Sohn: Trump hurricane response to Puerto Rico is shameful

Sohn: Trump hurricane response to Puerto Rico is shameful

September 30th, 2017 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Lucy Cedeno, 53, stands on the remains of her home that was destroyed in Hurricane Maria, in the hill town of Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

Lucy Cedeno, 53, stands on the remains of...

Photo by VICTOR J. BLUE

It's too bad that our president had to be reminded that the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and that, yes, all of Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents are 100 percent bona fide Americans.

Eight days after the island was ravaged a second time by the category 4 Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump found his pen and waived a nearly century-old law that prevents non-American ships from aiding the island. Our president waived that same rule, known as the Jones Act, for Houston and Florida within hours of Hurricane Harvey's strike on Houston and Irma's lashing of Florida.

But to be fair, as Maria swept out of Puerto Rico, Trump was busy tweeting about the NFL football players taking knees to protest racism and to rebuke his statements about them.

But there's still the question of why Puerto Rico is still waiting for other invaluable U.S. aid and response.

You might recall that in the aftermath of President George W. Bush bragging "good job, Brownie" despite the full sorrow of Katrina and our lethargic response to it becoming clearer by the minute, our day-late and dollar-short government finally sent military helicopters and troops to New Orleans. Then Bush installed Gen. Russel Honoré to set things right.

Well, that's only now happening in Puerto Rico. At least in part.

The island, about the size of New Jersey, has almost no fresh water, no phone service, no power and the status of the food supply and its accessibility is uncertain. Journalists there say food and supplies are sitting at docks, but there are no drivers for trucks to distribute it. Many roads are impassible. Most vehicles are destroyed. Gasoline supplies are minuscule. Even willing volunteers can't get to the docks to help.

Restoring electricity will take months, the health-care system isn't functioning, and a major dam may yet break, causing further dangerous flooding. At the week's end, a private commercial cruise ship company was helping to evacuate people. But our military ships weren't there.

To say this is Trump's Katrina gives our president far more credit than he deserves. Trump on Thursday finally named Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to lead a military operation in Puerto Rico. When CNN asked Trump's top homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, why it had taken eight days to put a general in charge, Bossert's absurd answer was: "It didn't require a three-star general eight days ago."

Katrina's now-retired Gen. Honoré couldn't be more outraged: "I don't know what the hell is going on!" he said on CNN, "Puerto Rico is bigger than Katrina." He called for the military to surge air traffic controllers onto the island to open airports, transportation specialists to clear roads and the deployment of many more troops, ships and helicopters.

He scoffed at the White House defense that 7,200 troops are on the island, and about 2,800 federal relief workers have been dispatched: "I had 20,000 federal troops. Not federal workers, federal troops."

Bloomberg View's Tyler Cowen wrote last week that as federal aid was slowly being mobilized, even that won't restore the pre-storm state, which was already fiscally insolvent even before the storm struck. Thanks to the Jones Act, supply costs already are artificially high in Puerto Rico, where the population over 60 is higher than in any U.S. state.

"Statehood would have been Puerto Rico's best chance for economic growth," Cowen states. "When regions moved from territories to full-blown states, it provided a big boost to their per capita incomes. Puerto Rico never did the same, in part because its citizens voted not to, and in part because the mainland was reluctant to absorb a Hispanic territory. These days, political polarization renders statehood hard to imagine, as Puerto Rican senators likely would be Democrats."

Trump has, of course, already bragged that our disaster response to Puerto Rico has been a "great job."

He says he will visit Tuesday.

It should be interesting. Any bets on whether he'll mention the NFL?

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