Puerto Rico’s un­ac­cept­able state

The mil­lions of Amer­i­cans on the is­land de­serve a far bet­ter re­sponse from their govern­ment.

The Washington Post - - WASHINGTON FORUM -

IT HAS been three weeks since Hur­ri­cane Maria made dev­as­tat­ing land­fall in Puerto Rico. Three weeks — and 84 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is still with­out power. Only 63 per­cent has ac­cess to clean water, and just 60 per­cent of waste­water treat­ment plants are work­ing. Food sup­plies are spotty, the health-care sys­tem is in cri­sis and peo­ple are dy­ing. The death toll has risen to 45.

If the Amer­i­cans en­dur­ing th­ese con­di­tions lived in Con­necti­cut or Mon­tana or Arkansas, would we be coun­sel­ing pa­tience? Would we be blithely ac­cept­ing pre­dic­tions of an­other month — or more — to get power re­stored? No. There would be un­end­ing me­dia cov­er­age, peo­ple would be fu­ri­ous — and the pres­i­dent of the United States cer­tainly wouldn’t be threat­en­ing to aban­don fed­eral re­lief ef­forts.

The state of af­fairs would sim­ply be seen as un­ac­cept­able, which it is. The 3.4 mil­lion Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens who live in Puerto Rico are owed a far bet­ter re­sponse from their govern­ment than they have got­ten th­ese past three weeks.

Con­di­tions on the is­land re­main grim and, in some in­stances, have been ex­ac­er­bated by the de­lay in get­ting help. Post re­porters de­tailed an is­land plunged into dark­ness, with roads im­pass­able, com­mu­ni­ca­tions knocked out and the econ­omy at a stand­still. The New York Times de­tailed the im­pacts on health care, with hospi­tals run­ning low on medicine, se­ri­ously ill pa­tients go­ing with­out proper treat­ment and an in­creas­ing risk of peo­ple get­ting sick — and dy­ing — from con­tam­i­nated water. The Guardian re­ported on food short­ages, with fed­eral emer­gency work­ers un­able to meet the de­mand for pro­vid­ing meals. “We feel com­pletely aban­doned here,” the mayor of Yabu­coa told Post re­porters.

Maria was the strong­est storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a cen­tury. There is no min­i­miz­ing its cat­a­strophic ef­fects, nor the lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges of get­ting help to an is­land al­ready suf­fer­ing from poor in­fra­struc­ture and long-stand­ing fi­nan­cial problems. But none of that ex­cuses the fed­eral govern­ment’s slug­gish re­sponse and poor plan­ning. Why, for ex­am­ple, as the Times re­ported, were only 82 pa­tients sent to the hospi­tal ship USNS Com­fort over six days when there were so many more sick peo­ple in peril?

Yet, al­most in­cred­i­bly, Pres­i­dent Trump on Thurs­day blasted out a trio of tweets seem­ingly try­ing to shame the U.S. ter­ri­tory for its cur­rent problems and putting its res­i­dents on no­tice that the fed­eral govern­ment might pull out. So much for his prom­ise to “be there ev­ery day” un­til the peo­ple of Puerto Rico are “safe and sound and se­cure.”

It is time to stop treat­ing the peo­ple of Puerto Rico like sec­ond-class ci­ti­zens. Con­gress should give Puerto Rico the re­sources it needs. It also should ex­er­cise its over­sight over the ad­min­is­tra­tion to de­mand an­swers on why, three weeks af­ter dis­as­ter struck, so many Amer­i­cans are still liv­ing in mis­ery with so lit­tle hope for the fu­ture.

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