A LAND THEY NO LONGER RECOGNIZE: DESPERATION AND RESILIENCE IN HURRICANE-BATTERED PUERTO RICO

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Just a few excerpts from this Time article by Karl Vick (with a photo gallery by Andres Kudacki), which lists the ongoing catastrophes that Puerto Rico has been undergoing:

Ten days after Hurricane Maria roared across Puerto Rico, joggers circling the capital’s Condado lagoon were delighted by the sight of manatees, the gentle herbivores that sailors once mistook for mermaids. It’s not a routine sight in San Juan, and it was a rare uplifting one in a catalog of all the storm had laid bare: nearly every branch of every tree, with the interiors of homes opened like dollhouses—and, not least, the lopsided dynamic between Washington and the U.S. territory that might be best understood as America’s Last Colony.

[. . .] To the victims of Harvey, Trump contributed $1 million from his personal fortune. But faced with far worse damage in Puerto Rico, he assumed the role of put-upon overseer. Trump framed the disaster on Sept. 25 by tweeting about the island’s financial debts. On Oct. 3, he opened what was intended as a healing visit by observing, “You’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack.” In between, he lambasted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz—“such poor leadership … they want everything to be done for them”—after she relayed Puerto Ricans’ complaints that aid was not reaching them.

It’s possible the storm will underscore the message many Puerto Ricans have already absorbed: that a population of brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking Americans counts for less. Yet senior Puerto Rican officials reckon that, along with sea cows, the storm can also produce a fresh start. Trump himself provided the first evidence of the transformation during his trip. Speaking of the territory’s $72 billion debt, the President said, “We’re going to have to wipe that out.” He offered no details, and a recovery package is only just taking shape in Congress. But it was wind at the back of those urging both sides, supplicant island and historical master, to escape a shared history.

[. . .] When the U.S. Navy needed a bombing range, it put one off Vieques, an islet off the main island’s eastern shore. In 1976, Congress gave the island a financial boom by allowing companies to operate there tax-free. Twenty years later, the boom turned to crash after Congress withdrew the law. The island’s government continued to spend, however, bridging the growing chasm by issuing bonds it could not pay off. Legally unable to declare bankruptcy, it surrendered control of its finances, again by an act of Congress, to an oversight board appointed by the President. “This board is strangely reminiscent of the Executive Council, which ruled the island between 1900 and 1917,” writes Jorge Duany of Florida International University. Puerto Ricans call it the “junta.”

Then came Maria.

“I just do not understand why FEMA can’t seem to find their way out of a paper bag,” she said on Sept. 29, amid pallets of canned goods and pampers contributed by businesses. The next day, FEMA had sent over several pallets as well, and it was being all packed into boxes as Yulín faced a stream of camera crews. Trump had attacked her on Twitter for criticizing the flailing effort. “Politically motivated ingrates,” he wrote.

Yulín was fine with the attention, but declined to take the bait. “Seriously, I have more important things to do,” she told Senator Elizabeth Warren, when the Massachusetts Democrat called to ask what Congress should do for Puerto Rico. Yulín brought up the Jones Act, a 1920 statute unknown to most Americans but a household term in Puerto Rico. Yulin says it raises prices on the island by 30 percent, because it bars from its shores any vessel that has not docked first at another U.S. port. Trump suspended it to help the aftermath of Irma and Harvey, but at first hesitated to give Puerto Rico the same break, explaining “there are a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.” [. . .]

[Photo by Andres Kudacki for TIME: Wilmair Flores, 55, poses on a bed at her house in Barranquitas on Oct. 2.]

For full article, see http://time.com/a-land-they-no-longer-recognize/

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