3.3
September 28, 2017

“We are dying—and you are killing us…” {Update: Puerto Rico}

**Update:

“I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging—begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency.” ~ Carmen Yulín Cruz

Author’s note: This is so urgent, I have friends in Puerto Rico, and I am devastated at what they are going through. They desperately need assistance and it seems they are being ignored and denied life saving supplies…

~ 
One week after category-four Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico,
tragically killing 16 people, millions of people on the island are experiencing unimaginable suffering and trauma, due to damaged and destroyed buildings, no running water, widespread power outages, lack of phone or internet, and limited gasoline and food supplies.

The 3.5 million residents who live in this United States territory are now facing a humanitarian crisis, as flooding and restrictions have hampered emergency recovery efforts. Thousands of tankers have been unable to transport goods to the island, due to legislation causing major hold-ups, many roads being covered in debris or having been washed away in the storm, and fuel shortages at gas stations making it an almost-impossible task to distribute vital supplies.

Puerto Rico need urgent attention and assistance. During an emotional interview San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, pleaded to the people watching, “Do not forget us, and do not make us feel alone.”

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, also made a plea in an interview, saying, “Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States, can turn into a humanitarian crisis. To avoid that, recognize that we Puerto Ricans are American citizens; when we speak of a catastrophe, everyone must be treated equally.” He added, “Make no mistake—this is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million U.S. citizens. We will need the full support of the U.S. government. People cannot forget we are U.S. citizens—and proud of it.”

It is hoped that Puerto Rico will receive the same attention and support that the rest of the U.S. receives, after Congress quickly authorized $15.25 billion of aid to Texas following Hurricane Harvey. However, inequalities are beginning to show, as the White House has announced that it does not intend to request aid for Puerto Rico from Congress until the first or second week of October.

The White House explained that they intend to provide for Puerto Rico in the same way they did for Texas and Florida, as Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained in her daily briefing, “The federal response has been anything but slow. In fact, there has been an unprecedented push through of billions of dollars in federal assistance.”

However, President Trump said in a series of tweets on Monday that while Puerto Rico “is in deep trouble,” the billions owed to Wall Street has to be dealt with. Puerto Rico is already estimated to be in $72 billion worth of debt.

Decisions regarding the rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure have to be approved by La Junta, which is in place to ensure Puerto Rico’s debt is managed. Although La Junta has authorized one billion dollars to be put toward relief efforts, it is nowhere near the amount required to rebuild the island.

Congress can place a moratorium on Puerto Rico’s debt payments or abolish the debt in whole or in part. They also have the power to eliminate or temporarily waiver the Jones Act—a 1920’s law mandating that all goods shipped between ports are transported in U.S. owned and operated vessels, despite the fact more affordable options exist.

Puerto Rico have been waiting for a week for this waiver—and just this morning, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced on Twitter, “At ‪@ricardorossello’s request, ‪@POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately.”

Although this news will be greatly received by many of those urgently needing critical relief, many are deeply unhappy and bitterly disappointed that it has taken the White House this long to respond.

Reportedly, one of the reasons it took so long to be waived is that Trump said many U.S. based maritime carriers were opposed to the move. Trump explained, “We’re thinking about that,” when questioned about lifting restrictions on foreign vessels’ operations, “But we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people…who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”

Many shipping containers carrying much-needed food, water, and medicine, along with other vital supplies, have been halted at San Juan’s port, unable to move for almost a week. U.S. based ocean carriers, Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime, stated they have at least 3,000 shipping containers that they have been unable to transport inland, as they are held up due to logistical problems, and more relief ships are expected over the coming days.

During the last month, the Department of Homeland Security immediately wavered the Jones Act twice to help recovery efforts in Texas and Florida after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, due to fuel shortages, which come under the category of national security. Unfortunately the DHS do not grant waivers purely to lower costs.

On Wednesday, during testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke said that DHS only issue waivers if they are related to national defense matters, explaining, “We don’t know of fuel shortages on the island of Puerto Rico. If there are fuel shortages, we are looking at the Jones Act…we will use it appropriately.”

