NYT Editorial: Puerto Rico Deserves Better

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An editorial from the New York Times.

It has been a week since Puerto Rico emerged from a double battering by hurricanes, and it is caught in a painful, torpid recovery. Far more and far faster help is needed as the island struggles with vast devastation that only the federal government has the resources to repair.

In one sign that Washington is getting the message, President Trump finally agreed Thursday, after days of dithering, to temporarily waive restrictionson shipments by foreign vessels to the island’s ports. The administration also appointed a three-star general to focus on faster distribution of emergency supplies, addressing one of the main problems on the wreckage-clogged island. The Pentagon was rushing to send more military assets, including a hospital ship.

Mountains of vital cargo — roughly 10,000 containers of food, water and medicine — were already backed up at San Juan piers because of a shortage of delivery trucks, drivers and fuel to send the aid on to communities across the island. Roads remained blocked, and enough drivers could not be found as they saw to their own families and homes. Hospitals warned they were running low on diesel for emergency generators, with at least two deaths reported as a result.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló took care to praise Mr. Trump for his concern and optimistic promises, saying, “He has been on top of it.” But the governor wisely emphasized a larger message for congressional leaders and fellow Americans. If aid is not forthcoming on the levels of that for Texas and Florida, Mr. Rosselló warned of “a massive exodus” of Puerto Ricans to the mainland as fully entitled citizens, hurting the island’s chances for a full recovery and — probably to the consternation of Republicans — bringing “deep demographic turmoil” to states like Florida.

Members of Congress, anxious to visit and stress the need for emergency aid at the scene, complained that the administration had denied them use of military transports. But the White House said the top priority was the human emergency and Mr. Trump would therefore not visit Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands until Tuesday.

In Puerto Rico, the power grid is devastated, 80 percent of agricultural crops have reportedly been wiped out, 40 percent of the people need drinkable water and communications are inoperable for most of its 3.4 million American citizens. The 103,000 residents of the Virgin Islands are in comparable straits and highly dependent on the choked ports of Puerto Rico for relief. Tourist hotels were reduced to rubble. Officials expect two main hospitals to be torn down and replaced. The islands’ debt-burdened government has been facing the same threat of bankruptcy that had already strapped Puerto Rico with sweeping austerity measures.

In surveying the extraordinary recovery challenges, Mr. Rosselló made a point that Washington should heed. “We can’t be treated differently,” he said, referring to Texas and Florida. “You can’t build half a house.”

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