Fabiola Santiago

Why isn’t Trump rushing to help Puerto Rico’s U.S. citizens? Political payback

Residents of San Juan’s ‘La Perla’ neighborhood deal with the task of cleaning up after Hurricane Maria.
Residents of San Juan’s ‘La Perla’ neighborhood deal with the task of cleaning up after Hurricane Maria. CJUSTE@MIAMIHERALD.COM

While President Donald Trump spent the weekend obsessing on Twitter over NFL players exercising their right to free speech, the devastated island of Puerto Rico went without vital U.S. aid.

Trump’s leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria has not only been absent, but in the few instances that Trump has mentioned the U.S. territory, he has delivered only blabber that passes for presidential speech, and has proposed no solutions.

And His trolls have been busy on the internet making it seem as if Trump is a powerhouse of action, passing along fake news that he has sent Navy ships and all kinds of massive aid.

In fact, on Monday, Trump was downright judgmental and victim-blaming.

“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” he tweeted.

Why isn’t Trump rushing to help Puerto Rico when there’s so much the U.S. could do to alleviate the suffering?

It’s a matter of generalized American indifference, certainly, as the Weather Channel, for example, was more interested in Hurricane Jose — even though it was way farther from the U.S east coast — than Maria’s direct hit on Puerto Rico. There’s the sour grapes about the Trump-managed golf course on the island that went bankrupt.

But, most likely, the malaise is political payback.

Hillary Clinton carried 72 percent of the Puerto Rican vote, according to polls. The Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, largely Democrats, were supposed to be Clinton’s “secret weapon” to carry the state.

Yes, Maria is Trump’s Katrina.

He’s shown the same level of ineffectiveness as George W. Bush in responding to the devastation of black and poor New Orleans.

Puerto Rico National Guard members take food and water to the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra after Hurricane Maria.

The 3.4 million people who live in Puerto Rico are American citizens; they deserve better.

Hurricane Maria caused between $40 billion to $85 billion in insured losses in the Caribbean, 85 percent of that in Puerto Rico, according to the Boston-based catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide.

Imagine what it’s like for the uninsured masses in an island affected by two back-to-back killer hurricanes, first the brush with Irma, then last week the fierce Maria making landfall as a Category 4.

The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, has begged for help, calling Hurricane Maria “the biggest catastrophe in Puerto Rico history.” He warned of a humanitarian crisis unfolding, with 16 people dead and counting, most of the island without power, and essential survival supplies running perilously low.

A week later, the U.S. efforts available to states should have already been on the ground all over the island — but they’re not. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson called on the U.S. military to provide more search-and-rescue teams to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Other Democrats asked for more robust measures.

But the only arrivals in Puerto Rico were Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert and FEMA administrator Brock Long to “assess the situation and … inform the White House about what is needed most,” as if hurricane relief were a mystery.

On Tuesday, finally, the only basic relief getting off the ground was with an Army battalion in Georgia preparing to assist in establishing communications.

There’s no excuse for withholding full-throttle help for even a minute from a place where the water is undrinkable, the food supply is dwindling and the heat is stifling. Puerto Rico isn’t Cuba, where a shameless regime declines U.S. aid.

“The response seems to be very little so far compared to other disasters on the mainland,” agreed Jorge Duany, a Florida International University professor with expertise in both Cuba and Puerto Rico. “There’s a lot of politics behind it.”

Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei and photojournalist Carl Juste boarded one of the earliest flights out of San Juan flying back to Miami on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. Mazzei recaps her reporting since Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territor

One thing Trump and Congress can do to alleviate the suffering, Duany said, is suspend the outdated 1920 Jones Act, which requires that only American vessels deliver goods to the island; it is economically stifling, doubling prices and delaying services.

Another expert writing in the New York Times calls the Jones Act “a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market.”

Indeed, there’s much that Hurricane Maria has exposed.

Nine months into his presidency, President Trump doesn’t get it: He now represents everyone — and that includes Puerto Ricans, on the mainland and on the island.

Perhaps, in the aftermath of Irma and Maria, Puerto Ricans will become climate-change refugees. They’d do well to move to Florida — and exercise their right to vote in a swing state.

Perhaps that’s the only way for Puerto Rico to obtain all that it deserves, instead of the second-class citizen status that comes with being an American colony under Trump.

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