OPINION: Puerto Rico Left Devastated — Without Shame


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Not a day or hour goes by that someone doesn’t challenge something the President of the United States says. The Washington Post, for example, has a full-time gaggle of “fact-checkers” running down anything and everything President Trump says or “tweets.”

These “fact-checkers” claim that President Trump has averaged 8.3 misstatements or lies a day since he was sworn in as president totaling over 5000 such items since January 20, 2017.

The latest challenge to the president swirls around his tweet challenging the results of a George Washington University study commissioned by Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello of how many people died due to Hurricane Maria last year and its continuing aftermath.

His government wanted to know how many deaths could be attributed to the Hurricane and its aftermath. The study concluded 2,975people died during and after (six months) the Hurricane that could be attributed to the storm and its destruction and aftermath.

President Trump says the study is wrong, the numbers were “inflated” and that it was sponsored by Democrats to embarrass him. In fact, he says, the administration’s efforts in the Hurricane Maria’s aftermath were an “unsung success.” Further, he states that many people did not die during the hurricane — certainly not “50 times” what he was told when he visited Puerto Rico.

The George Washington University study’s researchers and authors state otherwise: 2975 people died during the hurricane, in its aftermath and many post-hurricane deaths could be directly traced to damage caused by the storm on physical infrastructure, communications, roads, buildings and the power grid, which was totally destroyed by the storm.

Agreeing with the study’s conclusions is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congress-woman-to-be, the daughter of Puerto-Rican-born parents and granddaughter of a Puerto Rican grandfather who she says died in devastated Puerto Rico because his medical condition was unable to be treated properly because his hospital was damaged severely by the storm.

Ordinarily, a statement like this would not be noted, except it came from a recently nominated political “enfant terrible” Democratic Socialist candidate for Congress, who defeated a two-decade-long Democrat Congressman from the Bronx.

(By the way, despite the ridicule of Rush Limbaugh et al about her name, Caribbean Hispanics join Mexican, Central and South Americans in using the traditional manner of names that came from Spain five hundred years ago. There is your given name, your father’s name and your mother’s maiden name. It’s a cultural thing.)

There is the study and its supporters like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the Governor of Puerto Rico, who commissioned the study; and the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who said, Trump simply does not get it. Thus his neglect towards Puerto Rico cost about 3,000 lives. Unfortunately, it seems he will never get it.”

Then, there are the president and his followers who believe otherwise.

In between these two parallel views lay the embattled director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), William Brock Long, who says that “several studies” have been conducted, and “numbers are all over the place.” FEMA was on the job, certainly, but Puerto Rico’s isolation from mainland U.S. resources and facilities and special interests carefully protecting their turfs in shipping caused many delays in help and resources arriving to help the devastated island.

“Special interests?” Yes, special interests. Puerto Rico and Hawaii are hobbled by shipping interests, American shipbuilders and labor unions. Those interests are protected by an act of Congress, the Jones Act — the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.

It requires that shipping between U.S. ports must be carried on ships built by American yards and manned by American merchant seamen. Most American seamen are members of labor unions. The result: Puerto Rico and Hawaii pay ridiculously high prices for simple things like technology, automobiles, gas and petroleum, food, cardboard boxes, hammers and nails, etc.

In an emergency, the Act can be waived as it was after last year’s hurricanes hit Texas and Louisiana — waived and extended, but the Trump administration took its time granting a 10-day waiver to help Puerto Rico.

President Trump commented on a possible waiver, which was granted for ten days, with: “We’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people — a lot of people who work in the shipping industry — that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.” The waiver was not renewed as it was for Texas and Louisiana last year.

Apparently, union seamen, rich ship owners and corporations say 10,000 people all together count more with the administration than 3.4 million Puerto Ricans that were devastated by Hurricane Maria.

The Spanish words sin verguenza (seen vehr-GWEH-n-sawh) come to mind: “without shame.”

Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade;” he formerly wrote for the New America News Service of the New York Times and was a member of the International Seafarers Union in the 1960s

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.