Nine months after devastating Hurricane Maria made landfall, the island of Puerto Rico is entering this year’s hurricane season without ever having recovered from the last one.
The record-breaking hurricane hit the island on September 20, 2017 and officially killed 64 people. Other estimates put the death toll much higher, and the continued lack of power and other necessities means that Puerto Ricans are still dying because of the hurricane.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the U.S., so while it isn’t a state, and its citizens don’t have quite the same rights as mainlanders, the federal government is still responsible for assisting in the disaster relief process.
In November 2017, two months after the hurricane hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded $30 million in contracts to a company that had been newly created in St. Cloud, Florida.
The company, Bronze Star LLC, which lists only $150K in annual revenue and a measly 15 employees, was tasked with delivering emergency plastic sheeting and tarps to Puerto Rico.
They never delivered any, and the millions of contract dollars were tied up in the process of cancellation for weeks while Puerto Ricans continued to suffer in the rain.
FEMA didn’t end up paying any money, but neither did the islanders receive the aid they needed, nor were their homes and businesses protected from the elements, so, ultimately, they continued to lose.
Because of the devastation wrought by Maria, the San Juan port was closed, and food insecurity quickly became an issue.
Once again, FEMA was called in to help the people by bringing them food, and technically they did — Cheeze-It’s and Skittles, anyway. But that’s mostly because they repeated their mistakes and awarded a $156 million contract to a single-person company for a delivery of 30 million meals. The single employee could only deliver 50,000.
So, Puerto Ricans are ditching the U.S.-mandated monocultures of coffee and returning to the far more eco-friendly and ancestral practices of polyculture farming in an effort to establish food-sovereignty once again on the fertile island.
Once Puerto Rico lost its military importance as a strategic base after the end of the Cold War, its main economic value to the U.S. government was in the possibility for low-wage manufacturing jobs and tourism, as well as the ever-growing coffee industry.
In fact, one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in the country has three plants in Puerto Rico which were devastated by the hurricane for months, causing the U.S. to make up the deficit by importing from Mexico.
Puerto Rico is actually the biggest pharmaceutical manufacturer in the entire country, generating $40 billion worth of pharmaceutical products, a majority of which end up being used in mainland U.S.
So, you could say that by continuing to neglect the island and its people, we’re ultimately hurting ourselves.
On that line, as many conservative Americans continue to bemoan the refugee crisis despite the fact that our refugee acceptance rates are at a 40-year low, our government’s refusal to properly assist the Puerto Rican people in their recovery is resulting in a mass exodus from the island to mainland U.S.
As Klein explains, because of very strange tax laws that allow American citizens who move from the mainland U.S. to Puerto Rico to be exempt from paying taxes, many wealthy investors who need to liquidate various financial assets, including crypto-currencies, are able to do so without paying taxes on them.
This, and the island’s devastation and subsequent economic stagnation, increase the possibility of massive amounts of property being bought up by mainland developers looking to create the next Cabo or Cancun.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that Puerto Rico is not an economically autonomous territory — the U.S. instituted a Federal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) to regulate the economy and restructure the island’s debt.
It’s comprised of unelected officials and only one native Puerto Rican representative, Christian Sobrino.
The Board is run by Natalie Jaresko, an American-born Ukrainian whose main political experience was serving as the Ukraine’s minister of finance from 2014 to 2016.
She gets a more than $600,000 annual salary.
Puerto Rican tax dollars reportedly paid for monthly trips for Jaresko from the island to Ukraine and back from March through June of last year, including her family’s relocation.
And all of these concurrent disasters are brought to a head when you realize that Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico can’t actually vote for the people who govern them from afar because they have no representatives or senators in congress.
If they leave the island and move to the mainland, they can vote, which only strengthens the argument that the U.S. government is strategically working to displace Puerto Ricans in an effort to monopolize control of the island and its resources.
It is literally a situation of the colonizer becoming passively disinterested in the status or well-being of its colony while simultaneously working to subvert its autonomy through oppressive and neglectful policies.
Hurricane Maria was a devastating natural disaster that scientists say was a precursor for what’s yet to come.
Regardless of the political status of Puerto Ricans in the eyes of the U.S. government, they are human beings to whom we owe our support and services.
It is time for our government to do right by the people of Puerto Rico and either allow them to become a sovereign nation or allow them to become the 51st state in the Union.