Duke also stated in her testimony, “In recent weeks, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria have placed the spotlight on natural disasters. With FEMA’s leadership, our Department and the whole of the federal government have come together to respond to these crises, and I am impressed with the professionalism I have witnessed. But the challenges in places like Puerto Rico are evidence that there is a long road ahead. To those who have been caught up in the disasters, let me say this: I promise to do everything in my power to bring relief. And we will stand with you—side-by-side—in the weeks, months, and years to come.”

Arizona Senator, John McCain, introduced a bill earlier in the year to repeal the Jones Act—and yesterday, he tweeted that it was unacceptable that in the aftermath of Maria, it had not yet been wavered.

This week, McCain wrote a letter to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke urging her to waive the law and take action, stating, “It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements, as they work to recover from this disaster.” She added, “We must treat this emergency relief with urgency―every day that business owners are unable to recover their assets and account for lost business, the economy will retreat even further into devastation.”

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has arranged for Facebook’s connectivity team to travel to Puerto Rico and “deliver emergency telecommunications assistance to get the systems up and running.” Zuckerburg has also donated $1.5 million to charities that are supporting the recovery, as well as giving an undisclosed amount away in Facebook ad credits to promote “critical information to people in the region on how to get assistance and stay safe.”

Zuckerberg explained, “Communication is critical during a disaster. With 90 percent of cell towers on the island out of service, people can’t get in touch with their loved ones—and it’s harder for rescue workers to coordinate relief efforts. We’re working to get Puerto Rico back online. We’re sending the Facebook connectivity team to deliver emergency telecommunications assistance to get the systems up and running.”

New York’s government has built a website, entitled, “Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico,” stating collection points where citizens can drop off donations statewide.

A friend of mine—Camila Alexzandra, who lives in Puerto Rico—has said that it is comforting to know there are eyes and ears witnessing what they are going through, and she described the spirit of the Puerto Rican people to me, saying:

“Our island is destroyed, but our collective spirit is up and rising—and we need help. Our communications are down, the majority of the island cannot contact anyone, not even family, and we don’t know anything about a lot of loved ones. A lot of families here have lost everything. Please pay attention, and do all you can.

Puerto Rico is an island with an extremely intense vibration of energy. Our ancestors used to worship many gods. “El Yunque,” which is our national rainforest, has a very high meaning for all of us Puerto Ricans; it has immensely high mountains that affect the weather and is able to debilitate storms. However, it has taken a toll—and from what I have seen in pictures, after its battle with María, it is now almost deforested.

Anyway, I guess that what I’m trying to say is that as an empath and someone who saw this in premonitions years ago, we have the spirit we have because this land has a sacred quality that births people full of amazing energy, compassion, and resilience.

The point is, it’s amazing to see how people around the world react to how we deal with this impact, but I must say that not everyone is as strong, and a lot of people here are suffering. Please spread the message—we will rise, and we will be stronger.”

Camila also provided a list of donation sites for those who are interested in helping the Puerto Ricans who have been affected by Hurricane Maria:

>> Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas

>> Comedores Sociales

>> Salud y Acupuntura Para el Pueblo

>> Colectivo Agroecologico Guakia

>> Taller Salud

>> Vive Boriken

>> Casa Protegida Julia de Burgos

>> Fondos Unidos de Puerto Rico

>> Caritas Puerto Rico

>> Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico

>> Campamento Contra Cenizas de Carbon

>> Vieques en Rescate

>> Campamento Contra La Junta

>> Jornada se Acabaron Las Promesas

>> Enlace Latino de Accion Climatica

>> Centro Mujer Barranquitas

>> Iniciativa Comunitaria

Potentially, conditions on the island could worsen as most of the northern, north-western, and eastern beaches are facing risks of a dangerous rip currents through Friday morning.

 

~

Relephant:

Stay Safe: Essential Tips for Before, During & After a Hurricane.

Hurricane Harvey: Who we are as Houstonians.

~

Author: Alex Myles
Images: screenshot; Camila Alexzandra, used with permission
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Danielle Beutell
Social editor: Catherine Monkman

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