What Puerto Rico says about the American government

Illustration by Allison Verjinski

There are an estimated 48 deaths after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, but a recent investigation by Vox states the death toll could actually be over 400, and those numbers are still growing with the lack of resources and clean water.

CNN reported a month after the incident 3.4 million citizens are still without power and clean water. They’ve also reported recently how many citizens are becoming ill by a waterborne bacteria, leptospirosis.

While fortunately Puerto Rico has finally gotten some of the aid it needs, the question remains as to why it didn’t get there sooner. After Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Tribune reported the Federal Emergency Management Agency  gave more than $360 million in individual assistance and another $181 million for public assistance.

CNBC reported the government expedited recovery resources to Texas the Monday after Harvey. Yet, for how fast it took our government to help Houston, Puerto Rico’s authorization for reconstruction was still not finalized by mid-October, according to Vox.

To our government, Puerto Rico was not seen as a priority compared to the others. This is a perfect example of how often our country will look over and cheat a minority population out of aid in favor of the White population.

Puerto Rico isn’t the only example of this. Flint, Michigan, a predominantly Black community, has been plagued with a tainted water supply since 2014, and has taken years for any form of justice to be administered to its people. Even when there is no crisis, minority communities get less federal funding for necessities like education. It’s only when catastrophes happen we begin to see these oversights.

The criticism President Donald Trump has given the leaders of Puerto Rico isn’t easing the tensions, tweeting, “…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”

President Trump even said Puerto Rico was “totally destroyed.” To condemn their leadership skills in this time of panic is an insult seeing how their hands are tied. There was no such criticism, however, when Houston was in a similar form of distress. They weren’t told they needed to help themselves.

It’s not that Houston didn’t need the aid after Harvey, they did and still do need plenty of help to recover fully. It’s the fact that one area cannot be favored over the other. Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and their safety and rehabilitation should be one of our top priorities as a nation that is supposed to represent all of its people.

Every day, that concept is challenged by how the United States government has responded to this catastrophe. With Pres. Trump now hinting at the removal of FEMA and military aid while Puerto Rico is still in shambles unfortunately reveals how low their needs matter.

Communities hit by disasters cannot afford to be discriminated against; equal aid and opportunity need to be sent out to everyone who needs it. It’s sad the only times this injustice is seen is on such a large scale, when it happens right under our noses every day.

Let the aid in Puerto Rico be the start of a new era in the United States, where we don’t disregard the needs of the minority when they need it the most. For a country that claims to care about the lives and welfare of its people, we should start to live up to it.

Marlon McKay

Contributing Writer

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