Hurricane Maria made landfall on the tiny island of Dominica as a Category 5 storm on September 18, 2017. From there it moved on to Puerto Rico on September 20 causing tremendous destruction as it moved across the island, leaving residents without electricity. Some months previous, Hurricane Irma had already wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, skirting Puerto Rico in early September. The total devastation by Hurricane Maria is still unknown. The number of deaths is also questionable depending on who you ask or what source you use. The official death count is 64, yet the Center for Investigative Journalism, The New York Times, and the Santos and Howard Study of Hurricane Maria all have the death count around one thousand. The number of missing persons continues to grow and what is quite clear is that the islands devastated by Maria will never be the same again.
These islands, specifically Puerto Rico, will not be the same not only because of the severity of the storm, but also because of the ineffectiveness of the U.S. Federal Government’s response and its minimal recovery assistance efforts. President Donald Trump visited the island and tossed out rolls of paper towels to residents who attended his visit, telling them they messed up the nation’s budget.  President Trump was more interested in playing to his base of supporters than he was in providing aid to the island’s residents. Although he and his base of supporters may not see Puerto Ricans as Americans worthy of relief, they are U.S. citizens and are deserving of adequate federal aid.
Puerto Rico became a territory of the U.S. with the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1898), which ended the Spanish-American War. It was with great controversy that the Treaty passed in the U.S., as part of the population held that the U.S was on its way to being an imperial nation. Throughout the 20th century, Puerto Rico served as an important strategic location for the U.S. military engaged in Cold War activities.  Today, during the Age of Austerity brought about by radical free market fundamentalism, all but two U.S. military bases have shut down. There is a lack of interest by the White House Administration in providing the necessary aid to Puerto Ricans.  Although Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood, the island has yet to receive official recognition by the U.S., remaining instead as a commonwealth. This leaves Puerto Ricans without congressional representation and all that status entails.
Getting their hands on federal money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are private companies that were awarded government contracts to “rebuild” Puerto Rico. Whitefish Energy Services, a Montana-based two-man operation, received a $300 million contract to rebuild the island’s electricity grid, while Cobra Acquisitions LLC, a fledgling company that specializes in drilling and fracking received a $200 million contract to design and build a new electrical grid. These contracts exemplify what Naomi Klein alluded to in her book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, as fortunes made in the midst of human tragedy.  Such practices demonstrate the unsustainable trajectory that this nation is currently traveling.
Whether the Trump administration recognizes the severity of the crisis and ultimately decides to take action or not, the problems will persist.  While conservative estimates suggest that over 100,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island for the mainland, NBC News suggests that the figure is closer to 200,000.  According to a National Public Radio (NPR) report, over 167 public schools have shut down in Puerto Rico as the island has lost over 23,000 students who have relocated to the mainland. Again, where will this lead and at what cost to Puerto Rico? While the rich get richer from this disaster, the poor get poorer and are displaced from their homeland. We are living in an era comparable to that of the Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century when the nation’s top industrialists remained the most powerful forces in the country. When profit was second to none!
Today, the same is true as the ideas of free-market fundamentalism have blinded the public and created resentment toward the working class and the poor, the same people who “trickle up” wealth to those in power.  On September 30, twelve days after Hurricane Maria hit, a Puerto Rican child interviewed by NPR had a clear message for President Trump, “Que deje de mandar tweets y que se ponga ayudar a la gente.” (Stop sending tweets and start helping the people.) The message was clear: stop playing politics, stop with the destruction, and help the people devastated by Hurricane Maria.