Puerto Rico Was In Shambles Before The Hurricane
It’s been six months since Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Local politicians still blame Washington for their troubles, but the island was in deep long before the storms.
Decades of dysfunction, scandal and crooked politicians set the territory up for failure and the Hurricanes were just the knock-out blow. Let’s take a look at what Puerto Ricans are saying now, and the history that lead up to this point.
All of this fallout is in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which was the deadliest storm of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season and the tenth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record. Gathering strength from September 16 onward, the storm killed 112 people in total and had a devastating impact when it rounded on Puerto Rico on September 20th.
Initial Impact,Coverage and Aid
At the time, Puerto Rico was still recovering from being struck by Hurricane Irma just a week before. The hurricane had knocked out power to 80,000 people and the local Electric Power Authority (PREPA) found itself with $9 billion in debt, causing them to file for bankruptcy protection.
Earlier in the year, a federal spending bill under the Trump administration had included $295 million for the island to help cover Medicaid for the failing health care system.
Puerto Rico Doles Out $113 Mill in Gov Bonuses
Despite loudly crying out for financial help, Democratic Gov. Ricardo Rossello defended giving out $113 million in bonuses to government employees was justified because they had already been approved in the budget.
The financial oversight board of Puerto Rico, which was established by Congress in 2016 in an effort to help the territory with their outstanding debt called the bonuses “imprudent.” Speaking to media, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock said:
“Puerto Rico has demonstrated time and time again that its government is incapable of responsibly handling its finances. This is yet another such instance.”
The bonuses had been in place since the 1970s. Last year around 250,000 people were granted bonuses — not bad for a territory with just over 3.4 million citizens. And shameful for an island where 46% of residents are living below the poverty line.
Politicians Found Hoarding Supplies
With this kind of a government in place, none of us should have been surprised when in January of this year it was discovered that “a massive store of rebuilding materials” were squirreled away by PREPA, the bankrupt power authority. Federal agents raided their warehouses on January 6th and were then able to begin the distribution of supplies to contractors who needed them.
Luciano Vera, the spokesperson for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) said:
“Among the materials recovered so far are ‘2,875 pieces of critical material to contractors’ along with the sleeves of full-tension steel, a component of Puerto Rican electrical infrastructure required to erect new power lines.”
Mayor of San Juan: T-Shirts!
The biggest media hound during the aftermath of the hurricanes was Carmen Yulín Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan. She kept appearing in front of supplies brought in by Washington to cry for more aid, and even found time to get a t-shirt printed for her interview with Andersoon Cooper that read “Help Us, We Are Dying.”
— PATRIOT Leah 🌪🌵🎸 (@LeahR77) September 30, 2017
Here’s my general rule of thumb. If you have time to get a t-shirt made, you’re not really affected by a disaster. Remember on 9/11 when people interviewed during the afternoon and evening newscasts when survivors and family members were all wearing custom t-shirts? No, wait, that didn’t happen at all.
— The Hill (@thehill) September 30, 2017
Biggest Bankruptcy In US Gov History
With a combined $120 billion in bond and pension debts, Puetro Rico was already in trouble. The island had been loaned billions of dollars and the government breezed through it all with impractical infrastructure projects. Speaking with media, Prof. Emilio Pantojas-Garcia at the University of Puerto Rico said:
“Every town in Puerto Rico has a new baseball park. All these mayors were using borrowed money to build things that were underutilized.”
The mishandling is even causing residents to leave. The government estimated that by year-end 2018, at least 200,000 people will move to the mainland of America. And you can be guaranteed that it’s not the poverty-stricken people who will be leaving — the ones who can escape a sinking ship first are the ones with the financial ability to pack up and go. One waitress told media:
“We’re used to it by now but that doesn’t make it right or fair.”
She then told the story of how she was offered to have electricity hooked back to her home after Maria, but she was told it would cost $3,000. Waitress Sunita Howell said:
“I don’t have that kind of money. Who has that here? You are supposed to be helping us not taking our money.”
It’s not looking good for Puerto Rico. And it’s not Trump’s fault.
Sources: CNN, Fox News, Wikipedia