Thirteen days after Hurricane Maria hit hard, Puerto Rico remains stranded in apocalyptic-like conditions, and aid from the U.S. has been scant. With the loss of power spanning across the entire island and a severe depletion of food and fresh water, the death toll has risen to thirty-four within two weeks of the storm’s denouement.
Donald Trump’s response to the grave state of the island has been sedate and callous. In the past month he chose to argue over the national anthem with the NFL rather than assist those starving and stranded across Puerto Rico. The mayor of San Juan appeared on the news, pleading for aid and sporting a shirt saying: “Help us, we are dying.” After separate hurricanes struck Florida and Texas and spread damage throughout the states, Trump ordered the US government to bring in full forces aiding those affected. However, the same urgency and attention has failed to have been provided for those in Puerto Rico. Donald Trump was also quoted at a public speech in addressing the condition of the island, saying that “They want everything done for them.” While visiting Puerto Rico he threw paper towels into a crowd mockingly while bystanders filmed him and laughed. He made comments about Hurricane Maria not being “a real catastrophe like Katrina.” and told a San Juan family to “have a good time” after they showed him the remains of their home due to the hurricane. Puerto Rico is unable to vote in presidential elections, yet Texas and Florida were both won by Trump in the 2016 election. From Trump’s inaugural speech to his comments following Charlottesville, it seems that he intends to only be president for the states that voted for him.
Besides neglect from Trump for the condition of the island, there is a wholly separate reason why more Americans are not leaping to support Puerto Rico. A study showed that nearly half of Americans were not aware that Puerto Ricans are fellow citizens, a surprisingly large percentage when comparing those statistics to the rate of aid and publicity surrounding Puerto Rico’s demolition. The dire situations on the island are attracting far less attention than the destruction sites of Florida and Texas locations because many United States citizens are not aware of the fact that their own people are not being taken care of. When individuals were informed that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, support for aid increased by four percent. In the past, research has shown that aid provided by the United States for foreign disasters has been reduced due to being crowded out of the news by competing stories.
As of now, many citizens are crowding to purchase generators to illuminate their darkened homes and return energy to their lives. Maria Aguilera, a teacher, spoke of using candles every night to light her house. Across the island, people have no idea how long it will take for the power grid to be restored. “From the things I’ve seen with the infrastructure,” Aguilera said, “it could be months.” In a location with a forty-five percent poverty rate, the generators are simply a temporary fix raising several safety and health concerns. As Puerto Rico continues to battle to stay afloat in desperate times of need, fellow Americans have a responsibility to step up and help.
By Callie Solberg
Photo by Independent Company