Recreational center facilities damaged by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, on September 20, 2017. According to the National Weather Service, it was the first Category 4 cyclone that hit Puerto Rico since 1932. After a visit from President Donald Trump, the official death toll stands at 34. From the damages caused by Hurricane Maria, it is projected that a quarter of Puerto Rico may not have electric power return until December. Without electricity, there are many difficulties, including major issues with communication technologies, credit card machines, and air conditioners not working. What has been raised as a significant issue is that Puerto Ricans are natural-born U.S. citizens, who can travel to and away from the U.S. without restrictions, but the response of the U.S. government to the disaster in Puerto Rico, perpetuates the feeling that the government is not viewing them as American as U.S. citizens residing in the 50 states. The issues with the response to the disaster is evident in the narratives of Puerto Ricans. For Lesley and her children, nine days elapsed before the children received a mattress for sleeping. Another person, Luciano, said that he had not seen a U.S. emergency worker since the hurricane hit Puerto Rico. Trump’s actions and responses prior to and during his visit to Puerto Rico have also raised controversy, including his joke about how much money Puerto Rico was costing the U.S. government and his comparison of the destruction in Puerto Rico to the aftermath of the “real catastrophe” Hurricane Katrina. The controversies of Donald Trump in relation with Puerto Rico bring forth another issue that is mentioned as a reason that Puerto Ricans feel they are being viewed as second-class citizens. They are not eligible to vote in presidential elections, so the statues of the nine presidents who visited Puerto Rico while in office are all powerful political figures that Puerto Ricans had little power to select. Looking further at the official response to the disaster, it is apparent that the response had been muted in comparison to the responses to other recent natural disasters. In Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake, President Barack Obama’s response was to deploy 22,000 troops and 33 ships within 2 weeks. After 2 weeks following Hurricane Maria’s landfall, there have been only 7,200 military personnel in Puerto Rico. However, even with that response to the Haitian earthquake, it was considered a major failure, which highlights the magnitude of the response needed to successfully address the consequences of a natural disaster.
The issues with the response to the damages of Hurricane Maria are such that they have exacerbated existing problems while possibly creating new challenges. The great human cost of the disaster is worsened, leading to a high toll in terms of the loss of life and the number of injuries caused. With structural issues that existed prior to the crisis, the damage of the hurricane further complicates matters. Another problem is that of the injuries to morale and trust in governmental institutions and authorities. The response fails to consider the tumultuous nature of the relationship between residents of Puerto Rico and the rest of the U.S. Despite being U.S. citizens, it is evident that the response to the disaster further perpetuates resentment and feelings of alienation, and is ultimately a disservice rendered by a powerful nation upon its citizens. The relationship is already complicated, as witnessed by the earlier referendum held on June 11, 2017, on the political status of Puerto Rico, which despite strongly showing support for statehood had very low turnout due to a boycott led by the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which favours the status quo relationship. Specifically, the response of President Trump has garnered significant global and local criticism, and it demonstrates a lack of leadership and cohesiveness in constructing a comprehensive plan of action which can more effectively address the needs of Puerto Ricans following the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. A further problem of the response is the harsh conditions it perpetuates and grows, which can lead to further devastation and an array of problems that may take many years to address thoroughly. This marks the unintended consequences of the response to this major crisis, which creates a cyclical problem. In a time where many U.S. citizens are facing racial issues that seem to be worsening following the U.S. Presidential Election last November, the lackluster pace and energy of the federal response to the plight of U.S. citizens raises further questions about the confidence that minority citizens can have in their government, especially if they are living outside of the 50 states.
To properly address the devastation of the crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, the federal response system to this crisis must be carefully inspected so that the delivery of important aid and assistance may be improved for any of the possible situations that may arise in any territory of the U.S. The response to the current crisis should be significantly increased in terms of the magnitude of aid and assistance so that the short-term and long-term concerns of Puerto Ricans in relation to this crisis can be much more effectively addressed. A response, in the longer run, that can inspect systemic factors and implement infrastructure improvements can have important long-term consequences, such that Puerto Rico is better prepared and fortified against possible environmental challenges in the future. The Trump administration must greatly improve their response to the crisis in a variety of ways, which includes developing grater empathy and compassion towards the plight of Puerto Rico, as the President of the U.S. plays an important role in building up public support and awareness of a given crisis, thus allowing for improved morale along with greater mobilization of different public and private initiatives and donors that can assist with various aspects of a crisis. The historic and current factors that have culminated in the very weak response to a crisis on U.S. soil must be further investigated in earnest by the U.S. government, so that this administration and all subsequent ones will perform better in assisting its citizens, wherever they may be and regardless of factors such as socioeconomic status and race, among others. Better outreach and communication between Puerto Rico and the rest of the U.S. is essential to developing improved networks by which there can be a stronger sense of connection between the different parts of the U.S. and the citizens living in them. This leads right into the issue of statehood, which is another complex topic and one with vocal proponents and critics. Outside of the debate as to the maintenance of the status quo status of Puerto Rico and the desire for statehood, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria indicates that there is an urgent need to improve relations between Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S. Another way to do this would be to find ways to increase the political power and voice of residents of Puerto Rico in the decision-making and affairs of different components of the U.S., including the U.S. government. Finding a way for Puerto Ricans without a voting residence in the 50 states to have greater power in elections, outside of having delegates in the primaries of the candidate selection process of the Republican or Democratic parties prior to the Presidential Election, is essential to increasing the cohesiveness between the U.S. and its citizens in Puerto Rico. With the methods described here, there is a greater possibility for improved responses to any emergency situations that may occur in Puerto Rico, while also more effectively alleviating the feeling among Puerto Ricans that they are second-class citizens of the U.S. The current response has poorly targeted the problems in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and perpetuated the notion that Puerto Ricans are second-class citizens, which the methods here can begin to address.