Waves of havoc: The storms poised to devastate Puerto Rico

by Jul 7, 2022Opinion, Puerto Rico1 comment

Mother Nature has long asserted almighty force over humankind—every day, her cyclonic manifestations torment communities by land or sea, ravaging manmade fixtures in seconds. Under these circumstances, governments relinquish their partisan aims in search of the health and safety of affected citizens. A refreshing, yet fleeting, sense of unity galvanizes a nation’s collective aura—that is the case for white communities, of course.

The federal government often disregards its magnanimous duties as natural disasters encounter people of color. Systemic injustice taints all bureaucratic facets, even cut-and-dry financial or logistical support. 

In 2005, black Americans resting on rooftops pleaded for assistance as Hurricane Katrina converted streetways into ruins. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had utterly failed New Orleans, most notably its black inhabitants. Two-thirds of African Americans felt their race was to blame for the lackluster response, asserting relief would have arrived faster if they were white. 

More than a decade later, hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria struck land with category 4 winds and unparalleled impunity. However, the Trump administration’s response mirrored its jingoistic, America-first platform—Puerto Rico laid in agony as if it were nationless. 

The archipelago waited four months for the funding Florida and Texas received in half the time, a scathing neglect unattributable to “geographic limitations” or extenuating circumstances. Rather, life-and-death incompetence fomented 2,975 indirect fatalities following Hurricane Maria while mainland counterparts suffered 110 indirect fatalities combined. That is not a benign mishap; it is an ethnically-based calculus targeting minorities. 

Puerto Rican corruption and insolvency originates long before Hurricane Maria and persists presently. In 6 months, ill-conceived faith in government swiftly vanished following six mayoral bribery schemes. Just as officials secured an amenable path toward debt forgiveness, their authority was undermined by scandal. Antiquated infrastructure, subpar healthcare, and electrical blackouts have implored influxes of dispirited citizens to flee for several years. This Puerto Rican diaspora has fractured the archipelago’s robust soul, as the cultural fabric propping the Commonwealth dissipates in clusters.

Models suggest man-made climate change amplifies the intensity of hurricanes. A feeble territory, paralyzed by local and national flaws alike, could plummet into despair while newly ferocious storms brew along its coastline. 

The half-hearted, reactionary policy governing US-Puerto Rico relations has at last reached a breaking point. How must Puerto Ricans continue to withstand incompetence and disrepair, particularly when no endgame to merciless natural disasters is in sight? On the verge of irreversible decay, the Biden administration must decide whether to retrieve Puerto Rico’s vibrant glory or allow it to perish under cruel futility. 

Biden’s cabinet, an unprecedented coalition of diversity in its truest form, ironically stands silent amid a cultural exodus. A candidacy devoted to the common folk exclusively caters to the mainland. The tenacious Puerto Rican spirit, shunned and voiceless, overwhelmingly invested in Biden’s middle-out vision for the US. His administration must work with FEMA to craft a hurricane-response policy void of racial biases or preferential treatment. Guidelines should fulfill American standards of decency: 40,000 federal personnel within a week of landfall, a hot meal for each Puerto Rican, and mandates requiring timely and complete recovery. Only through this affirmation of dignity can we rekindle Puerto Rican pride and tout the fruits of American justice.