President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would travel to Puerto Rico and possibly the US Virgin Islands on October 3. The announcement came after mounting frustration over the President’s handling of the crisis on the US territory.
In a press conference with the Spanish Prime Minister, Trump acknowledged the challenging road ahead for the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. “Both have been devastated, and I mean absolutely devastated, by hurricane Maria and we’re doing everything in our power to help the hard-hit people in both places, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” said the President.
Politicians on all sides of the political spectrum called on the Trump administration and the President himself to focus more attention on the recovery effort in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
In addition to calling for more federal support, former President’s George Bush and Barack Obama called on individuals to contribute to the recovery efforts by donating to One America Appeal, an effort started by the five living former presidents Carter to support the disaster relief from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Puerto Rico took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria last week. The category 4 storm left the entire island without power and made communication between the central and local governments impossible for days.
Further complicating matters, the storm severely weakened the Guajataca dam. The government forced tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to evacuate the area downstream of the 90 year old dam.
The Washington Post reports that the Guajataca dam has not been inspected since 2013 and that all 38 dams in Puerto Rico were rated “high hazard potential” by the Army Corps of Engineers. According to the article, “A high hazard rating reflects the damage that could happen from a dam’s failure, and it is not a commentary on the condition of a dam.”
According to a report prepared by the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety, “Dams assigned the high hazard potential classification are those where failure or mis-operation will probably cause loss of human life.”
The most significant hurdle that Puerto Rico will face in the coming months and years will be to attract enough money to rebuild and maintain the damaged and destroyed infrastructure and bring economic growth back to the territory. Puerto Rico has been in a severe economic depression for more than a decade.
Because Puerto Rico is a US territory, it does not have as many tools to bring grow its economy as US states. Most importantly, unlike states, Puerto Rico can not declare bankruptcy as a way to get out from under a crushing debt burden. Compounding this problem is a lack of interest in the Congress to pass debt relief legislation.
Instead, Congress created an oversight board to handle Puerto Rico’s finances. This board is requiring the island’s government to enact austerity measures. These measures are similar to the Troika’s – the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – mandates for countries like Greece, which have still not emerged from the 2008 global economic meltdown.
The federal government is failing Puerto Rico. One can only hope that President Trump’s upcoming visit will shine a spotlight on the plight of millions of United States citizens and spur action to come to their aid.