Puerto Rico is an island in need of transformation, not just ‘recovery’

SAN ANTONIO — Five years after two climate change-related disasters struck Puerto Rico, yet another hit almost to the day.

The island still hasn’t recovered from the destruction wrought by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. Then Fiona arrived last week. Residents were struck not just by the effects of another weather disaster but with post traumatic stress disorder.

Recovery was, in fact, just getting under way in some places. In Puerto Rico, however, “recovery” is relative.

It’s a deceptive word, implying that getting back to a status quo, the
before disaster struck, should be the goal. It suggests the state of a house, a building or bridge
antes de
Fiona is enough.

Over the last week, news reports have described the devastation. It’s deja vu.

As they did five years ago, first-responders transported patients from hospitals whose back-up generators failed to those with working generators.

Lights are beginning to go back on for some residents, and safe water is beginning to flow again.

Yet even before the hurricane, Puerto Ricans — like Texans — couldn’t count on a reliable grid. That prompted the New York attorney general’s office to call for an investigation of Puerto Rico’s power provider Luma Energy.

On Saturday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration in Puerto Rico. The disaster-focused Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that federal aid would be made available to the commonwealth “beginning Sept. 17 and continuing.”

FEMA aid is focused. It alleviates pain and suffering in direct assistance.

Five years ago, the Trump administration didn’t respond as quickly — nor as well. President Donald Trump placed layers of restrictions on aid, slowing the flow of money.

The Biden administration removed those restrictions, “as part of an effort to address racial disparities in the impact of climate change,” the New York Times reported.

Carmen Yulín Cruz
, the former mayor of San Juan, who now serves as a leadership fellow at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, sees other differences.

“So far, we have seen an administration responding to a crisis with a people-centered approach,” she said to me via text this week in response to questions.

“This is in stark contrast to the response under the Trump administration,” Cruz said.

For Trump, it was all about optics. He visited the island and declared all well. Then he weaponized aid when he was faulted.

Cruz, who’ll be in San Antonio next week for an
Oct. 1 event
put on by the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists, pointed to a
now-infamous scene
to make her point.

It was when Trump visited a relief distribution site in San Juan in 2017 and threw packages of paper towels to people. He seemed playful, like he was throwing a football, but even his staff grimaced.

A year later, a piece in the Washington Post described it as classic Trump, “eager to congratulate himself prematurely.”

“It’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done,” he said at the time.

Hurricane Maria proved him wrong. It was lethal. While the official death toll stayed at 64 for well over a year, 3,000 deaths were eventually counted.

A year later, the number was higher. Harvard University’s T.H.
Chan School of Public Health
put the number at 4,645, citing disruptions in healthcare, especially for the elderly and chronically ill.

So far, Puerto Rico’s death toll from Fiona is eight. Cruz cited other differences.

“I am sure that no one will throw paper towels at us and that in itself is a great difference,” she said Wednesday via text as she prepared to travel to San Juan.

“The important thing now is that much-needed aid does not get tangled up in the bureaucratic processes of the federal government,” she said.

Since 2017, Cruz has spoken repeatedly about the need not just for recovery in Puerto Rico but transformation.

“This is a monumental crisis, and it requires a monumental response” and “permanent solutions to recurring problems,” she said.

Cruz’s biggest recommendation: Let the mayors of the island’s 78 municipalities distribute aid directly to their residents.

She’s grateful for one major change. That the Biden’s administration “seems to embrace the overall principle that I had to fight so hard to be understood under the Trump administration: This is not about politics. This is about saving lives.”

She has a lot more to say about the status of her beloved island, but that’s going to have to wait until she gets to San Antonio and appears on my podcast.

It’s yet to be named but already under way. Stay tuned.


Source link