Puerto Rico Still Lacks Necessary Aid


The United States must help Puerto Rico as it recovers from natural disasters under a corrupt government. (Courtesy of Twitter)

In 2017, Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico and altered the lives of nearly three million citizens. The disaster caused countless forms of physical destruction to the island and its people, including its cultural history, rainforests, homes and power source.

On top of these hardships, the people of Puerto Rico were subjected to a corrupt government, making restoration of everyday life on the island even more difficult. In addition to rebuilding their homes and lives, the people of Puerto Rico gathered on the streets of Old San Juan to protest their governor at the time, Ricardo Rossello. In Aug. 2019, Rossello officially resigned, giving the public a feeling of political hope and a moment of peace.

That moment ended in the last 30 days when earthquakes and aftershocks shook the island, destroying the recently rebuilt lives of many of its inhabitants. These earthquakes were so destructive that the entire island was left without power yet again, and Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency. 

They were in need of aid from their new governor Wanda Vazquez and the government they attempted to reform. The people were let down once again when a warehouse of unused disaster relief aid was found collecting dust in Ponce, a city in southern Puerto Rico.

Governor Wanda Vazquez was accused of having knowledge of this warehouse and its supplies, some of which had been there since Hurricane Maria two years ago. The people lined the streets of Old San Juan once again to protest for the resignation of the second governor in a year.

Since the incompetence of the Puerto Rican government has rendered the island in need of responsibly managed aid, President Trump has assigned the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to monitor how the funds are used. While this is a productive method for managing fiscal aid, based on the recent displays of political corruption, these limits may be destructive for the people of Puerto Rico.

“Given the Puerto Rico government’s alleged corruption, fiscal irregularities and mismanagement, we will appoint a Federal Financial Monitor to oversee the disbursement of all HUD disaster recovery funds,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

On the one hand, these limitations protect taxpayers and ensure the deliverance of aid to the people who need it most. On the other hand, it delays the distribution of that aid. Therefore, this restriction could harm the citizens of Puerto Rico more than help them if the process is not expedited. 

The U.S. government cannot be lackadaisical with this process. Puerto Rico needs help right now. Since we cannot know how hastily HUD will handle this dilemma, it has never been more important for public officials and the American people to help Puerto Ricans in whatever ways they can.

New York City government officials recognize this need and have begun to take important steps toward helping Puerto Rico beyond the influence of the federal government. 

Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres is proposing a bill that would create an Office of Puerto Rico-New York City affairs for the purpose of “expressing our solidarity” with the people of Puerto Rico as well as helping to house the displaced citizens of Puerto Rico in New York City. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also announced that the New York Power Authority deployed electric utility experts to assist with the Puerto Rico electrical power grid. This grid has failed the island multiple times and needs serious maintenance, so this aid will do a great deal for the people and will help bring the island to where it was before disaster struck.

Additionally, Governor Cuomo has sent a team of bilingual mental health professionals to help with an extremely important, yet often overlooked, aspect of disaster: mental stability after trauma.

“The people of Puerto Rico have been through hell, and while the federal administration abdicated its responsibility to help American citizens during difficult times, New York is continuing to step up to provide assistance,” said Governor Cuomo.

These are vital and progressive steps, but there is much to be done by the citizens of New York beyond our governor’s or councilmember’s activism.

I had the pleasure of visiting the island of Puerto Rico just days before the first high-grade earthquake this year struck in early January. I was enthralled by the culture of the place, and I tried to take as much of it in as I could in the short that I was there. The most striking aspect of my trip was how the island still struggles to repair itself after Hurricane Maria, which took place almost three years ago. Historic and cultural sites were not spared by the hurricane, and neither was the rainforest and all of its inhabitants. The people of Puerto Rico have struggled significantly with every aspect of the place they call home. 

What stunned me, though, were the attitudes of every Puerto Rican I met during my trip. Despite what they have been through, an overwhelming sense of strength, resilience and heritage remains. In honor of this, the government must make effective change.

Erica Stanley, FCRH ’22, is a classic civilizations major from Fairfax, Virginia.