The media is awash with headlines declaring the U.S. response to Puerto Rico a “Katrina Moment” for President Donald Trump, but the narrative completely ignores the facts on the ground.
“The administration’s feeble response to Hurricane Maria rivals [President George] Bush’s after Katrina,” read a sub-headline in Slate. “President Trump appears more concerned with helping his political allies, taunting professional athletes, and issuing new travel bans,” Slate’s Phillip Carter wrote on Sept. 25.
Vanity Fair, a bit more modest than Rolling Stone, merely posed the same headline as a question, rather than giving a definitive answer.
This isn’t to say the situation is not perilous in Puerto Rico. It most definitely is. The crux of the matter is exactly why it’s so bad, and who’s at fault.
“Cargo ships carrying supplies from the mainland U.S. began arriving at San Juan’s port on Saturday,” reported the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. “The people of Puerto Rico should not have any fear that there is not going to be food or medicine on the island.”
The supplies have arrived, but getting the aid to where it needs to go is “being hampered by heavy damage to roads, computer systems and other critical infrastructure,” according to the newspaper.
“Puerto Rico’s weak infrastructure will make it difficult to provide the aid that it desperately needs,” NPR reported on Sept. 22. “Well before this year’s series of historically powerful hurricanes, Puerto Rico already had a notoriously fickle power supply and crushing debt.”
“[O]bstacles in responding to Maria started immediately,” said Garrett Ingoglia, vice president of emergency response at Americares, according to NPR. Americares is working to provide medical supplies and assistance in Puerto Rico. “Like other organizations, Americares hasn’t yet been able to get anyone into Puerto Rico since the storm,” he said.
Getting aid to people “in a place with as many people as Puerto Rico without power for weeks or months on end — that’s going to be very challenging,” said Igoglia.
Further exacerbating the island’s problems is the Jones Act, an archaic law meant to protect American labor and shipbuilding industry, but forces Puerto Ricans to “pay punitive tariffs, fees and taxes, which are passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer,” according to The New York Times. It also prevented needed equipment to repair infrastructure and emergency services from arriving on the island. The Trump administration will waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico, The White House announced on Thursday.
Prior to the current narrative, media reports consisted of local officials and Puerto Rican representatives praising the federal government’s response to Maria and the cooperative preparations taken before the storm.
Despite these reports, many in the media continue to push the now prevailing narrative.
“Trump’s racist neglect of Puerto Rico is threatening lives,” CNN contributor Brian Fallon said in a tweet Monday. Another CNN contributor, David Axelrod, asked on Twitter why the “huge and growing humanitarian crisis” in Puerto Rico was not receiving any attention. “Too busy on anthems and epithets,” Axelrod tweeted.
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