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Federal relief for Hurricane Maria is coming a year and a half too late. Getty Images
Federal relief for Hurricane Maria is coming a year and a half too late. Getty Images

A colony’s lament: Waiting a year and a half for disaster relief

After its own six months of delay, the Senate finally passed a $19.1 billion disaster aid package that grants $1.4 billion to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief.

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In March 2019, before leaving for Michigan for one of his trademark rallies, president Donald Trump declared that he’s “taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever.”

He followed it up with his own numbers—supposedly in the works—that included “$91 billion going to Puerto Rico.” A fabrication that has nothing to do with the truth.

At the time of the president’s statements, Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico was already more than a year old and the island still had yet to receive any aid from the U.S. government.

Since then, two more months have passed—a year and a half without federal relief—and the Senate finally passed a general disaster aid package worth $19.1 billion, with $1.4 billion for Hurricane Maria relief. It’s a far cry from the “$91 billion going to Puerto Rico.”

In the time it’s taken for U.S. Congress to get a relief plan for Puerto Rico, there’s been a trickle of what is really happening on the island since the devastation, such as the initial struggle to establish communication, a shortage of medical supplies, and the year-long battle to restore power.

But the most damning revelation to come out since Maria’s devastation is the true death toll. On his visit to Puerto Rico two weeks after the hurricane, the death toll was announced at 34, and would rise to 64 in December of 2017. It wasn’t until news outlets began releasing conflicting reports that the true death toll emerged - 3,000, mostly perishing after Maria. Today, we’re only left to wonder how many of those lives could have been saved with quicker congressional action.

As Li Zhou reports for Vox, president Trump is a big reason for the long delay in relief funding. In addition to the rejection of a funding plan put forth by Democrats, the president also requested $1.1 billion for additional beds in ICE detention centers on the border. The request was rejected and is not included in the $19.1 billion plan that just passed the Senate.

This slow response from Congress has reinvigorated calls for independence on the island. The U.S. invaded Puerto Rico in 1898—and took possession of the island as part of the war booty at the end of the Spanish American war—leaving it to suffer for decades in a colonial limbo.

Susanne Ramirez de Arellano, a Puerto Rican and former News Director for Univision in Puerto Rico captures the island’s attitude after what she calls “Trump’s biggest betrayal.”

“This colonial tyranny has opened a Pandora’s Box, one which has most Puerto Ricans saying that we are not ‘property,’ we are not ‘your citizens.’ And we demand our self-determination.”

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