds up to 155mph. Puerto Rico is still reeling from the impact. Nearly a month since the storm came, almost the entire island is still in darkness, thousands remain living in shelters, and many do not have access to clean drinking water. Thousands have fled the island, unable to wait out the rebuilding process.
Trump to the rescue?
Now more than ever, Puerto Rico needs leadership from their President. But is Trump showing enough concern for them? When visiting the US territory, Trump exclaimed that the Puerto Rican Government should be proud of the low death toll (now 48 but still rising) and indicated that the aid given to the country had “thrown our budget a little out of whack”. A poor choice of words from the President, in a time where locals are extra sensitive to their place in the American political system.
Unsurprisingly, Trump has also got himself embroiled in a twitter feud over the matter with San Juan Mayor Ms Carmen Yulen Cruz. Trump claims that Puerto Rico is on the verge of a financial meltdown, “largely of their own making”. Ms Cruz has dismissed Trump’s twitter tirade and claims that Trump lacks “the moral imperative to help the people of Puerto Rico”. Trump is also receiving condemnation from senior members of both parties; Democrat Congressman Luis Guterriez and Republican Senator Marco Rubio being particularly outspoken on social media.
Trump’s visit to the island caused a fresh wave of controversy for the US President, as many regarded his visit as patronizing and uncompassionate. The President is seemingly fanning the flames of a deeply embedded problem for Puerto Ricans, and it is difficult to see him reel in his ill-timed attacks on the people who are in need of care, not criticism.
However, slow and steady progress is being made, as no fewer than 19,000 civilian and military personnel are taking part in the federal relief mission. Power generators are now like gold dust on the island and the House of Representatives have just approved a $36.5 billion disaster aid package, promising more to come.
The Puerto Ricans remain resilient, but their patience will undoubtedly diminish even further if there isn’t any significant progress in the next few months. Although the Hurricane has thrown the island in darkness, it unquestionably shed light on the economic dependency and political isolation of this small and vulnerable island.
Sources and Further Reading
- Puerto Rico Referendum
- Death Toll from Hurricane Maria
- Donald Trump's Response to Puerto Rico
- Podcast on the Aftermath
- Congressman Luis Gutierrez Facebook
- Marco Rubio Twitter
Image: Wikimedia Commons