For Puerto Rico, The Time Is Now

The United States needs to step up to the occasion and stand for the citizenship extended to the people of Puerto Rico 100 years ago.
09/26/2017 09:11 am ET Updated Sep 27, 2017
Art by Rene de la Cruz, personal collection of the author.

The Puerto Rico we knew no longer exists. Six days after receiving the full frontal impact of a catastrophic category 5 hurricane like no other in the past century, the island subsists, holding its collective breath in the dark and off the grid, with no power and not enough drinking water, food, cash or fuel. Puerto Ricans are shaken, stranded, flooded, devastated and pleading for help amid an unfolding crisis about to reach the seven-days mark. The island is poorly fitted for an extended period in survival mode.

No one planned for now. The colonial experiment took a totally unexpected course when a hurricane named after the mother of Jesus came from the sky and collapsed all systems. New York Democrats owned the role any President should have played in past days, but Donald Trump finally resorted to Twitter last night to remind Puerto Rico of “the billions of dollars owed to Wall Street, which sadly must be dealt with.” An island with no power, no infrastructure, no resources and a generalized state of emergency cannot be squeezed any further. Not only will Puerto Rico not be able to pay its debt, but it needs to be restarted with a new model right away. The Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) of 2016 and its Financial Management and Oversight Board are utterly obsolete given the new reality.

The United States, now completely exposed in its anachronistic role as it reels from the impact of a complex and volatile situation that requires not only focus on emergency relief but recognition of the game changer nature of the event, needs to step up to the occasion and stand for the citizenship extended to the people of Puerto Rico 100 years ago.

Congressional action is needed to halt the Jones Act, which requires all shipping between U.S. ports be done by American-built and American-crewed vessels, as it is presently logistically limiting the arrival of life saving supplies during the crisis. Congress has the responsibility to configure a rescue package akin to what was granted to Texas and Florida after the impact of Harvey and Irma, plus fit to deal with the local financial crisis. Time is of the essence to eliminate the cost sharing requirement for FEMA funds so that relief reach people, which is crucial right now.

History is on the making in Puerto Rico. This is the time for a massive emergency relief effort but it is also the right time to put forward actionable bright ideas. A green, sustainable future is possible and perfect to restart the economy. Energetic and alimentary independence are of the essence and people need to be empowered, not crushed. The future is now.

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