The island of Puerto Rico has been a territory of the United States (U.S.) since 1898, after the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. Although the island is separate from the mainland, it is controlled by the U.S. government. Its occupants pay taxes to the U.S. federal government, possess U.S. citizenship and vote in U.S. presidential primaries. However, according to the Columbia Broadcasting System, more than half of the American population do not realize that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and that its residents are U.S. citizens. Puerto Ricans have been contributing significantly to the country for over 100 years, yet they are still looked upon and treated as second-class citizens.
Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Irma in September, 2017, leaving more than one million people without power. That same month, the island was hit by Hurricane Maria. Although Maria was smaller than Irma, the effects of this powerful Category 4 storm were far more detrimental: electricity was cut off the whole island, access to clean water and food became limited and floods brought on by the storm ruined streets. According to MercyCorps.org, Maria’s destruction has led to more than 94 billion dollars in damage and the economy of Puerto Rico is expected to shrink by at least eight percent this year as a result of the hurricane. With winds of 155 miles per hour, the storm was the worst to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years; over seven months later, the island is still struggling to recover and rebuild its infrastructure.
Because Puerto Rico is considered to be a part of the U.S., it would be expected that the U.S. government would assist the struggling island; however, this has not been the case. Although the U.S. has helped minimally, it has not put forth all of its effort toward ensuring the recovery of the damaged island.
Puerto Rico is entitled to the same government response as any state in the U.S. but it has yet to receive this equal treatment. According to economist.com, after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, the U.S. federal government sent 30,000 relief workers to the city within nine days; in Puerto Rico, it sent 10,000. Within that same time frame, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved payments of 142 million dollars to victims of Harvey, but only six million to victims of Maria. The discrepancy between these government responses is undeniable and should be reevaluated.
Some may argue that the location of the island makes it difficult to provide Puerto Ricans with certain materials. While this is clearly a barrier, this cannot be used as an excuse to deprive Puerto Rico of the funds and infrastructure needed for its survival.
Congress needs to designate funds and resources to help rebuild the island as well as protect it from the potential effects of future natural disasters. It is unfathomable that people are still living without basic necessities and the U.S. has not given its all to thwart that. The U.S. has let down its Puerto Rican citizens and must find solutions in order to ease the suffering of these people as quickly as possible.