Thursday, October 5, 2017


Every facet of the current administration’s response to Hurricane Maria has been late, half-hearted, and grudging. Even common sense measures such as a waiver of the Jones Act and the dispatch of USNS Comfort required massive waves of pressure from voters asking that our government remember that Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders are also US citizens. And then our current president and his supporters have the temerity to ridicule Puerto Ricans and call them ingrates.

I’m going to leave the racial aspects of this rhetoric for another day. There are no shortage of opportunities to point out the barriers our society puts in the way of black and brown people.

But let’s examine the charge of ingratitude. Whenever our country has called, Puerto Rico has willingly sacrificed the time and blood of its children at rates far out of proportion to its tiny population. Ask any veteran, and they will be able to tell you about the courage, dedication and work ethic of Puerto Rican service people. To have a charge of “ingratitude” levied by a draft dodger is doubly ironic.

And then there is the ridicule of the president for Puerto Rico’s dire economic situation. What led to the budget crisis and the debt that was the subject of his first official statement on Hurricane Maria?

As we learned in school, European colonialism sought to extract wealth from its colonies using whatever methods were necessary. Some methods were more brutal than others. But every American school child has learned to express resentment at the Stamp Act as a tool to enforce taxation without representation and celebrate the revolution that followed.

But it turns out that the US treats Puerto Rico far worse than the writers of the Stamp Act ever did. The Jones Act results in a doubling of the cost of shipping of every item that comes into Puerto Rico over water. As the president recently discovered to his apparent surprise, Puerto Rico is surrounded by water. Over time, the costs of the Jones Act to the Puerto Rican economy more than account for the total cost of the territorial debt.

Fortunately, international organizations, private citizens, and foreign governments are stepping in where the US government has dropped the ball. It is not enough, and may never be enough, but we should support those efforts.

Puerto Rico will survive. Her people are more resilient and tougher than you know. The real question is the state of our national soul.