The US government needs to help Puerto Rico

The US government needs to help Puerto Rico

Last week, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving many Puerto Ricans homeless, most without cell service and just about everyone without electricity. The United States government has been slow to help, and the aid it has provided has been wholly inadequate. The word ‘apocalyptic’ continues to make a regular appearance in the description of the conditions Puerto Ricans are dealing with, and the United States government doesn’t seem all that concerned. 

Immediately after the hurricane struck Puerto Rico, Trump wrote one tweet expressing solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico. This single tweet was immediately overwhelmed by a barrage of tweets concerning the choice of professional athletes to kneel during the national anthem. 

Angry ramblings are an expected characteristic of the president’s tweets at this point. Still, Trump using his influence on social media to disparage the personal opinions of athletes, when he could have been discussing how the United States was going to help in the wake of Hurricane Maria, is disheartening and unacceptable. I’m not suggesting that every time a tragedy befalls us, Trump should tweet about it and nothing else for days on end, but it seems as though, if Trump were truly concerned with getting aid to Puerto Rico, he would’ve made that clear via his all-too-beloved Twitter account.

After being heavily criticized for being more concerned with the #TakeAKnee movement than with the situation in Puerto Rico, Trump eventually tweeted a bit more about circumstances in Puerto Rico. These tweets, however, essentially had the effect of placing blame on Puerto Rico for its economic woes rather than addressing how the United States was going to help: 

“... It's old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars ... owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water, and medicine are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA." 

Sure, debt in Puerto Rico is a problem, but using that as some sort of bargaining chip, or means of justifying a lack of swift and adequate government assistance, is about as classless and un-American as it gets.

Beyond this, Puerto Rico is an American territory. Puerto Ricans pay federal taxes, barring the federal income tax. When Harvey and Irma hit Texas and Florida, it was, understandably, all any news outlet would cover for days. Yet Hurricane Maria and its impact in Puerto Rico weren’t given the same treatment. The only difference between Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico is the label of statehood, which seems rather unimportant when there are human lives at stake.

If everybody in Texas or Florida lost power or struggled to obtain cell service, it goes without saying that the government would have intervened immediately and sent as much aid as was necessary to get the state back on its feet. Yet with Puerto Rico, we’re dragging our feet with sending help. And we’re actually making it harder for Puerto Ricans to get help by refusing to lift the Jones Act, which prohibits non-U.S. vessels from delivering goods between U.S. ports. With the Jones Act in effect, the only thing standing between ships loaded with lifesaving supplies and Puerto Rican citizens, is a ban the United States can’t, or won’t, work around. 

Humanitarian intervention has always been a controversial subject among Americans. But Puerto Rico is an American territory, so whether you support helping all countries in need or you believe in policies that put ‘America first,' supporting and prioritizing providing aid to Puerto Rico is the right thing to do. It’s reprehensible that America has all but turned its back on its own territory during a time that they are in desperate need of assistance and compassion.

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