It’s still not okay to lie about Puerto Rico
A year ago, I was in a student program in Washington, D.C., to study and intern, and there were many Puerto Rican students doing the same. When Hurricane Maria hit, much worse than typical annual storms, they were all very worried for their families, friends and the population on the island. My peers often went several days without knowing what had happened to their loved ones.
Fellow students from around the world, temporarily living in the center of federal power of the United States of America, were horrified by the inertia of Congress and the president regarding reconstruction aid. Some got involved in advocating for Puerto Rico on top of being students and interns. This continued through the semester because the response to Puerto Rico was disappointing, and the Trump administration’s antics continued that year.
Congress later approved increasing the amount of funds granted for disaster relief across the country in February of 2018. This is not to ignore the arduous work by civil servants to help Puerto Rico, only to mention the absurd behavior of the president. Three island countries and three territories, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, were also hit by Hurricane Maria.
The Puerto Rican government released data in 2017 of deaths that could possibly be linked to the storm. It has recently agreed with the number of 2,975 from the research detailed in a report comissioned by The George Washington University.
Excess death measurement, which was used to calculate this number by academics working with the Puerto Rican government, has been used in measurement of deaths related to climate and the environment since the 1960s in the pursuit of forensic data, a cost too high for Puerto Rico to cover in a timely fashion.
While there is a massive need to be prepared for another crisis, the President, unlike the Governor of Puerto Rico, does not want to publicly grapple with the severity of the situation. Trump pulled out flashlights in 2017 in front of a crowd claiming they were no longer needed, when at the time less than 7 percent of the island had electricity.
Currently, he uses earlier death counts to avoid dealing with the higher numbers, running in contradiction to the previously mentioned report. He further undermined governmental-academic cooperation by claiming the numbers are Democratic propaganda.
Edward J. Rollins, a leader of the Great America PAC for Trump’s election campaign in 2016 and senior presidential fellow at Hofstra, while not agreeing with the President, downplayed Trump’s rather typical attack on secular thought and democracy by saying that Democrats will use this to get state-registered Puerto Rican votes.
“At the end of the day, the president is accurate,” Rollins said to Lou Dobbs on Fox News on Sept. 13. One must remember that Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens, cannot vote for Congress or president until they become residents of a state. The island, a territory, was first occupied by the U.S. in 1898 rather than liberating Puerto Rico from Spain.
The calculated hurricane infrastructure damage is over $100 billion. Puerto Rico only has an annual general budget of $9 billion for next year, and in April 2018 the Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated $18.5 billion, the largest single amount it has ever given for recovery. Despite this, power is not fully restored to Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s 12-year recession with tens of billions of dollars of deficit remain unresolved. Trump, well known for pushing xenophobic policies in part due to his public disdain for the peoples from Latin America, does a disservice to research and Puerto Rico by claiming the new death count is part of a Democratic propaganda machine. Rollins preferred to focus on possible Democratic politicking instead of Trump’s daily post-truthing.
I would urge Rollins to use his decades of political skill to help Puerto Rico or at least to stop supporting political hooliganism. Moreover, I would ask Hofstra to carefully consider what it means to tell students “You are welcome here,” especially international and marginalized students in the wake of Trump’s election, while also inviting talks by a person who raised $28 million to help that administration get elected.
Daniel Davidson is a senior political science major.