Puerto Rico, an island of more than 3.4 million people, has been a United States territory since 1898. In 1917, the U.S. government declared the people of Puerto Rico official American citizens. For 100 years, Puerto Ricans have held that status, paying U.S. taxes and sending over 200,000 men and women to serve in the U.S. armed forces since World War I.
But why is this important?
We Puerto Ricans are just as American as anyone living in the U.S.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico hard. When Irma passed, many in my family were relieved that nothing too serious happened.
But when Maria came, much of the island was unprepared for the total devastation. While my grandmother in Luquillo had damage only to her second-story balcony, millions of others are currently without electricity, food, water and in many cases, even a roof on their home.
Being in Houston during Hurricane Harvey, I had to live with both my Puerto Rican and Houstonian families hit by Mother Nature’s wrath.
The U.S. government’s response to Puerto Rico has been sluggish and disappointing. President Donald Trump has claimed that efforts are “going well,” but that simply isn’t true.
When Texas and Florida were hit by Harvey and Irma, respectively, it took only days for the government to respond. Within hours of the storm, the president tweeted multiple messages of hope and encouragement.
It took the president five days after the storm to even tweet about Puerto Rico, and when he did, it was about how much debt Puerto Rico was in.
“Texas & Florida are doing great, but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” he tweeted.
He then went on to claim that it is difficult to lend Puerto Rico aid due to it being surrounded by “ocean water.”
The United States spends nearly $600 billion each year on defense, and for some reason, it’s hard to lend aid to an island.
Throughout the crisis, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz has been publicly voicing her frustration with relief efforts. She has been working virtually nonstop to do everything she can to help the people of Puerto Rico, even going so far as to risk going in waist-high water to search for survivors.
Meanwhile, the president tweeted about professional athletes protesting.
Since the storm, Cruz has been publicly voicing how slowly the U.S. government has responded to the crisis.
“I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying,” Cruz said. “If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”
Not once did she personally attack Trump.
Then on Saturday, he tweeted, “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”
I don’t understand why he would say this. I don’t understand why he would attack someone, who clearly has had a rough couple of weeks, just because she was possibly “not nice” to him. I don’t understand why, in the middle of a situation where Americans are starving and dying, he would use it as a political opportunity.
I also don’t understand why he almost completely lacks the ability to have empathy for my people.
Leadership is being the first person to tell everyone that they are going to get the help they need. It’s maintaining constant communication with local officials affected by a tragedy and making sure they know they are being cared for.
When the storm hit, Trump was golfing at his private New Jersey resort.
By now, I’m used to the president attacking people out of malice or spite, but this time it’s personal. He has three more hurricane seasons to deal with in his first presidential term, and the storms could potentially be deadlier.
What I saw in Houston during Hurricane Harvey was the greatest display I’ve ever seen of neighbors helping neighbors. The U.S. needs to show that same compassion for Puerto Rico.
Anthony Torres is a political science senior, native Puerto Rican and former opinion editor for The Cougar.